The Happiness Project – Weeks 3 & 4

If the Happiness Project occurred in a vacuum, I’d be pretty happy. But June tests me every year. I’m  pretty sure I subconsciously chose this project as a diversionary tactic and in some respects it has been a success. I can’t ask for much more than that.

Summer Sessions are a whirlwind. Six weeks (five, if you are going away the final week, like me) of classes, two nights a week, nearly four hours a night. I tell my students that I know they don’t want to be there nearly four hours a night and that is my goal too, but inevitably, it happens. And my students don’t look happy. This isn’t good for my project.

By the time, we hit Week 4, many of my students (particularly, my younger ones) have forgot that we are trying to be happy. Some are tired. Some are bored. And some have no problem letting me know about it via blank stares, rolling eyes and general checked out body language. Some just stand up and walk out in the middle of class. Eh. You can’t win them all.

But I’ve got a some genuinely hooked. I have a few students (particularly, but not exclusively, my older ones) that have really bought into the Happiness Project. They have embraced it and taken each opportunity as a chance to examine the possibility that there may be something to this happiness thing.

We have continued with our gratitude assignments in every class. I believe that the majority of my students are still invested in this process and continue to put a lot of thought into this. I continue to require them to explore one thing that they are grateful for in depth and I have rarely been disappointed. Some of them are even starting to be grateful for this class. Just a few examples:

  • I am grateful for my brothers for many reasons, including having someone to talk, play and share with, but most importantly, always have around.
  • I am really grateful for my sister because she has been my best friend throughout my entire life. She would always play barbies with me, even though she didn’t want to. She was there for me when I had my first break up.
  • I’m grateful for this class. It has taught me how I can and should change my thought process and be happier and be thankful for what I have. So thank you.
  • I’m grateful for having an amazing family life. Many people live in hostile environments and don’t like being home but I love being with my family and they are always there to make me laugh and cheer me up.
  • I am truly grateful for this class because I had never thought that psychology could be so interesting.
  • I’m grateful for learning from my past mistakes every day.

Students are in the process of completing a Pay It Forward/Random Acts of Kindness project. I was honestly a little worried about this one. I asked each student to go out and commit 3-6 random acts of kindness and report back on what they did, how the receiver responded (if they chose someone they knew, or to be present) and how they felt after giving with no intention of receiving in return. Some of my students have handed in the assignment early and while I’m suspect of the sincerity of a few…..I’m completely blown away by a few of the others.

  • Working in the president’s office, I am fortunate to work with one of the College’s custodians, Kevin. Cleaning our office area is Kevin’s primary responsibility, even though he has duties in other areas of the College as well.  I try to thank him as much as possible for all he does for us, bake him a cake for his birthday, and give him a gift for the holiday; however, last week, as I watched him polish the tables in the conference room in preparation for our board meeting, and observed the expression on his face as he worked, I decided to give him a more personal token of my appreciation – a thank you card, writing about how thankful I am for the work he does.  I tried to be specific, wrote that it is obvious he takes pride in his work as seen in the care he takes keeping the president’s office area sparkling, taking care of our needs throughout the day, as well as taking care of other areas in the College.  I wrote that it is heartwarming to see him do his job so meticulously, and that I am grateful for him.  Later in the day he came over to me to say I made a grown man cry (I was touched.).  The next day his wife, who also works at the College, came over to my office area crying.  At first I thought something was wrong, but she said her husband shared the card with her, and the words I wrote in the card were so beautiful that she and her husband cried together.  I then cried with her as I had no idea I would get that type of reaction by writing my true sentiments in a card.  Oftentimes, I think I have to do something big for people to show them that I care, or to show my appreciation; however, maybe it’s the simple acts of kindness that go a long way; that somehow these simple acts of kindness reach deep down in an individual’s soul.
  • My act was just texting my mom and thanking and apologizing for everything. I texted “Hey mom, thank you for everything you do for me and this family, I never show my gratitude and I apologize for that and when I do not treat you right.” Funny enough a few minutes later she came in and asked me if everything was alright and that was just a confirmation for me that I really don’t tell her how much I appreciate what she does for me. For the rest of that day she and I got along better then ever in years and It just showed how much of a change a little thing like that can do. I think it impacted her in a big way too because living in a house with all men, compliments don’t just come flying out unless they’re are from her.
  • One of my strongest beliefs is that a true act of kindness is done when the recipient cannot reciprocate the act, at least not to the doer. That’s why I chose to place the support card entitled “Win!Win!”and the opening lines read “Life’s like a video game with all of these obstacles popping up in front of you” on the windshield of a minivan in the parking lot of the Kmart store. I choose this particular vehicle because it appeared to be a family vehicle, and it reminded me of my family back home. Many times I had said to people that when I do an act of kindness, I am not doing it for me, I am doing it for my family. I truly believe in the principle of paying it forward, and that by me doing something kind for a stranger, that one act of kindness would be paid forward, and that someday that act of kindness would reach my family. 

I’ve been so impressed at how my students have embraced many aspects of the Happiness Project. They remind me everyday that kindness and simple acts of thanks, even when required in order to pass General Psychology do have a trickle down effect.

 

 

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The Happiness Project – Weeks 1 & 2

Weeks 1 & 2 of the Happiness Project have left me exhausted, achy and pondering the possibility of a meningitis diagnosis, although Lyme disease is probably more plausible. Hey, I don’t want to blame the happiness project, because it’s really not its fault. But the reality is that I’ve been teaching two nights a week until nearly 10pm, which makes for nearly 12 hour work days, coupled with 2 hours of commuting and prep time in between. Not exactly the recipe for high life satisfaction. And then I received this from a student:

“Some discourage me to either be a writer or a psychologist. So when I hear that you are a writer, and a writer, I was inspire. I said to myself, me and this lady have something in common. If she can do these two things together, then I can do it. One of the thing that really touch me when you was teaching was when you said, “If you don’t know yourself, you won’t know what you want.” I learn from that.”

I left all of the grammatical errors in because this young writer is from Liberia. She comes to class everyday and is basically awestruck by the ability to be in this country and have the opportunity to learn. She is young. She is hungry. She is ready to take on the world. I remember those days.

The greatest part about the happiness project is that my students, who span the ages of 18 to 65 are genuinely interested. I was so worried they would take one look at me and walk out the door. Instead, they have really embraced the process.

Day 1 of the project, the students took two pre-assessments to gauge their current levels of life satisfaction. The hope is that after applying the evidence based curriculum over the course of 5 weeks, they will score higher on the assessments at the end of the semester. I’m not sure if that’s feasible, but we are going to try.

The most consistent intervention we are using is gratitude. Students are required to submit gratitude journals at the end of every class, which record three things they are grateful for. While they can simply list the three things, I do ask that they explore one more fully. I have to say, I am so impressed with their answers. I really thought the majority of my students (specifically my young males) would pay me lip service. I was so wrong. Here are a few examples:

  • Gym: It seems like a silly thing to be thankful for but for me, it’s an outlet/stress reliever. No matter what’s going on in my life when I’m there nothing bothers me. I get in my zone and I think everyone needs a healthy escape.
  • I am grateful for my car. While it seems weird to be thankful for just a car, I worked hard to earn the money for my car and enjoy working on it, and making it better, faster, and nicer.
  • International Food Market: With my four days off this week, I get a chance to go to Upper Darby and buy all of my spices and special curry that I haven’t had in a while. My spices I have purchased from the same person for the last 10 years.

We fail to find gratitude in our everyday lives. We rush through life and seldom stop to really think about how lucky we are. And then we think we have meningitis.

Another small project I’ve had the students working on is savoring. Savoring is an extension of Mindfulness. It is a conscious and deliberate positive attention to the past, present and future from a multi-sensory experience. Think about when we really slow down and savor a meal. When you stop and bask in the best steak, wine, chocolate, etc. that you’ve ever had. That’s savoring.

I’ve asked to student to savor something and write an essay explaining the experience from a multi-sensory experience. It isn’t due until next week but a few students have already submitted the essays, along with photos.

 

pic milkshake

This is a milkshake that has been and is currently being savored.

It’s clear to me that the happiness project was as much for my students as it was for me. Actually, it was way more for me than it was for them. But they are reaping the benefits, so it’s all good.

The Happiness Experiment

I’ve been teaching General Psychology for 4 years and at least 20 times at last count. I’m on autopilot, to the point where I refuse to teach anything else anymore because I just want to show up, do my routine and collect a paycheck.

I had cut back on my teaching  last year because I was trying to determine if I could work less and still enjoy life and the answer is…..it depends on how you define enjoy. I’m pretty good at living a simple life and can make do without many material possessions but after a year of cutting my second income in more than half, I had to get back on track. So I asked to teach a summer class.

Teaching summer session is not just cramming 15 weeks into 6 weeks. I’ve tried that one other time. It doesn’t work. Not to mention, after this last painful semester of being stared at by a bunch of Millennials for 4 months, I knew there was absolutely no way I was going to lecture four hours a night, 2 nights a week. I also know that as much as students say “I wish we had done more group activities” that in reality, when you put them in groups, often, they just stare at each other until one person gets uncomfortable enough to break the silence. I had to come up with something creative. So, here’s my plan.

I am going to take a 6 week Introduction to Psychology course and I’m going to frame the entire semester around the concept of happiness as it relates to the biology, psychology and socio-cultural learning objectives of the course!!! Isn’t that AWESOME??? Oh, and I’m going to do it in 5 weeks because I’m going away the last week.

Before I go any further, I want to answer some of the more obvious questions from my detractors.

  • No, I am currently not under the influence of drugs or alcohol as a family member suggested recently.
  • No, I don’t care if you don’t care. If you don’t care, why are you still reading this?
  • Yes, I am absolutely a cynic. But that really has nothing to do with the study of happiness.
  • Yes, I hate Donald Trump. He interferes with my ability to feel happiness. I’m hoping this project will increase my ability to push my feelings about Donald Trump to the back of my mind and focus on warm and fuzzy things.

On a more serious note, I became very interested in the scientific study of happiness about three years ago after seeing the documentary “Happy” (See it. You need to see.). Positive Psychology is a pretty new area of research but in essence is really just the flip side of all of the other stuff we have been studying since the beginning of time. The opposite of depression is happiness. The opposite of adversity is resiliency. The opposite of grief is healing. The opposite of post traumatic stress is post traumatic growth. If I can teach my students how Pavlov conditioned a dog to salivate to the sound of a bell, I’m sure I can teach them how we are conditioned to feel happy when we hear a song.

My loose plan (still working on this…I’ve got like 10 days) is to do a pre and post happiness assessment and in between have a series of evidence based activities that the students take part in.  I’m hoping not only will the students actually learn something but that I will finally have something to focus on other than Donald Trump.

I stopped writing about six months ago and this is the best excuse I could come up with to start again. I intend to blog periodically throughout the semester to track progress along the way. I’m pretty excited.

 

 

15 (or about 15) Lessons I’ve Learned in 2015

Every year I dedicate the last blog of the year to lessons learned over the course of 365 days. I’ve thought a lot about this one, mostly because I haven’t written since September and am not sure if I can come up with 15 things this time around. The last few months have been a whirlwind and honestly, I haven’t had time to process it. I’ve spent much of the last six and half years wearing my heart and mind on my sleeve for all to see. I’ve been uncensored, raw and truthful to a fault. I’ve alienated friends and family members along the way. I’ve questioned myself more times than I can remember. It’s truly been an exhausting process.

I didn’t believe my world could be up ended again in such a profound way as it has been in the last six months. And for once, I’m not ready to talk about it. Go figure. I have let you into my broken heart and let you watch me while I dissect it over and over again. And I didn’t think anything was off limits when it came to this blog but apparently I was wrong. Again, go figure.

Here’s what I can tell you: I have been fundamentally changed by not only the last six months, but the last six years.  Much of it has been open to criticism, as well as great support. Much of it has been defined by incredible loss, and in return, incredible growth. I have learned to surround myself with a few key people whom I have put an enormous amount of trust in. If I have learned anything in the last six months, it truly is that you will quickly find out who your true friends are in your lowest moments. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ve learned a few other things along the way this year. Like, I am one of the most underinformed people you will ever meet when it comes to current events. And I could care less. The media is total bullshit. I’ve also learned that I can live an entire day without my cell phone and feel relieved that I don’t have to worry about people tracking me down or who may have texted me over the course of a day. I’ve learned that a Get The Led Out show is a great way to spend an evening. I even learned that I can plan, coordinate and execute a fucking light parade.

I’ve learned that outliving my father’s 44 years of life has had a profound effect on how I view age and quality of life. I’ve learned how much of my life that he missed when I look at Max and see him evolve.

I’ve learned that I struggle with trust and only in my darkest moments have I been able to let my guard completely down. And I’m so thankful for that.

I’ve learned that I am more capable than I ever imagined in putting the past behind me. Six and a half years of processing two major losses left me at that “come to Jesus moment”. I will never be the same after losing my brother. A sibling death is a completely different than a parent death. But, the losses have taken on an integrative quality and the holes look different and feel different than they did a few years ago.

I’ve learned that there is a huge difference between true giving and being a martyr.

I’ve learned that life is so much better when you let people in. And kick some out.

I’ve learned that even I need my privacy. And privacy is a hard thing for a girl who has been putting it out there for all to see for the last six and a half years.

Huh. I guess I did learn a few things this year. Happy 2016!

I Have A Dream

I hate entitled kids. I just do. I hate kids who grow up believing the world owes them something. The world owes you nothing. If anything, you owe the world. You owe the world your kindness and compassion. You owe the world tolerance and understanding.

Entitled kids grow up to be entitled adults. And entitled adults are assholes. The only people who want to be friends with entitled adults are other entitled adults so basically, if you hang around long enough, you are bound to end up happening upon an asshole convention.

But, as much as I hate entitled kids, I hate the fabricated pressure we put on children during their most crucial years of development. When did the idea that every kid has the potential to be a Rhodes Scholar, a Dr. Ben Carson or Michael Jordan happen? When did we start thinking we could buy our kids way into greatness?

I have a theory about entitlement. Entitlement stems from a world that believes that if we don’t start NOW we will fail our children. If 3 year old Jenny isn’t reading NOW, she will never make it into Harvard. If 6 year old Johnny isn’t playing quarterback NOW, he has no shot at a college scholarship to Notre Dame. If 10 year old Olivia isn’t in every accelerated class NOW, she will never be able to compete for a slot at Yale. And guess what? The world is fucked up enough at this point, that probably all of those things are true. And I could care less.

So, when Jenny starts recognizing her letters, we rush her to an enrichment class and boast about her brilliance. When Johnny lobs the football to his dad ten feet away, we cheer like he is Tom Brady (before Deflate-gate) and call around to see if we can get him private lessons. And when Olivia brings home straight A’s in 2nd grade, we call the school about having an IQ test administered because how many other kids can being getting all straight A’s? Then when Jenny scores a 115 on the IQ, we discuss whether or not we need a private evaluation.

Adults teach entitlement. Adults teach entitlement in such a way that we probably think we are teaching responsibility.  We think we are teaching responsibility because we put an adult spin on a child’s “thing”. Jenny likes books. She finds them interesting. We run with that. Instead of letting her just like books, we force an expectation that she needs to excel with books. Johnny likes football. It’s fun to play. Instead of letting him enjoy the game, we focus on the future and his potential. We force an expectation that he needs to excel in football. Olivia likes to learn. It’s fun. Instead of letting her have fun with learning, we focus on her income potential. We force an expectation for greatness. And when those things don’t necessarily happen, kids don’t get it.

When adults label their children as special and unique, two different things tend to happen. One, the kids believe it. They believe that they alone are poised for greatness. The problem is….so does everyone else. That is entitlement. The other thing that tends to happen is a child may actually find out they aren’t all that special or unique.  Those kids develop insecurities even before the natural insecurity of the tween years emerge.  And I happen to have a problem with both of those things.

I have a child who believes he is poised for greatness. He believes that because he just does. I’ve spent a lot of time and energy tempering his enthusiasm with a healthy dose of reality. Because, while my child may certainly excel in life, things could fall short of his expectations too. I’d rather he balance his natural drive to excel with the security of knowing if he falls short, life will still work out.

When I watch Max beat himself up over an 89 or striking out, I think, who the hell cares? Where does he get that from? I was the most apathetic student at Unionville High School (okay, maybe in the top 100 apathetic students). But I’m a pretty driven adult, so he sees that even as I tell him it doesn’t matter. In the meantime, all around him, he sees other kids being pushed to be the best. Because everyone is being given the same message. They are all being told they are the best. Even if they aren’t.

A complicating factor in entitlement today is our educational system. We know longer teach kids for knowledge. We teach them how to pass a lame ass test. We give them every tool to ensure that they “win”. We prep them with the same material over and over. We push things like social studies, art and gym to the back burner. Those things won’t secure federal funding and attract home buyers. This mentality has landed students in my college classroom asking “Are you giving us the questions before the exam?” or “I’m sorry I plagiarized but can I have some extra credit to bring my grade up?” This is a not only entitlement but a mentality which is rooted in a fear of not being the best in a world where best barely exists.

I want my message to be Martin Luther King like…..I have a dream. I have a dream that one day society will figure out that kids deserve to be kids. They deserve to be less than perfect, less than special, less than unique. They deserve to know they are owed nothing. They deserve to be taught to excel and fail. They deserve to be kids. They deserve not to grow up to be assholes.

 

 

 

Shining A Spotlight On…..BOB

I love my Spotlight Series because it’s reserved for a select few in my life, who have made a lasting impression in a positive way. And, let’s face it, sometimes, my writing gets a little morose. I need these posts to balance my perception on life and to remind myself of all that is right in my world. My buddy, Bob is one of those people who is worth a few gushing paragraphs.

I met Bob in my late teens/early twenties, during one of my many stints working at the Kennett Square Inn (side note…almost everyone I have spotlighted is tied to the Inn in some way, shape or form). Bob was a background character in my life. He was no Norm or Cliff, hanging out at the bar. He was more like an extra. He was there but I didn’t think much of him. He was pleasant, but cynical. That’s what I remember; a nice, yet cynical, quiet guy.

Along the way, background characters move into the forefront. This isn’t Cheers. This is the real, bar life. In real life, people get aggravated with Norm and Cliff, eventually throwing them out. Or they get pissed because they didn’t get the special treatment they believe has become their birthright and they leave. Bob stuck around.

Bob is a book editor. He edits a variety of books, primarily related to military history, best I can figure. That’s the thing about Bob…..he’s quiet, an introvert and keeps to himself unless he wants to know you or cares to know you. At some point, I was lucky enough to have Bob want to get to know me.

My first real interaction with Bob was one night at the bar when I was waiting tables. I think I was about 19 or 20 because my age came up. Bob looked across the bar and almost yelled, “What??? I thought you were 28!!!” My reaction must have been one of offense because he quickly followed with, “You’ve worked here forever!” Nice save, Bob. Nice save.

Over the years, Bob and I became friends. Bob was one of the first people who I really spoke to about my love of writing and my secret desire to write a book of essays. Bob turned around one day and encouraged me to apply for a job at the publishing company where he worked. I did and ended up being offered a job in public relations. Ultimately, I turned it down after my employer convinced me to stay with a hefty raise and a promise of a graduate degree. While my hefty raise went into effect immediately, I spent the next 18 months helping them close their business in a nasty, custody-like battle. I can honestly say, I regret not taking the job with Bob and seeing where it would have taken me.

Over the years, Bob cycled in and out of the background of my life,yet remained a constant. I find that interesting. There are people that we take for granted that will somehow, someway, always be there. And Bob was. He just was.

When Stephen and I were looking for a home in 2003, it was Bob’s grandparent’s house we ended up buying at auction. It was my relationship with Bob that ultimately led to his grandmother accepting our offer during a hellish auction process where the neighbors attempted to interfere when they were unhappy with the final bid. 60 days later, we moved our things into the house where Bobby and his siblings roller skated in the basement, right next to the concrete “wine cellar” Bob’s grandfather built to house his Dago Red.

When I sporadically spoke about wanting to write, Bob urged me to start my blog. In fact, Bob named my blog. MaximusRed is Bob’s brainchild. He set the stage. I just wrote. I’m not sure this is exactly what he envisioned but at the time, I didn’t know what my life was going to end up looking like.

Over time, my relationship with Bob became more central to my life. Before texts and cell phones, I’d call Bob out of the blue to come out for a drink. He’d show up 10 minutes later. As stoic as he seemed, he always, and I mean, always listened to me wax philosophical about life. He told me the truth when I didn’t want to hear it. He liked my kid. And I don’t think Bob particularly liked kids at the time. He was, and is, a real friend.

Then, gasp……Bob found Denise. Or shall I say, “refound” her. Bob’s crush from childhood popped back up on Facebook and for the first time ever, I had the privilege of being Bob’s confidante. As Bob explored the possibility of reuniting with Denise, I was lucky enough to see a side of Bob I wasn’t even sure existed. My stoic, cynical friend started talking. And fell in love. I was even part of the committee that vetted Denise on her trip north. I fell in love with her too. So, like a Pope, I had them bow in front of me and I blessed the union. It was very dramatic.

Bob moved south and married Denise a while back. As happy as I was for him, I secretly didn’t want him to go. I wanted my stoic, cynical friend who sat quietly and listened to me complain about life at my disposal. Instead, I now get surprise, random texts asking me how I am, how Max is and when I’m moving south to be with him again (Side note….Denise knows about these texts).

In the meantime, Bob’s brainchild of a blog has lasted 6 years and I’m pretty proud of that. I’m also pretty proud that he’s my friend.

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Where Ever I Look, There I Am

She walks down the rocky path, along the side of the pond. She’s been there many times over the years. It’s what she does. That path has brought her to many moments in her life; moments of reflection, moments of hope, moments of despair. Regardless of the emotion, that rocky path is comforting. She knows it like the back of her hand. She’s learned its curve, the juts, the exposed roots, and of course, the rocks. They’ve been there forever. They’ve accompanied her on many journeys.

She rarely stops along the path. She rarely looks into the water. Often, it just doesn’t make sense. Onward, right? It’s what we do. It’s what we are supposed to do. Right? People don’t like to stop and look. People don’t like when others stop and look. It’s a lot of work. What might one find?

Today, she stops. Not on purpose. She just happens to stop to take it all in. She looks down. She looks into the water. She feels her breath catch. It’s quick and unexpected.

Down there, in that pond, is a young girl. She hasn’t seen her in ages. She looks again to make sure it’s who she thinks it is. She’s right. She’s standing right in front of her, wide-eyed and ready to take on the world. Her first instinct is to say…..wait.

Wait. Stay here, for this one moment and breathe. Don’t wish this moment away. You have no idea what’s in store. Breathe. And look around.

I know it feels hard right now. Guess what? It’s not. It really isn’t. Just stop. And breathe. This is nothing.

This path is part of your journey. You will find yourself back here time and time again. You will seek this path out over and over again. You will try to find new answers to old questions on this familiar route. And every time you return, another answer will appear. I promise you that.

Embrace every part of your journey, even the painful moments. You are strong enough to make it all worth it. You will find lessons in every loss. It’s what you do. It will feel unfair. It will feel exhausting. I get it. Because it is unfair and exhausting. But there are rewards along the way.

You will know love in a way few ever will. You will find it in the obscure, quiet, unassuming moments of your life. You probably won’t recognize it until its gone. But you will see grace. And you will keep looking. You will never settle for anything less.

It will be worth it. Just breathe.

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

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2011

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

SUNDAY, JANUARY 23, 2011

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

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2011

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.

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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.