Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The sound of silence

When the world gets too noisy for me (and December is a good time for that even though it is my favorite month) I travel in my head to somewhere peaceful.  Often my visualization includes the ocean with waves stronger than me crashing against the shore.
But- this month, I have gone in my head to Essex Junction, VT.  I go back to the condo my mother had at 35 Brickyard Road and I put my head on a pillow on her sofa.  I am holding a book and facing a tv that is off.  I only need to turn my head slightly to look back at her on her red recliner with her little feet up, glasses on, and serious look on her face as she reads.  Later I will look and find her snoozing.  Only then will I feel I can snooze without guilt and we will spend a lazy day this way.  We will alternate reading, laughing, and snoozing and it will be one of the best days of my life.
I am so lucky this visualization can be strong because of how often this was how we spent quality time together.  Two people sitting in silence loving the world around them and each other.  There was much more to our relationship, to be sure, but the silent afternoons together- I believe that was the soul of our relationship.
Looking around me, I worry some about mothers and daughters in the current age.  Will our daughters remember any silent time with us when we just existed quietly in the world together?  Or when we die, will they only question why we never slowed down and just looked at them, or really listened to them.  I can only thank my mom in my heart for teaching me what the silence of a relationship sounds like.  I believe there is no more beautiful sound. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Lately some things have bothered me more than I think is normal.  For example the other day while picking up my prescription at CVS, a woman in the car next to me was talking into her phone like it was a walkie- talkie.  The desire to scream "Its a phone.  Use it as one."  Felt strong and really dramatic and unnatural.  However, I am going to give myself that one because it had been a really bad day and I was itching to burst at someone who was not in any way connected to me.
However, I can't so easily explain my extreme anger at people who talk on the phone while being waited on in a store.  This happened just the other day at the 7-11.  It was a Sunday morning and I was happily out doing the chore my husband usually does while I take some extra snooze time.  I was at the 7-11 getting us the Sunday Globe and my daughter a cup of hot cocoa.  I was in a great mood because I had just thrown on a hat and I knew I could go home and we would all lounge around and have a mellow morning.  But when I got up to the counter I was behind a customer on the phone.  The anger started slowly and gained speed as the cashier waited for her to get her money out while she cradled the phone between chin and shoulder and chatted away. 
I know what you are thinking and you are wrong.  Remember, I was having a lazy Sunday so I didn't mind at all that her conversation might slow down the line.  No.  What bothered me is the fact that she was IGNORING a human being standing in front of her.  If there is one thing that both of my parents instilled in me it is the need for humans to be human to each other.  When you greet anyone you look them in the eye and you let them know they are important.  I can remember how proud my parents were the day my brother took some of the wholesale flowers he sold and gave them to his cashier at Burger King because she "seemed to be having a really bad day."  
God, sometimes we act like it is so hard to make positive changes in the world.  But from what I am seeing if each of us made a decision to actually greet each person we came in contact with on one day, the world would change for the better. 
Almost every morning I go to the Shell station for gas.  The manager and the cashier are awesome.  We share a laugh every day and yes, we talk about the weather sometimes too.  I cannot even describe how little I like the coffee and how much I like that interaction to start my day.  It helps that after about 3 days when I first started going there the cashier asked if I was a teacher and then informed me I had been his third grade teacher!  He is such a kind young man and working hard while he puts himself through college.  Every day I can look at him and see one positive difference I feel I have contributed to in the world. 
All around us are people working so hard to be better people, to make a difference in the world, to just be noticed.  Lets hang up our phones and really start communicating with the world.  Are you in?

Monday, December 19, 2011

I'm Back with Passion!

Everyday I miss my writing.  Everyday I miss the feeling that comes with finishing a blog post and feeling such completion that all is right with my world.  I promised myself that for my 40th birthday I would give an hour to writing. That is about what I need for a good post, but it is amazing to me how hard it can be to find an hour of complete solitude a week.  As I write this I am watching the clock knowing that in seven minutes I have to begin to get ready for my other work.  I am passionate about my work as a teacher.  Truly, I am.  I think in the last few weeks I have been having a hard time remembering the passion and this week I have promised myself that I will reach down and bring it out again.  It is easy to get dragged down in the negative.  In the "Oh God why is Monday here so quickly?"  "Happy hump day we are almost finished."" Thank God its Friday!"  Most recently I learned that the following initials mean Eff my life:  FML.  But it is never the terminally ill friends or the friends who are losing or have lost a child or any family member using those initials.  Why would they?  They recognize how valuable and precious every minute of life is.  Yes, I have decided to pull out all of my passionate spirit again and fight any FML feeling I might get or have.  I am thankful for my life, for every minute even when the minute feels it is lasting an hour.  Today I grasp the T.G.I.T. spirit.  Thank God It's Today.   The sky is a beautiful orange on the bottom with soft pink clouds floating on top.  The world is promising great things.  I am ready.  Are you?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"What you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you're saying."   This is one of my favorite quotes and I am feeling too relaxed and lazy right now to look up its origin, but what a great quote to think about.  Last night we were driving home from cheer practice (that is for another post) and there was a jogger on the wrong side of the road, preventing us from turning and seemingly unaware of it because he was lost in his own little world.  As you might imagine, the two adults in the car started complaining about people who don't follow rules and inconvenience us and put themselves in danger.  All of a sudden from the back seat a voice that I could swear was my daughter said, "Hey guys, you don't know what that guy is going through.  Maybe something awful just happened to him and he doesn't even notice what is going on around him."  I whipped around as fast as I could knowing somehow this thing about my mother dying was fake and she was sitting in the back seat reminding me that we have to think of others too.  But no, it was just my amazing 11 year old daughter with a slight smile on her face that led me to recognize that she was repeating something I must have said to her when she was complaining about someone.   I thanked her for the reminder and still could swear I heard my mother's laughter in the back seat of that car.  
My first memory of "what my mother was" was when I was very little.  I can't say what age but we were at the laundromat.  Even now, that memory seems weird because we had a washer/dryer but trust me we were at the laundromat and a woman was yelling at her child.  She may have smacked him or she may have been about to smack him, but I remember my mother with that look.  That self-righteous angry look that she would stop this woman no matter what from hitting her child.  But then my mom did something I did not understand at the time.  She said to the woman, "It really isn't easy raising kids is it?"  The tone I heard in my mother's voice was one of complete compassion and I didn't understand at all.  I looked up at her and saw a different, soft face full of love.  What was happening here?  I remember being just so confused.  My mother sat and talked to that woman and I don't remember the rest of any of the conversation but I remember being fascinated that the woman was crying and my mom seemed to be her closest friend.  
After leaving the laundromat I had to know why my mom had been nice to this woman and all I remember is this, "Sometime all people need is someone to talk to."
Maybe the jogger last night had just suffered a terrible tragedy and needed someone to talk to or maybe he was completely unaware he was on the wrong side or maybe he was just a huge asshole.  The only thing that matters was my perception because it would dictate how I reacted and I wish I had been the one to realize he may have been troubled, but I am glad to know my daughter is "what she is." 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Ick this is not a very fun post to write for various reasons.  The first is that my laptop is in the "shop" so to speak.  It is a work laptop and it is being updated.  Consequently, I am writing this from a desk and I feel chained to this chair in this room that is not very inspiring to say the least. 

Also, this is not a typical post from me.  I did not write yesterday and I had promised writing every weekday.  I thought I would take a moment to explain what is happening. 

The good news is that I've found my first book!  It only took me 2 months of writing every single day and some craziness along the way as I thought about it, but I have got it.  The bad news is that much of the writing that went on this blog helped me get there and I have spoken with an editor who says, "No more stuff you want to use in your book going on your blog."

Remember the post where I wrote about how when things feel unsettled I listen closely to see what is coming next.  My life is a writer is what is coming next.  The blog is the first part and I DO PLAN to maintain it.  But, I need to spend some of my writing time now, writing different types of pieces and pieces I cannot put on the blog because then I will have a harder time pitching them as they are already out there floating around.  It certainly sounds like solid advice to me. 

The problem is that writing for myself quietly is nowhere near as exciting for me as writing for an immediate audience.  So, I am going to try to write my typical blogposts three times a week, but unfortunately some of the topics that have peaked your interest will now have to be off the table.  AH THAT SUCKS!  I promise though that when the book is mostly finished...if nobody will buy it to publish it....I will post it all on this blog!!!! You wont even have to pay.  :) 

I really hope you all will stick with me on this blog.  It is definitely a priority for me, but I need to take some of that writing time and do research as well.  Plus in one more month the other job starts and I am just not sure when the hell the writing will take place then...I just know it has to. 

So, with all that being said.  I promise another "typical Jen Flemming" post tomorrow!

Monday, July 25, 2011


I have a bad reputation at work.  People think I don't like to be touched.  Sometimes it is true, but unfortunately at work I had to go there because I don't like to be touched when I am feeling anxious.  I get this feeling of being closed in.  Also, there are some people who touch you and it feels very real and leaves you warm.  There are some people who touch you for whatever reason and it feels very insincere and almost worse than if they hadn't tried at all. 

But touching is one of those things that in the right moment is exactly what the doctor ordered.  So imagine my surprise at church yesterday when I almost reached out and rubbed the back of the woman in the pew directly in front of us. 

Truth be told I often congratulate myself that since my mom died I do not spend every day curled up in the fetal position crying.  I actually congratulate her because I think it speaks volumes about how I was raised and our relationship.  Quite honestly, if I did not have my own daughter to love and care for the whole grieving process would have been uglier, longer and really quite disgustingly pathetic. 

But, if you are a frequent guest of this blog you know that although I miss mom I believe she is with me still in many ways.  I push the wanting of the human person out of my head and most days that works fine.  But yesterday at church I was reminded how much you can miss someone's touch. 

There was a sweet little old lady in front of us.  At first I didn't notice anything special about her that caught my eye, but whenever I am around older people at church I always start to notice them at the sign of peace.  Many older people only like to wave because the risk of germs is just not worth the handshake so I try to be perceptive and not reach my hand out if it will make them feel obligated.  The first thing I noticed about this lady was her purplish bruised looking arms that were just like my mom's.  In my mom's case it was medication that made her skin paper thin.  She would often have bleeding under the skin that would cause these purplish spots.  If her skin was even rubbed against roughly she would start to bleed and so often she had band-aids up and down her arms.  I could not help but notice the band-aid on this woman's arm.  I decided right then that this was going to have to be a very gentle hand shake because perhaps this woman had Rheumatoid Arthritis like my mom and a handshake that was too hard could hurt her for the whole day.  I debated leaning down and telling my daughter to be gentle but then realized my daughter would be just as perceptive if she saw a person like her grammy. 

This woman may have needed a gentle handshake but I will never know.  You see when it came time for the sign of peace she turned to me with both hands and hugged my little hand within her wise, mottled hands.  The strength from those hands was one of peace and kindness.  That is when I missed all that my mother was.  She should still be here today giving out her love and comfort with her warm hugs.  Watching House Hunters with her granddaughter and laughing like a maniac at all that she finds humorous. For the rest of mass it was all I could do not to lean over and rub this woman's back.

I wanted to hug my mother today, but instead I got to feel the kindness and warmth of a stranger's touch.  Do I think my mom sent her to me....what do you think?

Friday, July 22, 2011


Today, I have to veer off the dad path, only to set you up for how our relationship changed in my adulthood.  Today, we travel to Arizona. 
Growing up I was very much a homebody.  My every intention was to continue my adult life in Vermont with the people I love- a home base if you will.  But when I got the opportunity (at age 24)  to go with my boyfriend to Arizona for a year I could not resist.  It was perfect.  One year with a guarantee we were moving home because it was a school internship for him.  He was in culinary school and needed to work in an amazing restaurant for a year as part of his training. (I am sure the school had a more technical term for amazing restaurant.)
I cannot believe the things we did and the risks I found myself taking.   First there was quitting my job.  That's it, the end with no idea what I would be doing in Arizona.  In VT I was waitressing and I really wanted to be teaching so I promised myself I would work hard to get a teaching job.  Next, there was telling my mom.  She was so supportive and I know how hard it was for her. I am sure there must have been a fear that I would decide to stay after a year was over. Finally, there was packing up our car and starting the drive across the country to AZ.  What freedom we felt!  There is an amazing joy in having absolutely no obligations.  But how long can that last? 
Upon arriving in our "rented sight unseen" apartment we got busy preparing it for our year's stay. It was quite beautiful and one of my best memories is putting laundry in at 10:00 at night and then swimming in the complex pool.  My second best memory is drinking coffee on the front deck with a big palm tree facing me. 
I applied to lots of restaurants but after applying to one teaching position I became a kindergarten teacher.  It was amazing how quickly I made friends and this became my home.  One night, a bunch of us from the school met in the school parking lot to go out.  When we got back one of my new friends and I sat in the parking lot just staring at the night sky and talking.  The stars were amazingly bright and the sky was so clear.  Something happened inside of me right then.  I realized I was strong enough to do anything, to take on the world.  I don't think that was a life changing night.  On the contrary, I think the whole experience is what changed me, but there is always something special about the moment you realize you have changed and you won't be going back to exactly who you were before. 
The time in Arizona was absolutely amazing from beginning to end, but the biggest thing about it is that I was about to come home a changed person and when you go through that change, your relationships change. I was nervous about what was about to happen to the relationships I had left behind.  But I had learned that I was very strong and much smarter and able to do for myself than I had ever given myself credit for.  That was big.  I was becoming a grown-up!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Blue Streak

Having my summer off and promising myself I would engage my creative self has led me to feel somewhat crazy at times.  I wake up with my head swirling wondering what I will write about today.  So many ideas are circling me at a fast pace and I cannot drink enough coffee to keep up with them in any reasonable way.   It is funny how one idea will come forward a little bit and get a little bolder in the details that appear to me and then it flits away without any further ideas being developed.  I chase it just far enough that I am exhausted before I realize it is gone for now and it is not coming back during this post.

So where shall I start today?  (Why is Julie Andrews in my head singing, "Let's start at the very beginning...)  I guess the only natural place to go next with the dad series is to the blue streak.  Ah, the blue streak.  I may have to tag all friends from high school on this post, because who did not love the blue streak!!!!  She was my car, people.  I turned 16 and that day went out and got my license and my mom let me take the blue streak to school.  So, if I remember correctly the blue streak was originally a car my brother bought.  Then he bought a different car and so my dad took over the payments on the blue streak and he gave it to me!!!  I bought the gas and insurance and he took care of the payments.  It was a solid deal.

So there I am sitting in chemistry class on my birthday and I turn and see my mom decorating blue streak.  By the way, the streaker was a blue station wagon. One of those K car types....maybe a dodge?  I don't know.  It didn't matter.  She was my freedom!!! She was my friends' freedom.  She was the blue streak.  I used to take rides just to take rides.  I only had to tell mom where I would be, but having the car meant I didn't need to borrow hers so I was GROWING UP!  Most importantly, Blue Streak got me to work and I loved my job as a take out girl at Espresso Restaurant. 

Then one day it happened.  Mom and I were sitting at home in the living room when the phone rang.  I can't remember the exact details but it was a hang up call and then another call with guy checking the number against his.  Not two seconds later there was a knock at the door.  I answered and the guy said,  "We are looking for Jennifer Lotane."  Of course, I admitted I was Jennifer Lotane and he said they were there to repossess my car and I needed to show them where the car was right then.  My mother, hearing what was happening, got up and gave the guy hell for speaking to a 16 year old girl.  He felt pretty bad but said that he had been told the car was in the possession of a 19 year old person. (We came to find out that dad had told them my sister had the car in Chicago.)

My sister was actually home working her summer job and did, in fact, have the car.  We were sharing it for the summer.  The repo guy followed us in his truck and when we got there I spent some time bawling my eyes out and cleaning the car out.  They loaded her on the tow truck and there she went.  Never to be seen again. 

Things worked out for us somehow on the car end.  Mom probably sacrificed her car for the summer so she always had to have a ride to and from work and eventually my best friend's dad gave me one of their older cars.  I am not sure how I rate so lucky all the time!!!!  But let me tell you what did not work out so well.  The hit our relationship took from this car repossession.  My mom called my dad fuming and he would not speak to her.  He would not speak to me.  For months we didn't speak and it was because he was too embarrassed to face up to what had happened.

If only he could have seen that had he been honest with me and said, he had to give the car back it would have been less traumatic.  Or he could have asked if I could make the payments.  Why didn't he ask that?  Instead, knowing they were after the car (and that means A LOT of payments missed my friends) he lied about where it was so they would have a longer search and I could have the car longer.  How friggin' embarrassing.  Then when he finally did talk to me it was a million promises about getting the car back or getting a different car.  That only made things worse. 

Blue Streak is mostly a good memory.  What I learned from the experience is that Integrity is everything to me.  I expect honesty from my friends and I expect that they know they will get honesty from me.  I work hard every day to make sure what comes out of my mouth, I would willingly sign my name to if it was brought forward in writing.  I often fail, but then I work on fixing it.  How come I feel like dad never worked on fixing it.  We all make mistakes.  Just once I wanted him to actively fix it, not by getting my car back, but by saying, "I was really wrong and I am sorry."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I have no patience for martyrs.  I need to make that abundantly clear before moving on with posts about dad.  I do not pity my life.  I am not angry at my life.  On the contrary, I feel amazingly blessed everyday and my goal is to help others feel that way about their own lives. 
My dad was an alcoholic. That's it.  He loved me and like every parent in the world he did the best he could with what he had.  (Well, that is a sweeping generalization, why don't we go with: like most parents in the world.) 
Picture my life as a big beach and each post is just taking one shell or sometimes even one grain of sand from the entire beach and bringing it to life for you.  When I magnify it that way for you it looks really big and all consuming.  But, its not.  When I go through rough times the tide is coming in and changing the scenery a bit and when things calm down again I can walk ankle deep through the warm water and pick through the new shells and sand.  And sure it took me some therapy to get here and get strong, but that was years ago and now I can sit with memories and just let them happen.  With no judgment. I am not claiming I don't get angry again, but it is a dull anger without all the sharp edges that used to be there. 
It is great to me because my blog says I have nine followers, but according to the emails I received after Friday's post, that is an incorrect number.  And people actually were thanking me for what I have written.  This tells me I can't stop.
However, I want you to know my intentions are to help people who may find a grain of sand that is also on their beach but they have never looked at it the way I am looking it, and when they do, they find it isn't so all consuming after all.  If people feel sorry for me, please stop.  There is nothing to be sorry about.  Every moment of my life up to this point has brought me to this person I am today and I love this person!!!!  I would not change one thing.  Sometimes you look at someone and say, "I want to do that or be that to make my life richer."  And sometimes you look at someone and say, "I never want to do that or be that because that will not make my life richer."  Each one is a lesson and we can't close ourselves off to the lessons.
I've been sifting through my dad memories for one that could show you the good times with dad and how big the love was.  Picture a Sunday after church with his homemade sauce smells filling the kitchen and warming us up.  Think of his eager kids waiting ever so patiently (not!) for the moment when we get to help test the sauce by having sauce on bread.  Oh, that sauce on bread!  Dad put his love into his cooking and especially into his spaghetti sauce.  He was also a man who was not afraid to hug his children and to say, "I love you" with abandon.  Hugging him was similar to being surrounded by a 6 foot giant teddy bear and it was safe, secure and pure happiness.

Monday, July 18, 2011

BLT, French Fries, and Soda

I am not sure where it came from.  My fear that if I told my dad off he would leave forever.  I guess it really doesn't matter how it originated, but the fact was if I even snapped a little at my dad I thought that would be the end of our relationship and I didn't want that.  At first when my parents separated, he lived in the next town over.  I hated everything about that separation because it was so weird going to his new place that never felt like home.  Then after awhile, not sure if it was weeks or months, he introduced me to his girlfriend.  Well, it was more of a re-introduction because she was a bartender from one of my favorite bars at the time (Harbor Hideaway for you Shelburne people) because of their amazing cheese popcorn.  If you find it at all interesting and strangely suspicious that his girlfriend was the bartender of a bar he took me to while he was with my mother, your suspicions are correct and that is all I care to say about that.  (Small fyi that we kept the bar a secret from my mother while they were married-how great is that to do to your 11 year old kid?)
Then one day(after they separated) out of the blue he was moving to Cape Cod.  He had always wanted to live there.  I look back on that and only now recognize how much of an abandonment that felt like.  His kids were not enough for him.  He had to go lead a different life.  I was losing him.  Years later I would look back and say that this was so much healthier for me not to have him in my life consistently, but at the time it was heart-wrenching.  The only thing that helped was promises of long visits and summers on the Cape. 
The problem was that those visits were never about me.  They just weren't. Dad never let my visit get in the way of his fun.  We went to bars beginning at lunchtime.  I always loved a good BLT and fries on the Cape.  The problem was that dad loved to sit at a bar and chat with the bartender and the people around him.  I was just secondary to this.  We didn't have a lot to say to each other.  The reason I do not drink soda now except on rare occasions is because I would have sometimes six sodas waiting for him to have his last drink.  I was actually sick of soda at age 13!  
At night, I often had my choice if I wanted to go with him or not.  Often I would go out to eat with he and his girlfriend and then have him drop me off at home.  At age 13 here I am on Cape Cod with no friends, staying alone well into the night, while my dad was out partying.  What kinds of visits were these?  It sucked.  It sucked but I pretended to everyone else it was the coolest thing since sliced bread. 
The thing that always killed me is on the last day of my visits dad would become apologetic about all the time we didn't get to spend with each other.  I always, always said it was okay, but in reality it never was.  I didn't think about too hard as a kid because it would have hurt too much, but the time we didn't spend together and the relationship we didn't have was his choice and only his choice.  I was always right there ready and waiting.  All he had to do was make the choice.  The phone calls immediately following a visit would always make me the angriest.  "Jen, that was too short when are you coming down again?"  As I look back on it now, just once I wish I had said, "Screw you." 
But, I never had the guts because I was just barely hanging on to any kind of relationship with my dad at age 15 and I was not ready to tell him he was not doing his dadly job so well.  Sometimes a thread of relationship is less scary than the dread of having the thread cut and being left with nothing. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

Broken Promises and Big Love

Last night I made some kind of silly FB promise that I would write about my dad today.  The problem with dad is I don't know where to start.   For those who never knew him I don't want to start with the negative because you will get a picture of him and some of it may be true, but you will not have the full picture.  There is no way I can encompass all that was John Hammond Lotane in one post.  Its interesting to me that I don't talk about him often or write about him at all, but he crosses my mind at least once a day. 

I guess I can start with this:  Our relationship got better after his death.

Oh God, I know how awful that sounds but when you are dealing with an addict everything about that relationship can be hurtful even though that is not the addict's intention.  That is what I always knew about my dad.  The love was always there and the love was BIG.  That man knew how to love people.  He just had so many demons to fight and no idea where to start fighting them.  His love of people got sidetracked often because of his love for alcohol.  Perhaps that is not fair.  Perhaps he hated alcohol.  He just lost the battle and boy did it piss me off for many, many years. 

As a kid my memories of dad are either just positive because I tend to see the damn sunny side or they are very selective.  I picture him leading us in sing-alongs at our Christmas parties.  That man could sing.  When he came home from business trips he would always have a gift for me.  Boy did I LOVE that.  I had no idea what guilt was at that age or that he was feeling so guilty for the things he did and didn't do.  I just thought, "my dad is my hero, he brings me stuff, why does mom always seem angry?"
I can remember one time when he asked me to get his briefcase out of the car and there in the back seat was a brand new bike.  That was one of the fewer bigger ticket items in our life that did not get repossessed. 

As I got older and once he moved to the Cape while I lived in Vermont I would spend summers with him.  I think now this must have hurt my mom.  I was alone often and when I did get to go with him it was to a bar.  Sitting at a bar with my dad is probably where the majority of out time was spent from age 11 to age 25 when he died. 

This is much harder than I thought.  Figuring out how to share my dad with the world at large and describe him without demonizing him.  He has been gone for 14 years this September.  I miss him everyday and yet, there is a part of me that wonders if I ever knew the real him. The one buried beneath the alcohol.  I absolutely got to see my dad without alcohol in his system and I will be the first to say that that is how I liked him least of all. He was mean. He needed a drink so badly that everyone around him was standing in his way and it made him quite irrational.  It is very similar to my mom when she broke her pelvic bone and the pain was severe.  As she came off the pain pill she would get nasty (different than just crabby or grumpy)  and I started to realize this meant it was almost time for another pain pill.  At that time, my mother knew that was not a good sign and she did everything in her power to wean herself off of those pain pills and she succeeded.  So, it can and could be done, but my dad couldn't do it and I am still not sure I have forgiven him that weakness even though that feels awful to me and not right because we all have weaknesses.

Blogging about dad is going to have to be a series because there is just too much.  But, I will leave you with this for today.  I believe my dad loved his family with all of his heart.  I believe his problem was that he didn't love himself.  I also think he was one of the smartest men I have ever met and I mourn the wasted talent that was John Lotane. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Venting some anger!

I really do not want to use this blog as a venting space, but then again as a good person and close family member said to me yesterday, "Its your blog, you can do what you want with it."  This after someone commented my posts were a bit long and they did some skimming.  Skim away because I have stuff to say and I am going to say it!
I guess I will begin with what I read that outraged me.  It was one of those comments to an editorial.  I never saw the editorial.  (I do not read the paper everyday.  The reason?  I get too worked up.  That is no joke.)  But- this lovely, naive woman stated that there should be no abortion because there are foster homes and orphanages and kids are stronger than we give them credit for, they can live there.   I am not writing this to argue the abortion point.  I have never claimed I didn't understand where this point comes from.  But clearly people need more education about foster homes and by the way, where are the orphanages in the U.S.?   I did not research this but- I am pretty sure (for fact checkers lets say 80 percent sure) we do not have orphanages.  We have group homes.  We have youth hospitals.  We have foster homes.  B As soon as I started this post I thought,  "I can't just write this post because I am angry because my daughter had 3 really, really bad foster homes.  So bad that they were closed down after my daughter left.  Plus, I am not writing this post to beat on abortion OR foster homes. I am writing to let people know they need to take off the damn rose colored glasses."  So I decided to get some facts for you.  It was easy as the MA department of social services (which has changed its name to the department of children and families)  has a quarterly report right on their website.  So read the next two facts and I will meet you back here after that.
 *There were 9,726 individuals in placement on the last day of the 4th Quarter of
FY’2010. Included in this count are 8,097 children (less than 18 years old) and 1,629
young adults (18 to 23 years old).
* At the end of the 4th Quarter of FY’2010, there were 31,382 children less than 18
years old with an active case status who were not in placement.

To be fair, that 31, 382 children count doesn't just mean kids waiting for placement.  (Also- let me clarify because I forget that having gone through the system I might understand "the speak" a little better.  "In placement" means some kind of home other than where their biological families are.)  The 31, 382 number also means that DCF may believe their best place is in the home, but the case remains active to check up on and support families.  Conclusion?  Where are all these foster homes my friend who commented on that editorial speaks of?  And orphanages?  Because I think we need them just about now. 
People who barely delve into thinking they understand about the department really need to get involved and get more facts.  We (and by we I mean society) need to have more foster homes.  I realize I say this out loud even though I am not a foster home.  I cannot be a foster home right now.  That would never work for my own daughter who came out of the system herself.  Many people cannot be foster families for various reasons that are valid.  But I think there are just as many people who do not even realize they could be a foster family.   It takes loving arms and strong arms.  If you have those, you are good to go.  Easy?  Nope, not at all. But really, who promised you life would be easy.

When I adopted my daughter at age 5 she came out of a youth treatment hospital.  Her roommate was age 13 and angry.  I visited her in that hospital for one week before I took her home with me.  The  social worker encouraged me to wait longer, but once you find your child it breaks your heart when the door locks behind you as you leave your child in a place for angry teens.  The foster mom who "couldn't handle" my daughter called the 24 hotline for DCF and so, my five year old was taken by ambulance in the middle of the night to this hospital basically for teens with severe issues, mainly anger.  In this place all doors were locked and you had to ask to use the bathroom so they could unlock the door for you.  This was not the place for my little girl but for 3 months they had no other placement for her.  On the day I went to bring her home the foster mom "forgot" to bring her stuff and so my little girl came home with a pair of flip flops on her feet and a small bag of clothes that were too small.  It was February.  Our first stop was target!   I don't believe all foster parents are like this at all.  But the idea that we do not need other options because kids can live in foster homes.....well, it just rubs me the wrong way.  I think it should rub all of us the wrong way. 
Foster moms and dads, thank you for everything you do for kids in our world.  It takes a village, but it starts with you.
Side note:  we do have orphanages (yup, I looked it up), we just typically call them group homes now.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

If Tomorrow Never Comes

Dammit!  I can't say I am writing this blog. Yes, its being written, I am just not completely positive the thoughts are my own.  First, I had every intention of going back to bed this morning. That is right, I was going to screw my six followers and leave them wanting.  But- for some reason as I walked by the computer in my hazy state I thought, "Well, I will just pick it up and do some facebooking"  (Its a verb if I say its a verb.)  
Next, while on facebook I came across my cousin Cyndi's status update.  Cyndi is a nurse and she stated that she was talking with a patient and patient's spouse when the doctor came in.  Cyndi could tell the news was bad and she reminded us in her update to honor each moment.  She said it better than that but I am too lazy to open a new window and go back to reread, but you followers are smart and you get the jist.  Cyndi also has a strong connection with my mom by the way.   So, then I put my slot coins in my account at slotomania as I still considered heading back to the coziness of my probably still warm bed.  But- this is the thought that hit me, "If Tomorrow Never Comes."  So, there it is.  I was given the title for today's read, but I have no idea what I am about to write on the topic.  Lets see shall we?
If tomorrow doesn't come-
* have you told the people you love how much you love them and why?
*did you get your daily hugs in today?
*did you throw away any regrets and realize right here is where you are supposed to be?
*if you disagree strongly that right here is where you are supposed to be did you do the thing that will help you change where right here is?
*did you make a memory with the people around you who love you?
*did you take pride in your work today?
*did you sit with someone special and think about what makes them so special?  Did you turn to them and tell them what you were thinking?
*did you go at a pace that felt comfortable for you?
*did you smile at a stranger because it is the kind thing to do?
*did you take a picture of the people and memories you love, not with a phone/camera, but with your memory?  (my mom taught us how by the way, just look at the memory, say click, and you have it!)
*did you let the people around you know that if your tomorrow doesn't come they ARE strong enough to move on without you and they WILL handle it and you WILL be with them but just in a different way?
*did you laugh?
*did you cry?
*did you thank God or a Higher Power or maybe just the Universe?

If your tomorrow never comes what is the one thing that you will regret you didn't do?  Now you know what today's plan is.  Go out and honor the moments.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Favorite Mom Memory

There are memories of my mom that were too hard to roll around in my head when she first died, so I pushed them back as far as they could go without getting lost.  Recently, some of them roll back around to sit with me for awhile.  Right now my absolute favorite mom memory is a memory that has us in many different settings, but always doing the same activity-reading our books. 

We read similar books and often shared books back and forth.  In her old home I remember spreading out with legs fully stretched on her blue sofa while she sat in her red recliner.  We would sit like that for hours reading with not a word passed between us (often because one of us had started snoozing, not to name names, M-o-m)  and the warmth and love that sat in the room with us encompassed us completely.  I can sit in a room and read with anyone, but do you know there is actually a different feeling in the room with different people?  Maybe that is just me, but it is true for me. 

Here are some of the best settings I can remember us reading together:

* Ogunquit, Maine on the beach next to each other in beach chairs with blankets wrapped around us.
*Ogunquit, Maine on the deck at Norsemen
*Ogunquit, Maine on the deck at the Anchorage Inn
*Wells, Maine on the deck at the USA Inn
*Vermont-on her deck
*Vermont- in her living room
*Shrewsbury, MA- on our deck
*Shrewsbury, MA- in her part of the house
*Worcester, MA  -St Vincent's hospital

Recently, I had a dream in which she came to visit and we both knew she was dead but she sat and read with me for the whole dream.  It felt just as it always had and, of course, I believe she really visited. 
So- I leave you with this thought to roll around and discuss with your friends.  Yes, there is reading in heaven!

Is it you?

I just spent my first part of the morning writing a blog post I am really proud of.  The problem?  as I reread it I wasn't really sure where it came from, but I have many friends right now going through some very real and difficult times and I worried they might see themselves in what I was saying and be very wrong, but think they are right. 

I was writing about people who love and create drama.  Although I have come across many of these people in my life I am currently not friends with anybody who is creating drama for themselves.  Yet, I have people who have reached out to me recently and I worried, "What if they think I THINK they are creating the drama and that I am writing this blog about them?" 

So, that will be a problem for me as I begin this blogging world.  How do I write about my experiences without my audience personalizing it?  Eventually I hope to have an audience who doesn't know me so closely, but for now it is what it is and I do not want my friends or family to think I am writing about them.  My husband is always intentionally left out because he likes privacy.  My daughter would shout her life story from the rooftops but someday she may look back and say, "Why did you shout my life story from the rooftops?"  so, although I do some writing about her, I try to keep  focused on my part in her story.  And now let me announce that current friends are left out because I want to keep my current friends!  

I may post that blog later on or I may keep it private- who knows?  But- since it is only seven and I am just about to make the second cup of coffee, perhaps I will try to give you something else for today.  Just know this- if you are reading this- I am not talking about you!  Except when I am, of course. ;)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

I am a Writer

Writing feels tricky today. I have been thinking about what I might write since about 9 last night.  Ideas flow through my head and I try to sit and catch one, but it quickly heads down the river of my mind and I feel a little crazy.  That is the point of this blog exercise- to discipline myself for writing.  The problem is that I am not good with discipline.  Writing feels so much easier on the mornings I wake up with a topic in my head that is beating on the out door of my brain.  But, if I only wrote when that happened I would have approximately five pieces of writing a year.  That is probably not the proper amount of work for someone who one day hopes to be a published author. 

Speaking of that,  I did a little test yesterday.  I went to other blogs and you know what I found?  There are millions and millions of people who blog in the hopes of becoming a published author.  Right away I went to the place of "I'm screwed."  "These people are a thousand times better than me."  "Who wants to read my crap."  "I don't even know if I use quotation marks appropriately and what the frig with commas!"  Get ready because this entry is about to tell you how Taylor Swift helped bring me back to reality-  and, I think if I do that well, I should earn a published book just for that alone.

So, I said to myself, "Self, you need a gimmick,  a THING that motivates people to read your stuff."  Currently, as those who read my stuff know, I am random and a bit all over the place.  If I could only lasso my ideas and make them all about one topic like, adoption or the loss of my mom or why schools have pajama days then perhaps I can gimmick my way into publishing.  (PS:  I have now officially made it so you have to follow my blog to get some of my witty banter!!!  i.e.  pajama days)  Hold please, "Self, what the frig with i.e.? who even knows what that means, but it seems to fit right there.)

I walked away from those blogs feeling that I was going to roll around ideas until I came away with one topic to stay focused on.  That felt big, that felt like the ultimate discipline and quite honestly, I have tried that before and it is just really hard because whatever bangs on the out door is what I have to let out and I cannot just make it be about a certain topic.  Cue serious teacher thoughts here about the way we teach children to write~ here's your forty minutes, go be brilliant, and don't forget your beginning, middle, and end! 

Now let us enter Claire's boutique where my daughter ended up buying herself fake glasses.  (That is a whole other blog entry so try to put that out of your mind for now.)  Those who know me well know that shopping for me is an in and out experience.  You have a thing you need, you run into the store to get it, you stay focused only on that one thing, you pay the person and get out, mission accomplished.  Cut to a nurture vs. nature argument and my daughter who looks at each and every thing in a store a few thousand times before deciding to buy, well usually, candy!  To make it through I need to find something to read and Claire's happens to be selling a book about Taylor Swift.  My daughter and I went to see her in concert recently and I was taken with her and her dresses that are appropriate and her songs about love and heartache that don't contain a single swear.  Taylor writes most of her own songs.  They come from her heart and her heartache.  She describes keeping a recording device by her bed so that if she wakes up with a song idea she can record the idea so she doesn't forget.  She said she hears other song writers talk about going through dry spells where they can't write and Taylor doesn't relate to that because writing is how she gets through hard times and is like breathing to her.  She said that and I get that.  Then when asked what she would say to people who want to write songs, she said, don't try to write to make money or to become famous.  Write from the heart about things that matter to you.  Brilliant!

And so, I will continue to work on disciplining myself to write every weekday.  I will continue to sit quietly throughout the day to listen to what is trying to get out.  I will write because it feels like I am putting the last piece into a jigsaw puzzle every time I do a writing piece (whether edited or not) and that is an insanely big high to be on each morning.  And hopefully, I will write for an audience who at some point says,  "Jen, there is a nugget of gold here you can build on."  But, in the end, I don't believe writers are writers because they are published.  Writers are writers because they have something to say and they enjoy doing it through writing.  And, you can quote me!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


I am listening to the birds singing and also the sound of a few people heading off to work.  In my head I am rolling around ideas to write about today.  So much is going through my head.  A young mom is found not guilty of killing her daughter.  All that was needed for defense was reasonable doubt, but the public jury has decided the real jury is our of their minds.  Also, I have started having work nightmares already.  Those are the teacher dreams we have (usually much later in the summer) where you go to work and have no plans or go to work in your pajamas and it is not a designated pajama day.  One would think that with a summer off my days would be long and stress free, and by all accounts they should be.  But, for some reason, the less I have to do, the more I worry about where I am going in life. 

I do not like the status quo.  This is one of the reasons teaching is such a great career for me.  It is never stagnant.  Everyday brings a new challenge and each year is completely fresh.  When I am stuck in the status quo for too long I get antsy and also start to feel ridiculously lazy.  Last week having time to think made me feel intelligent and refreshed. This week having time to think makes me feel unsettled and nervous.  That is okay.  I know how to handle it.  But, it is odd- this feeling of unsettled.  It is usually when some of my best decisions are made.  It was when my life was status quo that I decided to adopt.  It was when my life was status quo that I decided to buy a house with my mom.  It was when my life was status quo in college that I decided to become a teacher.  And it was when my life was status quo in Vermont that I made the move to Massachusetts where my life became what it is today.

So, as I sit here a bit unsettled, I am also excited at what this means for my future.  I have filled this week with activities with friends for my daughter and myself.  We will definitely enjoy ourselves and stay busy, but there is no busy that will stop the unsettled feeling.  The unsettled feeling can only be stopped by sitting and listening to it.  I cannot wait to hear what exciting thing it tells me I need to be doing next in my life. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Color of God

by Jen Flemming on Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 3:07pm
I am lucky that I was raised in a way that did not turn me off to my Catholic faith. I am not what one would call a "good Catholic". There are many things the "church" believes that I am strongly not about in my own life. A very dear friend calls my religious beliefs, beliefs of convenience. This does not bother me as much as one might think because I believe that everything anyone believes happens that way because of our own perceptions. Religion and faith are not black and white to me and I do not need anyone to approve of what I believe. I would love to live in a world where abortions did not need to be a choice, but until you can tell me that all children will have what they need both emotionally and physically it is imperative to me that we have that choice. If we ever make it to that place, I may reconsider...I definitely reserve that right to reconsider. I also believe that God is about love. God/Jesus accepted even those who others did not accept. I don't believe the God I listen to cares if I choose to love a man or a woman as long as I choose to love. Really. I know my "church" says something different, but I have a relationship with God that is my own and I just can't fathom that kind of judgment by the God I speak with. I do believe in the Eucharist. Receiving the body of Christ each week (although I don't always get to church) renews my spirit and refreshes my soul. I don't believe that because I take the Eucharist each week, that makes me better than someone who doesn't do that. We all have our own ways of receiving God. If I ever had a doubt about God, my faith was restored when I sat with my mother during her months of sickness. She definitely crossed over right in front of my eyes. It was not so much the moment of death but more the days before hand when she was talking with her mother and also with Jesus. When she was trying to pack for the trip...when she told my daughter she was trying to get Jesus to let her stay but she didn't think He was having it. So, it was not a surprise a few weeks after my mother died that my daughter sat in the back of the car on a ride through town and told me she had just talked with Grammy. I asked her what Grammy said and she said, "Well, it was just a thought in my mind that I asked Grammy what color God was." That gave me a warm feeling because what a natural question for a child to ask. Who doesn't wonder that, but only children are honest and innocent enough to actually ask the question. I said to Krista, "What answer did Grammy give you?" She replied, "Grammy said that God is all the colors of the rainbow." And that is when I knew...yes, my daughter really had just spoken with my mother and yes, God really is all the colors of the rainbow....and in the end, it is ok to believe what gets you through...because I am pretty sure God is just too large for any of us to understand completely. I think what is important is that we try to love each other and be good people....and in the end, the less we judge the more we can truly feel all the colors of the rainbow.

Roller Coaster

by Jen Flemming on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 6:39am
I was hit hard recently with the news that my doctor, Dr. Nancy Frohloff, died suddenly.  We were right in the middle of dealing with some health questions together and she and I had an amazing talk about my concerns with her staff and trying to get through to her.  She told me that she was my doctor and unless I was calling after 3 on a given day when it was too late for them to fit me in , she would see me, and that her staff was overwhelmed, that it would get worse before it got better, and that is was necessary and okay for me to say I had to see her.  She never once put them down, but validated how I felt and let me know I had every right to push myself on them.

Then we shook hands and I walked out.  That was it.  I will never see her again.  Granted it is not as painful as losing my own family member, but it is a huge loss.  I have not moved forward on my own health issues because I feel absolutely lost in the system without her.  She was my advocate. She was going to make the calls and push for the information that I, as the patient, really feel I should not have to push for.  I have sat here for 2 months  and done nothing toward getting the information and getting a new doctor.  I don't even know where to start.  Not only that, but making those calls and getting a new doctor means I have said goodbye to her and moved on.  It sound ridiculous, but I don't want to move on...I definitely cannot imagine going back to that office and sitting with someone else.

There are so many losses in our lives....some little and some big.  Some people look at it as life is good and then a loss occurs and life is bad.   I call it the roller coaster of life.   Imagine yourself on a rollercoaster and you are going up....most of the people have been on a rollercoaster before and know what is about to happen....they get ready in whatever way works for them...many put hands up and enjoy the ride, some hide their eyes, and if you are Jen Lotane you duck (according to all our disney pictures) because you somehow believe your head is about to be cut off from anything the rollercoaster may go under!  (I digress.)  You ride that ride and your body goes crazy and slows and you start going up have time to breathe, get relaxed again, and get ready for it to happen all over again.

I am not saying we should live our lives waiting for the bad.  But we should not be so caught of guard when something bad happens.   We should have strategies of how we will deal with sickness and death.  We should work in the happy times on surrounding ourselves with positive, caring people who will stick around while we ride the coaster together.   When something bad happens like your doctor is okay to give yourself 2 months to catch your breath...and then, if you are lucky, someone will come along who gently pushes. I got the call yesterday from her office. "Hi, I am calling because we still have Nancy Frohloff listed as your primary care doctor.  I would like to offer you help in finding a new doctor."  And so today, I will take the time to catch my breath and I will call the number that I have memorized and I will tell them I will accept their help.

Roller coasters can be terrifying, but who wants to miss the ride?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Blue Birds

Originally written by Jen Flemming on Thursday, June 23, 2011 at 7:55am
Those who know me well know that I believe my mother communicates with me since her death.  Some people believe it and some people are cautious, but everyone understands that I respect these feelings, but have no doubts myself.  Since it has happened to me, I believe it can happen for everyone if you can notice it and realize its happening.  It's not a voice you hear, its rather thoughts in your head that do not appear to be your own.

One of the best examples I can find of being aware of this communication is actually how my dad says hi.  It is not often, maybe once a month or even less frequently that out of the blue I am singing whether out loud or in my head "O Holy Night"   When I realize its happening I always stop and think, "I love you dad."  -and then the song goes out of my head.  See how nondescript that is?  It is all about paying attention.   (Again, I want to clarify that I recognize people will think that I am making something out of nothing and that is okay, but I believe its more and what I believe is key to this ability to pay attention to my thoughts.)

One time quite soon after my mom's death I was heading to the grocery store and I got very emotional (because many of us know after someone's death, the simplest thing can turn into the hardest thing and emotions run their own schedule.)  So, my friend Nancy called on my cell and she was supposed to be calling me about schedules and I just couldn't handle it right then so I didn't pick up.  In the grocery store I bought fresh green beans, one of mom's favorites.  Upon returning to my car I let loose like a waterfall and just could not stop.  Sitting there crying the thought was so clear I can still remember word for word, " Listen to your messages. I am going to speak to you through others."  Again, do not worry.  This is not a voice I is a thought in my head.  So normal that it could be my own thought (which is what many suggest, but only I can understand, and it feels impossible to explain, that I usually know the difference.  Sometimes I don't. More about that later.)  So- feeling stupid and hoping upon hope that this really means something I play the message that I assumed was about schedules.  This is what Nancy said, "Hi, I was just thinking about you and missing you.  I love you."   That was it...the end...she hung up after that.  Chills, right?  Maybe a little?  But wait gets much more believable in just a moment.  I had chills and called Nancy because I had to know.   I asked what made her call and this is what came out of her mouth, "your mom".  It turns out that Nancy's daughter had been in Nan's bed and threw up on her comforter. When Nancy pulled the comforter off the bed the blanket that my mom had made for her daughter was underneath.  When Nancy saw the blanket she felt she had to call me and tell me she missed and loved me.  We had to laugh that this came down to a little human's throw up and that laughter made me feel wonderful.

Now let me take you back 15 years  to my new apartment and my mom's friend, Peggy.  She was one of the most thoughtful, generous, and giving women you could ever hope to meet.  When I moved into my new apartment she gave me a bluebird of happiness with a card that read, "may this bird of happiness give you happiness in your new home"  Now that little guy has traveled with me to various new homes since then.  I love that little guy.  Whenever I look at him I think of Peggy and my mom and remember that happiness is so important.  He reminds me to slow down and breathe.  Oh sometimes he sits in drawers for months and then I open the drawer and am reminded again and pull him out and give him some place of honor.  But, he is always there with me someway, somehow. 

Now to the present, about a month ago I started thinking about the bird.  I can't even explain the thoughts- he would just pop into my head.  I would just literally think about him.  In the last week these thought became more persistent and I started to get annoyed...why was this little guy on my mind so much, I wasn't even sure where he was.  Then I started picturing him sitting on my fireplace mantle at 105 Lake Street.  He has never been there so these thoughts felt out of place to me.  Once I realize my thoughts are out of place (I feel like I am so close to being able to explain this) then I know I need to PAY ATTENTION.  I thought, "dammit, she wants me to leave this bird for the new owners."  and this did not make me happy.  I started complaining in my head that I did NOT want to do that. I was already leaving the whole house, to leave my special bird behind too was not okay with me.  But  I am lead to believe by my thoughts this bird will have a very special meaning for the new owners.  So much was I lead to believe that that I decided I would go out and buy them their own damn bird of happiness because they weren't getting mine.  (As I write this I am reminded that three times while packing I saw a real bluebird outside on the deck and was so struck by the beauty.  Coincidence?  Sure....maybe.)  But, buying one wasn't good enough because there was something for me in this action too and here it is:  Stuff is stuff.  It can't always come with you and it is not what made the memories.  I do not need the bluebird to remember my mom or Peggy or their capacity for love and kindness, but I honor their memory when I show my own capacity for love and kindness.  By leaving that bird behind with a note that said, "Welcome home!"  I did what my mom would have done had she been living and we sold this house together.  I just know it.

Finally, I will admit that I am hoping upon hope that the new owners really do have some special connection to the blue bird and that they find a way to communicate that to me.  Because even though I know what I know about this, I am always looking for one more piece of evidence that I am on the right track as far as her communications.

But here is what I know is true, she supports me in selling the house (to be fair she told me that 2 days before she died, that was not some after death thought) and I did not leave her behind at the house. She is with me, she is with all of her family and friends.  Finally, blue birds of happiness, as well as any of our "stuff" is just that. It is what we do with our stuff that makes it meaningful!

Sorry, I can't be with you, but I'll be there.

Orignally written by Jen Flemming on Friday, June 24, 2011 at 7:35am
So there you have it. I believe my mom and I communicate. You can imagine that before my wedding I was looking forward to some great signs and interesting communications from her.  I was not obsessed with it, (really, you can check with my husband) but just knew it would happen.  I felt loved, peaceful and ridiculously happy (although there was the typical wedding stress, but rum and OJ always helped with that!) so I did not feel a crazy amount of misery over my mom's not being at my wedding.  On the contrary, I had no doubt that she was going to be at my wedding, but I had no idea that the messages I would get were more about how hard this was for her even though she was happy.

Let me be clear that I have this image of a kind of heaven where there is peace, love and happiness all the time. Oh sure, there is also rum and oj and puppy dogs, but happiness is key.  I never really thought about people who have died missing me.  Why would they?  They know the ultimate knowledge.  But, since my mom died, there have been three times that I am sure she has let me know she is feeling sad and missing me.  The third one happened about three weeks before my wedding.

First off, let me say that these communications with my mom are infrequent.  She is not with me all the time, telling me something.  They happen infrequently enough that I sometimes have a hard time remembering that when I have the feeling my thoughts are a bit odd and random I need to pay attention.  So, my belief is that when I am not paying attention or she has something extremely important to say and she doesn't have time for me to figure it all out she sits with me in a dream.  On this particular night the dream was so disturbing that it sits with me to this minute in complete detail.  When we are asleep we cannot tell how long our dreams last, but I can tell you it was the only dream I remember from that night and it seemed like it went on all night.  My mom was crying.  She was crying really quite hard and over and over again she repeated, "I want to come home."  

That was it.  No really, that was it.  I, personally did not get ANY KIND of communication from my mother that I am aware of for the next three weeks and through my wedding.  But- other people did.  My cousin Cyndi was speaking to me and said that my mom had been around her a lot lately.  My brother had called me at some point days before the wedding when the schedule was already set and said he had something to say at the wedding.  It turned out to be a message from my mom in the form of a Hummel that was dated the year I was born and titled congratulations with all symbols of the relationship between us.  But the way Michael found out he was supposed to give me this Hummel is exactly like the communications I have.  This not only made me feel great about her message, but validated that I am not wrong in the way I think about her messages.

Lately, I have been reflecting on the fact that she didn't come to me during my wedding and I am left with two beliefs.  The first is that I believe it was very hard for her to know about my wedding and not be able to come physically. The second is that I believe she did not want to make it about her.  This was my time to enjoy with living, breathing people around me who could hold me and tell me how great I looked.  Sorry, I digress.  She sent the message through Michael that she was there, but the dream was about not being able to be right with me.  I get it!

I believe it was Michael, Patti and cousin Scott who were talking in another area of the hotel when a door from the outside flew open and nobody was there.  Coincidence?  Sure....maybe. But either way, she was there.  That I know without any message.  She would not miss my wedding. I don't need a message about that.  I just know!

What Should I Bring?

Originally written by Jen Flemming on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 at 7:20am
I sold my house because the dream that accompanied that house was now gone.  My mom and I had bought that house together because it had the most wonderful in-law apartment and we could live the next 20 years helping each other out.  She would be my daughter's before and after school caregiver and I would help her as she went through the next transitions and phases of her life.

After her death, it took me over a year to realize this house was no longer what I needed.  In fact, it was sucking me dry financially and my mom had stated at the end that she was worried about that and didn't want that.  But- of course, it takes time to come to hard decisions on your own, so it was last May when I finally had a realtor walk through and last August when I finally cleaned up so that the house could go on the market.

Now lets talk about Jen Lotane clean up and what that looks like.  When I go through my stuff I think, "I cant get rid of that, it can go in this bin."  The house became show ready but between the garage and the basement I had over 30 bins of stuff.  And here is what happened....4 months after the house had gone on the market it was still not sold.  Krista and I were waiting at the bus stop one morning when she said, "Wouldn't it be funny if we unpacked everything and then we sold the house and we had to pack everything back up."  It immediately struck me that we had absolutely no need to unpack everything.  Neither one of us had missed ANYTHING that was in those bins.  We were free of the stuff, only not really because we had all these damn bins.

Cut to the house is sold.  We are moving into an apartment and although we have also rented storage, I know this stuff cannot keep coming with me.  So, very slowly I started to empty bins.  My rule was if I didn't see how I could display or use it in a house then it had to go.  So- lets talk about that for a minute-  a beaded purse that I am pretty sure was my grandmothers- STAYS, a piece of paper where my mother wrote her name- GOES.  Seems obvious doesn't it?  But it doesn't feel that way when you are emotionally attached.  Plus, as we got closer and closer to the move, I became more and more emotional and throwing stuff away became trickier and trickier.

One night a week before the move I went to bed totally distraught. I was not sure if I was throwing stuff away because I was really ok with it or because I felt I had to due to the apartment, and I was missing my mom and wanting to grab all the stuff back...every little piece of paper with her handwriting and her name and her doctor's appointments.

The next morning I woke up and right away one scene from the hospital kept playing over and over again.  When this happens, by now you know, I see this as mom communicating with me and this was the kindest communication I had yet received.  There was a time when we were all still trying to keep her alive....but she knew already it was her time to go.  She woke up and told us she was packing and she was having trouble packing.  When we asked her why it was hard for her to pack she said, "I have no room and all these things are too heavy."  Her gestured head pointed toward the IV pole that was feeding her.  What I said next, felt melodramatic even at the time, but I knew it was right when she started nodding.  I said, "You don't need to take all that stuff.  You only need to take the love." Replaying that scene I knew she was letting me know I had been right.  My sister in law, Candice came to help that day and she had the task of not asking me about stuff, just throwing it away because out of sight out of mind.  Nobody should have to do the hard stuff on their own.

I don't think I am cured completely.  I think I will always have difficulty parting with stuff that is attached to a loving person or an amazing memory.  In those moments I will ask myself the one question that can get me to throw away everything.  Try this sometime.  "If I died, what would I want my child to keep of mine?"  I want Krista always to know, "You don't need to take all that stuff.  You only need to take the love."

3 Strings go into a Bar...

Recently I was asked, "what makes you laugh?"  I had to giggle a little at that question.  I think the answer could be, "What doesn't make me laugh?"  The very first thing that comes to my mind is sitting at the Cape Cod Melody Tent watching my favorite comedian of all time, Steven Wright.  In the middle of his show he paused and then swung the microphone stand over his head like a giant pencil and said, "Dear Mom, I'm still shrinking."  The memory of that has kept me entertained for years and the laughter that my friend Megeen and I had during the show was the side splitting laughter where you can't breathe and tears are streaming down your cheeks.  God, I love that laughter!
The other day I went to see the movie Bridesmaids with my sister in law.  That is definitely a side splitting funny movie but I had not laughed as hard in a long time as I did when I was looking at the people behind us and reaching into the popcorn on Candice's lap at the same time.  Just as I realized I am running my hand down her boob I hear her say, "That's not the popcorn!"   Then we had to do the silent laughter so as not to bother anyone and it felt like I was laughing for hours!
I firmly believe that laughter has to have a similar effect that a good cardio workout has for our bodies, heart, mind and soul.  I not only love to laugh but I love to make other people laugh. I pride myself on being a work place comedian professional.  When you can cut tension with a knife, why not cut it with some humor instead?  Of course, the humor must be well timed and the audience must be considered, but those who work with me know I especially enjoy poop humor!  I think that is because in so many areas of life I have to be mature and professional that when I let loose the poop humor just flies out of me!
Think of your very best memories.  How many of them include a great laugh with someone you love?
When my mom was in rehab after her infection and we thought she was on the way to recovery we were talking about her surgery.  She had necrotizing fasciitis which is more commonly known as the flesh eating bacteria.  They had to do a surgery where they take everything around the infected area.  They basically take as much as they can to get the infection out.  She had a huge wound on her leg that had only raw nerve and muscle exposed.  Every day they had to unwrap clean and wrap it back up and the pain exhausted her.  One day, I showed up at my usual after school time and took my seat.  She started saying that the nurse told her there were people much worse off than my mom.  (I should mention here that if they can't get the whole infected area it can lead to amputation).  From what the nurse said, and mom claimed she had been dead serious, one person had everything amputated and was only a head.  NOW COME ON!!!!!  Well, as mom is telling me I started bursting and she said, "Jen that is inappropriate."  I said I knew but I couldn't stop picturing the head doing things.  Then mom burst out and then we couldn't stop.   Now let me be clear.  First of all (and to be fair I have never googled this) I do not believe there is a person out there who is just a head....where the hell are their organs?  Like the heart they need to survive!!!!????  But also, my mom and I were NOT laughing at the expense of another, we were laughing to save our souls.  Remember, at that point we thought she was recovering (we had no way to know the infection had made it to her bloodstream)  and then when we started to realize she wasn't recovering that joke kept us going.  All I had to say was, "Mom, remember the head!?"
Finally, I can go back to when I was a child.  I can remember sitting on our seventies lounger with my mom in the middle of the kids and watching Carol Burnett and Friends.  At the age I was I don't think I ever really got the jokes, but I can remember when my mom found something really funny she would turn beet read and kick her feet on the lounger.  The sound of her laughter and the sight of it made me so happy that I would laugh too because I was bubbling over with happiness.
What a wonderful question to get yourself thinking about your own happiness.  "What makes you laugh?"

Who do you love to laugh with and how long as it been since you did it?

Originally written on Friday, July 1, 2011 at 7:18am


I have a confession.  As soon as my husband leaves in the morning, I turn the air conditioning off and open the sliding door.  This is not a huge confession because he really would not care.  He doesn't care about the air until he comes home from work and in a few hours I will want it back on and the apartment will go back to being an ice box before he arrives.  The real confession is- I don't like noise.  I don't like noise because it prevents me from being able to listen.

I think it is when you get to the almost 40 age that you start to learn so much about yourself.  Perhaps its just that you finally start to accept so much about yourself.  Here is what I know about me.  I can sit in a quiet room or outside in the peace of the world alone for hours.  It is when I do my best thinking.  I need lots of time to set goals, work through issues, think about my response to problems.  I cannot do that with people around me and I cannot do that with background noise.  As I write this I can hear birds singing and traffic WAY off in the distance.  It is peaceful.

But- listening to your self, your soul, your heart is not always peaceful.  Sometimes what I hear is so sad, so terribly heart wrenching that I feel like I might break in half.  I think that is why we spend so much time distracting ourselves.  Think of all the distractions in the world- alcohol, drugs, cell phones, ipads, laptops, ipods and so on and so on and so on.  I worry for the kids coming up in the world today.  I worry for my own daughter who has trouble sitting peacefully for 2 minutes even if her family is sitting around her.  I know, know, know that her need to have a friend come over or turn on the tv is a need to distract herself from what she is hearing inside. I know it is so hard to hear what you don't want to hear, but if you spend forever trying to avoid it that is a very dark and lonely path.

I have come to a point in my listening (perhaps it is a form of meditation but nothing official has been taught to me) where I can sometimes tell when I am heading down the heartbreaking road. Most recently that includes reflections on my mom's time in the hospital.  I know how to shut it down without bringing any other distraction into the picture and I only shut it down if I can feel I can't handle it. Otherwise, I just think my way right through it and allow the heartbreaking pain to come because pain is a part of our lives and it is healthier in the long run to accept it, invite it in for coffee for awhile and then send it on its way with a vague promise of seeing each other again at some point.

But listening doesn't have to be pain.  Listening can be peace, happiness, love, problem solving.  The key is to remember you are listening to you so wherever you go is where you should be.

Today, when my daughter wakes up I am not going to rush her off to camp.  I am going to have her come sit on the deck and listen and I am going to ask the question that I think it is time for her to start thinking about.  "What do you hear?"

Originally written on Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 7:26am