No Duffel Bags


I have a pretty steadfast, predictable measurement in my life as any kind of crisis or natural disaster is looming. Ranging from the number of duffel bags that end up in my living room, I can accurately measure the severity of what might be coming. In my experience, if it’s a big 2 day snowstorm, (2 duffel bags), a category 3 hurricane, (3 or more duffel bags), or perhaps nothing at all. (No bag packing is required).

I’ve been married to a First Responder for 28 years.  My husband Joe has been a firefighter/EMT for more years than I have known him – I’ve only been involved for the last 30 of them.  As a Captain for West Windsor Township Emergency Services Dept. and also as a member of NJ Task Force 1, there have been countless disruptions to our everyday normal life.  There is a rhythm that comes with the unpredictability of this life, I know that sounds odd, but I’ve learned to pick up on it, and when we face any kind of event that will disrupt us – I ask the questions I want to know the answers to, and if I don’t want to know about it, I don’t ask. This helps me manage what is in my control, and not worry about the rest.  Joe is a very calm guy. He doesn’t put on a front for me or our kids. He’s always honest with us, but he’s also steadfast and rock solid. There is a rhythm to our conversations and preparations before he is called in to work, or deployed with the task force, a bit like a music composition, taking on the tone of whatever may lie ahead.

As we’ve been wrestling this past month with the onslaught and unpredictability of the COVID-19 crisis, I have found myself thinking back over the past disruptions, I guess trying to help me find a way to cope a little bit better –  and here are a few.

9/11.  There was no time for talking because this all happened so fast. Off he went, we had a 3 year old preschooler. He was not yet a member of the NJ Task Force at that time, so he did not go on a lengthy deployment to NYC. Even though our lives were very disrupted, I felt very lucky.

Fast forward a couple of years to 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast.  He was actually out in New Mexico just beforehand attending a class, and he and his colleagues were watching the events, knowing they would be most likely sent out with their team.  He flew home, packed everything up (3 plus duffel bags), turned around in about 12 hours and left with the task force for New Orleans. We talked hurriedly as he re-packed everything. Shannon was just about to start kindergarten and Joseph was 2.  I remember standing in our kitchen as young Joseph held on to my leg and Joe made several trips out to his truck with his bags.  Since this was before the age of social media, I literally glued myself to cable news each night after the kids were in bed to keep up with what was happening.

In Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Irene in 2011-  we knew this was coming and was going to hit NJ. He always makes sure we are prepared before he leaves, so he got the pump all hooked up and ready for the basement in case it flooded, and showed me how to turn it on.  We got big jugs of water to put in the bathtub (we have well water, so if we lose power we don’t have water either). We secured the rest of the outside, and then he went to work.  There was a lot of flooding, and we lost power for several days.  It was late August and Shannon was about to start 6th grade, and I remember going to orientation at the middle school while some neighborhoods (including ours) were still without power.

In the boat on Route 1 during Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – this one scared me probably more than the previous storms, but I figured we had been through a hurricane the year before, so we could get through this one. (2 duffel bags). Joe left for work before it actually hit, once again everything was secured and ready, but I wasn’t prepared for how scary that wind would be overnight.  The kids and I slept in our bed and I couldn’t convince myself that a tree wasn’t going to fall on the house. Sandy was a wind event, but no flooding for us, and there were trees down everywhere. The power was out for almost two weeks, we had to get a generator because it was October and we needed the heat on. I remember sitting in my car charging my phone and doing conference calls with the staff at McCarter Theatre, where I was working at that time, to figure out when we were going to be able to open back up again.  The rhythm of this one was chaotic, unpredictable, and pretty dark.

His most recent long term deployment was for Hurricane Florence in 2018. The NJ Task force went to North Carolina, and this started with another bit of chaos since I had a work trip to Florida that I had to cancel, first because I was worried I’d get to Florida and not be able to get home, and though our kids are now older, we couldn’t have him leave without knowing when I could get home.  This was 3 duffel bag trip, and a calmer rhythm in our conversation because the storm wasn’t coming for us at our home.

Packing up to leave for his North Carolina Deployoment


So here we are in 2020, in the midst of this Global Pandemic.  This started several weeks ago with less worrisome conversation, but now is a serious silent undercurrent of concern at all times. As with everybody in this country, it has affected every facet of our lives, bringing Shannon home from college early, Joseph – a high school junior stopping every single activity that brings him the most happiness, (including soccer which is the center of our lives at the moment).  I am not traveling anywhere for work for the foreseeable future, when usually I am gone for several days each month. Life is very disrupted.

Yet there is not one duffel bag in our living room.

It’s unsettling to me, as the rhythm is off – we know that this crisis is out there, but he is home. There is no deployment, no marathon overtime hours, though all the phone calls that usually accompany those plans are happening daily/hourly.  His shifts have been moved so that he actually is working less frequently, which means he is home even more.

We take our job seriously as a first responder family. I am humbled by it, and this responsibility has always helped me to keep everything in perspective as well as understand my priorities. His job, and supporting him always comes first without a doubt. When our kids were young, my mom used to worry enough for both of us, she would ask me a million questions, and I would somehow be fine with all of it (which I think drove her crazy). I could handle the unpredictability; I found my way in understanding that I could not control the circumstances, but I could control my reaction to them.

But this is all out of control. There are no duffel bags to gauge the severity or longevity of the event. No context. I can’t say to myself:  Well, the last time there was a global pandemic, we did XYZ….  I am in uncharted territory, and not quite sure how to wrap my brain around the hour to hour changing landscape. I worry about every time he goes to work, yet I know worrying is not helpful.  My rational self knows what I need to do, but the irrationality of everything coming at me is sometimes overwhelming.  I have no doubt that every other family with a Doctor, a Nurse, an EMT, a Firefighter, a Police Officer or any other first responder or essential employee is feeling unprepared as well.  We don’t have a rhythm or a compass right now.  But yet, I know you are out there, and we are connected. We know what to do when we have to do it, and we know how to prioritize. We’ve got our support systems. So, I say with conviction, no matter what happens in the next month, we got this.

And maybe I’ll actually look forward (maybe) to the next time I see a duffel bag.


Second Time Around the Block

Here I am, I blinked, and I am navigating the roads a second time with a new teenage driver.  Vastly different, yet in some ways very much the same.

A couple of things that have struck me as I have begun this process again. Shannon was terrified about driving, I mean, she would start to cry when a car came towards her from the other direction – for weeks.  We practically had to smother ourselves to not burst out laughing and be empathetic yet firm in saying: Don’t worry so much, the road is wide enough for both cars. [Insert face into sleeve and muffle gasping laughs.] She did eventually get over this.

Joseph is NOT terrified. In fact, he wants to drive, and asks to get behind the wheel whenever there is an opportunity.  He backs down the driveway like he’s done it a hundred times. I am not even nervous getting in the car with him.  I wondered if this was because I had been through it already and was like, yeah, so what if he hits the mailbox….we can get a new one…or if it was just because I am just numb to nerves at this point?  Either way, vastly different driver.

BUT yet – the SAME in that he goes so far to the edge of the right side of the road that I instinctively lean to the left. I call this the “mailbox lean”.  As in, in my mind think that if I lean to the left *inside the car*, the *outside* of the car somehow won’t hit the mailboxes on the side of the road. I realize this is irrational, but absolutely cannot help the instinct.  So, I’ll gently say, hey, how about you move over a little so we don’t end up in the ditch?  And he responds exactly THE SAME way Shannon did:  The road is so narrow! I’m not that far over mom, but WHY ARE THE ROADS SO NARROW HERE?  [Insert face into sleeve and muffle laughter].

Shannon used to pull in a parking lot and look for the “pull through” spots so she wouldn’t have to back up.  Joseph – SAME.  I’m like, you do know, eventually you will have to actually back up out of a parking spot?  Yeah yeah mom, I know.

Before Shannon drove, the car was a place where we always talked. For Joseph, he avoids talking and tends to put in his ear buds to listen to music and give me one word responses. Not so much conversation.  BUT, when he got behind the wheel, no phone, no ear buds, just me.  It was like an epiphany.  I COULD TALK TO HIM IN THE CAR AND THERE WAS NOTHING HE COULD DO ABOUT IT! (Bonus: Because he is a good driver, I’m not even correcting him,  gasping in horror, or admonishing him for not stopping soon enough at an intersection.) This leaves time for….more talking!

This evening, we drove to the grocery store. On the way home, the 70’s radio station started playing “Bye Bye Miss American Pie.”  He shook his head and said: My god, this song is 8 minutes long. What even.  So we had a good chat about what the song was all about, that I didn’t really know why it had to be 8 minutes long, and that when I was young and heard it over and over again, I had no idea what “the Levee was dry” meant either.  It was a whole. entire. conversation.  When we pulled into our neighborhood, he said – My god, Mom, it’s STILL PLAYING.  And we burst into laughter – real laughter.

Since I travel so much for work, and he isn’t amenable to texting or talking on the phone a whole bunch while I am away, much of our relationship lately has revolved around me telling him to do something, or asking why he didn’t do something, or yelling at him while he walks away from me. Which makes him not want to talk to me, and I can’t really blame him, but I also really need him to do things.  Add to that that he is suddenly taller than me, his voice deepened over night, (or so it seemed to me) – and when he walks in the kitchen and says:  “Hey mom” I almost spit out my coffee on a daily basis.  Who the hell is this new person in my house?  I am having some trouble navigating how quickly he is changing, and sometimes I just want my little sweet boy back, but then I see him behind the wheel, confident, growing up, and sometimes just like his sister. Only totally different.

So here we go around the block (literally) the second time – this motherhood thing doesn’t get easier, I’m just navigating the road, leaning to the left, one mailbox at a time.











Dealing with Dementia

By definition, Dementia is: A syndrome that involves a significant global impairment of cognitive abilities such as attention, memory, language, logical reasoning, and problem-solving severe enough to interfere with social or occupational functioning.

So, basically, Dementia is a whole bucket full of symptoms that sometimes make no sense and are not easily pinpointed. My mom had been officially diagnosed with Dementia about a year before she passed away, but I regretfully have to say that though we didn’t know it, she was struggling with this illness for much longer than that. In the few weeks since my mom has passed away, with all of the swirling thoughts, emotions, and reflections, I have strangely and suddenly ended my day to day worry of caring for my senior parent. I no longer have to ask, what’s next? 

When she got sick, I started researching more, reading more, asking more questions about Dementia, I was amazed at the range of symptoms and the variety of forms that it can take.  But perhaps more importantly, when I opened up and talked about it, I discovered so many other friends who were dealing with (or had dealt with) a Dementia diagnosis in a parent or relative. I was so grateful for others to lean on, and question, and compare notes with.  I’ll be very frank here in that my mom could be difficult at times, it was a part of her nature, so we simply didn’t recognize early symptoms, we just chalked it up to her frustrations of getting older and taking it out on us.

But – Oh, how I wish I had known what she was struggling with – and what I was struggling against!  My mom was fiercely independent.  Yet in the last couple of years, her world of independence was shrinking slowly, and closing in on her. She had lived on her own since my father died in 1995, and she relished that independence and ability to do as she pleased, and thrived as she was able to continue to drive into her eighties. But as she started to struggle with mobility issues, good old fashioned aches and pains, and just basically slowing down, things became more difficult, and she needed more assistance. My brother John and I lived close by, so we took on more of a care giving role, getting her to the grocery store, checking in on her more regularly, I took her shopping and to appointments as she slowly stopped driving altogether, (she was not happy about this, I might add…)  but she was using a walker, so getting herself in and out of the car had become impossible.

Last year in January, 2018, after an “event” that occurred where she ended up on her apartment floor, (and nearly died), she ended up in the hospital, then went into rehabilitation, and  ultimately moved to long term care. It was during all of this that she was officially diagnosed with Dementia, but at that point, I realized just how long she had been suffering with it. All the little clues became so apparent. How did I not see it? We also had the revelation that most of her mobility problems were stemming from her Dementia. And in that moment, it became clear that we could not explain any of what was happening to her in a way she could comprehend. And all she wanted to do was walk.

I spoke with several Directors of long term care facilities as I was searching for the best place for her, and though I knew the answer to mom’s situation in my heart, I would always ask if they had patients who returned to independent living.  A few of them said, Yes, in some cases, that can happen. But the conversation that struck me was when one of them responded: We see this happen so often, their world becomes smaller and smaller. They do only the bare minimum, the things they can manage, which becomes less & less.  My mom’s last few months in her apartment were exactly like that.  Her eating became erratic.  She could no longer manage her laundry, but when I came to do it, she was saving face, say Oh, I was just so tired today, I’ll get to it. She could barely get from the chair to her tiny kitchen by holding on to furniture, and refused to use her walker in her apartment. She couldn’t remember to put on her compression stockings, and her legs were always swollen.  Much of the time John and I were discussing/arguing with her regularly about getting more assistance, but she didn’t want strangers taking her anywhere or coming into her house –  we were just trying to make sure she was safe, and ultimately, we were unsuccessful.

I have agonized and thought so long and so hard over whether my knowing that she had Dementia earlier would have ultimately changed anything about her trajectory. We did not have the capacity to move her into our home. She did not have the means or capacity to live with assistance in a situation she would have deemed acceptable. It was all such a fight.

I understand that I won’t ever know the answers to my questions, and life unfolds as it is going to, I cannot change any of it. But for anyone who is reading this who is dealing with parents or relatives with dementia, the wisest advice we got from the professionals was to realize we didn’t cause it, and that we couldn’t cure it. I did ultimately figure out how to cope with it, but it was through a changed behavior – I had to completely re-learn how to talk to my mother. (Not an easy feat!) I had to delve deep, and take advice from the social workers on how to respond appropriately to her world, her delusions, her irrationality, her fantasies, I had to tell myself over and over: she is sick.

There were definitely moments of clarity and lucidness with her, glimmers of the old Gloria, and my family and I did learn to find ways to use our sense of humor in the best way that we could manage. When she talked about kids climbing in through the windows of her room on Halloween night, we asked her:  Did they have any good candy with them? When she complained about taking a shower, my husband would say: Well you have to get cleaned up, you can’t be the stinky kid in here. My brother told her he would bring his shampoo and towel and take a shower first just to show her it was clean. I listened to my son admirably and deftly navigate conversations where she confused his soccer game with his choir concert.  We brought her coffee regularly, and took her out occasionally for family dinners, which I know she thoroughly enjoyed.

My last conversation with her was on the phone a couple of days before she died. I was in Baltimore with Joseph at a soccer tournament, and she was in the hospital. She sounded really energized and we had a wonderful, normal chat about his crazy soccer schedule and my upcoming travel the next week. There was no meandering, circuitous confusing side tracked topics.  I remarked to my brother afterwards that I couldn’t believe how good she sounded.  My sister visited her that day and said the same thing.  It was as though we were given a final gift of our mom before she left us.  I have given myself permission to remember the mom that I lost years ago, the mom that I could talk to, who could be responsive and caring.  I had to shove that all away, so far down, for so long. So, while I don’t miss the guilt, the struggles, and the uncertainty, the what’s next.…I do indeed miss my mom. And those memories are happy ones.









They’re Going To College – Pork Chop Stories

Here we are, closing in on the College years. My conversations these days with friends and family seem to so often swirl around the questions of…..How did we get here? Where did the time go? Weren’t we just chasing our kids on the playground? When we have babies, we know that they will eventually grow up. When our babies become toddlers, we joke with our friends who also have toddlers as we survive the terrible threes, the temper tantrums, and the throwing of food on floor, that we should do our best to enjoy it now, because… someday they’ll go off to college.

Well, for us, that someday is here. For the past year, we have been immersed in everything that is related to prepping Shannon for going to college, ranging from whether to take the SAT or the ACT, to surviving Junior year (yes, all of us), to deciding which schools to visit, which ones to discard…and which ones to finally apply to – and everything in between.  I have friends who have already been through this with their kids. I have older siblings who have already been through this multiple times.  I watched, I listened, I nodded with empathy over FAFSA applications, stressful teen angst, and financial aid “packages.”  And I can tell you, after all that exposure, I was still not prepared for this process.

College computer

As I now look back over the 18 months to get to the place where we can say:  Shannon is going to college – I envision it as a boot camp of some kind, where thankfully there is no shortage of good advice. Like when my sister told me to have something on hand like ice cream or cookies to celebrate when acceptance letters came in –  and moral support – when all of my friends and colleagues joined me in sending congratulatory “thumbs up” photos to Shannon while I was away at a company meeting and I was getting text messages everyday with good news. And probably my biggest lesson here – we are following our own compass. We are warriors in the college process, swords drawn, armor on, helmets bruised and dented as we prepare for the eventual send off of of our babies.


On the advice of a friend, I joined a Facebook group “Paying for college 101.”  I had been to Financial planning nights, and I had read up on how things work, and I thought – what the hell. This group exposed me to questions I didn’t even know to ask, circumstances that I never would have thought of, and hardships that a few people shared that made me feel as if I had absolutely nothing to complain about.

Knowing the good side and the bad side of social media, I waded into this group completely at my own risk, so at first I admit that I was taken aback by some of the posts that were all about how shining sons or daughters had nailed a near perfect score on the SAT, or how they were ranked 5th in their high school class, or that they were National Merit scholars, and does anyone know how Financial Aid at MIT is disbursed?  And then I thought, Oh hell no. 

But I hung in there, and by sifting through the posts, I learned so many things that helped me navigate some uncharted territory. I knew that you could try to negotiate and ask for more Merit scholarship money, but I never would have had the courage to appeal for more aid based on the offer of another school, so that we could better afford the school we wanted.  But thanks to hearing that others had been successful in this endeavor, I put in the time to write an appeal letter, and we got additional money. And I felt like a freakin’ rock star.

Then there were the college visits. Spanning over a year, we headed up and down the East Coast from Maine to Maryland, (not a single NJ college was on the list….)and these are the memories I am so grateful for, squeezed and layered into these journeys.


On one such visit, as we were driving back from a college in Maryland, we stopped for gas, and Shannon got out of the car to go into the convenience store. She came back to say that she couldn’t find the front door.  And I just yelled out the window,


Which has now become our mantra over the last few weeks.
How do I cook this chicken? YOU’RE GOING TO COLLEGE!
How do I clean this pan? YOU’RE GOING TO COLLEGE!

I also told my pork chop story.

On one of our final college tour car rides this spring, I can’t remember why this topic came up or why we ended up discussing it, but I found myself happily re-telling one of my favorite stories about high school dinners.

I had ballet class most nights, so I  would have to eat dinner pretty late after I got home. My mom was not, shall we say, a “meal planner”, and we did not have microwave, so I’d have to eat whatever was available. In whatever state that was in. Sometimes she would take a pork chop out of the freezer and just broil it in the oven – yup.  Well, imagine how a rock solid frozen pork chop responds under the broiler on high heat. As the moisture left the meat, and spewed up to the red hot broiler, there would literally be flames shooting out of the oven –  and I watched with wide eyes as I fully expected the cabinets to catch on fire. (Somehow they did not.) I suppose in hindsight, this might have been better entertainment than a dinner at Banzai, though no one threw the meat at me across the table. After the exciting oven fire, there was the eating of the pork chop, which sadly as you might expect, was not a really tasty culinary experience, as the poor thing was pretty much drained dry of any juice that had ever existed.  I used to think that this was how all pork chops were cooked, and then finally I figured out (10 years later) that this was not true.

Shannon was actually crying tears of laughter as I told this story.  I couldn’t believe she had never heard it before. I’m sure that I had told it. But it took the college car ride to cement the flaming pork chop/near kitchen fire legacy. I thought about all of the other things I wanted to tell her. The successes, the failures, the insecurities, the thrill of knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life at age 17. The worry my parents must have had about me not going to college immediately after high school. The pride I had in paying my own way through school as an adult.  I realized that there were so many more pork chop stories to tell.  Even if I had told them before, they resonate differently now. Maybe she is ready to hear them.

I hope that all of us going through the college process with our kids have tried to take the good with the bad, the small assurances with the vast unknown, the worry with the calm, and enjoy the well deserved celebrations along the way. I have really, really attempted to keep my sense of humor. (This was hard, especially when there was crying….and deadlines…) I recognize that we’re really at the beginning of the next journey, not the end of this one, and I thankfully have found some zen moments along with the sleepless nights.

I am particularly grateful for all the little miracles along the way – somehow, it all works out. Somehow, this tremendous and fantastic village of people we know help get us through the difficult decisions.  Somehow, our kids are growing up. We need to take the journey, tell them our pork chop stories, and let them know that we were exactly where they are now at one time.  They’re going to college.

Roger Williams












Home Renovation – We Survived the Holidays…

As most of you know by now, we are in the midst of a “home renovation” project.  I have other terms for this, such as: Tarp on the house project, How long will our heating oil last this winter project, and other things I can’t really write here.

So, I am well aware that home renovation projects take….time. I know that all projects go….off schedule. I know that I was… crazy in thinking that maybe the kids would be in some form of their rooms by the holidays. But…I hoped.

Joe construction

Yeah…that didn’t happen. And to my pleasant surprise, as we are all smushed into this tiny house, using every pocket of space currently for something or somebody, we…survived.  Not only did we survive, but I venture to say that this was one of our most pleasant holiday seasons as a family.  I bravely say this not having actually asked my family if they agree. But for me, sort of expecting the worst, I think we actually thrived, and here’s a few reasons why:

No stress over getting out all the Christmas Decorations. Where things fit, we put them. If it didn’t make it out of the boxes, oh well.

I didn’t freak out over decorating the tree. The tree went up, it sat for a few days, then Joe put the lights on. It sat for a few more days, and I finally said: You know, we should get some ornaments on it. We weren’t all home at the same time, so we sort of did it in shifts, I saved the Princess ornaments for Shannon, I saved the sports ornaments for Joseph, and instead of me yelling at everybody to stop doing everything and enjoy putting ornaments on the tree because we HAVE TO DO THIS, it just sort of happened.

Let the outside Christmas lights go.  Yup, I sure wanted my little Christmas tree with the white lights on it, and it really would have been nice to have the candy cane post lights, but, as Joe said quite practically, (and not even in a snarky manner):

I am sort of using the plug.

Right. And that was that. You could see our Christmas tree in the window through the scaffolding, and well, it was the best we could do this year.

Everyone could eat the cookies. While Joe was toiling away hammering/cutting/nailing and freezing in winter weather, (even snow), I made cookies, and I just decided that it was fine if everyone ate them, I mean, who was I saving them for?

I relinquished my closet space and was done with it.  Normally I have WAY more places to hide Christmas presents, but with everyone on top of everyone, I shoved everything into my closet, and literally when I opened the door everything would fall out. There were bags stuffed all over the shelves, shoes, everything. I was like, whatever. 

I had to relax if I couldn’t find something. Before the construction started, as I was still  recovering from my broken leg, whenever I couldn’t find something, or I started agonizing over missing paperwork, clothing, or soccer/basketball shoes lost in the epic teenager pile of stuff, I was calling it “broken ankle problems.”  Now, I just call it “construction problems.”  Things get moved, if we have people over, piles get moved again and again, and lord, I have sifted through blankets, clothes, etc. etc. looking for Joseph’s button down shirts, a tie, soccer socks, lord only knows where his nice shoes went – it’s just C-R-A-Z-Y.  I have made my peace with J piling his clothes on my office chair. If he can find his dress clothes on Basketball game days without causing me to want to poke my eyes out, then I can live with that.

I know everyone was probably happy when I was gone: I was traveling for work the last week of November and the first week of December, and I am SURE everyone was thinking: Thank God. One less person in this house.

I am holding on to things a little tighter.  You know, nothing is ever perfect. Holidays especially. Shannon has only months left with us in this house before she goes to college. I am impressed with how she has dealt with not having her personal space (she knows it’s for the greater good) – but it’s been a long time coming, and she is a joy and a wonder of a teenager.  I love sharing my space with her because I know it’s only for this moment in time, that will be gone in the blink of an eye.  I equally love how we can talk before bed, how we have stuffed animals everywhere, and this allows me to more easily forgive and ignore the dirty laundry all over the floor.

The construction will end. I know this. And there will be great rejoicing. But for now, I grab my kids when I run into them in the hallway and hug them, I turn my back to the unmade bed in the office while I am working, and remember that we are lucky to have what we have.  And I try not to freak out when the wind blows the tarps around and it sounds like the side of the house will blow off….but I admit that sometimes I kind of lose it over that.

Next Christmas season, I hopefully will be posting photos of a nice front porch, with my little Christmas tree lit up, and NO TARPS anywhere in site. Oh wait. Never mind. Phase 2 of the construction may have just started by then…

House front













Tales of Physical Therapy

I took my first real walk today.  Not just down the street, a REAL walk, and I wasn’t even that tired. And I owe it all to Physical Therapy.

For the past 5 weeks, I have been rehabilitating my leg/ankle in Physical Therapy sessions (P.T. for you cool ones).  I have to say that I was actually looking forward to this part of my recovery – bringing me back to my roots in a way. I was so ready. Get out my leggings, here I come!

Let’s just say there are two major factors that gave me pause as I started this process.

Number one: Age. I thought I would sail through the exercises – you know, former dancer, competitive spirit, highly motivated. So, that worked in my favor, but I am not 25.  Every part of my body is feeling every year of my life after this ordeal.

Number two: Mental. Fear. Never before have I been actually afraid to do the simplest things.

Week 1 – It started out slow of course- at first, I was barely standing up. I would do some exercises with the Theraband, and the therapist would manually stretch my ankle to loosen it up. But quickly, they had me on my feet, stretching (ouch) and walking (my bad ankle on the treadmill, while I stood on my good leg.)  Humbling.


Put your right leg behind your left foot, he said. Put your heel down. Uh….so I bring my leg closer. It’s practically TOUCHING the other leg. Heel goes down. Bend your left leg more. 

Surely you jest, I think.

The best way I can describe the stiffness in my ankle is that it feels like someone stuffed a bunch of Styrofoam inside of it.  But I did what he instructed, and this little tiny stretch for my calf/ankle made me see white spots in front of my eyes. I take a deep breath. Are you OK? he asks. Oh yes, fine. (No, actually, I’m dying, but I know there are Doctors just on the other side of the office who can help if I actually collapse.)

Other fun first week exercises included the “stair stretch”, where I gripped the railing so hard, I’m fairly certain there was an imprint of it on each palm.

By the end of of the first week, I graduated to one crutch. By the second day of week 2, I was using a cane. I still did not have enough strength to push through my foot when I walked, and it still gave me some pain. There were more standing exercises, I started to get to know some of the “regulars” who came at the same time I did – and it was starting to be (sort of) fun.

My favorite P.T. buddy is “hip man”.  He fractured his hip several weeks ago, and is WAY ahead of me in terms of mobility and endurance. We have the same therapist, so as we are given the next excruciating exercise, we give each other the nod. I got  you. As I lean over the table trying to eek out another quarter inch stretch in the back of my calf, (and trying not to weep) – he is practicing a dance-like movement where he has to lift his leg and raise his hip repetitively.

He shakes his head. I feel like an idiot when I do this. He stops, then starts again.

No, really, I feel like Richard Simmons. This is ridiculous. 

I laugh. You look great! Own it. Pretend you’re dancing to Madonna.

He keeps trying. He’s not convinced.

Each week, I meet someone new, and a new set of strengthening exercises that are destined to kill me are introduced. They put me on the “real” bikes, and added resistance. I pedal next to a soccer player – he is there for a hamstring injury. We talk soccer – he seems impressed that I know anything about soccer. Ha! Then I go off to do my heel rises where I can barely get my right foot to leave the ground, and he starts doing all sorts of sideways walks with a band tied around his legs. He does this so effortlessly, I am not sure soccer guy is actually injured.

Soon, I start to notice that other people have nice heating pads on their injuries, or are having ultrasound, and their therapists are gently stretching them. I start to get jealous. I don’t have any heating pads, I only have painful exercises, sometimes metal tools that are dug into the back of my leg to “loosen up” the soft tissue, and foam rollers.  This ankle stuff sucks.

Week 4, I am getting stronger, walking on my own – I can do 45 heel rises, I am still pathetically not even close to a “releve” (ballet term) that I could feel proud of, but I can actually do it, so I’m just going to be OK with that.  My therapist starts trying some ultrasound on my soft tissue and tendons that are still giving me pain.

YES! You mean I finally get to lie down, and it’s actually sort of pleasant with a little warm roller that shoots mild electric waves into my ankle and IT FEELS BETTER WHEN IT’S DONE? SIGN. ME. UP.

Now almost 6 weeks in, I am now probably nearing the end of my time in P.T. and I am feeling a mix of relief and wistfulness. It’s a nice little community of people, all of whom are in the midst of a struggle. No matter how bad I am feeling, there is someone else there who has it worse. I felt a bit connected/bonded to everyone because no matter what the injury, or what stage we are in, we’re all there with a common goal. As I took my turn this past week doing sideways walks with a band tied around my legs (crab walks, I like to call them) – another woman doing arm stretches looked at me and said: I could never do that. I would fall over.  I responded: Well, on my fourth time back, watch. I might. 

But, 3 weeks ago, I could never have tied a band around my legs and tried to do anything. So, I’m grateful for my progress.  Even though it’s truly been a blend of torture, bliss, frustration, euphoria, pain, and healing, I have worked hard, and it’s taught me a little more about my resilience, and brought me back to a familiar “self”.  While I was traveling for work, I did all of my exercises in the hotel room so I wouldn’t lose any ground, reminding me that I am capable, competent, and I can still dig into my competitive, motivated, physical spirit.

I am definitely going to join “hip man” with his Richard Simmons exercises before I leave.

(But ankles stills suck).












Swollen Ankles

Here I am, 3 weeks post surgery, and nearly a month since “the event”.  Time has had a funny way of both passing very quickly (where did August go, exactly?) And very slowly. Another day on the couch, another excruciating shower, counting how many more weeks I have this boot on my foot.  Here are some recent milestones with my swollen ankles:

Left ankle: I had also sprained my left ankle in “the event” – it was the twisting of that ankle that caused me to actually break the other one. So…it’s why the first few days on crutches was um… interesting, and why I was unsure of myself getting around, since my “good” foot was well, not so good.  But, good news! It is nearly healed! Nothing like completely staying off your feet for several weeks to cure a sprained ankle. There is still some swelling, and a little bruising, but overall, I’d say I’m pretty much done with that one.

Right ankle: I graduated to the fashionable black boot about two weeks after surgery. I was never so happy to get my leg out of a mummified bandage – sometimes I actually felt claustrophobic with all of the wrapping on it – I would literally have mini panic attacks, where I had to practice good ole’ meditative and yoga breathing techniques until it passed. I can take my leg out of the boot to shower, and to put ice on it. If I have an itch, I can scratch it! Cheers all around!

I am mastering the crutches, I am only still uncertain and need help if there is a step involved – and because of that, I still cannot get outside by myself. But I can scoot around my house pretty well now.  Baby steps, as they say.

Other milestones:

Joe has been on a mission to get me out of the house sometimes, which I truly appreciate, but which has also terrified me for various reasons. I get it, I need to get out in little spurts to improve my outlook, to prove that I am getting better, and just for the sheer change of scenery.  But, I also have to navigate unfamiliar territory, which is exhausting. It takes a great effort to cross a cross walk  – (I envision a truck careening around a corner – my crutches flailing in terror, and that I won’t make it to the other side. Full body cast image flashes in front of my eyes…) I also worry I can’t tolerate having my leg down for too long, and what if I need to put it up and I can’t?

But – for my own good, I have gone out. I went out to the Carvel ice cream store this week – air conditioning and a chair for my leg….then we went to Cream King for dinner two nights later (I had felt I was cheating on them, so you know…) and the difference just in two days in how my leg felt was great.


Yesterday, Joe took me to Kohl’s to get a new suitcase for my upcoming trip to Europe. If you could picture us – generally we go our separate ways when shopping, and I can’t even tell you if we have *ever* gone to Kohl’s together – here he was, pushing me in a wheelchair through the store, then diligently taking down piece after piece of luggage while I hobbled through the aisles on my crutches. That one’s too small, that one’s too big….this one looks like a steamer trunk. Hey, do you like purple? 

Finally, we found the right suitcase, then he had to push me back through the store, all while I am holding this monstrous blue suitcase sideways on my lap, avoiding hitting various displays (Watch out for the socks! This is a tight corner!) – then of course I have to ask:  Wait – Can we stop to look at the purses? 


I did the dishes, and cleaned the kitchen. That’s right! I can’t put dishes away, but I can stand at the sink and wash them. And I can wipe down the counters. This, more than anything, has felt like a step towards resuming my normal life.  I could do all of this, and my leg didn’t even hurt! Who would ever think I would be happy about doing the dishes?

I still feel guilty that I am asking so much of my family – can you take my coffee cup to the kitchen? Can you refill my water bottle?  Can you pick up that piece of dust on the floor? Can you…can you…can you… But…I’m also grateful this is only temporary, and that I will get better in a few weeks, at which point time will continue to speed along in the *usual* breakneck pace, no swollen ankles to slow me down. Although for a while, I might miss Joe coming in through the door, rolling his eyes and lamenting: Are you STILL on the couch? It’s right where you were when I left! Have you moved at all?  OK, maybe I won’t actually miss that.

And all the while, my faithful kitty Jinks has kept his vigil. I put together a little photo collage of the last month. He is so sweet. I might miss his snuggles. Special guest appearance by our little cat Missy too. Can’t wait to take a picture of him when I have two shoes on my feet!

Jinks collage






Life with a Broken Ankle

It’s been 10 days since I broke my ankle. It feels like about 10 weeks, but for those wondering how I am coping, here is a recap of how life is a little bit different, how I’m trying valiantly to keep my sense of humor, and how my house is a death trap. How did I never know this before now?

Let’s start with the house. And let me qualify this with, any house is a death trap when you have a broken ankle, it’s not really mine in particular – it’s all the things you never noticed before that suddenly terrify you.  If there is something on the floor, I feel like I might die. I keep telling my kids: If you drop something, you have to pick it up. It literally might kill me. They sort of roll their eyes, but it’s kind of working. If anyone leaves their towel in heap on the bathroom floor, the wrath of  broken-ankle-me should be enough to scare them never to do it again.

How did I not realize how many stupid little steps there are everywhere? When you are on crutches, everything is a bit of an ordeal, so even the little piece of wood that separates the bathroom doorway from the hallway is like, herculean, for me to navigate. If I want to go sit outside, someone has to help me down the ONE STEP to get through the back door. (That is not “the” step that did my ankle in, by the way).  When I get in the shower, I have to practically hurl myself over the little lip of the shower stall. Oh. my. god. It’s incredibly eye opening. And getting to the car? Wow. It’s like dance choreography with crutches and maneuvering, and Joe standing behind me to make sure I don’t fall down. and me asking: Why did you put these wood pieces everywhere that I CAN’T STEP OVER…. and then I finally collapse into the front seat like I’ve run a marathon.( By the way, I have gone out two times since this happened, once to the Doctor, and once to the surgery center. )

So, let’s go back just a bit – when this all first happened, I did have hope that perhaps I would just need a cast, that it wasn’t so bad. Then I went to see the Orthopedist, and all of that was dashed within seconds. First, the Physicians Assistant came in, and said: This is really bad. Oh, great. He showed us the X-rays, and explained there was a gaping hole where you could stick your finger in the break. You can’t leave that to heal on its own. You’d never be the same and you’d have horrible arthritis for the rest of your life. 

Ok. I have to say that I glazed over a bit as soon as he said the word “surgery” – and so I was grateful when the Doctor came in, and I tried to focus more on what he was saying, ask some questions, and start to grasp reality. Apparently, in addition to more than one fracture, I also had a torn ligament. The whole thing was a mess. As I sat looking at my ugly, swollen, broken foot on the table, I couldn’t help but think: All those years of dancing, and not once did I break anything! How could this happen?  Then, the Doctor said to us – You’ll want to keep that iced until the surgery, it’s awfully swollen. As I nodded to him, inside I was screaming: You just finished telling me everything that is WRONG in there, all the broken pieces and torn things, SHOULDN’T IT BE SWOLLEN??? Good lord, man. 

The next day, I had a Pre-op call from surgery center that went something like this:

Hi Anne, you’re having surgery on the right ankle, which includes fibula bi lateral open, malleolus, internal repair, and…..gobbeldy gook, gobbledy gook. Does that sound right?

Pause. I answer: Uh..yes…?….I assume the Doctor knows what he is doing.

Do you have any bruises on your body?

Yes, just MY ANKLE.


Clothing Challenges:

In the struggle of not being able to go upstairs, I am living on our couch, which all in all isn’t a bad set up, but I have had issues with my clothing needs. I honestly did not realize how difficult it would be to describe clothes to people who don’t wear your clothes.

So you ask – what’s the problem? Well, here is what happens: Can you get me the beige Capris off the shelf in my closet that have a lot of pockets on them? And a short sleeve shirt.

Three trips later, Joe found the right pants – I thought they were shorts…  Oh.

I realized that when I describe something as “Mauve” or “Pinky peach” – husbands do not understand that.  Blank stare. (And mind you, every t-shirt he has in his closet is navy blue, so it’s not totally his fault.) Then he trooped up the stairs, valiantly tried, but somehow even if he came downstairs with 5 shirts, none of them was the one I was thinking of. In frustration, he said: But this one IS PEACH.  My answer: Yes, it is, but it is not a short sleeved peach shirt. It has no sleeves. 

One night I asked Shannon to get me a sweater- there are about 20 sweaters hanging in my closet, but she somehow found the one that was like, buried way down that I never wear.  But it didn’t really matter (I’m on the couch, after all…not going to a red carpet event). I put it on.

However, I was amazed when I asked Joe to get me a white/cream colored sweater hanging in the closet from Old Navy – and he did it! Victory is mine!

Unexpected togetherness:

One night Joe was at work, and a gigantic bug flew in the house.  One of those clock beetles that looks like a flying roach. I started yelling at my son to get the Raid, which he did, but then we just cowered on the couch together because he was too afraid to spray it, and I was too afraid I might die if I got up.

In that area though, teenagers continue to act like…well teenagers. They are trying their best to be compassionate, but they still have their own issues. Joseph made himself a pizza, it fell on the floor, oh the drama. It’s like, really – you can’t pick up your pizza off the floor? Make yourself something else to eat? I realize, even if I am out of commission, it does not change any of the needs of anyone else. Though you really wish that it would.

In sickness and in health….

Everyone probably knows this – but my husband is a rock. I always knew this, but breaking your ankle tests the whole “in sickness and in health” part of your vows. Because this is the most helpless I have been in 25 years of marriage. Even after having babies I was able to function. But I can do….well, almost nothing by myself except pee, and even that has been questionable at times.  First, he was there to literally pick me up off the ground after I fell. Then, he assured me, reassured me, and dried my tears when I had to sit around with many broken pieces in my ankle before I could have it fixed. He assured me that I wasn’t dying. That a piece of bone wouldn’t float up into my lungs, that my ankle wasn’t actually going to swell up so much it would pop out of the splint and splatter. All of these things. He calmly would say that everything would be fine.

After surgery, I felt pretty horrible. He tried to make sure I was eating, because they said I should eat, but the general anesthesia and the pain medication did a number on me. After trying some various bites of things, and trying to re-hydrate myself, several hours later I waved my hand weakly and said, I think I’m going to be sick, I need a big bowl. There he appeared with a garbage bag just in the nick of time.

After matter-of-factly closing up the vomit bag, (I know he does this for a living…but still…) he then helped me to the bathroom. Among all the other hundreds of things that need to get done around the house, he patiently gets me in and out of the shower. Even after he’s refilled my water bottle for the 15th time, or warmed up my coffee, or cut my banana in half, or moved the cat, or picked up the clothes off the floor, he never loses his patience.  It’s a terrible feeling when you knock your toothbrush on the floor, and you have to ask someone to pick it up. I do not like being helpless, but here I am.

So when you have to be still…


I have decided to be still. I rest when I have to. I am enjoying the view of the flowers that people brought and sent to me. I have re-acquainted myself with The West Wing (forgot what a great show that was) – watched hours of the Gilmore Girls, and now that I am not so tired all the time, I’m starting to read my books. Next week I will be working again, which should help, but I will remind myself to take it slow. I may never again have a couple of weeks where I am told to do nothing but sit down, so perhaps I should figure out how to enjoy it, (now that I’m not in excruciating pain anymore…) not yell at the kids, eat what people make for me, and put on whatever color shirt someone finds for me to wear. Maybe my next trip to the car will be a little easier as well.

Most of all – thanks friends, for texting me, emailing me, sending me nice posts on Facebook – it is all appreciated, and if you ever have the opportunity to buy Joe a drink, do it – he deserves it! Here’s to the healing process!


IMG_1422 (1)


Breaking all the “Rules”…

Remember that time….when I went to my Company’s annual team meeting, sat down at a table to eat dinner with three great colleagues, and we broke all the rules?

I believe it was my Dad who first told me: Never talk politics or religion with people you work with. But it is the unwritten rule, right? Kind of goes right along with not ever discussing your salary. But let me say that I nearly always retreat from talking about politics –  (particularly in places I don’t consider “safe” spaces) – at parties, at family dinners, with friends. I’m the one that will shove an entire cookie in my mouth and run the other direction.


Well, the other night, I learned a whole lot by NOT running away from talking about difficult or controversial things, and was also reminded that I work with the finest, smartest, most compassionate, amazing people in the world. Yes, the world. It all started with a sticky note, as we were supposed to write down some things about ourselves (the “ice breaker”) – which sometimes is kind of goofy, but again, with really smart people it’s kind of amazing.  The sticker in question was: “I am an activist”. The conversation started from there.


I could also call this: “Three democrats and a republican” – or “Three women and a white guy” – or even “Three liberals and a conservative walk into a bar…” so you get the gist.

The four of us who had a seat at the table together (Mara, Margaret, Chris and myself) are colleagues, but also ( I would say) friends. There is definitely trust among us, and I believe the coolest thing to be part of was how we could rationally discuss our differences, and how Chris could articulate his thoughts reasonably, and yet also listen to the three of us share our deepest concerns, and empathize, and also freely admit he did not agree with everything our current President stands for. It was comforting and amazing that we could have this open dialogue, without yelling, without criticizing each other, and without any hard feelings at the end of the night. And he was not intimidated in the least by us. And we are strong, opinionated women. No dishes were thrown. No one got up and left. Even when my friend Margaret pointedly said: “I love you Chris, but your privilege is showing.”

We also (of course) talked about our kids – How Chris had a “biter” (younger kids) – and I had a new driver (my older kid) – and everything in between. So naturally, it morphed into a conversation about religion too…because, why not.

I am so grateful. Grateful for the conversation, grateful for the whole dialog restoring my faith in people and humanity and goodness. Because we can talk, and maybe more importantly, we can listen, and we can dig down deep and see all points of view. Though I won’t always agree, I didn’t feel angry or despairing about it this time. I felt hopeful. Thank you Mara, Margaret, and Chris. Cheers, and let’s do it again soon. We definitely don’t need the sticky notes.








Reflections on the Women’s March

I’m going to start out by saying…I am not an activist. I have never been an activist in my entire life. Not that I don’t believe in anything, but because it somehow didn’t rise to the top of my priorities – (and I didn’t like being cold or uncomfortable,  ha ha). But today I attended the Women’s March in Trenton, NJ, not to become an activist, but because I was just trying to be a good mom.

Like many of my friends, I struggled after the election with sadness and frustration, and it was also the first time that my kids were of an age during a presidential campaign where they cared, they talked about it with us, and they needed reassurance. Shannon is a caring, emotional, and kind teenager. She cried on election night. She could barely go to school the day after. She wanted to take action, and desperately wanted to engage, so when we heard about the Women’s march in Washington, we talked about going, but I hedged.  I travel so much already, I couldn’t commit to it. But I had that feeling- you know that feeling – that I needed to pay attention. I saw the sister marches popping up, and that some friends were going to Philadelphia, New York, and Trenton. But here is what went through my mind:

How will we get there? I have to plan everything out. I hate crowds, there will be crowds. What if it isn’t safe? Could we stay overnight? Where would we stay? I have so much to do….no….there’s no way I can make this happen. 

I was in Kentucky all week. I flew home on Thursday night and arrived home at 1AM. I had lamented to my colleagues David and Christy who were with me during the week: I know that Shannon really wants to go to this march. I just don’t know if I have it in me. They were empathetic, knowing how hard it is to travel and squeeze everything else in on the weekends, it just sometimes feels… too much.  In my mind, I had already written it off. We’ll do something else. Volunteer, get involved. Something. 

On Friday, Shannon asked me: So, are we going to Washington? 

Me: Uh…..No….? (Guilt, Guilt, Guilt, I’m a crummy mother,  I am lazy, self absorbed. I just want to lay on the couch in my fleece pants.)

Shannon: Oh. (Disappointed.)

Me: Well, maybe we can go to Trenton, let me look into it. (Hedge, hedge, hedge).

By Friday night, I had convinced myself I could do it. (Yes we can!) Who needs a clean house? Who needs  groceries? Logistically, although I was a little concerned about parking, Trenton is literally ten minutes from our house, and the size of it felt OK to me, not overwhelming, I could handle it. I will not be a lazy mom!

I can’t say enough about how happy I am that I had this experience, and that SHE had this experience. From the moment we approached the steps of the Patriot’s Theater in Trenton where they were kicking off the event, you could feel the energy, the unity, and the feeling of just “togetherness.”  There were women, there were men, there were babies and children, there were grandparents. Some carried signs, some wore pink hats, a few wore purple coats, all were wearing big smiles. (Shannon and I chuckled at the sign one young girl held up: My country voted, and all I got was this lousy President.) 

Shannon, armed with her own sign, breathed in: This is so cool. 



Even though we had to stand outside for almost two hours, and couldn’t completely feel our toes by the time the actual marching began, we cheered, we chanted, we talked to people around us, and like most things we do together, just enjoyed each other’s company, and felt connected in that we cared about the same things. Equality, diversity, decency, just being a good HUMAN BEING.  We passed the police at the intersections, people were calling out to them: Thank you! They smiled, and waved back at the crowd, appreciative.


As a parent, I have always just wanted to raise my kids to be good people who are humble, kind, and empathetic. Sometimes I have to push myself off the couch and get out of my fleece pants to make sure they get the experiences they deserve. This was a good reminder of that. I am encouraged by how engaged my teenagers, (and their friends) are in what is going on in the world. I would never have asked my mom to take me to a women’s march, I barely paid attention to politics, candidates, or issues at the age of 17. Bravo to them – they are the future, and we should make sure they care. A lot.

Thanks to all the people in Trenton today who were so uplifting, inspiring, and good-natured. We felt something very special today. Now let’s keep reflecting upon our own humility, empathy, and act upon what we truly care about. I believe that is being an activist, right? So what do you know, maybe I am one.