Sunday, March 21, 2010

At the Walgreens

File:Walgreens Logo.svg

I was at Walgreen’s the other day with some time to kill before my prescription was filled. Not enough time to justify the 10-mile round trip home and back so I wandered the aisles with nothing in particular in mind.

As I walked away from the pharmacy window there was this really young woman with about a 3 or 4 year-old boy in tow standing behind me. He was a good -looking kid. Blond hair, a little shaggy and it was hard to see his eyes. He had pale skin and reddish brown freckles. When I could make out his face I could see circles under his pale blue eyes and a bad runny nose. He probably had a cold or sinus infection. He kept wiping his nose on the palm of his hand and then wiping it on his jeans. There was a part of me, this instinctive daddy-and-teacher thing, that wanted to get a tissue, kneel down hold it to his nose and say, “Blow gently for me honey.”

Mom smelled strongly of cigarette smoke. She had long blond hair as well and the same pretty freckles and watery blue eyes. She had on low riser jeans and a halter-top. When we crossed in the aisle, I caught the little one’s eye. I winked and waved. He met my gaze and tried to wink back at me. He raised his own hand to wave and blinked both his eyes. Cute.

She smiled at me too. She was pretty but her teeth were yellowed from cigarettes. She had smudges under her eyes. They were probably sharing the same cold. “How ya doing?” she said and coughed a rattling cough.

“Pretty good,” I answered as we walked by each other. I thought it might be a good idea for her to leave off the cigs for a while until she and the little one got over their coughs.

As I turned into the next aisle there they were again. We were going the opposite directions down the aisles but heading the same way across the store. As they approached I could hear him ask his mama in a tiny voice if he could hold one of the stuffed Easter bunnies on display. He pointed and held up both his arms. “No!” she snapped. “If you hold it you’ll only want me to buy it for you. You already have enough stuffed animals at home.” He looked down, disappointed. But he did not cry or whine.

“What?” she pressed him. “You want everything you see, don’t you? Well, the world doesn’t work that way, so get used to it.” I couldn’t help but think that she was being louder than warranted for the situation. He could have heard her at half the volume. It felt like she was trying to prove something to me. It was weird, because she looked at me out of the corner of her eye when she was talking so loudly to him.

The next two aisles it was the same. Our paths crossed about half way down each aisle. Our eyes would meet; she would be cranky to her little boy. Harder than she had to be. At least that’s what it felt like. I broke our pattern and walked back to the pharmacy to wait for my prescription. Then I headed to the exit.

The young mom was checking out at the register near the doors, her basket was on the counter and she was getting her purchases scanned. The little guy asked mom for a chocolate peanut butter Easter egg. “Mommy?” he asked, pointing.

“You just want everything, don’t you?” she said loudly. Then she coughed her rattling cough into her fist. “There is NO WAY you are getting another thing today, do you hear me?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he nodded and looked down somberly. The cashier and I looked at each other uncomfortably. “Give me a carton of Marlborough Reds,” she said to the cashier.

As the doors parted and I headed out I overheard her say – too loudly – “I swear Little Rush, you are driving me crazy today!”

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Beyond Measure

The other day Heidi and I went to a fancy dinner to honor the outgoing superintendent of schools for my district. Believe it or not, it was pretty emotional for us. Dr. Hefner is a brilliant educator and friend to children. The highest compliment that I can give him is that, for the time I have known him, he has made his major decisions based on what he felt was good for children. It is simple. It is true.

So we were pretty gussied up. This was my first black tie affair since my brother Dan’s wedding back in the 80’s. It was fun. Heidi wore a dark brown velvety dress with a low back. Very ooohh la la.
In some ways it took me back to my senior prom, only my tux was powder blue back in 1975. Colin took several pictures on the way out just as we did for his girlfriend and him on their way to their first prom. There was this weird role reversal and Colin and Mary Lyle had us cheese it up for the camera. They were all casual in jeans and t-shirts, Heidi and I were in our formal wear. They waved goodbye as we drove away.

The “gala” (my first – and in all probability my last) was held at the big convention center in downtown Columbia. As people were getting out of their cars it resembled the opening to a Hollywood movie. Men were wearing three piece suits or tuxedos with shoes so shiny that you could see your reflection. The women looked much more diverse. They were in all kinds of formal dresses from pastels to black or white. Boas, stiletto heels, satin, plunging necklines, pumps, hairspray, sequins, bright lipstick, velvet, painted fingernails and toenails, rouge, mascara, eye shadow, perfume, dyed hair, perms, shiny jewelry, nylons.

The guys got off easy.

When we got there we waited outside of the big banquet hall. I was a little intimidated because I knew I was expected to make small talk with people I barely know. But it was fun. I ran into an old student and some old teaching buddies and administrators I knew pretty well back in the day.

When it was time to go into the banquet hall it was confusing. The tables were numbered. We were to sit at table 83. The room was huge and the tables were numbered randomly. 13 was next to 93, 36 next to 41. I think there was a map somewhere, but we didn’t have one so we wandered around, trying to be systematic. After a minute we saw a young art teacher from the district. Leslie Drews was at my school years ago and, while I never had her as a student, she used to come into my room before school in the mornings and do little chores for me like pass out papers, file, collate papers or write out song lyrics on large charts. I was close to her folks for a while. Her dad worked in the state department and he hung out with me while I taught 2nd grade. His wife Patty was a teacher in the district as well. Good people.

I asked Leslie how her folks were and her face went sad. “My dad’s brother just died a few days ago. He’s taking it all right, but they were best friends. He is going to miss him so badly.” I felt her sadness. She was close to her uncle. It was her loss too. It was sudden and very unexpected. After expressing our condolences, Leslie said that you just never know. You just have to live every day like it is your last, because you just never know when it will be your time. So true. I guess it’s necessarily true that these big lessons come to us at the saddest of times. You hope they stick. You hope that you won’t have to learn that lesson again. We said our goodbyes and looked around for our table.

Then we ran into an old friend from who works as a computer tech in the district. I had his son in my class many years ago. Thomas Foreman is as warm and personable as a guy can be. I have gone months at a time without crossing paths with him and when we do catch up, it’s like no time at all has gone by. I ask about his son Thomas who was in my class and his lovely wife who spent so much time at our young school as a volunteer. His daughter is also a teacher so we have lots to talk about. He is about the most laid back person I know. He is an easy man to be around, smart, great sense of humor, big heart.

“How’s it going, Thomas?” I said after a warm handshake. “Good,” he said automatically, and he smiled. But his smile quickly faded. “No, not so good.”

“What?” Heidi and I asked simultaneously.

“My sister just died a few hours ago. Five o’clock. I was already here so I’m just going to stay a little longer, then head back.” The look on his face was so sad. “She had cancer. The thing is, it was in remission…”

We talked for a few minutes. I didn’t want to leave him there. He was taking pictures of the big gala for posterity. Couples mostly. He put on his game face and shook my hand. He gave Heidi a warm hug. “You just never know,” he said. “You never know how much time you have left. You’ve got to use it the best you can.”

As Heidi and I walked away, we were a little stunned. What are the chances that in about three minutes two people you know tell you about the death of a loved one and pass on the valuable lesson about how precious life is? Mathematically, the chances are very, very small. Almost infinitesimal. But in the big picture? In the God picture?

That was a lesson I needed to hear. Right then. Sometimes I forget. Maybe we all do. Sometimes I put life on cruise control. I put in my hours, go through the daily grind, live the same routine and don’t stop to really think about how blessed I am. And I am. Blessed. Beyond measure.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Coincidence or Synchronicity

Today is our son Devin's 18th birthday. 18 years ago today, a young mom in Summerville, SC made the most amazing decision to give her unborn child up for adoption. She bore a beautiful boychild. And that baby boy is our son. There is no question in our minds that he was born to be a part of our family. I posted his adoption story before a couple of years ago. Today is a special day in our family's history. 18. What a big round number.

When we picked him up from the hospital it was March 18th. That was his "gotcha day". When I looked into his beautiful blue-gray eyes on that day, how could I have known that this little one would have such a powerful impact on my life?

I am re-posting his story, told from Heidi Mills' point of view. She has written a lot of powerful words in her lifetime. In my view, none more powerful that these.

Coincidence or Synchronicity?


Heidi Mills

I’ve led a blessed life. I have always known it at some level but it took Devin diving straight into my heart and soul to help me really know. And it took Devin to show me how to live into and through this knowing.

B.D. – Before Devin

Tim and I thought we had made all the right moves. I had finished my doctorate and had settled into my life as a faculty member at USC. Tim was in the zone as an elementary teacher and we were finally at a place in our lives financially where we thought we could and should begin trying to have children. We were still in deep graduate student debt but it seemed as if we finally had enough of our ducks in a row to begin.

It’s funny now to reflect back on how stunned we were when it didn’t happen quite as we had planned. We had always lived happily yet quite deliberately. We knew how to set goals and accomplish them. We had the academic, intellectual and pragmatic thing down. But it took confronting most important goal we had ever established for ourselves to wake us up and send us down a truly spiritual path. It was a path filled with pain, disappointment and disillusionment. It was a tumultuous path, one that took a number of unexpected turns, but one that ultimately led us to love, synchronicity and pure joy.

After years of functioning as living science projects, going through a number of infertility tests and procedures, I finally became pregnant, really pregnant, pregnant with twins. We were startled when we saw two heartbeats during our second ultrasound. To be honest, we were overwhelmed yet thrilled. We began making plans to move to a home that could accommodate two babies… we were such planners. And then it happened. I became very, very, very sick. I remember trying not breathe in the waiting room because I didn’t want to infect any of the voluptuous women who were surely going to deliver within a matter of minutes. I remember wondering if the doctor would be able to give me something that would help me heal without impacting the twins. But before I even had time to ask, she ordered an ultrasound. She seemed to know before turning on the machine – the heartbeats had disappeared. I had lost the twins.

While I’d experienced the decline and ultimately the loss of my dear grandparents, I had never experienced anything quite as traumatic as this. I thought I had empathized when friends had lost babies but, as usual, I was just kidding myself, I was playing at empathy because I really didn’t know. I really couldn’t know the depth of the pain, the sadness or loss.

It was unbearable to think about not being able to have children. It took so long to conceive and the blessing of new lives within me seemed to disappear as quickly as it had emerged. We were told that I couldn’t go back on the fertility medicine for several months because of complications from the miscarriage.

The clock was ticking and I was spiraling. I was depressed. I wasn’t clinically diagnosed but I had lost hope. I found myself beating myself up daily for making all the wrong choices in life. I had a great vita but that didn’t matter in larger scheme of things. Suddenly all of the things I had devoted my attention to in life faded away. How had I lost sight of what really mattered? Why didn’t I know better?

As usual, I pretended my way into happiness. I had created this identity for myself that included being positive, in control, happy and helpful to others. Tim knew though. Of course he shared my pain. But we carried on.

One Saturday morning we were driving to aerobics class. If you know Tim it won’t surprise you to know that we listen to NPR, read the newspaper or listen to a book on tape when driving. On this particular morning, Tim drove and I read the paper to him. The cover story focused on the rescue of a brand new baby girl from a trash dumpster at Sandy’s. The manager thought he heard a cat crying in the dumpster and so he opened the lid to check. Low and behold he found a beautiful, healthy baby girl. The manager and his wife had been on an adoption waiting list for quite a long time and they were hoping (as I’m sure all of the readers across the state hoped) that they would be given the gift of this child. As I finished this intimate little read aloud, I looked over at Tim and tears were gently rolling down his cheeks.

This story challenged us to ask the big life question. Why? Why had this negligent mother been given the gift of a child when we knew we would love, treasure and care for a child? What the heck?! We would never even consider spanking a child, let alone abandon a newborn in a dark, cold, disgusting dumpster. Why, why, why?

After asking the unanswerable question, Tim posed one we could actually wrap our heads around, “Maybe we should think about adoption?”

“Yeah, I’ve never been opposed to it, it just seems as if we got sucked into the medical journey,” I responded. “Try this for three months, then that for six months, then engage in more tests only to try a different set of procedures for several more months, yadda, yadda, yadda,” I continued. Remember, I was depressed and so clarity was not my forte at that moment. It’s also important to know that my sister had similar difficulties conceiving initially and she had two healthy children and happened to be pregnant again, this time with twins.

Tim had planted an important seed with his question about adoption but it hadn’t taken root in my heart or mind quite yet. We chatted about it casually for a couple of minutes and then the idea faded away as we parked the car, walked into the gym and started working out.

Later that afternoon I was in my home office responding to student work. It was life as usual…. working on weekends to survive or thrive professionally, depending on how you looked at it. I was totally immersed in my students’ work and then suddenly it happened. I didn’t actually see anyone or hear voices. All I’m saying is I suddenly KNEW with every cell in my body, KNEW deep in my heart, KNEW without any doubt whatsoever. I KNEW WE WERE SUPPOSED TO ADOPT. It wasn’t an intellectual kind of knowing. It was clearer, more powerful. It was purely spiritual. All I’m saying is that I had the epiphany of a lifetime and it seemed like the most natural thing in the world. And there was a sense of urgency about it. We were supposed to adopt and we were supposed to act immediately!

Somehow knowing just what to do, I picked up the phone and called my dear friend and colleague, Amy Donnelly. I left a message about my epiphany (as if it happened all of the time) and asked her to call her doctor friend who does private adoption. I told her we were too old to go through DSS and so we needed him to tell us what to do. Then Tim and I went to see The Grand Canyon. There it was again. Adoption played a key role in the movie plot. Adoption was everywhere.

As we drove home, we chatted excitedly about the possibility of adoption. Just six hours earlier the thought hadn’t even occurred to us. Now it was part of our life plans. We just knew it.

The phone was ringing when we entered our condo. I picked up the phone and knew it was Amy and I knew what she was going to say. Before she even had time to say anything I announced, “He has a baby!”

Amy responded tearfully, “Yes! How did you know?” She continued without taking a breath, “The doctor has a young girl six weeks from delivery and she has entrusted him to find just the right parents for the child. He has a very long waiting list of parents who want to adopt but he and his wife have been waiting and praying for just the right parents for this child.” We alternately laughed, cried and screamed with delight at the prospect of Amy being our adoption angel. And she was. She made one call and that’s all it took. That’s all it took because we all knew it was meant to be. Amy convinced the doctor and his wife (the ultimate decision maker) that Tim and I would be just the kind parents they envisioned for this special birthmother and child.

And the blessings kept coming. The doctor outlined the steps we needed to take down this new path to parenthood. Our attorney and case-worker were simply delightful. They offered just the right balance between logic and intuitive wisdom to scaffold us through the adoption process. We sold our two-bedroom condo and moved into a three-bedroom condo within weeks and were painting the nursery when we got the call from the doctor.

Devin Mills O’Keefe was born on March 16, 1992. He weighed 6 pounds, 2 ounces and was one of the most beautiful babies we had ever seen. He was an amazing child and has grown into a remarkable young man.

A.D. - After Devin

Just when Tim and I thought our lives couldn’t be richer, happier or more complete, I started feeling sick and tired. Devin was nine-months-old at the time. Low and behold, Colin Mills O’Keefe was preparing to expand our little family. His coming would bring new joy and love into our lives in unexpected ways.

I always suspected I led a blessed life. Now I know it. Some say Devin’s adoption story was simply a series of coincidences. Others say we were very lucky. I know it was more than chance. There was guidance from within and beyond. It was a miracle.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How Did you Find Me Here?

If you don't know David Wilcox, you should. My old friend Pete
Galvin turned me on to this scratchy old tape once. Someone
put a microphone up to a stereo speaker. If you've ever done
that, you know it sounds pretty crummy. There were a few
spots on the tape where you could hear people talking in the
background. It was a little annoying.

The thing is, I LOVED it. A lot of times you have to listen to
something a few times to let it sink in, right? You have to let it
grow on you. Not David Wilcox. Not for me. If you don't
know his music, you owe it to yourself to buy his CDs.
I'd suggest that you start with the old stuff. This is from his
second album called "How Did You Find Me Here?".
This is a pretty crude recording of the title cut from Youtube.
I'm guessing you'll love it too.

How Did You Find Me Here?

The night I fell in sorrow

I knew I was alone

A dozen good-time friendships

But my heart is still unknown

I thought I saw your footsteps

In the sand along the shore

And I mumbled empty phrases

That sang so well before


Now inches from the water

About to disappear

I feel you behind me

How did you find me here?

I couldn't reach for rescue

I hid myself from you

I couldn't stand to see me

From your point of view

I knew I'd disappoint you

If I showed to you this child

Who is crying out inside me

Lost in the wild


Now inches from the water

About to disappear

I feel you behind me

How did you find me here?

I feel you behind me

Laughing in the water

Wash away the tears

I feel you behind me

How did you find me here?

I feel you behind me

But how did you find me here?

Sky Mall Part 2

It might be fun to write the copy for Sky Mall catalogue. Remember when Elaine from Seinfeld wrote the copy for an outdoor clothing catalogue? The idea was to be absurdly over the top. These phrases keep popping in my head. Feels like a winner… Why would you live without?...Be the first on your block… A must for every household… Imagine yourself on the beach…The envy of your friends. If it were your job to write for Sky Mall, your writer’s notebook would be filled with this stuff.

If you got good at writing like this, you would look at the world differently. Even everyday things could become extra special, glamorous, exciting. Belts, slippers, sunglasses, even kitty litter boxes would have an alluring appeal they wouldn’t normally have.

Imagine if you were an inventor of this stuff. Chase away stress with soothing sounds and enriched oxygen… Enliven your shower experience by transforming your regular shower into a fountain of brilliant fun… Want to raise eyebrows at your next sales meeting?... The most sought after helicopter on the block… The first shoes that make your feet feel like you are defying gravity…

Take a simple everyday task like showering, pouring a liquid, putting on shoes, lying down or even breathing. Then think of a way to shake it up, make it a little different. Add a dose of ridiculous hyperbole, and… Create a personalized meal by branding your steaks and chicken and burgers… The ultimate in gear management clothing… Bring out your inner diva… You can’t help but have happy feet when you wear these adorable slippers… Experience ultimate relaxation… You’ll feel better and perform better when your feet enjoy the comfort of customized footbeds.

Footbeds? Ingenious. Not just reallyreallyniceslippers. ‘Footbeds’ is underlined by a squiggly red line on my computer. The writer created a new compound word, never seen before. That would be a cool component of this job too. You could describe everyday things with your own groundbreakingcompoundwords. Rings could become fingerbracelets, shirts might be upperbodywraps, belts – trousertrusses, socks – footsleeves, spoons – minimouthshovels. The possibilities are endless!

And what about all that spy stuff? This equipment compares with (no, far surpasses) the Mission Impossible and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. of the 60’s. If what they advertise so gloriously is true? No one is safe from surveillance. I mean it. Check these out:

136 Hour Digital Voice Recorder – This is the next generation in technology. Discreetly and remotely record conversations in the room next door or even over the telephone. $149.95

This in RED: RECORDING CONVERSATIONS IS NOT LEGAL IN SOME JURISDICTIONS. CHECK WITH LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT BEFORE RECORDING ANY CONVERSATION. I’m totally sure that anyone who buys one of these devices will be checking with local law enforcement before recording any conversation. Thank goodness that was in red because otherwise those who record other people’s conversations may not have checked with local authorities.

Bionic Sound Technology Microphone Listening Device. “Hear” and “See” a conversation from a football field away. What’s with the quotation marks?

Carry your eyewitness in your pocket – picture and video recording pen.

Picture taking, night vision, monocular, video-recording sunglasses to discreetly record all that you see.

Who is going to buy this stuff? Can you imagine listing spying on your friends and neighbors as an interest or hobby on a job application form? What would you say on Monday morning when your coworker asks what you did over the weekend? Would your answer be something like, “Not much really, but you wouldn’t believe the conversations I recorded through my apartment wall.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sky Mall Part 1

After Christmas I was coming home from New Mexico and a wonderful visit with my family. I was sort of basking in the glow of all of that laughter and love, all of the stories and shared past. I had just finished reading the book I had brought with me, and I found myself on the airplane and in the airport with nothing to read. I hate that. I had hours in front of me with nothing to read but what was in the environment.

So what is in front of you on the plane? The SKYMALL catalogue of course. I have enjoyed “reading” these from time to time. I used to do these science workshops for educators and occasionally I’d find something funny in there to share with teachers in faraway places about how science and technology is changing. You know, items like self-cleaning litter boxes that use motion sensing devices to detect when to sift the litter and send the load, in sealed plastic bags, to the dump where it will decompose in about 10 million years. That kind of thing.

The items themselves are interesting. You find yourself wondering who would get such a thing. What must they be like? Take the Instant Feng Shui kit. It has benefits at home or away. Working with electromagnetic fields, this handheld feng shui compass helps you find favorable energy conditions at home or anywhere needed. Using advanced aerospace guidance technology, it locates and calculates supportive energy fields quickly and easily to align your physical surroundings to help manifest your goals and intentions. This used to cost $399.99. But now, it only costs $199.99. That’s a savings of $200! For just $49.99 you can get a shielded carrying case (presumably to shield against bad energy) for just $49.99. With the advanced aerospace guidance technology involved, you know it must be an awesome positive energy detector.

I’ll just list a few more amazing gadgets here. You might have thought that all the research and development money we have spent over the years has been wasted on space exploration and weapons of mass destruction. Not true.

Speaking of aerospace technology, how about the Solar Powered Squirrel Boss? It is the unique brainchild of an aerospace professional. It electronically conditions squirrels to steer clear of the bird feeder. This little marvel features a remote control that delivers a shock to squirrels from the comfort of your living room. Can you imagine the hours of fun? The cost? Only $98.89. If you use this a thousand times, that’s less than a penny per shock. Seems pretty cost efficient.

How about a voice recognition Grocery List Organizer? It recognizes such words as ‘swordfish’, ‘emory boards’ and ‘lawn bags’. I don’t know many folks who can do without one of those. Cost? Just $99.95.

Have you ever messed up that big money pool shot and thought, Man, I could have had that with the aid of a little technology? Well, you won’t need to feel that way any more when you use the Laser guided pool cue. It provides a precise guide for every shot. Just $129.95.

When was the last time you threw back a shot and thought to yourself, Yuck, that was pathetically room temperature? Well, get your shot glasses ready for the sub-zero Lil’ Chill Shot Chiller. It is THE hassle free chill-and-pour system that virtually eliminates spills. It features LED illumination so you won’t have to fuss with chilling your shots with sunlight or old fashioned incandescent bulbs. Who doesn’t need one of these? The cost? Just $149.99.

From the ancient Shaolin Temples of South China comes the secret to maintaining near perfect health. The new Shaolin Reflexslippers. These little beauties come from the An Fei Province of China. They are specially constructed. The priests have used specially constructed slippers for centuries. If I had known I could maintain near perfect health by wearing specially constructed slippers for just $39.95, I would have gotten these things years ago.