Category Archives: Family history

An older, wiser mom

My son Andy’s birthday is today. He’s 26 years old. The number makes me gasp.

My thoughts are pulled back to the weeks surrounding his birth. The mystery, the worry, the pain — and the utter joy. And the vague recollection of a newspaper article that appeared when he was just five weeks old.

Before I got married, went to graduate school and had my son, I was a bureau chief for the Arizona Republic. A lot of the reporters and photographers still knew me. So when they needed a photograph of a new mom with her baby for a story they were planning to run, they called me.

Photographer Michael Ging came out to the little condo my husband and I were renting in north Phoenix and took a bunch of pictures. When the story appeared in the paper on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 1985, it included this photo, which will always be a cherished favorite:

Photo by Michael Ging.

I must have read the article, but I was probably so excited about the picture — or so overwhelmed by my role as a new mom — that I didn’t remember what it was about. When memories of  the photo surfaced today, I decided to revisit the story.

So I went to my three-ring binder labeled “1985″ and pulled out the yellowed clipping.

“A Different Kind of Parental Guidance,” by then Republic staffer Linda Helser, was about a resource for older first-time moms. It described a fabricated character named Rosalie, who had her first baby at 35. This professional wonder had graduated magna cum laude, enjoyed yearly promotions at her job and had married a successful guy with whom she took European vacations.

The arrival of her baby completely threw her for a loop.

“In Phoenix, there are many more older women having babies today, and they probably know less about infant care than even the young ones,” Helser quoted a local parenting expert as saying. The story described how these older, better-resourced moms were seeking parenting education with the same kind of vigor with which they’d pursued education and career training.

I was 29. Raising Arizona Kids wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. But something about that newspaper article must have stuck in the back recesses of my mind. Because four years and one more son later, I was planning the launch of the Valley’s first monthly magazine for families. By then, I’d realized what Helser’s story meant by “mothers who are wise enough to admit they don’t know it all.”

Toe-tapping fun with “Live to Dance” finalist Kendall Glover

When I saw the press release, I immediately forwarded it to my 11-year-old niece, Mandy Davis.

TV Dance Sensation Kendall Glover to Appear
at FOX 10 Dance Day Benefiting Phoenix Children’s
New Family-Friendly Fundraising Event Boasts
Great Entertainment and Fun for Everyone

Mandy attends the same school as Kendall, who propelled herself into the national arena with spectacular solo performances and a second-place finish in the CBS dance competition program “Live to Dance.” Like many of her classmates, Mandy has followed Kendall’s career closely. She even got a hug from “Live to Dance” judge Paula Abdul, who came to Phoenix to make the big announcement during a school assembly that Kendall had made it to the finals.

Mandy and I were texting each other excitedly the the night Kendall performed in the finals.

When I learned about the PCH event, which is happening from 10am to 4pm on Saturday, July 30, at Jobing.com Arena, I asked Mandy if she’d like to help me interview Kendall. “That would be awesome!” she replied.

Teri Lane, director of the Children’s Miracle Network and corporate development officer at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital Foundation, put me in touch with Kendall’s mom, Ann Glover. I wrote her an email, and very quickly received her gracious response: “Kendall is so excited to work with you on the Raising Arizona Kids/Phoenix Children’s Hospital  article. She is a busy girl, but is really a homebody at heart and loves doing things for her community, too.”

I snapped this photo as Kendall took a break during the class she taught at The Salvation Army. More photos to come from RAK staff photographer Daniel Friedman!

Kendall was going to be teaching dance classes at a Salvation Army day camp for kids the next week, so we met her there, observed as she taught the class and then, with the help of staff multimedia journalist Vicki Balint, recorded an interview from a list of questions Mandy and I prepared by sending our suggestions back and forth to each other by email.

Yesterday, Vicki invited us to her home office, where she does the magical work of mixing audio for RAK Podcasts and editing stories for RAK Video. A natural teacher, she talked to Mandy about how she crafts stories in digital media. She explained what the squiggly lines meant on the screen. (“See that, where it’s flat? That’s where there’s a lull because Karen paused after she said ‘um.’”) She let Mandy select the audio and video clips that would work best for each story. And then — the really cool part — she let Mandy pick the music soundtracks that would introduce and exit the podcast.

Mandy and I will be sharing our podcast and video in the weeks leading up to the PCH event. We’re also putting together a print story for the magazine’s September performing arts issue and an extended podcast to accompany that. So I don’t want to give away too much about the fun time we had with Kendall. But consider yourself warned: You will laugh, you will be inspired and you’ll definitely be tapping your toes.

Mandy learns about podcasting from multimedia journalist Vicki Balint.

Saving the mail

As I was driving to an appointment in central Phoenix this afternoon, I listened to an NPR interview with Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum.

Daum’ column yesterday, “In Praise of Snail Mail” was written in response to a recent announcement by the U.S. Post Office that it plans to close or consolidate as many as 2,000 branches. “As the Postal Service continues its slow fade into history, something will be missing,” Daum fervently believes.

In the radio interview, she talks about her love of handwritten notes, paper and stationery stores, wax seals and even traditional holiday letters, saying electronic cards, email and Facebook just can’t compete with the real thing. She describes the delighted sense of anticipation she once felt as she bounded down to the front lobby of her Manhattan apartment building to meet her postal carrier, with whom she was on a first-name basis.

Mail, real mail, and the people who deliver it, are important to the fabric of life and the weaving together of communities, she believes. I agree with her.

One of the people who emailed during the show shared a story about his mother saving every letter he’d ever written to her — for 30 years. He described how meaningful it was to him to be able to reread those letters, which he describes as the “life journal I never kept.”

My mother saved every letter I wrote home too, from the time I first went away to college at the University of Arizona, through four years I lived on Guam and for three years I was a newlywed grad student in Cleveland. Envelopes, too. Rereading them is like stepping back into my young adult head, and a chance to remember the events, angst and boundless optimism of that time. (Misplaced or not, my confidence in the future was evident in the large round letters of my cursive, the many exclamation points and the bright green or purple ink I’d often use.)

Now I’m the mother of two grown sons who occasionally send emails with small details of their lives. I copy and paste them into a Word document, hoping they will someday enjoy reading them. And I wonder if it will be the same experience, minus the faded envelopes and the innocent, hope-filled handwriting.

When life and work merge

When my father died in the summer of 1991, I was already immersed in grief, editing a story for that year’s August magazine by a mother who had lost her baby daughter to a congenital heart condition.

Our circumstances were vastly different; my father’s death, though premature at age 67, came at the end of a life.  Her daughter, who died before her second birthday, was just getting started. My father’s death was sudden and completely unexpected; the result of a malignancy he had told no one about. Her daughter’s death was long, slow and painful — a roller coaster ride of hope-inspiring surgeries and nauseating plunges into despair.

I remember reading her story over and over, awed by the juxtaposition of these two unrelated events in my life. I was consumed by my own grief, yet somehow found it comforting to read about hers. As she described her feelings I found affirmation for mine. And I understood what she had told me when she asked to write her story in the first place: She wanted others who were grieving to know “you’re not the only one who feels this way.”

This week, once again, life and work have merged.

Amid meals, hikes, visits with family members and numerous trips to the airport, I have been editing another story about loss: Phoenix writer Mary Ann Bashaw’s second installment in our 2011 series on “Finding Purpose in Grief.”

The series debuts this month with a story about Joanne Cacciatore, Ph.D., a grief counselor and founder of the Phoenix-based MISS Foundation, who lost her own baby daughter, Cheyenne, in 1994. The February article focuses on a new Valley program created to support parents who face the excruciating challenge of seeing a pregnancy through despite the knowledge that their child will not survive. The goal of the Comfort and Resource Enhancement (CARE) Program  is, according to Mary Ann’s story, to “reduce the family’s suffering through a loving and sensitive, but realistic, approach to this complex journey.”

As I was reading MaryAnn’s story early Wednesday morning, I received an email from my mom, who was sharing sad news from her husband’s side of the family. An eagerly anticipated great-grandchild was expected this Christmas season.  A routine medical exam was scheduled after the mother’s due date passed. When doctors could not find a heartbeat, a Cesarean surgery followed. A stillborn child, a beautiful baby boy, was delivered.

My biographical Christmas tree

Our family’s Christmas tree ornaments spend most of the year wrapped in tissue paper, placed in plastic sandwich bags and stored in the specially partitioned rows of one of those red-and-green plastic storage tubs created just for this purpose. Tucked into each bag is a handwritten note to help me remember the circumstances of each ornament’s origin. As the Christmas season approaches, I carefully unwrap each ornament, pausing to remember before I place it on the tree.

I don’t decorate our Christmas tree; I read it. The notes, in Twittter-appropriate brevity, tell the story of a family.

There is a baby bootie hand-crocheted by one of my best friends and presented to me at a baby shower she hosted in her home before the birth of my first son. And a ceramic cable car ornament my husband and I bought in San Francisco one spring when I was pregnant with our second.

There are plastic photo-frame ornaments with pictures of adorable, towheaded toddlers and hand-painted cookie-cutter ornaments from the year I tried to get crafty.

Chalky, plaster of Paris stars the boys made at school, and which thoughtful teachers imprinted with my sons’ tiny thumbprints. Charlie Brown, Snoopy and Sesame Street ornaments from one doting grandmother; small plush crabs from another. (That was the year Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” first came out.)

When our sons were studying music I bought tiny violin/viola ornaments to represent their (earnest but ultimately unsustainable) interest in orchestra. When our family visited Washington, D.C. one summer,  I bought a Supreme Court ornament to remember a behind-the-scenes tour we took (to my embarrassment and dismay) in gym shorts and T-shirts because our better outfits were not yet dry from a sudden summer rainstorm that thoroughly drenched us all as we ran to our hotel the night before.

Though not as plentiful, there are ornaments representing the empty nest years of a marriage, too. The golden-threaded kiwi bird ornament from an amazing trip to New Zealand. The bright red wooden crab from a trip to Baltimore.  A regal purple sphere, displaying the words “Scottish Parliament” in a dignified, gilded typeface, a gift from college-age son upon his successful return from a semester abroad. A delicate, metallic disc imprinted with an image of the White House and surrounded by lacy metal snowflakes. This “official” ornament from The White House Christmas 2009, a gift from that same son, reminds me that my home is in Arizona but my heart spends part of each day in our nation’s Capitol, with two grown sons who live and work (very hard) there.

Someday it will not be me reading the Christmas tree biography. One or both of my sons will slowly, reluctantly open the green plastic tub with its bright red lid, dreading the task of sorting through its contents. My boys will have their own Christmas tree ornaments by then; their own family histories. They may not want to clutter their lives with the remnants of mine. And yet I hold out hope — as I scribble my notes, dates and recollections — that some small part of this collection will give added meaning to their own holiday celebrations. That they might share some of these stories with their own children. And that they will remember a time when the four of us were exquisitely bonded in mutual mischief after a mad dash through rain falling on us as hard as a waterfall, pounding, stinging, making us giddy with reckless abandon as we reached our goal and slid across the polished marble floors of a Washington, D.C. hotel lobby, leaving a slippery, impermanent trail of water behind us.

My own Raggedy Ann story

In today’s DYK, Daniel Friedman writes about the 95th anniversary of the Raggedy Ann doll. When we first learned about the occasion, I told him that I still have a hand-sewn Raggedy Ann doll, a gift from my mother’s maternal grandmother.

I brought my doll to the office so he could photograph it. As soon as I walked into the art department, Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams pointed out something that never registered in all the years I’ve had my Raggedy Ann.

“She has blonde hair!” Michelle said, her artist’s eye immediately seeing the obvious. Before that moment, it had never dawned on me that “Nanny” had created a Raggedy Ann to look just like me.

She also created an exact replica of the dress. My mom still kicks herself for the fact that she didn’t save it. (My family moved a dozen times while I was growing up. Who could blame her?) But she did make sure that I was wearing it for a rare, professionally photographed portrait.

Mom, who lives in Green Valley, Ariz., was in Phoenix last weekend. I told her what I’d finally realized about my Raggedy Ann and she, too, was surprised and touched.

Why didn’t we notice the significance of that yellow yarn hair before? Maybe we were too distracted by a sense of awe at the careful thought and meticulous stitches that went into creating this special gift. Regardless, almost 50 years later, we both sensed Nanny wrapping us in her love once again.