The Working Title Is…My Gratitude Journey

As January draws to a close, I am weighed down by negativity, angst, fear, frustration and, who am I kidding, probably an extra 20 pounds. But I have the power to change all of that, and so I will begin today.

For me, 2017 will be a journey of gratitude. And my first step takes me back to fourth grade at St. Margaret’s Grammar School in Syracuse, New York.

Having been taught solely by Franciscan nuns for first through third grades, Miss Crader was a game changer for me. She had long dark hair that she would toss over her shoulders just like Cher. And she wore these big silver hoop earrings that were like nothing I ever saw up close before. I’d sit at my desk with my Dorothy Hamill haircut and unblemished earlobes thinking, “I can’t wait to grow up.”

She was the first person I ever heard say, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” She engaged every student in that classroom and made you feel as if your success was all she cared about. She was kind. She was smart. She willingly shared her faith. She had a great sense of humor and the respect of every one of her students.

I’m glad I stayed scrolling through Facebook long enough to see she is retiring because my gratitude journey will begin with her and take me on a mental walk down memory lane to all the teachers who have impacted my life so dramatically. Mrs. Barber, in the seventh grade, who taught us the art of speechwriting and who taught me to love public speaking. Ms. Cooper, who in high school opened my eyes to critical writing and, in doing so, opened my mind to critical thinking. And Dr. Badaracco, who my freshman year at Marquette, lovingly knocked me off my high horse and taught me how to survive in the real world.

I am grateful for the men and women who choose teaching as their vocation. I am lucky enough to know some who share their gifts in the public school system. I have met teachers and administrators making a dramatic impact on student’s lives in Detroit’s Charter Schools. And I have a lifetime of memories from those lay and religious that have shared God’s gifts with me, my husband and our children in Catholic schools.

It’s been forty years since I sat in Miss Crader’s classroom. I can still picture the view out her window. I can recall the smell of the desktop from when we would play Seven Up. I can visualize the walk we would take to the library–single file and silent. But, above all, I am keenly aware of the impact she had on the person I am today. For that, I am forever grateful.

And, I think it’s about time I tell her that too.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”                                                            –Albert Schweitzer






The Working Title Is…Forever Thankful

I had one of Oprah’s AHA! moments this week, and it happened when I logged on Facebook.

My gaze was first drawn to the sponsored ads on the right side of the screen. Come to think of it, it’s a miracle I had my AHA! moment at all because the impetus was nestled between one ad tempting me to “learn how Bloomfield Hills moms earn big money working from home” and another claiming to have “the secret to losing belly fat.”

(What the hell am I clicking on that Facebook marketers are somehow peering through the window of my soul?)

The ad in the middle was for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. I clicked and found myself reading beautiful stories about children being adopted by loving families. Many of the children had spent considerable time in the foster care system prior to being adopted.

November is National Adoption Month, and this foundation, named after the Wendy’s founder and adoptee, is dedicated to finding “forever families” for children in foster care.

A picture of the cutest little guy wearing one of those old-fashioned newsboy caps accompanied one story. It was a comment someone wrote under the post that led me, first, to an audible gasp, and then to my AHA! moment.

The comment said something like, “He’s so cute. I can’t imagine someone didn’t want him.

Whoa. Mind blown. And then came my AHA! moment realization…..

My mother was the original spin-doctor, the original Olivia Pope; that is, if Olivia Pope did all her gladiator work from a rotary dial phone in the kitchen.

You’re confused. I don’t blame you. Let me fill in some important blanks.

I was given up for adoption at birth and spent the first six months of my life in a foster home.

For as long as I can remember, my mom–my adoptive mom, the only mom I ever knew–celebrated the loving sacrifice my birth mother made in choosing adoption. This choice was always referred to within a framework of gratitude and enveloped in words like “selfless” and “heart-wrenching” and “courageous.”   Each and every one of my birthdays began with a prayer of thanksgiving to my birth parents who made the “love-filled realization” that I would be better served being raised by another compassionate family.

It never occurred to me that I might not have been wanted. Never. Ever.

I was raised in a home where gratitude fueled our every action, softened every disappointment and persuaded us to make a difference.  My mom’s positive spin helped define me as a person and has enabled gratitude to serve as a foundation of who I am.

Which explains why now, as a grown woman just a smidge out of my 30s, the possibility that I might not have been wanted is on my radar for the very first time.

I did the math as a kid. I knew how to subtract nine months from my early June birthday, so I always assumed I was the unplanned souvenir of a love-filled summer romance.

When I got older and embraced my Irish heritage, I entertained the possibility of being the byproduct of a pre-Chappaquiddick Kennedy-clan member love affair.   This caused me great angst because I was sure the day would come when John Kennedy, Jr. and I would meet and fall victim to a mutual love-at-first-sight only to later learn our bond was doomed because we were, technically, related.

My spin-doctor mama prevented me from daydreaming a back-story rooted in any number of horrific, violent or salacious circumstances. And it made all the difference in my life.

Had I not been swathed in gratitude, I could have traveled a path of bitterness, resentment or mistrust.

My mom wasn’t privy to the details of the first six months of my life, but she was intimately aware of later challenges I faced, and the common thread that she wove through every one of my days was one of gratitude.

That thread remains strong even now, nineteen years after her death.

And for that, I am forever thankful.