Every Family Has A Story: Lively Book Club Meeting

I could feel the camaraderie among the women who invited me to their book club meeting last week to discuss Jimmy and Me, A Sister’s Memoir.

Their warm reception for my personal story made me feel deep gratitude. Before I sat down, some said they felt they already knew me.

One woman surprised me when she said she was familiar with the arcane therapeutic exercise known as patterning described in chapter two. Another said she frequently related to the loss of childhood I experienced because she lost her mother at age 10 and had to care for six younger siblings. Several women nostalgically remarked about the 1960-70s culture referenced in the book.

We shared laughs and many head nods of familiarity about our family members. These caring, intelligent women reminded me why I wrote the book: because every family has a story. You will find a way to relate, too.

Invite me to your book club. Contact me to arrange a date and I’ll attend personally or via FaceTime.

The Gift of Reading

I received an early Christmas gift with the judge’s reviews of my books that were entered in the Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards Contest.

Jimmy and Me, A Sister’s Memoir

The author boldly, vulnerably shares what it is like to have a brother who is intellectually disabled. Her account is a warm, honest, raw, eye opening account of the effects her role as caregiver had on her as a child and as an adult. This duel timeframe gives the book a narrative richness but also a richness of insight for others who have lived through similar experiences. The opening scene showcases just how difficult and complicated this kind of life story can be, but the narrative overall brims with love, hope, and compassion. Alongside the story of her relationship with her brother, the author gives compelling insight into how to build and craft a sense of self when one’s identity is so closely linked with someone else. The pace of the narrative is smooth and swift, transitioning well between different time periods and themes. The narrative arc is strong even as the author embraces the complexity and open ended nature of a true life story. The story balances realistic dialogue along with exposition and summary to keep the story moving and give the narrative texture. For others in similar situations, her voice is a gift and a light. The cover photo aptly conveys the warmth and theme of the book.

Musing Off the Mat – memories and everyday moments

The author shares her life—her family, her hobbies, her positive world view—through a series of essays. The essays are uniquely the author’s, but themes of home, food, and family make it easy to relate to and feel connected with the author. The author’s voice is clear and brimming with personality, humor, and compassion. Not only does the author invite others into her life, but she also invites her audience to look at their own lives differently, with fresh eyes. The stories demonstrate a keen eye for detail and emotion, without being bogged down with description or sentimentality. The varying lengths of the pieces makes it easy to dive in and out of the book and hop around to different topics. The loose thematic organization gives the book just enough structure to hold it together without bogging it down. While the essays are focused on the author and her experiences, they also demonstrate a strong empathy for and attention to other people. The cover image aptly captures the tone and content of the book, and it has a very personal feel without making the book seem unprofessional or like a scrapbook.

Buy the books for your Secret Santa, Yankee Swap, or use as stocking stuffers. Because “every family has a story.”

Sharing on Community TV

Recently I was interviewed by Danvers Community TV about my memoir, Jimmy and Me. (Start at 1:30.)

This family story will resonate with many readers: people who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, siblings of individuals with intellectual disabilities, mothers, Italians, educators, health care professionals, and more.

Jimmy and Me and my essay collection, Musing Off the Mat, are available on Amazon. These books make great gifts for yourself, as a stocking stuffer, or a Yankee Swap.

End the R-word

Spread the word to end the word. Today is the national day to show respect to individuals with special needs.

When I was a child, I heard the derogatory and insulting word “retarded” too often. It was directed to my brother (and to me as “the retard’s sister”) on the playground, in school corridors, and in other public places.

Decades later, I heard it with derisive laughter from “professional” adults in business settings. To this day, it still pains me to hear such hurtful language.

I pledge #Respect through my words & actions. Will you? Pledge now to create communities of inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities. r-word.org

Remember: the only “R” word for citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities is RESPECT.

When the Last Child Moves Out

The house feels tilted. I sense it more at night and early morning because no one sleeps in the bedrooms across the hall. The doors remain open and the bed covers stay evenly spread.

My daughter moved out a few months ago. (Her sister had moved out a year earlier, so the nest is completely empty now.) She’d been talking about it for a while, but living at home for couple more years had its benefits: the ability to save more money, her own bathroom, a fully stocked kitchen, private parking, central air, and easy access to laundry facilities, to name a few.

Her bedroom is unadorned. She did, however, leave her large out-of-season wardrobe in the closet.

I see fewer TJMaxx bags around the house and fewer boxes from retailers at the front door.

There’s no daily fashion show anymore. The answer to “Is that new?” was always, “Oh, I bought this a while ago.”

The phone doesn’t ring at 5:00 p.m. with her asking, “Do you want me to pick up anything on my way home?” (Code for “What’s for dinner?”)

No longer do I hear the sound of a high-pitched beep when she locks her car.

I miss the jingle of keys at the front door and her upbeat, sing-song “Hello?” when she arrived home.

Gone is the sound of high heels clacking upstairs while she prepared for a night out. (I’d have to turn up the volume to hear Alex Trebek on Jeopardy!)

Her signature laugh doesn’t echo throughout the house, especially when she’d talk on the phone with a muffled voice in another room.

On Sunday nights, the kitchen island is clear where she used to prepare a week’s worth of salad lunches with an assembly line of reusable containers.

I don’t need to move her empty insulated lunch bag on the counter when pouring my morning coffee. Nor do I collect half-empty water bottles throughout the house.

Edamame, Special K protein shakes, and Halo Top ice cream have vanished from the fridge and pantry. So have the occasional doggie bags.

The dishwasher doesn’t run as frequently. And I expect the water bill to be reduced now that she’s not showering up to three times a day.

The dining room appears stark. She’d claimed it as her office, filling it with a laptop (whose cord I had to step over whenever passing by), stacks of neatly piled papers, stationery and supplies, tote bags, and up to four pairs of sneakers, lined in a row.

When I close a book and turn off the light in my bedroom, I don’t hear the hum of the clothes dryer and wonder when she’ll finish her laundry.

A floral whiff of her perfume no longer scents the air before she hugs me and says, “Bye! Love you!”

She still gets mail here. It gives me an excuse to go into her room and place it on her dresser. Other times, I simply stand in the doorway of her and her sister’s bedrooms and stare, like I did when they were away at college. I think about my young daughters under the covers where I knew they were safe and warm. And then I wonder what they’re doing and pray for their safety.

I purposely refer to their living quarters as their apartment, because this will always be home. At only a 40-minute-drive away, they fly in and out of the nest. They haven’t cut a cord. They’ve simply stretched our elastic bond. And when they both decide to stay the night, the house feels balanced again.

My husband and I have shifted our seats at the dinner table. We sit in our daughters’ designated seats now. Even though the arrangement feels lopsided, it makes us feel closer to them.