Category Archives: Nurturing the Soul

Mandatory Pre-Wedding Mother/Son Lunch #2

Mandatory Pre-Wedding Mother/Son Lunch #2

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Patrick Francis Healy, my “middle child”, my #2 son, is getting married next weekend.

Named after St. Francis of Assisi and my father Edmund Francis Shaheen.  A classic Irish name with a bow to his grandfather, William Healy.  A lover of nature, an artist, a true renaissance man outstanding in his field.

After almost two days of laboring, Patrick was born with his brown eyes wide open to check out the world.  I think he was impressed.  We had a quick snuggle before the nurses whisked him away to the nursery to observe him.  “He’s too quiet”, they said.

In my hospital bed looking out the window at the stars, I couldn’t roll over and get comfortable.  He was still with me.  Safely tucked just under my heart.

My phantom limb.

Once home, Patrick was forced to contend with his two year old brother, Robert, who by the way was NOT quiet or tranquil.  Nonetheless, he almost immediately slept through the night and even when he wasn’t asleep, he would just lie in his crib, taking in his new digs.  His dad and I would look at each other and ask “Where did he come from?”

Robert loved him and would climb into his crib in the morning to talk to him and show him the many stuffed animals adorning.  Their bond has strengthen through the years.  I’ve often drawn a parallel to their lives with the story of the Prodigal Son.  (But that would be an entirely different blog!)

Nothing really ever rattled Patrick. He was happy playing with his GIJoes and reading his books on his own.  That is, until Peter was born and his status was disrupted.  But he quickly adjusted and life became even more fun and interesting with a little brother.

“He’s quiet”.  Those words spoken in the delivery room couldn’t have been more prophetic.  Quiet until he has something to say.  Quiet because there are creative things churning away in his very intuitive mind.

Walking to the park with my three sons after my mother died, Patrick so sweetly chimed  “Wouldn’t it be fun if Sitti was with us?”  He was 3 1/2 years old.

On the anniversary of my mother’s death, I put some of her perfume on just to have her close.  In the kitchen during breakfast Patrick said “You smell like Sitti!”  She had passed 7 years prior, and Patrick still remembered her comforting scent.

When we lived in Portland, we had a roof leak over some built in book shelves.  It rained (go figure..) and my books were ruined.  He helped me pull them off the self and dry them one by one.  “Oh Mom.. your books!”  At 14 years old he knew what was important to me and I was deeply touched by his empathy and caring.

I went to Patrick’s room to just chat one evening when he was in high school.  He was busy with a writing assignment.  I asked “What are you writing?”  He responded “An apology letter to the Dean of Students.  It has to be two pages.”  I said “What in the heck did you do?”  Later I learned that it was something rather significant that involved some shenanigans with several of his friends.  But Patrick took it in stride and did what he needed to do to rectify the situation.  Quietly.  Deliberately.  He took responsibility.   And then he put it behind him.

After leaving for college at CAL Berkeley, Patrick continued to come home every weekend.  I was always happy to see him but I finally asked him why he wasn’t staying at school and getting involved and making new friends.  He calmly responded “I don’t like the food in the dorm.”  And of course he had learned from me from a very early age that food is love.  So I figured he came home for some food.  And some love.

“He’s quiet”.  To be honest it was a rare moment to see Patrick rattled.  But see it I did when he came home from three years of graduate school in Denver.  He wanted to stay there.  He wanted a job there but he didn’t get one. Probably one of the first times he didn’t attain what he set out to get for himself.  We talked for hours.  I could feel his disappointment and distress.  I felt helpless.  I had never seen him so dejected.

But get a job he did in Santa Clara at Verde Design where he had interned after getting his BA in Landscape Architecture.  He wasn’t expecting to go back there.  He wanted something different.

Nonetheless, he found a place to live.  He made a spreadsheet of his expenses.  He pulled himself together and started that job at Verde.  A couple weeks in he heard the click click of a co-worker’s heels as she approached her desk after being on vacation in Spain.  Click Click.  I think he knew.  She appeared out of nowhere.

“He’s quiet”.  He holds his cards close to his heart.  After a two year warm and wonderful friendship, he finally risked everything to tell Nazaneen that he was falling in love with her.  And a year later they were engaged.

Today, when Patrick and I had our lunch together, we talked about having a partner in life and how important it is.  How the burdens and the worries of life are so much easier when they are shared.  I encourage him to continue to spoil her and make her feel special.  I crossed the line of politically correct and told him that every woman wants to be loved and taken care of.  (Shoot me now..)

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my Patrick Francis will be a compassionate, supportive and caring husband.  And Nazaneen is just the woman who will appreciate his still waters that run deep.

We finished off our lunch today at the hair salon in Morgan Hill- Patrick a nice trim and style.  Mom- some highlights and a cut.  After Patrick left, Carolyn, the stylist, commented on what a wonderful young man Patrick is.

I know.  I’ve known it from the start.  My middle child. My #2 son.  He will always be tucked right below my heart.

My phantom limb.

What are we busy about?

What are we busy about?

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“Your right ovary is enlarged.  That’s unusual after menopause.”

This is not something you want to hear from your gynecologist when your mother died from ovarian cancer at 61 years of age.  I stare at the ceiling and try to stay calm.

“Let’s schedule an ultrasound.”

I go mute.  I don’t ask any questions.  So unlike me.  I accept my sentence and graciously take my referral paperwork from the nurse and half listen to her instructions.  I need to get to work for a meeting at 9am.  I’ll process this later.  It’s Wednesday and life is busy.

On the following Monday evening, in anticipation of my early morning ultrasound appointment, I decide to go through my personal books.  In a Marie Kondo moment when I sold my house on Del Monte, I gave away boxes and boxes of books to the library.  I have to admit it was NOT life-changing magic.  It was like cutting off an arm.  What I have left on my bookshelves are most treasured.

I paged through them one by one- reading underlined sentences and comments written in the margins and tearing up over little pictures and holy cards I stuffed away in the pages intentionally.  It was the best kind of treasure hunt.  But who was this woman who read all these books and hungrily devoured their content?  What happened to her?  And where is she now?

I contemplate the woman I have become.  I’m busy.  Too busy.  But what am I busy about?

Meetings, counseling teenagers, paperwork, data, traffic duty, chaperoning dances juxtaposed with weddings, new grand babies, summer vacation…   how could I ever fit in (God forbid) surgery, radiation, chemo, oh my.  The what ifs took over.

The wine helped. I got a pricey bottle of red just for the occasion.

The next morning in the middle of yet another meeting I received an email from my doctor with a clean bill of health. It’s just a fibroid- nothing to be concerned about.  Back at work I feel relieved- yet oddly changed.  What matters?  What am I missing here?

And the larger more encompassing question… would it take a debilitating illness in order to give myself permission to step off this hamster wheel?

I started this blog over a month ago.  Hoping that a clever ending would make it’s way into my consciousness during a bike ride or a hike.  That’s what usually happens.  But nada, zilch.

What are you busy being about?  What are you planning on doing “some day”?  When the dishes are done.  When you finish the landscaping outside.  When you quit your day job.  When you win the lottery.

What are you waiting for?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comfort and Joy 🌲

Comfort and Joy 🌲

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It’s 12:30pm on Christmas day and I’m upstairs bathing my grandson, Boe, enjoying his little boy antics and squeals of glee.  I check my watch and call down to whomever will hear “Hey!  Don’t forget to put the roast in the oven at 1!”  My sons and daughter in law are scurrying about preparing for our 20 plus guests- straightening out the toys, figuring out the logistics of the oven and deciding whether or not to do the veggies on the grill outside.  “I need a bigger kitchen!”  – my mantra since my first apartment as a new bride. I inherited the tendency to cook for a crowd from my mother who taught me that food is love.  I’m afraid my kitchen lust will only get me in trouble.  If you build it they will come!

Oh Lordy.

I am mentally checking off my to do list until the first guests begin to arrive.  Caught up in conversation and coat hanging I relinquish control and my sons and daughter in law take over.  The last minute preparations are all taken care of.  It happens like that every year.  Patrick, the kitchen guru, masterminds the veggies outside on the grill while tending to the 18 lb. prime rib in the oven.  Rob organizes the gifts for the white elephant game.  Breezy and Peter replenish the appetizers and open wine.  It’s magical.  When it’s time to eat, I have no idea how it all came together.

Along with the gluten free, vegan, dairy free and vegetarian dietary preferences, I prepared an invocation or “prayer” if you will for all types of believers or non believers- Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Athiest, or just plain hungry for something!

Beloved Lord,

we do greatly thank you

for the abundance

that is ours 

Amen

For a crazy moment I want to freeze time and keep all these people in my house with the Christmas tree all lit up and the table set with the finest china- the gifts under the tree and the love in the room- little Thomas and Boe young and innocent forever- it all brings me such strength, comfort and joy…  I believe we have collectively in this room the power to change the world.

A quote that my sons and daughter in law threw around in jest for several days before Christmas was:

With great power comes great responsibility.  ~Voltaire 

How providential.  The abundance is for us to enjoy.  Yes.  And it is also ours to share. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t take a particular religion (or food preference) to feel the responsibility to be a man or woman for others.  We have so much.  We have much to give.

I love my family and I don’t want for a minute to take my “wealth” for granted.  I could bottle up all this love and keep it for myself.  But it’s such a privilege to be able to “pay it forward”.

Maybe a big ass kitchen wouldn’t be a bad idea after all!  Just think of all the guests we could seat and feed!

Perhaps we would entertain angels…

Merry Christmas to you and yours.  ❤︎

 

Being Sitti

Being Sitti

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I have been reflecting on the awesome responsibility of being a grandmother.  It has been a transition to say the least. And with all transitions there is an adjustment period and an awkward sense of the unknown as well as the anticipation of what is to come and how it will all look once everyone finds their sea legs.

My gracious son and daughter in law let me choose the name I would like to be called by little Boe and it was a quick decision.  Like my Sittis before me, I felt that the Arabic name for grandmother was more than appropriate because it speaks of a long history of Lebanese women who wanted nothing more than to cook, feed, and make a cozy home for their families.  And even though I had the means and awareness to get a college degree and beyond and have a thriving and rewarding career, I have to admit my first goal when I stepped onto a college campus at 17 years old was to get my MRS degree, have a family, and create a loving home for them.

I was named after my maternal Sitti, Rosa Maloof, and of course like all good Catholic girls, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  (My parents must have had high aspirations for me!)  I had to do some fact checking with my brothers and as my memory serves me, I only saw my maternal grandmother three times in my entire life.  She and my grandfather lived in Atlanta and were not fond of flying.  We were a family of eight in California and traveling across the country to see our grandparents was a bit out of the budget.  I was able to spend time with them once as a little girl, once as a teenager, and much later when I was 30.  When my mother passed away at 61 years old, they did not come out for her funeral.  It is still incredulous to me today.  I would move heaven and earth to see my children in any state (or state).

My father’s mother, Louise, died in childbirth along with her fifth child.  My dad was the oldest and we think (our collective memories) he was about 6 years old when she died.  The baby’s name was John and I remember my dad telling me the story- never with a straight face- always with tears running down his cheeks.  My brother John was named after my dad’s little brother.

My grandfather sent for a wife from Lebanon (cousins.. can you do some fact checking for me?  This is part urban legend passed down through oral history).  Her name was Madeleine and she had to quickly adjust to a new country, a new husband, and to my grandfather Thomas’ four children.  They went on to have four more children of their own whom my grandmother favored.  And she favored their children as well.

With that said, I must confess that I don’t remember having a Sitti who wanted to kiss me and hold me, babysit me and get on the floor and play with me and/or agonize over the next time she might be able to spend time with me.

I write all this not so that you will feel sorry for me.  I write it for my own understanding and for my children’s understanding.  I write it to rub a salve on a wound that has just recently been exposed as I reflect on my own experience as a grandmother.  I write it to help me understand this longing in my heart to be near my new grandson and be a part of his life.  I write it because I know I am not alone in this reflection and confession and to open a conversation about the role of a grandmother in a child’s life.

In the song Both Sides Now Joni Mitchell sings “Something’s lost and something’s gained in living every day.”  Life is not always easy.  Family is not always as Norman Rockwell would illustrate but I believe people try.  In the absence of holding me and reading stories to me, my Sittis cooked and cleaned and fed me and I suppose they thought that was enough.  But this Sitti wants something different with her grandchildren.

I would love to hear your thoughts on being a grandparent.

 

 

 

 

My Easter Confession

My Easter Confession

 

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Bless me Father for I have sinned.  It has been so long that I can’t even remember when I last went to confession and these are my sins.

Or at least the latest ones.

Or the ones I can remember.  BTW are we responsible for the ones we can’t remember?

Oh Lordy.  Well here goes.

I did not attend any Easter services this season.  Not Holy Thursday.  Not Good Friday.  Not Easter Vigil.

Zero, zip, nada.

I did this intentionally so now you know why I’m here today.

Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.

Instead..

I cleaned my house and did my Target, TJMaxx and Trader Joes shopping. I worked in my garden, fertilized all of my succulents and marveled at the first spring flowers on my Cecile Brunner Rose. I cooked a bit and squeezed lemons to freeze for future Lebanese delicacies.  I went to dinner and a movie with a good friend. I finished a novel and started a new one.  Took a morning hike and photographed several cows with their calves.

For the grand finale, Easter, I shared a meal with my wonderful family, chased toddlers around the house and played with my little grandson.

For these and all my sins I am sorry.

Now, Father, I’m sure you want to know why this cradle Catholic defied all of the rules.

My reasoning?  I wanted to see what it was like to live in a secular world without the sacred.  I wanted to see what it’s like to not believe, to not have my Catholic community, to not sing and pray for my loved ones and the world at large.  I wanted to see if God in nature was enough for me.

All in all it was a very spiritual experience.  But here is what I discovered.

I realized that I missed the incense, the chanting, the candles and the ancient scripture.  I missed the washing of the feet and the opportunity to meditate on service and being a woman for others. I missed the veneration of the cross and the church bells and the bowed heads. I missed the experience of humility that comes from believing in something that is beyond myself and out of my control.  I missed the celebration and the lilies filling the sanctuary.  I missed the Alleluia and the joy that comes after the sacrifices of Lent.

I missed the good old fashioned Catholic aerobics… standing for a half hour gospel and then springing up and down and up and down to the rhythm of the rituals and the liturgy.

I missed it all.  And now I feel an indescribable void.

So, Father, I guess you can take the girl out of the Catholic but you can’t take the Catholic out of the girl.  I’m sure you have an appropriate penance for me?  10 Hail Marys and a Glory Be?  100 continuous genuflections?  A Novena with my head covered?

You missed it, my dear.  Penance done.  Amen.  Hallelujah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Boe…

Dear Boe…

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I just wanted to write to you and tell you how much I enjoyed our play date this weekend.  I had been looking so forward to it ever since your mommy set it up for us.

I think I’m in love with you.  Oh my…

I especially had fun this morning when we were crawling on the floor together, exploring all the ins and outs and unders of your living room floor.  You were quite interested in the plugs and cables.  Perhaps you will be an electrician when you grow up.  Or a deep sea diver.

Or a secret service man.

You’re such a good crawler.  You get around with finesse.  Remind me to invite you to my house next time I need someone to get that thing that rolled under my sofa.

I’m home now doing my laundry.  And I’m giggling at the combination of dog hair, snot and mashed bananas on my nightgown. Good thing I raised three sons and have lots of Shout It Out and I know how to use it!

I’m reminiscing of our time together.  Sigh.  And I’m thinking of you. ♥♥

You’re the avocado on my sandwich.  You’re the frosting on my cupcake.

You’re the garlic in my baba ghanoush.

This kind of JOY is new to me.  It’s wonder, awe and rapture all wrapped up into one.

It’s a little boy with eyes of blue.  Oh, how I love you!

Your Sitti

 

 

Do you believe in New Year’s Resolutions?

Do you believe in New Year’s Resolutions?

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One wouldn’t get in a sailboat without a compass or embark on a grueling scenic hike without a map.

Or would they?

Myself? I have a tendency to get lost.  Lost on a trail.  Lost on the freeway.  Lost in my thoughts.  A good plan keeps me focused and on task.  Goals help me to breakthrough inertia.  A map helps me to reach my destination.

So I plan.  And I plan.  And I journal.  And I plan some more.  And I re-read my old journals to see if life has deposited me somewhere close to where X marks the spot.

How about you?  Do you know where you want to go in 2017?  Do you have a hankering for something different?  Are you ready to change things up and see what sticks?  Or are you plodding along the same path.  Waking up to the same job.  Shopping at Target and getting take out from the Chinese restaurant on the corner.

Benjamin Franklin once said “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.  Winston Churchill said this- “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”.

In either case, some self reflection seems to be in order as we embark on a new year.

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

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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Loved!

Loved!

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Today we celebrated Ash Wednesday at Presentation High School.  To non-Catholics, this must be the weirdest cult practice that one has ever experienced!  Being doused with ashes in the shape of a cross and being told to turn from sin and live the gospel.  The scriptures proclaimed at Mass today told us that we are forgiven and loved and invited to be our best selves!  These students certainly look happy, don’t they?

I’m so proud of my Catholic faith.  It has really emerged as a positive force in this troubled world.  Our Pope has taken great pains in living a simple life and rejecting the pomp and circumstances of Vatican City.  We are encouraged, during the season of Lent- the forty days and nights before Easter- to do something positive in our lives rather than give something up.

Be kind.  Serve the poor.  Love your neighbor.

When I was in high school I practiced all the Catholic rituals without understanding them.  These students are doing the same.  They have no idea how this gospel message will come to nest in their souls and take fruit in their lives.  God bless them!  They are beautiful young women with the whole world at their feet.

I pray that they go forth and make a difference.  That they love tenderly and serve with open hearts.  That they become women of God with lives that impact others in a positive way.

I feel so blessed to be able to witness their transformation to womanhood and support them as they look forward to all of life’s blessings.

Amen

Providential…

Providential…

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Occurring at a favorable time.  Opportune.  Involving divine foresight or intervention.

I think both definitions fit perfectly but I am leaning towards the latter.

I am finally in my new home.  It feels somewhat like a new shoe.  Super fabulous looking but in need of some breaking in.

My sons and my daughter in law have all come to share a glass of wine, Chinese food, snacks, coffee and bagels.   My grand-dogs have run through the house, making my cat, Ethel, climb up high on top of the kitchen cupboards just like old times.  I’ve had interesting people in and out buying items from my Craig’s List postings (thank you, Patrick), giving me some nice cash to buy lots of take out so that I can feed the “help” until I get this new kitchen organized.

Yesterday I met the most interesting couple- Sharon and Neil.  They drove from Hayward to get my Pottery Barn chair and a half with the matching ottoman.  Neil is a Marriage and Family Therapist like me and Sharon is a Pastoral Minister, a Buddhist practitioner and a future radio personality.  They were so very compatible, finishing each other’s sentences and taking turns sharing their personal stories with me, my son, Peter, and my daughter in law, Brianna.  Neil and Peter had a common acquaintance. Sharon and I could have talked forever about her work and her experiences ministering to the dying at UCSF.

We contemplated my parents’ dining room furniture and how difficult it was to fit into my new place.  Sharon had so many insights about how objects carry memory and good “karma” so to speak and how passing them on is a blessing to the next owner.  Perhaps I could also make a sort of “hope chest” in the closet under the staircase with the silver and other family heirlooms that I’ve had the pleasure of inheriting over the years.  A future grand-daughter might fall in love with these items.  I felt somewhat of a release from the old and permission to move into the future with not only my earned wisdom but also with fresh ideas and a clean slate.

After Neil and  Sharon left, I experienced my new home with different eyes.  How did these two intriguing and insightful people walk off the street and into my life?  Even if I never see them again (although I have a feeling I will) they have touched something deep inside of me.

New concepts.  New opportunities.  New people traversing my life path and sharing their stories.  This is not just my new home.  This is an opportunity for transformation.

As Peter and Breezy piled the doggies into the car and prepared to head north, and we reviewed our visit with Neil and Sharon, I asked, “Providential. Is that a word?”.  Peter said “I don’t think so, Mom.  You made that up.”

I do sort of make things up sometimes. I embellish and take writer’s liberties.  I’m a good story teller.

But when I got back into the house I Googled “providential” like a good student of vocabulary and there it was.

I couldn’t have made up a better word for the way I was feeling.