Peanut Butter is Disgusting?

march 005

Taken at the time of my grandparents visit which I share below. I am seven.

 

This morning I sliced a banana and put a dollop of peanut butter on my plate. All of a sudden my stomach lurched. I remembered something that has not crossed my mind in years.

I was triggered.

Anyone who has suffered trauma is triggered from time to time. Trauma happens as a result of anything that challenges or strays from what feels right to us as human beings. Whether the trauma is the result of an accident, the horror of serving during a war, sexual abuse or any other event, trauma happens.

I was seven years old and in the second grade. I got off the bus at the end of the driveway, walked up and entered my house to greet my mom, Nana, and Grandpa, who were visiting for a few days.

THE Grandpa. My abuser.

Mom asked if I wanted my usual snack, peanut butter in a small orange ramekin. Of course, I accepted.

As I sat there enjoying, propped up on the kitchen chair by The Yellow Pages, and swinging my little legs. Grandpa looked at me, curled his lip and said, “That’s disgusting.”

That moment turns my stomach. Not the peanut butter, mind you, but the way he was turned off by my snack choice.

All the while, he was sexually abusing me.

So peanut butter is disgusting.  What?

I have been thinking all morning about how insanely twisted and skewed that scene was.

My grandparents came to visit often. I remember their visits as a young girl before my abuse had started – before I was seven-ish.

I loved their visits.

I have fond memories of sitting at our octagonal kitchen table with the yellow 70-ish chairs playing Rummy 500. Dad and Grandpa would drink a Knickerbocker Beer and Smoke Raleigh Filter tips, the ashes of which they flicked into the amber, plate sized ashtray.

We had fun.

I remember that Nana was dear to me. She was kind and sweet and spoiled me. When I had an occasional temper tantrum kicking and screaming on the floor, she would gently put her foot on my back and say, “OH! What a nice rug!”

I would soon come out of it and return to my cheerful self. She would give me a chocolate out of the box with the red bow on it. I always chose the candy with the pink rosebud on top.

Grandpa was standoffish. He left me alone for the most part. Then things changed. He took an interest in me.

We would walk to the playground. I would run my little fingers along the chain link fence that abutted the sidewalk. I would pick up the remnant of a deciduous a tree – that little bit that looked like a coat hanger and hold it up to my face as if they were my mustache.

One thing lead to another.

Things changed. He was not longer aloof. He paid attention to me. I was little. I did not know what he was doing.

Grooming.

He was grooming me.

You see, sexual abuse does not always just start with a “BOOM!” Most of the time it happens at the hands of a family member or a close family friend who takes the time and interest to foster the victim.

It happens over time. I may start with things like tickling, or an inappropriate touch or the perpetrator telling secrets as a way to build a bond. The abuser wants to build trust.

Over time, it changes. There is a sick takeover, an overpowering, so to speak.

Dominance.

Children are usually dumbfounded, scared out of their wits and lose their sense of selves. They don’t know what to do.

I knew what he was doing to me was wrong. It felt yucky. But I did not know what it was or meant. Was it the baseline? Did it happen to every little person?

I was ashamed and embarrassed. I did not know how to communicate what had happened to me to my mom and dad. Even if I did have the words, I was too mortified to speak them.

Much like most children, I looked up to my folks. I was a pleaser. I was teacher’s pet and was the only seven-year-old at the YWCA that was brave enough to jump off the deep-end diving board.

I did not want to “upset the applecart,” anger my parents or make a fuss. It was only me after all.

Yup. That is when that feeling started. It was only measly little me.

Way. Back. Then.

In my case, I kept my mouth shut. For years. I did not have the words. I did not know how to tell anyone that that “innocent kiss” did not feel right. I sat on his lap, but I was told to do so. I had to. Most of the time I quickly struggled and squirmed away. Again, it felt yucky.

I would give anything to go back in time and change it all. I wish that I had shouted “no!” I wish that I knew how to say the words. I wish that I had the confidence in myself to tell. I wish that he was locked away.

If I had, my cousin would have been spared. And others would have been spared, too.

I do not feel responsible for the abuse that happened to My Laura and other children. I did not know any better. No one taught me.

I did know enough to warn Laura about what Grandpa might do to her.  But she laughed. She had NO idea what the details of my warning really meant. She laughed. She was little.

To a child,  my words, my warning, the details sounded preposterous.

How can a child effectively warn another child when she, herself, doesn’t have the words?

As adults, it may be uncomfortable to do so, but necessary. Imperative, even.

I am not sure that people think to educate themselves as to how to protect their children. I protected my child out of absolute fear; I was overprotective, and a helicopter but that was because I was keenly aware of the peril.

But I never studied or researched HOW to protect my babe. I made it up as I went along.

Now I know. Now I know that there are tools and sources, and there is valuable information to educate us.

Parents. Everybody.  You can learn the warning signs. You can teach your children the proper language to express inappropriate behavior or violation by another. You can convince them that it is safe to tell. You can cut it off before it begins.

There are no guarantees that you can prevent sexual abuse, but you can arm yourself. Be smart. Be proactive.

And if it has already started, that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is if your child never tells you about it.

I eventually told my parents. My abuse was swept under the carpet; it was not acknowledged by the other family members who were also told.
And neither was Laura’s, except by her mom.

Here is the takeaway.

Smarten up. Don’t be uncomfortable or embarrassed that you will insult someone or hurt their feelings if you are suspicious. Call the person out. Interject if you suspect someone has inappropriate behavior. Listen, speak up.

Join the bandwagon because when it comes to peanut butter and incest, you know which is is disgusting.

That’s all.

 

For more information or to register for a workshop or a lecture, please visit sayitsurvivor.org

 

Sharing “Personal” Information

I spent some time with a good friend yesterday.

I was mentioning how the past year has been one full of changes in my life. Great changes, hard changes, exciting changes.

I shared that the most impactful changes in my life have been around friendships. I have made some incredible friends over the past year, and I am so grateful for all the new people with whom I have connected.

But then I shared the sadness I am experiencing over the loss of some friends over this past year.

These are friends I have known for years. These are friends who I thought would be in my life forever. They seemed to have disappeared. They have stopped being there. They have stopped engaging.

Crickets.

I told her that there seemed to be a direct correlation between me losing my friends and me telling my story.

This year I stood firmly in my truth, in my story, and spoke of my sexual abuse, shamelessly. I made a conscious decision to speak out, to reach out to all who would listen.

And the good that has come of doing so has been humbling. It has been life-altering. Speaking out has helped people.

She said, “Well, you took some very personal information and shared it all over the internet. People might feel that it is just too personal to share. It may make people uncomfortable.”

Ah HA!

You see, therein lies the problem, folks.

I do not see it as sharing PERSONAL information. In my opinion, my abuse was anything BUT personal.

It had nothing to do with me, personally.

I was not a “person” to my abuser. I was his prey. He selected me for no other reason than he COULD. I was available. I would not tell. I was safe, and I was an easy target.

Then I played out a scenario. I played devil’s advocate.

What would happen if an entire family became homeless overnight as victims of an arsonist? What if someone violently set their house on fire? What if they lost everything tangible and were out in the cold. What would happen?

Right.

The media would be all over it like white on rice. Social media would be the gasoline and their story, too, would run ablaze.

People would flock to help them out. People would pull together and pitch in. Money and blankets and clothes and casseroles would abound.

People would feel so badly for these victims. They did nothing to deserve this horrible crime.

My tragedy, my victimization, and that of all my brothers and sisters in survival was no more personal than theirs.

My perpetrator victimized and desecrated my body. Their perpetrator victimized and desecrated the physical structure where they resided.

Victims.

Does it matter how one is victimized?

Think about it. There is no shame in being the victim of arson, right? Those unfortunate people didn’t do anything to deserve it.

So, then, why is there so much shame attached to being the victim of rape? Of sexual abuse?

Because “Sex” is private.

Actually, sex is selectively private.

Turn on primetime. Is sex private?

Nope. Not on primetime.

Now, walk around the mall. Flip a magazine.  Not there, either.

When sex is nonconsensual, that is private. When the topic makes people uncomfortable. Then it is private.

But if a crime becomes shameful to the general public merely because of the nature of the crime, sexual, that is criminal in itself.

Everyone has the right to respond the way they respond. People have very different reactions. I have no right to judge others on how they feel about it if they want to stay silent or ignore it.

I respect that everyone has their story. I believe that everyone is living with the best of intentions.

But for the love of the Good Lord, can we stop saying that sharing this is too PERSONAL? There is nothing personal about it.

Carry on.

That’s all.

 

More “MEAN”-ing

no bullying

I called my mother the other day. We were catching up, and we got to talking about MARYMORPHOSIS.  I told her about my post “MEAN”-ing.

Together we recalled how horrible and nasty those girls were to me in middle school.

Then she said, “Oh! Did I tell you that one of those girls ran by my house recently?”

Me, “Really?”

Mom, “Yes. She stopped and introduced herself.  She lives right up the street in that house where  Mr. So-and-So used to live.

Me, “And? Then what? Who was it???”

Mom, “She said that she was awful to you in middle school. She admitted to terribly bullying you.  She apologized to me. I can’t remember her name.”

Me, “She apologized to YOU?”

Mom, “Yes. She told me that she has middle school kids and that she does not want that to happen to them.”

My. My. My.

I wish I knew who it was that owned up to it. I also wish that that woman would apologize to me- not my mother.  I am pretty sure that she could find me, by social media or otherwise.  She could have asked my mom how to find me- right?

I am not holding my breath.

And I am so happy that this bully now is aware of the potential effects on her children; that she recognized her mistake.   I really and truly hope that mean kids spare her children.

My boys start school in just nine days, and all three will be in middle school this year.  I am biting my nails.  I am not ready. I am not talking about the 3″ binders and #2 Ticonderoga pencils ready, my friends.  I am talking about being mentally ready.

Middle school can be a fire pit.

SO many people reached out to me after I wrote “MEAN”-ing.  Many could relate.  Many have children who are victims of bullying. It is an epidemic. And there does not seem to be a vaccine.

It is highly contagious.

Victims are the hosts. And they are eaten alive by their peers who are cowards, hiding behind social media and electronics.

With Instagram and Snapchat kids can post pretty much anything they want.  They can comment any way they want. And with social media like Snapchat, the evidence disappears in about ten seconds.  It is easy to get away with it.

And that child who is on the other side is powerless and victimized.

And those feelings don’t go away in ten seconds.  They may never go away.

Don’t get me wrong, the folded square notes I found in my locker were painful. But social media is a killer. And it can be, literally, too.

I could put my thermometer on the radiator for days and miss school.  But now? There is absolutely no way to escape. Those electronics are inescapable.

My son just told me of how a girl from his grade posted a photo of her family on the beach during their summer vacation.  Some kids commented on her photo in which she was wearing a bathing suit. She was at the beach.

They called her “Shreck” and other names.  She took the picture down.

Another instance? My friend’s son posted a gorgeous image of a rainbow he saw in on vacation in Maine.  He was called “gay.”  Hm.

A child who is very close to my heart suffered from bullying in grade 5.  Several boys would taunt him, stomp on his foot, call him names and steal his lunchbox and throw it across the cafeteria.

bully-obesity

This boy who had always been gregarious and well liked all of a sudden withdrew.  He did not smile. He refused to take his puffy winter jacket off in the hot classroom because he said that it was his “protective armor.”

Doesn’t that break your heart?

Everybody, guess what? That happened recently.

For three months, the mother contacted the school.  The boy reached out to the school on numerous occasions.  Then, the mom put her foot down.

And finally, an action was taken. The parents were called in. The school intended to contact the police if the boys did not cease.

They stopped.

But it took three months for the school to take it seriously and do something.

Although there is a “no tolerance” policy in our schools, it STILL happens.

What are we going to do about this? How can we stop this? We need to educate our kids not only on what it means to be a bully but how it affects others.

Sit down with your kids before that first day of school. Explain that their devices can be a source of entertainment and fun and a way in which to connect with their friends. We need to educate our children that phones can be weapons too.

Tell them to put their weapons down.

Can we model the Golden Rule? Please?

Golden Rule

That’s all.

no bullying

“Senior Salute?”

I watched the news this morning before my daily walk with my Black Lab, Dexter.  When the clip came on I spit my coffee out.

A senior conquest. Interesting.  Shocking.

Today begins the rape trial for the St. Paul School graduate of the class of 2014.  This Harvard bound student has been accused of luring and repeatedly raping a Freshman girl, a fifteen-year-old child. Owen Labrie of Tunbridge, Vermont allegedly sexually assaulted this young girl only days before he graduated.

And do you want to know why?

He was participating and vying to win a school tradition called the “Senior Salute.”  It’s a sexual conquest in which graduating young men set out to have sex with as many girls as possible prior to their graduation.  They refer to this as “scoring.”

These young men use school walls as their canvas, and their medium is a marker.  They must keep the girl’s names documented.  That is how the boys keep “score,” of course.  The more marker, the better chance of winning!

This tally seems like a good idea.  Credit them for each and every child that they “conquer!”  It is important to keep track of each notch on their belts.  Right?

And the school just keeps painting over those walls.

If you read my post “MEAN-ing”, you will see a remarkable correlation between permanent marker, school walls, and fresh paint.

Bullying. Sexual Abuse. Interesting?

Not so much.

Tuition, room and board at St. John’s School costs over $50,000.00. It is one of our country’s most prestigious schools. Our Secretary of State, John Kerry attended as did some other congressmen, Pulitzer Prize winners, and other illustrious figures.

But who cares?

Sexual abuse does not differentiate.  It doesn’t matter whether it occurs in the most prestigious institutions or under a bridge in Chelsea.  It happens.  All the time.  There is too much silence around it.

And there is always a tin of paint to solve the problem.

paint%20can

God bless this girl who has had the courage to come forward and out these young men for their conquests.  Imagine her incredible strength and conviction.

The heartbreaking part is that she may need to take the stand.  They will question her. They may cross-examine her. They may doubt her.  They may challenge her truth. And she may not be believed.

And that my friends is criminal in itself.

He has not been found guilty.  I am making assumptions that he is guilty.  Maybe he is not.

Fat chance.

But that is just one woman’s opinion.

These conquests such as the “Senior Salute” are abhorrent.  And they are in keeping with the theme of sexual abuse.  It’s ego based. These perpetrators are on a quest for power and dominance.

And nobody is going to stop them.

Except brave girls. And all of us listening.  ALL THE TIME.

No matter what.

That’s all.

Throwing Rocks

One beautiful summer morning my brother and I fetched our good friend, Steven, who lived across the street.  We wanted to play. All of us were around 6-7 years of age.

I had a brilliant idea. I suggested we stand on either side of our street, Steven on one side and big brother and I on the other.

The charge was to demonstrate our 7-year-old strength, agility, and skill by throwing rocks OVER passing cars.

We were talented. We were accurate. We were well equipped to handle the challenge.  That was until the ’73 White Camaro drove by.

We calculated, we paused then I hurled that rock. But something happened.The rock neglected to clear the roof of the car. It failed me.

That damn rock whaled itself right into the driver’s side panel.

SCREEEETTTCH!

WHOA.

A thin, stylish young woman  with a large bouffant hairdo, wearing a white mini-dress and white patent leather clunky sandals got out of the car and pointed her long pink pearly fingernail at us and just-

Screamed.

We were petrified. We ran. Big Brother and I hid underneath sofa in our den. The one that had the burlap cushions and the black wood frame with swirls and little pears painted on it.

We hung out with the dust bunnies ’till mom found us. I confessed. She was angry and stern.

But later I heard her on our yellow rotary phone in the kitchen telling our neighbor, Mrs. Nichols what happened.  Mom did not seem so angry, after all.

Sometimes, we think that we have what it takes. We feel overzealous.   But our actions can be destructive even with the best of intentions. Sometimes we think we are a lot stronger than we actually are.

As grown ups, it is hard to keep company with dust bunnies under a retro couch.

I have had my moments of feeling like Helen Reddy. Other times I want to melt away.  I want to quit. And quitting is embarrassing. Quitting requires humility especially when you quit while you are ahead.

I had a crush on my banker.  There was idle prattle each day as I executed my official business banking activity. We learned that we both shared an interest in fitness. Soon after, I learned that he was on some serious, competitive Rugby team. G. Q. had just done a photo shoot of his team all dirty with “”cauliflower” ears.  But I did not know that when I agreed to go on a running date with him.

He invited me to go for a run along Boston’s Esplanade. “SURE!” an overenthusiastic Mary replied. Off we went me wearing my cute lavender/purple matching lycra running “outfit.”  He chatted. I panted

I thought, “How freaking long is this date (strike that) RUN going to last????”

I surrendered myself to a bench. He jogged in place looking puzzled.   Date over.

New bank.

I thought I was invincible. I wanted to impress him. I committed to a “running date” with an elite athlete and believed that I could keep up with him.  I bit off WAY more than I could chew.

And in trying to impress him, in attempting to be someone who I was not, I ended up feeling embarrassed. I did not end up with a second date, either. But that is another story.

That run was much like that rock that slammed into the Camaro.  I did not expect that outcome.  I was humbled. But I went to meet my friends for a beer after that humiliating date instead of hanging out under the couch. That was an uptick.

My girlfriends talked me off the ledge.

Let me share an example of my poor judgment that turned out with a positive twist.

I knew my first husband for many years.  We were acquaintances living in the same Boston neighborhood.  He was attractive and charming.  Over the years, our friendship grew and eventually we started dating.

Our relationship seemed perfect.  We were in the throws of early infatuation then puppy love.  It all seemed just ideal and fulfilling and meant to be, and I was over the moon!

Before long we were saying the L word. Within a year, we were engaged and together we bought a condo in Boston’s Back Bay.

Moving in together was an eye opener.

Our idealistic relationship became real and raw and hard.  What seemed perfect went sour.  I was unhappy. As was he.

We started out happy and loving and kind to one another.  Once the ring was placed on my finger, the tide changed.

Jealousy became poison.  I could not defend myself against crimes I did not commit. We were in constant drama and turmoil.

My stomach was in knots all the time.

We were co-dependent.  It was not good.

As a perfectionist, failure was not an option.  I could fix it. I could make him love me if I just loved him BEST and BETTER. I could teach him not to be unjustifiably jealous.

I could change him. I knew it.

All you need is love, right?

I took off my engagement ring about two months before we got married. When I learned that I was pregnant just ten weeks before our wedding, I saw it as a sign and put the ring back on my finger.

I decided that  I had enough love to save US.  I was certain that we would live happily ever after.  We would have a beautiful, perfect life with our condo in the Back Bay and our baby.

Boy was I wrong.

Three days before we said, “We do” we had our first appointment with the OB.  It was not good.  There was no heartbeat. I  miscarried.

His family was arriving from Ireland while I was in the hospital.  There was no turning back. Or so I thought.

I think he would agree that we both should have legged it from that altar.

A year later I was pregnant and nine months later had a gorgeous boy. Blessed.

But my husband and I never made it.  It was a struggle from the start. It was a hard six years.  It ended. But we had our joy, our son, which made it all worthwhile.

Here is the takeaway.  We all aspire. We have the best of intentions. But you know what? Things do not always go as planned.

We are not always capable of what we think. And that is a beautiful thing, kids!

At the end of the day, that just says that we have a high opinion of our power. Of what we are capable.

It is ok if you cannot hurl that rock over the Camaro.  The part to focus on is that you believed in yourself. You took the chance. You look back and see that your choice may not have been a wise one, but you lived through it.

And eventually, Sugar, you crawl out from under that couch, wipe off the dust bunnies and say, “Onward!”

Failure is an option.

And the strength to accept it, accept yourself as a human being with the delightful ability to be less than perfect is just, well, perfect.

Now, shake things up, honey, and have some fun.  And please, for the love of Pete, quit beating yourself up.  We can’t always clear the Camaro with a huge rock.

That’s all.

eye lock

I was 15 years old and in my freshman year at Ursuline Academy. My home room teacher was Sr. Ursula. She also happened to be my Latin teacher. I loved her.

But I did not love Latin.

Sr. Ursula took attendance on one cold and dreary December morning. When I uncharacteristically mumbled a quietly “here,” she looked up at me, paused and walked to my desk. She took me in her arms and after a few moments she asked,

“Mistress Mary, what troubles you so?”

I fell apart.

Nana had suffered a stroke the evening before.

Nana was on life support. My mother and her siblings and spouses gathered around her hospital bed. My brother and I were the oldest of her seven grandchildren and the only grandchildren present.

My mother spoke to Nana as if she were conscious. Mom encouraged my brother and me to do the same.

I did as told. I prattled to Nana about my cheerleading practice that I’d had earlier that day. I told her I did well on my math test. I couldn’t think of anything else to say as she laid peacefully with the ventilator doing its job.

I shifted from one foot to the other. My brother and I continued to catch eyes. We knew it did not look good.

Nana passed away the next day.

My Nana was a kind and special lady. She touched many lives. It was not surprising to see such an outpouring of people gather to offer their condolences at her wake.

But.

It was disarmingly surprising to look up and see my three cousins standing in that funeral parlor clutching their mother, my Aunt Betty.

“Surprising” is the understatement of the century.

I am referring to The Aunt Betty. The Aunt Betty who called my grandfather out on sexually abusing my cousins. The one who ensured that her children would never, ever have to see that monster again.

That one.

There in the parlor stood an incredibly brave woman embracing her three beautiful daughters as if she were their coat of armor.

The moment the family noticed her, the energy in that room filled with disdain. In their eyes, she was repugnant. The divorce of my uncle and her was atrocious. But that wasn’t the real reason they loathed her.

She was the one who exposed our grandfather for sexually abusing two of her daughters.

The girls looked horrified, frightened and as if they were trying to melt into their mother. Aunt Betty held them tightly. Very tightly. So much so that the four of them looked like one.

My eldest cousin, with eyes, averted to the floor, buried herself into my aunt’s left arm. My youngest cousin, only waist-high to her, buried her face into her mother’s hip.

Then, there was Laura. Laura leaned into her mother’s embrace with her left leg planted on the floor, and her right crossed behind it.

At that moment, Laura and I locked eyes.

She smirked. Not a mischievous smirk, Not a disingenuous smirk or glib smirk.

It was the same smirk that both of us wore in our school photos that were taken around the time we were being abused by Grandpa.

IMG_293120141231_174510

It was a knowing smirk.

Those moments were profoundly impactful. She and I connected on a very intense level. I will never, ever forget it.

There stood a very brave woman. She dauntlessly brought her girls to say goodbye to their Nana, whom they loved. That took such strength in a room filled with such disdain.

But she did it.

Just as she had the courage to stand up for her daughters.

She had guts. She had gumption. She had MOXIE.

That was the last time I saw Laura. We never spoke the words of our abuse to one another.

But that look, that eye lock, said it all.

And 35 years later we have made up for time. We face it. We talk about it. We compare notes and share similar stories of how our lives have played out.

We continue to heal together.

That was the connection that my cousin Laura and I always had growing up together. We understood each other. We knew each other. And sadly, tragically, even, we lost many years.

Reuniting with her has been a blessing. It has been easy. And you know what? Our reunion feels like slipping into my favorite and most loved slippers.

That’s all.

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What about the girls?

Before I begin, kindly allow me to clear the bile from the back of my throat.

Ah-hem.

I am intensely pained by what has been exposed concerning the “19 and Counting” Duggar family.

Let me open by stating that I am not assuming,  I only imagine what it must be like in the lives the girls who were the victims of Josh Duggar’s abuse.

I have been raised in a family that takes modesty to the extreme.  Girls are not allowed to wear skirts above the knee, and must be chaperoned during courtship. My family does not go swimming because other men might look lustfully at women wearing swimsuits.

There is an element of great shame around sexuality.

I am a young girl, part of an enormous family, whose show has been aired on television for years. My family is the epitome of Christian values and faith and God’s love. I am pure. I will be chaste when I marry the one man I will be with forever. Sharing myself with more than one man is a sin. Doing so would make me impure and undesirable.

But.

My brother destroyed that path. He took that from me. In the eyes of my family and God, I am forever marred. That is what I have been taught. According to my family beliefs, I am tainted and impure. I reached out to tell my parents about my abuse but either they did not believe me, or they choose to ignore it. I live with it. I have lived a lie on that television program for years, wearing a mask and going along with it.

It is a crime.  It is a tragedy. It is heartbreaking.

These girls, along with others outside the family, have lived with this for years, alone, ashamed and hurting. I have had a visceral reaction to the news about Josh Duggar, and rightfully so.

In hearing this story, I have re-lived what happened to me as a girl.

Sexual abuse is happening everywhere. It is happening in both the most affluent and the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods and every one in between. It is happening within a family whose Christian lives have been televised for over a decade.

Here is a family devoted to God and Faith and Goodness. Their eldest child has admitted to sexually abusing girls, including his sisters. Now, he is sorry. He and his family believe that God has forgiven him. God is merciful.

I am a Christian. I believe in God’s love. I believe that, most importantly, there is God in each and every one of us and that we all come into this world good. I believe in forgiveness.

BUT
 this hypocrisy is staggering.

There was more than one occasion over several years when the victims came forward and exposed the crimes to Josh’s father, Jim Bob. Their pleas were ignored. Finally, Jim Bob took this “family matter’ into his own hands and dealt with it in his own way. He enlisted the help of the church elders, a construction company and a Arkansas state trooper who he knew personally.

And that trooper is now serving a 56-year prison sentence for child pornography, by the way.

Now, years later, this comes out.

Josh committed a crime. This was not a “family matter.”

Let’s get beyond the statements we have seen by Josh, his parents, and his wife, Anna. I have read their press releases detailing how sorry they are and that God is Merciful and has forgiven them. They are so thankful.

I believe that God is Merciful.

But what about the girls?

There is a great focus on God’s forgiveness. It is easy for God to forgive. That is who God is. Again, what about the girls? What does the apology look like to them? Have Josh and his parents  approached the victims for their mercy and forgiveness?

We have read that the girls forgive them. I respect and honor the victims’ privacy and understand that may have, in fact, forgiven them.

But what does forgiveness mean, anyway?

I have struggled so to forgive those who discarded my plea for help. No one believed me when I came forward about my abuse. It has been brutally difficult. I struggle so.

It takes enormous courage to step up and tell your story. It took everything I could muster to tell my elders that I had been abused. I don’t think I could have brought it up without the springboard of my cousins saying the same thing.

Only one out of six adults believed my cousins and me. My cousins never had to see our grandfather again. I did. I had to return to that hell over and over again. I continued to suffer, but I learned how to cope.  I learned how to hide from him.

Being disregarded was almost more traumatic than the abuse itself.

Josh’s victims were also disregarded.  They had to repeatedly to ask for help. What was it like for them when they told Jim Bob? In a family that believed that sex is not to be discussed, that must have been excruciating.

I hope that they are getting the help that they deserve. I hope that they feel comfort in knowing that the world knows now and that there are millions who are on their side.

I need to clear my throat again and take a few Tums.

So.

The best I can do from my removed place is to share a message with these young women.

Dear Beautiful Girls,

I am so, so sorry that this happened to you.

You are not victims. You are survivors. You are strong. You are beautiful. You are loved.

Although I do not know you, I know your pain, and I share in your hurt.

You did not deserve what happened to you. You had nothing to do with it. It was a horrible, horrible injustice.

It’s NOT your fault.

Josh committed a crime. He should have suffered the consequences. He did not.

My cousin Laura and I reported our abuser, our grandfather, 35 years after he abused us. At that time, he had been dead for 17 years. The police took us seriously. They launched a full investigation. They believed us.

Hundreds of thousands have read our story online, and countless survivors have said, “ME, TOO.”

You are not alone.

You will get through this.

I believe you.

Love,

Your Sister in Surviving,

Mary

That’s all.

Terrible Beauty

I had been accepted to Boston College’s Abbey Theater summer program! Just imagine, a summer in the Emerald Isle. What a wonderful adventure to precede my senior year of college. I was dancing a jig. I was ready for a Guinness.  I  was ready to meet my first leprechaun.

I had never been so far away from home.  And I had certainly not been away from home for such a long time. I geared up to be homesick.  I was doing the, you know, “managing my expectations” thing. There were dramatic goodbyes and gnashing of teeth and tears and farewells.

My family, my bestie, Clare, and my boyfriend of a few years (let’s call him “Guy”) waved their handkerchiefs in Logan’s Terminal E.  I was off.

As much as I looked forward to my adventure, I was semi-stuck in a state of despair.  What would I do without Guy for the summer? Oh sure, it would be “good for us to be apart for a bit,” as well-meaning folks said.

That was the world’s greatest understatement.

Twenty-five fabulous Boston College students joined in Sandymount, Dublin to unpack for a summer of storytelling, theater and history.  Off we went on the #3 bus to Dublin each morning to the Abbey. Off we went to the pub each afternoon. Life was good.  Friendships were made.

It was heavenly.

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The Syllabus!

If you have ever participated in the theater, you will understand what I am about to say.

Theater people are dramatic, not just on stage. Everywhere. And they tend to love big and loud. Theater people accept everyone.

My oldest is a chip off the old block.  He is an actor.

He has attended enriching summer theater programs; he has had all sorts roles in many productions. He has recited everything from one single line to entire monologs. His school has earned medals and awards. I am SO proud of him.

I have been the taxi driver to said performances and rehearsals.

Pulling up to Summer School for the Performing Arts each morning over the past several summers was a treat.  Each day there was IMPROV at car drop-off in the parking lot.  There was singing and laughter and hugs and high-fives.  Everyone was smiling.  It was seriously fun. It was welcoming and warm. I wanted to jump out of the car and join in.

The awesome thing about acting is that we can step out of ourselves and morph into whatever part we are playing. The stage is a welcome mat for whomever we chose to be. Actors know that. Actors accept that. On the stage, everyone can be a star.

In Ireland, I learned a vast education outside the classroom, too. Specifically on a bench by the sea with my new friend, Bob.

Bob was the first person I met when I arrived at our summer accommodation in Sandymount.

Bob has marked charisma. He commands a crowd with his quick wit and humor. He certainly gave the natives a run for their money. He is smart and hilarious and jovial.

He is deep.

Bob is also soulful and resilient. He is fervent. He is compassionate. He had been dealt a tough hand, but he rose above it. At  22 years old he had lived, and gracefully survived, a life that some have not lived by the age of 90.

What I learned was far beyond the syllabus.  I learned about strength and resilience.I learned about hope. I learned that I got to decide how I allowed others to treat me. The unfortunate thing?

It took almost 25 years to sink in.

What was mesmerizing about Bob is that he spoke in a way that lacked SHAME. He had been through the ringer. He had struggled. And he was shameless.

Holy. Holy.

For two months, we developed a friendship. We shared our stories.  My poor choices in life became apparent.   It was inspirational to see how he came out beautifully healed, gentle and in tact.

I had so far to go.

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Just another day exploring the countryside (in my green mohair sweater)

He offered such support and kindness. Tragically, it just whizzed past me.

I shared a few stories about how great Guy was. Then I shared stories about how NOT great Guy was.

Bob looked as if I had hit him in the gut.

He could not believe that beautiful (?) me could live with that.  He was filled with compassion.

He stood up and positioned himself as a boxer. He talked about being knocked down but that we have to get up, take our stance and fight back. We feel hurt and beaten. At the time, we can’t see it but eventually, we get it. And we mend.

And our beautiful scars show growth.

It was inspirational. It was moving. He was rattled by my pain. But I was not rattled by own pain.

Or so I thought.

I thought I was in love with Guy. I stayed with Guy in that horrible place because it felt familiar.  It was my comfort zone. It is what I had come to expect.

Here was the thing.

I loved Bob way you love your best friend. The friend who accepts you warts and all.

He loved me differently.

He could not understand why I would continue to stay with the abusive, cheating boyfriend. I could not accept his concerns or heed his advice.  I was young, naive and busted.

My benchmark for love was tragically shallow.  Guy was the “greatest.” The greatest to me was the one who made me feel like I was the worst, like I was in that familiar place. I attracted abusive men.

They were like moths to a lightbulb.

In hindsight, I understand. If I had gone to that loving place with him, I would have hurt him deeply.  On some subconscious level I believe I knew that I could not reciprocate.

Yeats refers to Ireland in his poem Easter 1916 as a “terrible beauty.” His metaphor is about Ireland’s emerging independence, what it took to get there and what would be the result from the Easter Rising.

Yeats said Irish Patriots suffered and died during the Easter Rising, which was both terrible and beautiful. There was beauty in their courage and fervor for independence. It was terrible that they suffered punishment and brutal defeat by the English.

But this it speaks on other levels, too. Ireland has lush green landscapes, pots of gold, but it also has the Dole. There has been illness and strife and poverty and plague. The sun shines simultaneously during a soft rain.

Ireland survived. And it is beautiful.

I was in a beautiful place full of hope and promise with grace all around me.  Grace was inviting me to step out of that dark place. Grace urged me to look at my choices and make different ones. I could not do it. Dark was better. Standing in the rain was better even though the sky held rainbows. I did not have what the Patriots had.

It was a terrible beauty.

On one of our final weekends in Ireland my dear friends, Jane, Bob and I took a road trip.  We stopped at a shop in Galway where I fell in love with two beautiful mohair sweaters. One was green and one black. I could afford only one. Bob wanted to buy the other for me, but I wouldn’t let him.

I didn’t deserve that!

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 Here we are discussing green? Or black?

(There has never been a greater negotiation as this one since my son hit his teens.)

Later that night we drove along Dingle Peninsula.  At the pinnacle, we pulled over next to a celtic cross. There were crashing waves, a full moon and a random lone sheep that jumped over the stone ledge that defined the narrow road from the sea below.

It was a beautiful night and a holy moment. I felt happy and full.  My summer had been magical. The three of us were quiet and took it all in.

I took a photo of Bob standing on the stone ledge.

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Look at his sweatshirt (Holy Cross). Look at his halo.

In December of our senior year, he showed up at my apartment with a gift. It was the black mohair sweater we saw in Galway.

I  never saw him after that. I never communicated with him after that.  I tried and tried, but he did not respond.  Ask my bestie, Clare.  Looking for him over the years became a “thing.” I was sad.

It was all my fault. I blew it.

Sometimes people love you no matter whether you allow them to or not.

At age 22, I was broken and hurting. I was in denial. I believed that Guy loved me.  He treated me beautifully on the surface, on stage, but he desecrated me.  He was an unfaithful playboy. He was disrespectful and cocky.

He treated me in a way that felt comfortable.

I am not sure that women realize something immensely important.  Just because he is your “boyfriend” you are still an individual who gets to pick how you are treated.  He is not the boss of you in any way, spiritually, physically, soulfully. You are IN CHARGE.

My Michael has a key chain that says “I’m Third.”

God is first; others are second, and he is third.

It is beautiful.  He lives it.  He is loving and kind and gracious. He is thankful and appreciative. He looks out for others. He does not kill ants. That is our only problem.

Bob was right. Grace gave me a hint, a promise. And 25 years later here I am.

My Michael is my forever Grace, loving me with kindness and an open heart and respect. I am treasured.  I never knew that would happen. Even though Bob told me that it could.

God loans people to us.

We never know for how long or for what reason.

We eventually realize it, and it is simply divine.

Thank you, Bob.

Thank you, God, for My Michael.

You kept good on your promise!

That’s all.

re- “Do”- nion

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Last year I decided to do what I love and love what I do. So, I started a business called “table24.” I offered personal chef and small-scale catering.

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Clams Casino and the logo

Out I ventured with grand plans, a beautiful website and chef’s jackets. Oh, the chef’s jackets! I was off to the races. I immediately had clients! I was busy in the kitchen! I was trying all sorts of new recipes! I am yelling right now!

Just what I wanted. Or so I thought. It was a huge disappointment. It was also a huge lesson.

You see, for me, cooking is a creative and cathartic outlet. Best of all, cooking is the means by which I express my love and affection for others.  In my family, food is glue for our togetherness. We all participate in it, find joy in it and, well, love to eat.  And I get to put it all on the table. YAY!

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Shrimp Etouffee- On My Michaels “A” list

My Michael and My Three Musketeers (a.k.a. my boys) get jazzed about giving me cooking challenges. We have had some doozies. One of their all time favorites is Fried Chicken and Waffles. It was love at first bite.  I am so happy when they are happy. And when mention of our evening meal gets airtime at bedtime prayers. Alleluia! Score!

As the head chef (and only chef) at table24, I spent the majority of my time in the kitchen.

Alone.

Alone and I are not a super combination. I am far too social. I started to talk to myself. I began a love affair with Dierks Bently and Keith Urban over Pandora. I developed a tick. It was worrisome.

Then, it dawned on me.  All of a sudden cooking carried a new meaning, a new stigmata- money.  It was my business so I charged people. I was expressing my affection for those about whom I cared and my new clients. And  I expected to be PAID for it?  Oh, how very wrong.

Talk about conditional love.

I packed up that carnival and left town.

Much like cooking, writing is cathartic. When I started MARYMORPHOSIS last month, my goal was to help others, to serve others, in sharing my story.

I recently attended my 30-year high school reunion. I had not been back to Ursuline in 15 years and was so looking forward to seeing everyone. Going back to Ursuline feels like going home.

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The motto of Ursuline Academy is Serviam, Latin for “I will serve.”

I was pleasantly surprised and a bit overwhelmed by the number of women, classmates and otherwise, who actually pulled me aside privately to express how impactful the content on MARYMORPHOSIS has been.

That to me is success.

When I first attended Ursuline I was thirteen years old and entering the 8th grade.  It had been a year since that day in the kitchen when I “outed” my abuser.  I was still reeling from the response, or lack thereof.  I was also still being abused.

My parents sent me to Ursuline primarily because it was an outstanding school.  But also, they pulled me out of public school because I was so horribly bullied that it was unbearable.

That is a story for another post, however.

This was on the tail end of the time span that my grandfather abused me but it was still happening. Simultaneously, I was traumatized by a handful of horribly cruel girls who victimized me because I had a new pair of Nike sneakers or a cute boy had a crush on me and not them.  How Cinderella-esque, hmm?

The Ursuline girls were beautiful in every way.  I was made to feel welcome. They included me. They were so kind to me.  Thank you eighth-grade friends, Gaby, Lisa, Anna, Sarah, Christine, Kim, Sheila and on and on.

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I was shocked.  How was it possible that all of a sudden I was liked?  I had a warped perception of myself. I loathed me. How on God’s green earth could anyone like me?

As the years passed my network of friends grew and changed.  I always felt liked and accepted on some level. But that deep-rooted hurt dominated.  Having been the victim of sexual abuse killed my spirit, robbed me of my purity and stripped me of my childhood.

Then vicious, vulture-ish girls took what was left.

Chin up!

I should have won an Academy Award. I played the part well. I was wearing a costume and by that in no way am I referring to my green plaid skirt and sensible brown shoes.  It was four years of “Showtime!”

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I still have my beloved green plaid skirt.  My Dexter is its best accessory!

I put my head into my books, and I pulled my grades from a consistent B/B+ average to a straight A average. Ursuline was HARD. And my classmates were brilliant. I did homework until 1:00 AM most nights. But I did it.

I was in clubs and committees, the class VP and the captain of the cheerleading squad at our brother school. I had great roles in school productions. I was cheerful with a cute and popular boyfriend who was the lead in the school musical. (Incidentally, while I was on stage he was backstage with one of the dancers. Yawn- you know that deal.)

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“S-U-C-C-E-S-S!! That’s the way we spell success!”

And, of course, I accomplished all of this on about 300 calories a day. I starved  myself so that I would be the skinny “-est.”  Eshh

Prior to the 30 year mark, former Mary would have fasted, had a fabulous hairdo and the perfect slimming outfit prior to attending said re-union. This year I didn’t iron my pants and I had roots. Oh, and I had dirt under my nails from gardening earlier that day. I did shower, however.

But in 2015, for the first time, I felt as if I could show my high school classmates the real Mary. The real, raw, honest Mary.

It felt so good just to be myself.

And my classmates were STILL nice to me.

When I post I often feel as if I have taken off all of my clothes and am doing high, deliberate kicks with “jazz hands” across stage of  the nationally televised Presidential debate.  I feel like I am the half-time show at the Superbowl.

It sounds mortifying, doesn’t it? Strangely, there is great comfort in vulnerability.

Every day I remind myself to “love myself with the heart with which I love my child.” And Honey, let me tell you, it is a hell of a lighter load.

I left my high school that evening feeling lighter and happier. I felt as if I were re-writing part of that sad high-school past. I felt as if I got a do-over.  I was able to accept the kindness of others. It was joyful.

Writing has become a part of my daily life. I know that some of my friends won’t read what I write. Some are probably shaking their heads and snickering with others on the ball field but want in on something?

I.COULD. NOT. CARE. LESS.

HA ! Imagine that!? It feels LIBERATING!  People can relate! Through one’s honesty, others find their humanity and feel a sense of community.

But, the best feeling is that I genuinely believe that I am helping people.  And folks have told me just that. And I believe them. So there.

“I will serve.”

It is such a juxtaposition that there is power in vulnerability, don’t you think? One would think that being vulnerable simply makes you weak. That is wrong. Bet on it.

“I am she. She is me.”

When my cousin wrote “He Wrote It Down” and I subsequently wrote “BEFORE He Wrote It Down, “ THOUSANDS no… HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS read our story. HUNDREDS WROTE TO US.

Over and over we read the response, “ME TOO.”Maybe you said it, too.

Do you see what I mean? In telling our stories, in our bare, honest truth and without shame, there is power. Good power. Power in your freedom, your happiness and your self-talk.

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There is an abundance of love that we all have deep inside ourselves that is meant for US. WE MUST LOVE OURSELVES.

And that, my pretties, is it for today.

That’s all.

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On my due date November 2001

Mother’s Day is upon us! Folks flood the card aisle. Stores post reminders to “Mother’s Day is May 10!”  Well-wishing Mother’s Day Mylar Balloons float around us and tap our shoulders as we stand a the grocery check-out.

This floral holiday Trumps Valentine’s Day, for Goodness sake!

I will never forget the first moment I became a mother. To me, it was not when I peed on the stick and the second line appeared. It was the moment I looked at him. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, despite his cone head and red face.

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The hospital wrist band I wore as an infant, and the one I wore and Ronan wore when he was born

He was gorgeous.

I will bet every mother has felt the same way.

Over the past 13 years, I have adored being a mom. Over the past three I have loved being a stepmom, too. Motherhood is the hardest job I have ever loved. I have morphed into a woman I would never have become had I not been blessed with motherhood.

My mother made me a cup of tea the day I took my baby home from the hospital. She set it down and said, “Enjoy. You will never again have another cup of hot tea. “ She was joking, but she was so right.

Mothers love their children unconditionally. Being a mother means putting yourself at the back of the family line. You can always count on Mom. Mom makes the hurt go away.

Mother is a verb.

Some of the best meals I have ever enjoyed were in my bed on mother’s day morning. From the very young age of five my boy brought me breakfast in bed. I think that it started with goldfish and a water bottle. Most recently, my three boys brought me a toasted bagel with cream cheese, a brimming bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios drowning in milk and coffee brewed from the Keurig.

Children idolize their mothers. Mothers are the rock, the source of love and the center of a child’s universe.

In many ways, the attention and love I receive as a mother can feel overwhelming to me. It feels like such a gift.  I gift I have never believed I deserved.

But they do love me. I feel it every single day.

In third grade, he gave me this mothers day poem.

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My AWESOME Mother’s Day Card 2011

Clearly, it made an impression.

I think that one of the most beautiful moments of motherhood happened in the Chatham Dunkin Donuts on Cape Cod. My two and a half-year-old and I were patiently waiting in line for his chocolate donut. We were surrounded by retirees. A lovely elderly lady behind us caught his eye.

“Where did you get your beautiful blonde curls?”

He instantly replied, “From God.”

Proud Mama moment!

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Curls from God

Now that my boy is a teen things have changed. I am annoying. I am so not cool anymore. I am a helicopter. The eye roll has become as dominant in his interaction with me as the word “like.” Its all good, though.

 

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13th Birthday!

Our roles change.

I have morphed from the center of his universe to a tornado. And I know that as he grows, our relationship will continue to morph and continue to change in many ways. Most of which I hope to be delightful.

My relationship with my mother has too, changed over the years. She was my everything as a child. She was my friend as a teenager. We shopped and had our nails done and lunched. She was career counselor after I graduated. Then she took care of my baby when I worked.

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Each day I got a note from the day’s events. Elmo was BIG back then!

When she had a devastating and debilitating stroke 11 years ago, the tables turned. I took care of her.

I visited her thrice a day for the three months she was in the hospital. I fed her and dressed her and put on her makeup and did her hair when she was immobilized and could not speak. It is so important to look and feel your best when your rehab for the day is getting into a wheelchair.

It was an enormous role reversal.

She became dependant. I became the nurturer.

Looking back I would not change it. EVER.

She is stubborn and opinionated (the apple does not fall far from the tree.) She has spunk and refuses to leave her home despite my father’s death and despite that she is patently disabled.

In light of recent life events, including reuniting with my long-lost cousin, Laura, hearing the other side of the story about our abuse and going to the police, there has been a predictable crack in my relationship with my mother.

It is a huge gaping fault much like the aftermath of an earthquake.

I am so, so angry. I am intensely hurt.

Mom is loving and kind. She is smart and generous and funny. She took care of me. She loves me.

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Christmas 1968

I struggle so.

There is a place that I am trying so hard to reach where I can reconcile the past and my mom’s role in it. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is perhaps more difficult than the aftermath of my sexual abuse and certainly more difficult than reporting her father, my abuser, to the police 35 years later.

It is heart wrenching, and I am torn. We all have hurts. We all have emotions and sensitivity. Once we are burned, it can be hard to stick your hand in the flame again.

So, people cope with their sexual abuse in different ways. When I was disbelieved after reporting my sexual abuse to my parents and uncle I had to survive. I mirrored their behavior. I pretended that it did not happen. I told my story in that kitchen. No one listened to my story.

(For clarification, please read my first blog post, “Before He Wrote it Down,”)

BUT my story, as much as I tried to stuff it down as far into my soul as possible, has told itself over and over again in my decisions, in my choices and in how I have lived.

Ok so here is a twist. Taking it one step further, people cope with OTHERS sexual abuse in different ways, too.

I applaud some. I shake my head at others. But I can’t judge. No one can judge. That is not our humanly job.

Although she is getting help for the first time in her life and says that she believes me, the jury is still out. But at 76 years old, I am grateful that she is a least trying.

My brother is brilliant and has offered great insight. He has provided guidance. He asks if I want to have a relationship with her? If so, that is the FIRST thing I need to decide. If so, and only IF SO, I need to determine if I can forgive. If I choose to forgive, I must do just that -all in-no takebacks no exclusions.

I am human. I am so very hurt.

I look at my mom. I can only imagine what happened to her as a child. She has coped differently. I suspect that she did the “stuffing down into the soul” trick. And it worked for her. But it did not work for me.

Herein lies the problem.

So on this mother’s day I have made a decision. I have decided to forgive my mom.

Forgiveness has many faces.  Forgiveness can be as easy breezy as a fist punch and a pat on the back.  Forgiveness can happen over years laying on that black leather couch.  Forgiveness can just be a decision.

Forgiveness, in this matter, is not releasing it, accepting that what happened can be dismissed or saying “It’s ok.”

In a billion, gazillion years, it will never be “OK” with the past but I choose to move forward.  I have decided that my grandfather had my past but will never have my future.  No flipping way.

I cannot change the past, but I can change the future.

I cannot judge, but I can love

I cannot undo it, but I can move on and accept her frailties and shortcomings.

Although I cannot say that it will ever be the same (how could it be) I will try.

There is an abundant amount of love in this world. We just need to let it in.

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Happy Mother’s Day.

That’s all.