Friday, May 28, 2010

Cryin' Time Again

"There is a sacredness in tears. 
They are not the mark of weakness, but of power." 
Washington Irving, 1783-1859

There are two kinds of people in the face of emotional events: those who maintain a dry-eyed dignity and those who weep. If this post is splotched with mascara stains, I apologize, but I'm a crier.

We criers fall across a broad continuum, with the misters and dabbers on one side followed by your leakers, snifflers, huffers, whimperers, sobbers, bawlers, wailers, howlers and ululaters (not typically Americans; we're too uptight for that). I've always envied the misters — the ones who can show that they're feeling the deep emotions, but who are able at the same time to blink back the tears, avoid the runny nose, and preserve their makeup. I also envy the ululaters for their total abandonment and commitment to the emotion.

I  fall somewhere between a sniffler and and sobber, with the added quirk that once I start to cry, it's almost impossible for me to stop until dehydration sets in. My biggest fear is always that I'll lapse into the ugly cry before I dry up. Remember when Halle Berry, that beautiful woman, slipped into the ugly cry at the Academy Awards. I'd like to say it was a beautiful thing, but the fact is that the ugly cry usually makes everyone, crier and observer alike, uncomfortable.

I know I'm a crier, because during my wedding I looked at my groom and the waterworks started. Those who were there will remember that things were a little chaotic, what with my mom almost dying and everything, so when I reached for my pretty little lace hanky, I realized I had forgotten it. The tears kept falling, my nose started to run and all I could think about during the rest of the ceremony was that I wanted to grab the little red pocket square from our rabbi's suit coat. I would have, too, but he was 80 years old and I was afraid that kind of sudden movement toward his person might give him a heart attack.

I also know I'm a crier because our brand new elementary school principal caught me yesterday during the first grade play, where the twins played a hip-hop weed (the boy) and a swaying flower (the girl) in award winning performances. The minute the stage lit up, my tears started and our principal whispered: "Oh, you've got it bad."

"You have no idea," I said. "They shouldn't even be breathing and here they are performing, on stage, with all the other first graders." I couldn't say any more. The tears were crowding my voice and the ugly cry threatened.

But how, if that first grade play was just yesterday (and I know it was), are those same twins now experiencing the final few hours of their senior year in high school. I've done a pretty good job so far putting off the inevitable deluge, mainly because I've just been too busy and far too deep in denial (here's proof) to think too much about this approaching milestone. But it hit me hard as I drove to work this morning and I had to pull off the road to staunch the tide of tears before I could drive again safely.

It's here now, there's no denying it. Today was their last last day, and for the first time ever, I wasn't there to take their picture on our front porch (a tradition we practice every first and last day of school) and it made me cry. Tomorrow is prom — dresses and shoes and corsages and photos and tears. Next week we have to pay our fines and graduation fees (which is likely to spark an entirely different sort of crying), before we pick up caps and gowns and head off to a ceremony that's bound to be one big blubber fest.

I know these are tears of joy. I understand that all the tears of fear and anxiety we shed during five months on the NICU, years of hospital visits and worry, growth hormone and febrile seizures, speech and occupational and physical therapy — I know all those tears got us here, to this next first step, one that they will take on time with their peers. And I'm happy. Really, I am. You just can't tell because of the tears.

And there's only one thing that would make me happier: if I could do it all again.

What about you? Click here to tell us how you embarrass your family with public displays of emotion or whether you more of a stoic type.

From Crying Time by Buck Owens

"Oh, it's cryin' time again, you're gonna leave me
I can see that far away look in your eyes
I can tell by the way you hold me, darlin'
That it won't be long before it's cryin' time."

Photo credit: JGS-Handkerchiefs by gracey via

Staying Connected — CMB Post

Originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog:

The older I get, the more people I know, the harder it is to stay connected — even to people I've known my entire life and love very much. It's hard to say exactly what happens: we get busy; our lives are crowded with people, activities, chores and events; we move far away; we have families of our own. Perhaps the biggest culprit is time, or lack of it. Recent scientific evidence proves that the older we get, the faster time passes (or so it seems so to our aging brains). With all that goes on in our day-to-day lives, it's easy to lose touch.

Then tragedy strikes — someone dies and we feel lost and guilty. When my aunt passed away last week, I drove to Michigan for the funeral. My parents came up from Florida. My brother flew in from California. The aunts, uncles and cousins gathered around to mourn our loss. Without exception, when I encountered someone I hadn't seen in a long time, we greeted each other with an awkward combination of joy at reconnecting and sadness that these were the circumstances that brought us back together.

My aunt died at an inconvenient time for most of us. I'm not being flip, simply honest. For my immediate family, it was not possible for anyone else to take time off from work or the final days of school to attend the funeral, so I went alone. In many ways, it was a blessing. I was able to spend time with my family of origin without the burdens of being a mom and attending to the immediate needs of children. I could focus completely on another part of my family that had not had my undivided attention in years. 

Funerals are strange rituals, to be sure. We laugh and we cry. We tell stories and sit in silence. We are reminded of our founding families. We treasure and relive old memories. And we regret. We regret that we don't seem to make the effort to get together more often, just because we're family and we don't want it always to be at a sad occasion. We regret that we didn't call or send that birthday card or even a simple e-mail. We regret being selfish and absorbed in other things. We regret the lost opportunities, the missed chances, the unsaid "I love yous". 

But I've come to have a new respect for and understanding of funeral traditions. My brother and I both commented that when we were younger, the whole idea of funerals was creepy and bizarre. As we got older, we understood that the funeral rites themselves provide comfort to many people, giving us concrete things to do in a time that seems chaotic and uncertain.

At my aunt's funeral, we came to understand that the ritual is more than just comforting to those who are mourning. We gather together at sad times to celebrate a life lived and the family that surrounded that life. Rather than dreading the occasion, I finally realized that life cycle events are what define families. Maybe we shouldn't feel guilty that we haven't seen each other since the last wedding or funeral, but rather we should celebrate that we still make time to gather as a family at these important, life-changing moments. That's what families do. 

We cried buckets of tears for my aunt, who led a difficult life, didn't always make the best choices, and who died too soon. We reflected on the gifts she gave us, we comforted the children she loved (and who loved her) and we said goodbye. We also thanked her for allowing us to reconnect in her name. It was her final gift to us.

Susan Bearman can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog, as well as freelancing at and Twittering @2KoP. This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Virgo, Skeptic Rising

There are two kinds of people in the world: believers and skeptics. George Bernard Shaw said: "The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.

Sober or not, I fall pretty comfortably into the skeptical category, though I'm not quite as jaded as my mother. She can't even watch a magician without saying: "It's a trick."

"Of course it's a trick," my dad says, "but the illusion is fun."

"It's just a trick," says my mother.

Her sister, my aunt, reads her horoscope pretty regularly. When my mother says that she doesn't believe in horoscopes, my aunt says: "Of course you don't. You're a Capricorn."

On the Zodiacal chart, I'm Virgo, often described as: perfectionistic, anxious, hardworking, self-sacrificing, reliable, logical, observant, helpful, precise, interfering. I am all of those things.

Virgo is also described as cold, fussy, inflexible, introverted, fastidious, health conscious, fit, and emotionally secretive. I am none of those things.

If I am sitting in a doctor's office and if there is no good celebrity gossip to read, I will glance at my horoscope. Sometimes I agree, somethings I don't. But do I believe? No. Nor do I believe a single word that tarot card reader told me at that party last summer.

In fact, the older I get, the less I believe in much of anything. The folly of youth seems to be to believe that things will simultaneously change completely (for the better) and yet never change. Experience shows that fashion and technology change, but that human nature does not.

The belief systems of the world's religions have never seemed particularly helpful to me. I worry enough about this lifetime to spend much energy worrying about the next. I'd like to believe, as many ancient cultures do, that everything has a spirit, but I don't really care whether a rock has an inner life and I don't want to have to worry about the soul of that mosquito I just snuffed. One of the big reasons that Judaism appeals to me is that it offers more questions than answers. That seems right. Answers are elusive, maybe even irrelevant. It's the questions that count.

On the other hand, some things aren't even worth questioning. They just … are. And despite a pervasive skepticism, I do believe in a few unbelievable things. Like most parents, I know for a fact that my babies are miracles. Life itself — the spark of it — is miraculous, even if it is just a random accident rather than divine design.

Part of this miracle that it is finite. Our lives are limited and unpredictable, and most belief systems seem to stem from our need to answer the answerable: where do we come from, how long will we be here, where do we go? I don't believe that anyone really knows, at least not for sure.

I don't believe in ghosts, either, but I do know that my grandmother came to say goodbye to me when she passed away 12 years ago. She was in Michigan when she died, and I was at home in bed in Chicago. She came to my room and told me not to worry, that everything was fine and that she loved me. I saw her standing there, by the door. She didn't speak, yet I heard her clear as day. My inner skeptic didn't even question it.

You don't have to believe me. It doesn't matter whether you do or not. If you need proof, however, I did wake my husband to tell him. He patted my hand and told me to go back to sleep. When my mother called at 6:30 in the morning to tell me the news, my husband was wide-eyed and my mother had no idea what I meant when I told her I already knew.

This week, my father's sister passed away. I was lucky to get to visit her one last time a few weeks ago. As sick as she was, it was still a shock to hear that she had died so soon after our visit. I'm glad I got to see her in person, because she did not visit me when she died.

I've been lucky — my direct experience with death has been limited primarily to elderly relatives who have lived long lives. Perhaps that is why I haven't looked for further explanations.

I know people who have experienced traumatic or unexpected loss — through illness, accident or senseless violence. They often seem to want answers, or at least reasons. I have one friend who lost so many family members in such a short time, that when they moved to a new town, the first thing her son wanted to see was the cemetery. I have another friend who lost her dear husband of more than 60 years, but talks to him regularly … and he talks back. I have no doubt that she hears him.

My friend and fellow writer Shari Brady recently wrote about her belief in the paranormal, and how she uses it as inspiration for her fiction. In many ways, I think fiction writers are all trying to work out our control issues. Through writing, we have the power of life and death. Even better, we can write an entire life and then change it in rewrite.

Maybe it's a Virgo thing, since there have been many famous Virgo writers including (to name just a few): William Rice Burroughs, Taylor Caldwell, Agatha Christie, Craig Claiborne, Eldridge Cleaver, George Fenimore Cooper, Roald Dahl, Robertson Davies, Theodore Dreiser, Johann von Goethe, O. Henry, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Ken Kesey, Stephen King, D. H. Lawrence, H.L. Menken, William Saroyan, Mary Godwin Shelley, Edith Sitwell, Upton Sinclair, Leo Tolstoy, H.G. Wells, William Carlos Williams and Richard Wright.

And lest we forget that other Virgo writer, Robert Benchley, who capsulized the whole two kinds of people belief system in his Law of Distinction:

"There are two kinds of people in the world, 
those who believe there are two kinds of people
and those who don't."

My Aunt Phyllis was a Libra. Although I don't know if she followed her horoscope, I do know she held deep religious convictions and I hope they brought her comfort. I also know she was loved and will be missed.

Please share your own beliefs or close encounters with the other side here.

Image credit: Virgo by ~Miss--Dee at

Monday, May 17, 2010

Holy Crap, They're Graduating — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

Dateline Evanston: Micro-preemie Twins Graduate from High School; Mom's Non-stop Weeping Earns World Record

Denial is the thumb in the dyke holding back the deluge of tears that I know is coming. So far, it's working pretty well.

The fact that it's May helps. May used to be a pleasant, benign month, the waiting room for summer. Now, it's a whirlwind of award ceremonies, school concerts, final projects, class picnics, paperwork and soccer games. If you could see my color-coded calendar, you'd weep right along with me.

This year, May bustle is my lifeboat down the River of Denial, and I'm grateful. Each morning, I focus on one square of the calendar, and take things one day, nay, one event at a time.

But the subconscious is an uncooperative entity, and I'm having a much harder time keeping things in perspective during my short, fitful hours of sleep. For example, last night my dream-state kept pelting me with the reality that the twins really are going to graduate in just a few weeks. And what did the devil on the shoulder of my subconscious whisper in my ear?

"You are old."

"Well, OK, maybe not old, but you are definitely not young. Only not-young people have children who are high school graduates."

It also revealed to me that my role is about to change. Growing up, I had nothing but respect for my parents. (In the case of my mom, it was more like fear. She is all of 5' 2" and tiny, but she has the best mom glare you have ever seen. It worked every time.)

That was until my brother and I graduated from high school, when it all changed. Our parents became the subject of endless mockery — by us, their adoring offspring. It was gentle mocking, but mocking nonetheless. Every foible, every tiny misstep was held up for ridicule. They were easy targets and pretty good sports. I'm not sure I have it in me to become the butt of my kids' jokes. Oy, I can see it now: 

"Remember how Mama lost her keys every morning?" — followed by exaggerated pantomimes of me tearing apart the house in an eternal quest for the elusive keys.

"Remember Mama's escalating rants in the car while schlepping us around?" — followed by shrill mimicry of me losing my mind about something ridiculous.

"Remember how Mama always corrected everybody's grammar? Like the time she whipped out her Sharpie and crossed out '10 items or less' and wrote '10 items or fewer' on the sign at the Jewel?" (OK, I don't apologize for that. Once an editor, always an editor.)

I woke up in a cold sweat. This is not fair. I'm not ready.

I am Mighty-Mama, in absolute control of your electronics and play dates. I have the power of grounding and time out. I know your most embarrassing secrets and, if necessary, I am not afraid to use them.

I am Mama. Thou Shalt Not Mock.

When Susan Bearman isn't having nightmares about her diminishing authority, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog, as well as freelancing at Oh yeah, and Twittering @2KoP. This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Celebrate National Pet Week — CMB Post

This was originally posted on the now defunct Chicago Moms Blog.

This week, May 2-8, is a big week for animals. It is both National Pet Week and Be Kind to Animals Week.

In our family, every week is National Pet Week, not just because we love our Soft-coated Wheaton Terrier, Hazel, or our one remaining hermit crab, Maize (Blue passed away earlier this year). No, we wish every week was National Pet Week because we own a small independent pet shop.

People who have known me since I was a teenager mock chuckle when I remind them that we (and by we, I mean my husband) own a pet shop. My childhood pet experiences included hating our not-quite-cocker-spaniel for shedding blond fur all over my black-only wardrobe during my angsty teenage years, and being freaked out by discovering a brief series of dead animals stiff in their cages or belly-up in their bowls. But one day, just after my twins were born, I found myself the co-owner of a pet store, and I still scratch my head over how that happened.

It's a wonderful pet shop and my husband and his staff are incredibly knowledgeable about animals. While I'm not in their league when it comes to animal-related information, I have learned a thing or two along the way, including to appreciate the deep connection people have with their family pets. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry states that "children raised with pets show many benefits." Animals teach children compassion, responsibility, and about our relationships with nature and each other. Children often talk to their pets they way they talk to stuffed animals, spilling all their secret fears and dreams into those fuzzy, nonjudgmental ears.

A recent poll indicates that a full one third of married women think their pets are better listeners than their husbands. I don't know about that. My dog doesn't seem to listen to me any better than my husband or my kids do. On the other hand, she doesn't talk back. In my kids favor, however, it's been a long time since any of them has peed on the floor. Of course, if the kids took the dog out when they're supposed to, then she wouldn't pee on the floor either. Some families have a synergistic relationship with their pets. Ours is more like a Catch-22.

It took years of convincing before I finally caved and allowed us to get a dog. Every time my kids begged for a pet, I told them they owned hundreds of them and could play with them whenever they visited Daddy at the store. I know, it's like the cobbler's children who don't have any shoes. But retail is a hard life with long hours and I already felt like a single parent — and I didn't want to feel like a single parent with a dog.

If you promise not to tell my kids, I'll let you in on a little secret. I knew that one day we would have to get a dog. I think it's a law or something. I also knew that I only wanted one dog during the course of raising our family, so I waited until my youngest child was 7 years old before I even considered it. I confess that this was a case of planned obsolescence. If things worked out according to plan, the dog would live long enough for my youngest son to go off to college, and then conveniently pass away right after his freshman year Thanksgiving break, having lived a happy, healthy 12 years or so (that's 84 in dog years).

So about five years ago, we got our first dog, Roscoe. He wasn't the brightest puppy in the pound, but he was a sweet dog. Unfortunately, he was killed tragically by a speeding truck right in front of our house when he was just three years old. Telling my kids about his death was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do as a parent.

My children were devastated and, while I was sad for the loss, I have to admit that things were easier without him. Two of my kids immediately started lobbying for a new dog; two felt that no puppy would ever replace their beloved Roscoe. I tried to remain ambivalent, but the damnedest thing happened. I missed that mutt — more than that, I missed having a dog in the house.

So, we got Hazel. She's much smarter and more well-behaved than Roscoe ever was, and while she isn't nearly as sweet, she and I have a good working relationship. And it melts my heart every night when the boys snuggle with her, scratching her belly and saying goodnight to the "best puppy in the world."

The passing of Roscoe was a difficult time in our family's life, but it made me understand that often, the death of a pet is the first significant loss a child experiences, and learning to cope with that loss is just another gift our pets give us. So here's to Roscoe … and Hazel … and even Maize and Blue, and all the other animals in the lives our families. Take time during these days of National Pet Week and Be Kind to Animals Week to appreciate them and all they bring to us. You can find some ideas about how to celebrate here.

When Susan Bearman isn't busy walking the dog, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog, and freelancing at This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post.