Category Archives: Being a Daughter

A life torn asunder…

A life torn asunder…

I found this engagement announcement years ago after my mother passed away. I had inherited the “trunk” with all of the family heirlooms and photos.  When I first saw the fragile news clipping, I thought nothing of it really.  I assumed it had gotten torn somehow and my mom had saved it nonetheless.

Years later, while going through the trunk, I saw a different fragile news clipping.  It was a reflection of a broken heart, a broken woman, and the life she had imagined torn asunder.  She most likely carefully and deliberately tore the piece right down the middle and replaced it in a box of photos.

No accident here.  It was a message.  A statement.  Perhaps a legacy.

My mother told me once in a private conversation weeks before my own wedding,  “I never planned on being divorced”.  It was during an argument between us when I foolishly told her that what happened to her would never happen to me.  If only I could take those words back.

Not only because I am now a divorced woman.  But because my words had a certain arrogance and a sting that hurt her deeply.

No matter how you slice it, divorce wreaks havoc on a family.  It creates “teams” that don’t play well together.  It rents the fabric of family life, rearranges every holiday plan and every summer vacation.  The repercussions rear their ugly heads in the least expected moments.

Growing up is something we all have to do.  Becoming wise and learning difficult lessons is optional.  Knowing what I went through with my parents divorce, I have a difficult time digesting the fact that I had a hand in repeating this  history.  Perhaps it was my legacy.  Or an unconscious attempt at solidarity with my mother.

Maybe it was an “I told you so”.

Nonetheless, I am the woman I am today because I had to grow through the pain and struggle of my decisions.  If only I could have been this woman without having had to wreak so much damage and heartache.

We project a part of ourselves into what we see and observe.  What we interpret has everything to do with our own experience.  As a young married woman with three small children, I saw a fragile news clipping that had accidentally gotten torn. Years later I see with different eyes.  It is a statement of grief.  A message and a warning.

And sadly, a legacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mom Void

The Mom Void

It’s Mother’s Day and it seems appropriate that I would be channeling my mother in the kitchen this weekend.  Tabouli, Hummus, Baba Ghannouj- salt, allspice, cinnamon, garlic, tahini, eggplant, and parsley dripped and splashed everywhere!  You can’t make Lebanese food without making a mess, using your hands and taste testing along the way.  The sterile kitchen police would have me under arrest.

My daughter in law is craving Lebanese food for my little Lebanese grandson still nesting just under her heart.  A new little Shaheen boy in the works.  My mom would be beside herself!  Another man to cook for!

I found my place very early in life next to my mother in the kitchen.  I had no choice really.  I just grew up in there with my own apron and stepping stool, stirring the rice pudding, chopping the parsley and washing the dishes.  Sometimes all at the same time.

I never complained.  With a family of eight and so many brothers, it was the only way I could sneak something to eat before the food hit the dinner table. It was also my special time to be with my mom.  To smell her perfume and sing songs with her.  At a very young age, I wanted to be just like her.  She was so loved and admired by everyone.  And she was a fabulous cook.  I think she invented that idiom about the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach..

She always knew just what to do in every situation.  What to cook for every ailment.  How to take care of her family.  She could have written the book on mothering.

I watched her as a young mother wrap up my babies and sing to them.  When my youngest, Peter, was born, I found her playing in the sandbox with Patrick and Robert and their trucks.  “Whose mother is that??” I wondered!  My mother never got dirty.  My mother had her nails and hair done every week and wore heels and hose.  My mother didn’t own a pair of jeans until she turned 50!

As I recuperated from each pregnancy and birth, she cleaned my house and did the laundry and cooked delicious things for us in the kitchen.  I just held my babies and watched.  I wanted to get in there and chop and stir and wash dishes but clearly our roles had changed and I was no longer the little girl helping.  I was the mother. Still learning from her.  Still needing her advice and expertise.  Still wanting to be close to her in the kitchen.

Now on the cusp of being a new grandmother myself, I’m feeling a bit insecure in the transition.  What will my new role be like?  What are the expectations?  Will I know what to do with a new baby?  After all, it’s been 30 years since I had Peter.  Things have changed. Mothers are more enlightened due to the internet.  Information is dispelled easily through a quick Google.  Does anyone call their mother for advice anymore?

The new parenting trends bring natural fibers and toxic free toys.  Gender fluid nurseries and neutral color schemes.  Babies sleep face up instead of face down.  Bumpers are no longer safe in cribs.  There’s something called “sleep training”.

Maybe I will Google “gramma training”.

So I find myself in the kitchen where I feel safe and smug.  I know the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.  Or through his mommy’s stomach.

It’s a start.  The rest will come in time.

As I chop the parsley and squeeze the lemons.  Smash the garlic with the salt just how she taught me.  Mix the Tabouli with my unsterile hands- I haven’t killed anyone yet with my cooking- I feel her standing next to me and I smell her perfume.  I am infused with her wisdom and her strength and her confidence in me.

“You got this, Sissie!  You’re going to be a wonderful Sittie!”

Feeling the Mom void..

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Ya’aburnee.. you bury me.

Ya’aburnee.. you bury me.

Sittee and Bobby Blur2

I was quite saddened when I read about Vice President Joe Biden’s 42 year old son, Beau, who just died of a brain tumor. This poor man has been through more trajedy than one could imagine.  First losing his wife and infant daughter in a car accident with his two small sons fighting for their lives.  Then years later having one of them succumb to cancer after not only surviving but also thriving with an enviable life, a successful career as an attorney and a fulfilling marriage with two beautiful young children.

Fate is twisted.

Ya’aburnee means “you bury me” in Arabic.  It means wanting to die before a loved one so as not to have to face the world without him or her in it.

This was the prayer on my mother’s lips when she received the news that my brother, Bobby, at age of 31, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  “Let it be me.  Not you.”

She fought for her third son from the very beginning.  He was born premature weighing only four pounds.  Just big enough to fit in a shoe box.  In school he was the class clown and the ring leader among his friends, often getting into trouble with Sr. Dolores, the principal at St.Philip Neri, in our small town of Compton.  He would lead kids twice his size around the neighborhood, looking for mischief.  He teased  me endlessly about being chubby and offered to pay my membership to Vic Tanny’s Salon.

After nine years of Catholic school Bobby  begged to be set free to attend the local public high school where most of his friends went.  He was a rebel.  A contrarian.  A master of debate.  How he convinced our ultra- Catholic parents to transfer him to public school remains a mystery to us all.

Years later while waiting to be accepted into Law School after earning a degree in Psychology from Loyola Marymount University and a Masters Degree in Political Science at American University, he would bide his time sitting on our couch at home reading through the encyclopedias from volume A through Z.  By now I was taller and not so chubby.  But he would still find things to tease me about.

Bobby went on to become a successful attorney.  He fell in love and married Christine. Together they had a family, Matthew and Katherine.  I’m sure my mother stopped worrying about him at that point.  (If mothers ever stop worrying..)

Until the evening when she got the news of Bobby’s brain tumor.

“Ya’aburnee,” she gasped in fear.

She got her wish.  My brother, Bobby recovered after several years of treatment.  He was healthy and back to work as an attorney, just long enough to be the Executor of my mother’s will after she succumbed to ovarian cancer in October of 1986.

And I imagine she was waiting with open arms at the gates of heaven with St. Peter when the cancer took my brother Bobby’s life in July of 1991.  For a brief moment, they would embrace and she would comfort him.  After which they would move on to join the Communion of Saints, their lives on earth but an ethereal dream.

My father was not so lucky.  He buried my mother.  And then he buried his third son. Dad died of cancer and a broken heart almost exactly a year after my brother died.

All these painful memories come back to me as I read the article about Joe Biden losing first his wife and infant daughter, and then years later, when it looked like life had self corrected, he lost the son he fought so hard to save.

Ya’aburnee.  You bury me.

My new mantra.

Ya’aburnee.

 

 

25 Things I Learned from my Dad…

25 Things I Learned from my Dad…

1. How to swim in the ocean.

2. To always take my vitamins.

3. How to use a thesaurus to improve my writing.

4. Army songs… (I left, I left, I left my wife and a 15 kids, over there, over there…)

5. That a freshly showered man in a nice suit is something to behold.

6. To smile often because I’m pretty when I smile.

7. That daily exercise is an important part of keeping fit.

8. To honor my mother.

9. That it’s perfectly acceptable to break out in song wherever and whenever.

10. The gift of hospitality.

11. To always be optimistic, dash negativity, visualize the life you desire.

12. The fine art of networking.

13. How to underline meaningful sentences in my personal books and read them again and again.

14. That everyone I meet is a potential friend.

15. That I am actually a princess.  (Didn’t you know?)

16. That fresh figs are God’s most perfect food.

17. How to write a love letter.

18. That people make mistakes and need forgiveness.

19. That real men cry.

20. Passion

21. How to let a man lead on the dance floor.

22. That ” it is what it is” and “that’s a crock of bull”!

23. To say I love you always and often.

24. To never give up.

I had a different relationship with my dad than my five older brothers had.  I’m sure their blog about Edmund Francis Shaheen Sr. would be quite different.

Therefore the twenty fifth thing I learned from my dad..

25. There is no denying the special bond  between a father and his little girl.

 

Love you and miss you, Dad.

 

 

 

 

 

25 things my mother taught me…

25 things my mother taught me…

1. To save all my receipts from everything

2. To stand up straight and hold my shoulders back

3. How to pluck my eyebrows so that they don’t run together above my nose

4. How to roll a pot of stuffed grape leaves in less than an hour

5. How to iron parts of a shirt in the correct order

6. How to cook without a recipe

7. To love my siblings but never go into business with them

8. To sing Broadway show tunes while cooking

9. That peanut butter on anything is a perfectly acceptable meal

10. To not say bad words (unless you say them in Arabic)

11. How to entertain friends, strangers and angels and make them all feel welcome in your home

12. How to cook for 20 people when only 6 are coming for dinner

13. How to embrace the feminine in the midst of a male dominated household

14. That food is love

15. That I am as Catholic as I am Lebanese

16. To wake up in the morning with a good attitude and smell the coffee no matter how bad the previous day was

17. How to boss someone around the kitchen (♥ Breezy)

18. To pray the rosary when I cannot sleep

19. How to raise sons to be strong, compassionate and loving men

20. How to stretch one pound of meat to feed eight people

21. To sleep in the bed I made for myself  (You’ve made your bed, now lie in it!)

22. How to wrap my babies tightly, hold them closely, and sing to them sweetly

23. How to trust God’s plan even in the most desperate situations

24. That love is stronger than death

My relationship with my mother was complicated until I had my first born son.  After which I realized the most important thing she taught me.  A lesson to last a lifetime.

25. How to be a mother

 

 

 

“Such is life!”

“Such is life!”

Life is fragile.

One day you are enjoying your privacy in your big two story house getting your own tea and bossing around your cleaning lady and the next day you have an accident, spend the night in a hospital and consequently have 100 of your closest relatives worrying and knowing what’s best for you.

“Such is life!” my father would say.

When Adele married Dad at the ripe age of 54 years old, having never been married before or had children, she inherited all of us whether she agreed to it or not.  My siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles, were all very pleased with Dad’s choice of a new wife.  She kept him happy and even and tethered.  Something every one of us Shaheens seems to need I might add.

Someone solid to bounce off of.  Someone kind to put up with us. Someone with an internal compass to keep us on track.  We are an unruly tribe.

She is all those things and independent to boot, coming from solid Irish Canadian stock.  Having been raised by the nuns in the French province of Montreal.  Liking her tea and rolls just so at a certain time of day and reading her paper from cover to cover without interruption.  I’m not sure she was ready for a rambunctious family such as ours.  Or the outpouring of concern when she needed some medical attention and “help” (God forbid!).

After spending four days with her I am in awe of her 92 years of wisdom, strength and fortitude.  Driving home from our visit, I had 6 plus hours to contemplate what it might be like to be in her shoes and wonder why everyone is making such a fuss about her living alone and carrying on her daily life.

“Why is everyone asking me how I am? Eh?”

When I’m 92 I want to be just like her.

Motherless…

Motherless…

I was at the supermarket balancing 6 month old Peter on my hip and purchasing groceries for a Mother’s Day Brunch for a small army, my shopping cart overflowing.  At 30 years old it wasn’t unusual for me to put on a feast for 30-40 people.  Doing take-out was never an option.  “Wow, are you having a party?” the checkout clerk asked.  Of course they always asked me that because, like my mother before me, my grocery cart was always piled high with food.  The more you feed your family, of course, the more you love them!

“Yes.. a Mother’s Day Brunch.  I wonder when it will be my turn to have a Mother’s Day?!” I said somewhat sarcastically and somewhat truthfully.  My Mother’s Day would be spent standing in the kitchen over a hot stove!  (Ha.. doesn’t that sound like something your mother would say?)

Be careful what you wish for.

By the following Mother’s Day my mother had succumbed to her battle with cancer and my mother-in-law had decided to go out of town.  I was to have MY day.

Still grieving the loss of my mom, I was not looking forward to celebrating.  My brother, Ronnie, joined us for brunch at a fancy shmancy hotel that had unlimited delectables and flowing champagne.  I should have felt like a queen.

But when Peter pitched the tenth tater tot from his high chair as my other two sons egged him on and howled uncontrollably, I dissolved into tears.  This was not the Mother’s Day I wanted.  I wanted my mother back.

Gathering children, diaper bags, to-go containers, etc, we made a quick escape and headed for home.  I slept for three hours and my brother, motherless as well, stayed and waited for me to wake up.  I  guess I scared everyone including myself with my emotional outburst in the restaurant.

It’s been 27 years since my sweet mother died and this day still brings back all those memories of her.  It was a significant loss at a very vulnerable time in my life.  I feel a bond with every woman who has lost their mother.  What is it that we know in our tortured wisdom?

We know that without our mother, no matter what type of relationship we had with her- wonderful or complicated- maybe both- there is a loss and an empty place.  We long for the bond we had or maybe the bond we never had with her.  We grieve the unconditional love that only a mother can give.  For everyone else we have to be strong or nurturing or unselfish or understanding.  But for our mom we can just be who we are.  And she will love us anyway.  And we feel an acceptance and a tether that allows us to be in the world with an unshakable foundation.

For those of us who are motherless, the bottom has fallen out and we now take on the responsibility to be a mother for others-  whether we are prepared for the significant task at hand or not.

Today I am thinking about one of our students at Presentation High School who just lost her mother tragically a few short weeks ago.  She is 14 years old.  My heart aches for her.  Her wound will never heal.

And remembering my precious mom, Dorothy, on this special day.

 

 

 

Love is hard work.

Love is hard work.

Now that Valentine’s Day is over we can get down to the real business of love.

Love is not always flowers and chocolates or a fine dinner over a bottle of wine.  Rather, these are icing on the cake of love.  The real work of love is behind the scenes.  Subtle yet powerful.   Painful and challenging at times.

Love is saying “I’ll be right there” when you have a million other pressing things on your schedule. Love is the two AM feeding when they are infants, the carpooling to 100 soccer games when they are 10, holding them accountable to a curfew when they are  teenagers, and eventually letting go as they kick and scream for their independence. Love is listening and keeping your mouth shut when you think you have earth shattering advice. Love is being strong and letting someone lean on you. Love is hanging on the phone for hours with a friend who just needs to talk. Love is knowing the difference between supporting and enabling.  Love is forgiving others and releasing obligation. Love is forgiving oneself for mistakes made and roads not taken. Love is keeping vigil at the bedside of a dying parent. Love is holding on to hope in a desperate situation. Love is praying for good news. Love is comforting the grieving. Love is walking to the end of ones’ land every evening and waiting for the prodigal son to return home. Love is holding out a light in the darkness.

Love is swallowing your pride when your pride is getting in the way of loving.

Love is hard work.

 

My Dad.. The Eternal Optimist

My Dad.. The Eternal Optimist

My father always said that he had missed his calling.  He fancied himself a renowned psychologist existing inside the body of a real estate investor. He was a follower of Timothy Leary in the fifties, practiced Silva Mind Control and psycho-cybernetics in the sixties and seventies and was a charter member of Optimist International. When I was a teenager he bought me books to read with titles such as You Are Not The Target by Laura Archera Huxley and The 7 Day Mental Diet by Emmet Fox.  I grew up knowing what an “affirmation” was and had several taped to my bathroom mirror.

When I was first married my dad mentioned to my new husband that he was planning on purchasing the latest model Cadillac and in the meantime had placed a picture of it on the refrigerator where he could see it every day and visualize himself driving it.  This gained him quite the reputation with my very conservative Irish Catholic in-laws.

But I understood him and was one of his faithful disciples, standing by his side and believing in his seemingly far fetched ideas throughout my childhood.  In my teens his advice and wisdom elevated me out of the insecurities and doubts other adolescents experienced.  As a young adult I looked to him for confidence and support as I discovered how to be a good parent to my three sons.

My father was probably the biggest influence in my decision to study the field of psychology.  To this day I find such wisdom in books that I inherited from his bookshelf:  among them The Greatest Salesman in the World by Ogden Mandino, As a Man Thinketh by James Allen, Born To Win by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongward, and The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran…  all replete with his personal thoughts scratched in the margins and noteworthy sentences underlined.

His legacy lives on in my heart and on challenging days when I am dealing with seemingly rude and obnoxious people I still hear him saying to me “Sis baby.. you are not the target!”

Every little girl needs a daddy who calls her princess.  I had that man in my life.

Missing Edmund Francis Shaheen Sr. today and every day.  Happy Father’s Day to the first man I ever loved!