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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.

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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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October 25, 1984. My Dear Mary Beth,…

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“Drinking beer and telling lies” as Dad would say (at the 2004 World Series)

It is Father’s Day. This is the fourth Father’s Day that has arrived since my dad died. I still miss him every single day.

One good thing is that this is the FIRST Father’s Day that I did not cry when I went to the card aisle.  That has to count for something.

Recently, I helped my mom clean out her attic.  I found a box of my old stuff.  In it, I discovered an envelope with my name written in my father’s notorious script.  It was one of the Palanka letters I received on my Junior Retreat.

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Here is what he wrote down.

October 25, 1984

My Dear Mary Beth, This is a difficult letter to write because I try to tell you as often as possible how I feel about you, and something new is hard.  I’ll try not to be too long-winded.

Every day I pray and thank God for you, for you are the most wonderful gift that I could receive from Him. You are my joy and my happiness.

I know that I ‘m not as patient with you as I should be.  I know that I’m short with you, and I regret it every time.  I hope that you know it’s because I want you to be everything you can, and I seek your happiness always.

No man could ask for more than you are in a daughter. You’re a good girl yet full of fun and life. You’re a mover and a shaker who loves God and is loved by God very much (look at the mother he gave you.)

Thank you, Mary, for never giving me a worry or a care about what or who you are. Thank you for being a truly beautiful person. Thank you for all the happiness, joy, love, fun and pride you have given to me.

Thanks for understanding that your daddy doesn’t want you to grow up and understanding that I’ll always need to have you as my little girl.

Thank you for talking to me more. Thank you for being kind to others. Thank you for being nice to Gram. Thank you for making your mother so happy.Thank you for being such a good friend and sister to your brother.

But I supposed that I thank God for you so often that I should say thank you for being you. I could go on and on.

I could go on even longer about the things you have forgiven me for and how you still love me. Thank you.

When we found out that you were to be born, I was as happy as I had ever been.  When you were born on December 31 and gave me a tax deduction for the whole year,  that was a sign of the beginning of all the good things and happiness that your brought and are still bringing to us all.

My dream for you is that you be as happy and fulfilled as you can possibly be.  I pray that God allows you to be as happy as you have made your family and me.

I pray that Jesus takes you in his arms and protects you forever.

After that, I pray you have all that you want and that you have children that make you as happy as you have made me.

Mary Beth, you are a beautiful woman with charm and grace, blessed with intelligence and wit as well as an inner glow that makes you shine.

I thank God for allowing me to be your father. It’s a high gift.

I truly love you now and forever – no matter what.

Daddy

I loved my father dearly. But I am the first to admit (as would he) that our relationship was complicated.  That is not to say that it lacked love.  Quite to the contrary, we adored each other.

But there were hurts. There were disagreements.  We had our share of impasses.

The thing is that our relationship was always REAL.

This letter is invaluable to me.  I will hold it in my heart forever. It is a gift better than any other he had ever given to me. I treasure it.

So on this Father’s Day, 2015, I don’t feel quite so sad that my dad is not with me, grilling a steak and drinking a beer or hitting some golf balls as we used to do.  Because you know what? He is right here.

Happy Father’s Day.

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  To learn about palanka click this link http://www.ehow.com/how_8088924_write-palanca-letter.html

Chicken “Marysala”

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Here is my Culinary -“ARTS STUDIO.”

My bestie, Clare, has always said that I could make a few pieces of lettuce look delicious on a plate.  She is also the friend who lets me wear neon bike shorts in high school and let me marry my first husband.  But those are stories for another day.

I started placing said lettuce on that plate back when she and I were around 15 years old. I have come a long way, Baby.

I caught up with Clare tonight.  We live insanely crazy lives. But no matter how busy we are, she and I always carve out time for each other.

Because that is what best friends do.

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She has always stood up for me- both at the dress rehearsal wedding and this one, the main performance.

Clare keeps me grounded. She talks me off the ledge, encourages me and always has my back. She and I have been friends since 1982. We have had some serious run time.  The way I see it is that if she hasn’t dumped me by now, she probably won’t.

And I have forgiven her for the neon bike shorts.

She is exhilarated and exhausted by her new job.  She is trying to find the balance. She wants to crawl into bed at night and relax.  I SO get it.  I feel the same way. And I told her I could relate.

Clare said, “Mar, of course, you’re spent.  It’s not like you are writing about how to grow tomatoes.”

She was so right.

I am writing about my life. I am in a place of vulnerability. That is hard to turn off.

But, when my tank is empty, cooking fills me up.

One of my great passions is cooking. With or without tomatoes, it is as therapeutic as writing or going for a long run or organizing the sock drawer.

I read cookbooks the way some read novels. I devour them. They inspire me. The pages of my favorite cookbooks prove that they are loved by the smudges and smears of past creations. That may sound gross, but it is usually just the remains of some innocuous ingredient like olive oil. Don’t worry.

There is a process.

First, I hunt.

I get jazzed about reading a few recipes by my favorites, Julia, Ina, and Tyler.  Then,  I transform their ideas into my creation.  I encounter success and, on occasion, the big FAIL.

Then, I gather.

I am a grocery store aficionado. Maybe it is the agility with which I push my cart through the aisles.  Maybe it is the comfortable conversation I have with my favorite butcher, Douglas.  Who knows?

Trust me when I say that people randomly approach me in the aisle and ask me where to find the fish sauce or the golden raisins. It is as if I have a neon halo above my head flashing “pro-shopper” in two-second intervals. Yesterday, a dear elderly lady asked me where to find the bread crumbs.  We were standing right next to them.

Then, I create.

Creating can be messy, but it is rewarding. The transgression from “mise en place” to “TA AAA DAH!” evokes success. It brings joy and a feeling of accomplishment.  Best of all, cooking makes the people I love happy.

When my marriage was falling apart my past husband and I were disconnected and miserable, cooking became a coping mechanism for both of us. I did the cooking. He did the eating.  What a perfect arrangement.

At the time, our son was just a toddler who consumed so much time and energy, as wee ones do.  My ex and I both worked. We were always tired. At night, there were stories and prayers and tuck-ins (usually more than one.) Then, we were alone.

“Alone” and “us”:  not a good combo.

My former husband took to watching TV.  I took to the kitchen.  I would start cooking at 8:00 P.M. and usually somewhere around 10:00 P.M.  I would serve dinner in front of that TV.

It was our only semblance of togetherness. And at that time it worked. The TV held power over the dinner conversation. That made it easier for both of us.

In cooking, I found comfort.  It was my escape. It was the way he and I avoided one another, and it worked. I was so comfortable in the kitchen. I was having a fling with my cutlery and my copper core pans.

It sort of saved me.

My marriage ended, but my cooking was just the beginning of a whole new world.

My love of cooking started in my childhood home. My mom taught me well. I loved standing on a chair watching and helping as she cooked dinner on many nights.

Mom is an amazing chef who taught me, amongst other things, that cooking is chemistry. I thought I was screwed. Oh, how I struggled in Sister Robert’s chemistry class!

But as long as I was not required to balance any chemical equations, I was ok.

Mom’s Chicken Marsala was the bomb and became my “go to.” If I wanted to impress, I pulled out her recipe.  You know that “man’s heart and stomach” thing?  Chicken Marsala became my secret dating weapon.

Her recipe was decadent and delicious.  It was time-consuming as well but still worth the effort especially when love was at stake.  I cut, chopped, dredged, buttered and sautéed my way to the masterpiece (or heart-attack) on a plate.

It is funny, but I never cooked Chicken Marsala for My Michael until after we were married.  There has to be something subliminally psychological with that one, don’t you think?

My Michael sits with me as I cook, keeps me company and is my official taste-tester.  What a difference from my past days as a solo chef with no taste-tester.

Now, cooking brings our family together. It is not a means by which I isolate myself. Our routine is to come together at the table, break bread and break the news of the day. It is fun. Also, The Three Musketeers (A.K.A. our boys) provide our nightly dinner entertainment.

About a year ago one of my personal chef customers requested Chicken Marsala. Although my mom’s recipe had always been the gold star,  I decided to shake things up.  I studied a few recipes, and this is what I turned out.

It takes half the time as my mom’s delicious recipe as well as half the butter. They loved it!

So today, I wish to share a recipe with you.  I have cooked Chicken Marsala many times. Over time, however, it has evolved and become a newer version.  It has become a symbol of how I have created myself and how I have evolved, too.

So, enough of the cushy stuff.   Let’s get cooking, friends!

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Chicken “Marysala”

  •  4 skinless, boneless, chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. Bacon fat (I keep a mason jar with pan drippings on hand in my fridge. It is worth the calories.Trust me)
  • 8 ounces crimini or porcini mushrooms stemmed and halved 
  • 1/2 cup sweet Marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoon  butter
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Put the chicken breasts side by side on a cutting board and slice diagonally so that you have thin slices.

Lay a piece of parchment paper over them (or use paper towels if you prefer); pound with a flat meat mallet, until they are about 1/4-inch thick.

Put about 11/2 cups of flour on another piece of parchment paper and season with about 1 Tsp. of  Kosher salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper. Mix well to evenly distribute the seasonings

Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium-high in a large skillet (I use my grandmother’s cast iron skillet that quickly conducts heat evenly.)

While the oil heats, dredge both sides of the chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour and then shake the excess.

Place the cutlets in the skillet and fry for 4-6 minutes on each side until golden, turning once.

Do not crowd the pan; you need to be sure that there is space between the cutlets for them to cook properly.

Remove the chicken to half-sheet pan (a cookie sheet or oven-proof platter will do) which has been covered with foil of parchment paper. This makes the clean up much easier.

When all the cutlets are cooked, place in a 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium, and add the bacon fat to the drippings in the pan. Saute for 1 minute to render out some of the fat.

Add the mushrooms and saute until they are browned, and most of the moisture has evaporated 6 minutes or so, season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pour the Marsala in the pan and increase the heat to high. Boil about a minute to cook down the alcohol.

Add the chicken stock and simmer for 2 minutes or so to reduce the sauce slightly.

Stir in the butter until melted.

Place the cutlets back into the skillet.  Simmer gently for several minutes on medium low.

Season with salt and pepper.

Plate the chicken and garnish with the fresh parsley.

Serve with rice pilaf or risotto.

That’s all.

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.

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.

maryMOMphosis

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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.

A Few Thoughts

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You may not invite change but try to accept its invitation to you.

Make someone’s day.  Even if you are having a tough one.

Volunteer. Serve. Appreciate.

You are valuable.  Don’t give yourself away.

Give freely and don’t keep score.

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Elders are just older models of ourselves as we are right now.

Elders have wisdom. Don’t speak down to them. Just listen. You just might learn something.

Quit rushing the future. Live for this instant.

Love your job and if you don’t, quit and move on.

God is First. Others are second. You are third.

Study for life not just for the test.

That’s all.

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Happy New Year to You!

grace happens…

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ˈmirək(ə)l/

Several years ago I leased a beautiful, new car and was reveling in its purity. It was not yet tattooed by the hands of urban parking, and the rims were still gleaming. On my new shiny’s maiden voyage from the dealership, I drove to collect my son from school.

As I waited for him in the pickup line, I spotted my boy joyfully skipping to the car grinning ear to ear, backpack trailing and waving what I thought to be a piece of paper.

“Guess what, Mama?” he asked, out of breath.

“What, Sweets?” I responded.

“I won STUDENT OF THE MONTH!” he proudly announced.

I beamed! I wanted to shout it from the top of the Hancock Tower! I wanted to send out an email blast! YAY!

Then, he handed it to me. Yes, IT.

The sticker read, “MY SON WAS STUDENT OF THE MONTH AT BLAH BLAH SCHOOL.”

Oh, Lord.

first Grade School year (22)

This was, most likely, the only instance I voluntarily (was it voluntary?) slapped an announcement on my bumper. If given a choice, I would have publicized my son’s success in my way to my family and friends, not necessarily to my fellow commuters. TMI.

I can think of one other exception to sharing a message on my tail, however. I would be willing to post the sticker, “Grace Happens.”

Have you ever seen that bumper sticker? It has a white field with a serendipitous font and little yellow stars on it. It is light, hopeful and divine. I love it.

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It is TRUE! I believe that Grace happens all around us, all the time. It is a bestowal of blessings. Do you see it?

Each time I see that bumper sticker I am reminded to open my eyes and witness Grace. It is everywhere.

Grace has been present to me in remarkable ways on several occasions.

My dear dad passed away of heart failure in 2010. Clearly, it was sudden and the most devastating event in my life. I still miss him every single day.

Dad and I shared great passion and strong opinions on many topics, yet we agreed on few. Our relationship was a tumultuous one, but it never, ever lacked love. Looking back, I am thankful that, no matter what our differences, at least our relationship was REAL.

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At the time of his death, he and I were just starting to reconcile after a hurtful impasse that had kept us from speaking for months. Despite our past disagreements, we had never been so disconnected in my 43 years. Looking back, I would have given just about anything to have been on good terms when he left this life. I wished I’d had the opportunity for a do-over.

But he died. Grief crippled me. I could barely function.

One morning, I accepted that I could not face that day. I surrendered myself back to bed after I dropped my son off at school. Then, I had a dream that I am confident will remain crystal clear in my mind forever.

I dreamt that I was standing on a sidewalk on a rainy day waiting for my dad. He and I had a standing appointment each week on the same day. My head was down. I was studying a big, muddy puddle at my feet. Then, it dawned on me. He was not coming.

All of a sudden, to my surprise, a car slowly passed me, upsetting my puddle. It stopped when its rear bumper aligned with where I was standing. I looked up to see the driver’s window slowly roll down. My dad’s face appeared in the window, and he looked at me.

“Dad? But you are gone!” I said.

“I am not gone, Darling, I am still here with you.”

“Can you see me, Daddy?”

“I can’t see your face but I can see you from above.”

Then, I woke. The dream ended there. I felt enormous love in my heart and the deepest comfort imaginable. Grace happened. Reconciliation happened. I knew he would never leave me. It was finally clear. He loved me so.

I am so grateful that my dad continued to visit me for months after my dream. I understand that he was checking on me. He was reassuring me and he was trying to alleviate my excruciating grief and GUILT. Let’s not forget the guilt.

I felt his presence every Sunday at church and my husband made sure to have a clean handkerchief in his pocket. It became a thing. One day I saw Dad observing (inspecting) the landscaping of my new house. Good thing he could not speak. One time, for a split second, while waiting in the drive-through, I swear I saw my dad in the Camry two cars back. That was unexpected.

Life is messy. Life can be hard and tragic and disappointing and so many other things. On our journey, we don’t know where we are going to land. But, there is a plan. And Lovey, Grace has everything to do with it.

I do not know what inspired me spontaneously to look for and find my long-lost cousins on Facebook but I was overcome with the sense that somehow, that very moment, I needed to.

My friend request has reunited me with my Laura, who, in just five months, knows almost all the secrets I have ever kept. And if you keep reading my blog, soon enough you will know all of them, too.

We were meant to go to the police. We were meant to meet Officer Paul Smith. Officer Paul Smith was meant to find another victim of our grandfather’s abuse. Laura was meant to write her blog post, “He Wrote it Down,” which has resonated with SO many.

Now, Laura and I, holding hands, are about to do the next great thing. And guess what? We are certain that Grace will join us.

Grace happens! Do you see? It is a miracle. It is a marvel. It stupendous phenomenon and it brings very welcome consequences.

Thank you, Grace.

03 Native New Yorker (Radio Edit)

“BEFORE” He Wrote it Down

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My plan was to finish setting the table and hit the sack. I looked forward to the next day,  Thanksgiving Day, which promised to be a memory maker surrounded by family, enough food to feed a small country and football, as you probably figured.  I turned in early and cozied up in bed next to my husband who had long been asleep and turned my attention to my evening routine of checking the newsfeed on Facebook. Ahhh.

 

Many of the posts were about being thankful or turkey size or sharing photos taken hours before at high school reunions.

 

Holidays make me nostalgic. Until I remarried several years ago, I did not have much family. But, at one time I did.

 

I thought about my cousins frequently. My aunt got my cousins in their divorce settlement, and since I was a member of that side of the family, I didn’t get them. I never understood why. I was young. I later learned that at that time I only knew part of the story.  All I knew was that I was told that my aunt was bad, and so were my cousins, you know, that “association thing.”

 

As children, we spent so much time together and were so close. We played countless games of four square and re-enacted endless episodes of Little House on the Prairie wearing our calico maxi dresses and the bonnets that my mom sewed for us. I predictably played the part of Mary and Laura played Laura. Of course.

 

Where were my cousins? What were they doing? Were they happy? Did they have children? Were they cooking a turkey tomorrow? Stuffing; cornbread or savory sausage? And who would carve the bird, break bread and give thanks with them?

 

Dammit! We were supposed to grow up together, to be each other’s bridesmaids and hold each other’s hair back and hold each other’s babies!  We were supposed to hold hands through life’s highs and lows. They were supposed to be the sisters that my mother did not bear. It was incredibly unfair. I tried to figure out who to blame and then I decided. Our grandfather.

 

Then, it happened.

 

On that Thanksgiving Eve, 2014, I had the chutzpah to look for my girls and there they were, as beautiful as ever. THANK YOU FB.

 

And the happy dance happened.

 

Just as I predicted, Laura and I still held a strong resemblance to each other. I looked at her photo with her great big smile and her gentle eyes and had a very strong feeling that this was meant to be. A reunion.

 

Snuggled in bed I struggled between biting my index finger/ my fingers hovering over the keyboard, biting my index finger/ my fingers hovering over the keyboard, repeat, repeat and then I mustered up the courage and did it. “Friend Request Sent”. There was a wave in my gut of “Oh my Gosh, I did it!” mixed with, “What if they hit the “Ignore Request” icon?

 

On Thanksgiving Day, after a very long 35-year hiatus I had my Laura back.  So thankful for that.

 

Our first call lasted over three hours.

 

Me, “Why did we lose each other? Why did we never see each other again?”

 

Laura, “Well, I think that there were lots of reasons.”

 

Me, “Ok, I am going to call the pink elephant out of the room. Let me tell you a story.” This is what I said.

 

On a summer day when I was only 12-ish, we had just finished dinner and were cleaning up. My uncle, who was living with us during his divorce, had come home with a nest of bees in his bonnet claiming that my aunt had fabricated a story that my grandfather had molested  my cousins and proceeded to obtain a restraining order against him.

 

I watched and then with about as much bravery and courage that any little girl could muster, tabled my shame and said in a small voice, “He did that to me.”

 

Stop. Pause. Turn. Head cock. Dish towel down.

 

Parent “I wish you had told me that.”

 

Me, “Well, I am telling you now.”

 

That was it.  That was all. The moment turned from little, petrified and ashamed Mary to the importance of those dinner dishes getting cleaned RIGHT AWAY.

 

This time, THIS abuse, was worse than at the hand of my grandfather. Who was going to protect me? Did they love me? Why won’t they believe me? I must be bad. That was it.

 

On that day, with all my might I bravely stepped out of that dark scary place,believing that if I could get myself there, if I could stand in the light just for a moment that it would be ok.

 

I held that abuse, my shame and my self-loathing inside that little body of mine, and it festered there for years having a say in my choices, my decisions, my life.

 

In January, for the first time in 35 years, Laura and I met. Wrapped in cozy blankets with copious amounts of chamomile tea and in front of a well-tended fire, courtesy of my husband, we let it rip, shared it all and figured out many of the missing pieces. Together we agreed that Grandpa had our past but he will never, ever have our future.

 

We decided to put that to rest on the next day by dancing on his grave. And so it happened.

 

“We drove to the town where he lived, and where he is buried. We drove to the town where we were abused. “

 

The next thing that happened?

 

HE WROTE IT DOWN

To view the sequel to this story, a story that has resonated with so many, written by my beautiful cousin, click below.

Bless!

That’s all.

 

http://inotherswords.com/2015/01/18/1473/

 

 

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