Mind Blows

The hits just kept coming during a span of three weeks last November. First I got word that my oldest sister was being treated for beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. She is twelve years older than me. Then I got a call from my oldest brother, that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He is nine years older than me. Another brother happened to mention in passing that he had recently had a physical and there are some issues with his liver. And another sister, ten years older than me, was diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer’s. There are eight of us siblings and half were dealt major health blows at nearly the same time. It was just days after our country’s tumultuous presidential election. Right before the onset of the holiday season. Smack dab in the middle of our family’s annual unspoken mourning period, when each of us quietly acknowledges the anniversaries of our parents’ deaths and what would have been their nth birthdays. It was all too much for me.

For years my husband has tried to persuade me that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s run in my father’s bloodline, not my mother’s. And my DNA comes from both of my parents, so I only have a fifty percent chance of getting one of those devastating diagnoses. Try as he did, I never bought into his logic. Thrusting four of my siblings into chaos with their physical health was a cruel reminder of dominant genes. I’m not going to escape the inevitable.

It’s natural to want to pull family close during tough times but when all this stuff went down, I was still reeling from hurt and anger after being slighted by another one of my brothers last August when his son got married and nearly all of my nieces and nephews showed up for the wedding and reception. However, none of my children had been invited. My siblings and their grown children asked where my daughters were. I didn’t lie. “They weren’t invited.” Oh, there had to have been a mistake. I must not have read the invitation correctly. Unfortunately, I had read the invitation exactly as it was addressed and when I had heard many of my nieces and nephews were going to be at the wedding I contacted my brother’s wife. She told me none of my children were invited. There was no slight, no mistake. My children were not invited. How was I supposed to respond to that? My daughters knew all about the wedding, had heard many in the family talking about it, knew there were bridal showers happening. They thought I wasn’t passing on the details. I finally had to tell them, they weren’t invited. Oh. Okay then. Except it wasn’t okay. And once the wedding day arrived and Facebook pages in our extended family lit up with fabulous photos showing all the fun, my daughters were furiously hurt. They had every right to be.

So when news traveled in November about all the different health issues, I tried to put on a good face and thought about gathering with my siblings for our Christmas celebration. Half-heartedly I asked each of my daughters if they were planning to go. Not one. As the day approached, I knew I couldn’t go either. One of my siblings understood why I was hurt. A few tried to tell me it was all a big mistake and I should just let it go. I couldn’t. And by that time I was too far down the rabbit hole, angry and hurt, mourning my parents, mourning the loss of family, of the deep and emotional family bonds that fell apart after my parents had died despite how much effort we had all put toward staying connected physically.

A week after my siblings gathered to celebrate Christmas, my brother (with the liver problems) called me. He and his wife were on the call together and they put down a quilt of guilt, telling me they loved me and I should have been at the family gathering. They couldn’t understand the hurt and anger I felt and they were convinced my children not being invited to the wedding had just been an overblown mistake. They told me I needed to put my feelings aside and be there for the next family get together. Ha! The next family gathering was another wedding, one of my daughters. And she had picked a venue that was limited to only 100 guests. She invited all of my siblings but not one of her cousins. Her mindset was, since she couldn’t invite all of her cousins then she wouldn’t invite any.

My brother and his wife who had intentionally not invited my daughters to their son’s wedding last August have never said a word about what happened even though I know the topic has spent some time on the family grapevine. And when they attended my daughter’s wedding in April, they were very cordial and joking about their daughter’s wedding happening in July, how stressful it is to plan two weddings within a year’s time. I wanted to ask if my daughters would be invited to their daughter’s wedding but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wanted to believe it had been a mistake, that it wasn’t an intentional slight. Surely they wouldn’t do it again.

They did.

Last night my husband and I attended my niece’s wedding. Many of my other nieces and nephews were there. And today, family Facebook pages are filled with fun photos. Again. My husband and I left right after the dinner was done. Not one of my siblings argued with me to try to get me to stay longer. They knew. Aside from an initial “hello” and “congratulations” spoken to my brother, the father of the bride, we had no other exchange of words. Those may have been the last words we’ll say to each other for a very long time.

Hurt and anger in the mind are as devastating as blows to the body. Everything hurts. People say time heals all wounds but the history with this particular brother is long and complicated. He’s logical, cold, calculating. I’m emotional, compassionate, creative. This may have been the final blow.

Tell Our Children Something Different

When my four daughters were growing up, I used to tell them they could be anything they wanted to be. “Just pick something you enjoy because you’re going to do it for the rest of your life.” It wasn’t bad advice.

I never had any sons, but I often thought I would have told a son to treat women special. Open doors for them. Be kind to them. Be respectful. It would have been a good message.

Or, maybe not. On the one hand, I told my daughters to reach for the stars. I would have assumed a son would pursue his dreams for a career without having to be told he could do it. Would my daughters have noticed that I pushed them to advance but didn’t push a son? Would my daughters have thought less of themselves because they needed to be prodded? And I would have told a son to treat women differently because they are “special.” Would a son have interpreted that to mean women are weak? Or, if it was understood that by special I meant a positive thing, would a son have taken offense because I didn’t think men are special?

Words have so much power. It’s so easy as a parent to quickly answer a question without thinking about the words. I know I’m not the only parent who said, “Because I’m the mom and I say so.” At least I can honestly say that I never once told any of my daughters she was stupid or ugly or wouldn’t amount to anything. And every day as my daughters left for school I told them I loved them and again they heard it at bedtime, and often other times in between. To this day I still say “I love you” when I end a conversation with one of them.

If I had to do it over again, I’d stress equality, not in a political way but in a humane way. The janitor sweeping the floor of the office lobby is equally important to his or her family as the CEO riding to the top floor. I would guide my children to respect others always, and to be mindful that others are also respecting them. Without respect for each other, can there be trust in the relationship? I would encourage random acts of kindness as often as possible, in an effort to pay it forward and to teach humility. You never know when your circumstances will cause you to be on the receiving end of a random gift or a handout of support.

We all walk on the same planet. We all look at the same sun, moon, and stars. Some of us may have more power or wealth but we are all man and woman, equally unique and special and deserving of respect. We are life. Let’s celebrate that.


My eclectic group of friends have had their fill. “STOP!” one yelled at me on Facebook last week. So it’s time for me to return to my blog and speak anonymously for a while. Truth be told, I’ve missed writing in my blog. So why did I stop? It’s complicated.

One of my daughters gave up Facebook for about eight months because she felt her life was too boring and she couldn’t “compete” with all the exciting things her friends were doing and exotic places they were visiting. Eventually she and her husband bought a new house and she went on a work-sponsored trip to a foreign country, two exciting events that brought her back to posting. I had similar feelings. My four daughters have grown and are not the struggling adolescents they were when I first started this blog. All four are done with college (well, the last one will be in four months) and two are married with a third getting married in less than three months. The fourth is in a serious relationship that will likely lead to marriage as well. So the heavy lifting part of mothering is done. Well, I’d like to think that anyway. And my life as a parent had become boring, without drama, and I didn’t feel I had anything to share anymore.

I returned to my blog a few times in the last couple of years to write about the bullying I was experiencing in my (previous) job. It was a nightmare that elevated my blood pressure, caused me to gain a lot of weight, and brought on fitful nights of sleep. I knew if I stayed in the job it would kill me. Eventually I found another job and after a couple of months realized that manager was a bully too. I went silent, spending months trying to figure out what was wrong with me that I kept getting singled out on the job. Extreme soul-searching allowed me to right myself and know that I needed to respect myself as much as I showed respect to others. Just as I made that discovery and started to interview for yet another new job, my bully manager was replaced overnight with a very respectful, appreciative manager, the kind everyone wants and never gets. Pretty tough to blog about that without seeming to flaunt it. So I didn’t.

Last summer I felt a strong tug to return to blogging as the U.S. presidential campaign heated up but I just didn’t want to bring politics to my blog. My husband and I are on opposite sides politically so as the campaigns heated up, so did our discussions. I would have loved to write about my feelings but I was afraid I’d come off sounding like a left-wing lunatic when in actuality I’m a conservative centrist (yes, really).

In September I undertook a thirty-day eating plan called “Whole30” and I thought about sharing that journey. My oldest daughter was my “buddy” for the month and therefore it would have qualified as a topic for a blog about my four daughters, but I didn’t want this to turn into a dieting blog. So I squelched that idea. I am in the last days of finishing my second Whole30 and probably will share some of my life-altering lessons learned at some time in the future. But not now.

So what’s finally bringing me back to the blog? My four daughters. And my two grandchildren.

My oldest daughter is 31. She’s married and has a daughter who is 6 and a son who is 3. She teaches high school math. My second daughter is 29. She’s married and works as a medical radiology tech. My third daughter is 25 and finishing grad school and will be a veterinarian doctor at the end of the year. She’s getting married in April. And my youngest is 23 and will be done with her AA degree in May. She’s still deciding what she wants to be when she grows up.

These four daughters of mine are intelligent, compassionate, hard workers, independent, loyal, determined. They want good-paying jobs so they can own a home and raise a family and provide for themselves without relying on others. They want a good life for their children. And they want to be contributing members to the supportive communities in which they live.

We were all going along just fine until November 2015 when a candidate for president mocked a disabled reporter. There was a collective gasp among my four daughters. It got their attention. Soon they were watching the debates and two of my daughters even watched both of the summer conventions. They learned a lot about Benghazi. Three of them decided never to have a private email server and one admitted to already having one. And then Access Hollywood released a video in October 2016. My daughters could not believe a man of such stature could essentially get away with such disrespectful behavior. They turned to me for answers. I had none.

When my daughters were young, answers were easy to provide. I guess there’s a lot of truth in the old saying that with small kids there are small problems. Now that they are grown women, successful in their own ways, they have expectations of being treated respectfully and fairly. And they expect that others will be as well. Witnessing events unfold since the new administration landed in Washington, DC, my daughters are disappointed, frustrated, depressed. Each wants to know what she can do, one woman among four in a big, scary world. And the fact that I can’t immediately solve the problem or tell them what to do only adds to their disappointment. I’m grateful to have a relationship with each of my daughters and it warms my heart that they still come to me for answers. However, they need to form their own beliefs and philosophies. Even so, I welcome the opportunity to talk with them as we walk along life’s path at this moment in time. Maybe in the process I’ll find the answers I’m searching for.

And so, I’m returning to my blog where I can write about the changing world and how it is affecting my four daughters and me. A therapeutic exercise for me, perhaps a finding of common ground for you.

Kate Needs (and gets) a Miracle

I started writing this blog and had gotten part way through writing exactly why my daughter Kate needed a miracle, when Kate called to tell me she got it! If it was so easy to get, it couldn’t have been a miracle, right? Wrong. It was a miracle because it wasn’t so easy to get.

Over the course of the last month or so, Kate has been opening up to me about the degree of stress she’s been dealing with for the last several months—no, make that years. I’ve been waiting a long time for her to initiate this discussion, so I’m glad she finally did. But at the same time, the fact that she’s finally talking underscores how desperate she has become to find a solution for each of the many problems she is dealing with.

The most pressing problem she is facing is the physical and mental health of her husband, John. Ever since John was about nine years old, he’s had major problems with his knees. He’s had several surgeries and each has brought him some relief from intense pain but only for a few months. Nearly all of his life he’s suffered extreme pain and has just learned to accept it. Oh, and take several doses of ibuprofen each day, which has now rotted his stomach. Essentially John needs to have his knee joints replaced. But he is only thirty years old and doctors and insurance companies don’t like to replace knee joints in someone so young.

About eighteen months ago, John was in so much pain that he couldn’t even walk. After several appointments with a specialist, John ended up back on the operating table. The doctor couldn’t see anything in an MRI and had no idea what he would find. Turns out, John’s ACL was nonexistent. It was completely gone. No idea where it went. So they stopped the surgery and made plans to build a new ACL from John’s hamstring. So a couple of months later, another surgery and an extremely painful and long recovery. Almost eight months later and he’s still not better. The specialist cannot explain why there continues to be so much pain, and John was handed a bottle of Percocet and told to deal with it. John’s been “dealing” with it far longer than anyone should have to and he’s become hopeless about the situation to the point that Kate and John’s family are concerned about his safety.

A little more than a month ago Kate called me to tell me they had put their house up for sale. It’s a small house, split level, sitting on about five acres about 15 minutes from the nearest small town. It only has two bedrooms but it’s a nice house and, being out in the middle of nowhere, there are no comparable properties. So it makes it difficult to sell. Kate told me that John had reached such a low point with despair that she didn’t feel they had any choice. They must sell the house and get into a smaller house with less upkeep and no stairs. Already at 30 John needs single-level living. I was surprised that there were houses without steps located in the middle of nowhere. They found one and put in an offer but lost out to a higher bidder. They found another and again lost out to a higher bidder. The third time was the charm and their offer was accepted. But their purchase agreement was contingent upon selling their current house. And that was the challenge. The seller was willing to hold their offer for about three weeks. We all started praying for a miracle.

Kate and John were lucky in that they had several showings for their house, but no one put in an offer. It was frustrating since so many houses were being sold just days after listing. Their house sat. And sat. And with each passing day, John grew more depressed and Kate grew more frustrated. About a week ago, John’s siblings and parents did a little intervention because they were scared John was so depressed he would be harmful to himself. It was all too much for Kate. So while John’s family was trying to counsel him, I was trying to support Kate and keep her thinking positively.

Two days ago Kate was in tears. She loves John and cannot stand to see him suffer. She feels the “world” is against her because all she wants to do is save her husband and her family and have a simple life. I want that for her too, but I am not in a financial position to help them. I felt helpless and incompetent as a parent. All I could do was continue to pray. Yesterday morning Kate called to say one of her students had killed himself and their school was in mourning. It was the last straw for Kate and I could hear her emotions shutting down as we talked. She was tucking away her feelings under lock and key, putting herself into survival mode. She too was without hope that they would sell their house, even though there was one more showing scheduled for the inconvenient supper hour. It was a long day at school dealing with the tragedy and the last thing Kate and John felt like doing was taking their kids out to dinner.

I wasn’t with them, so I can’t speak to the mood. I can guess both parents were short on patience. If they talked, it would have been in short, clipped sentences. I can imagine both young kids had lots of energy and didn’t want to sit still and only ate half of their meal. The showing time had ended so they returned home and began their nightly ritual.

It was about that time that I found myself sitting at my computer, trying to deal with my own feelings of helplessness. I needed to write about it, to reassure myself that it isn’t my job to financially support my adult daughter and so I don’t need to take on any guilt or shame because I can’t. I needed to process my thoughts and start thinking about how to support Kate in the next steps, whatever those steps would be.

As I began to draft the story of Kate’s need for a miracle, she called. The couple who had scheduled the showing during the supper hour had put in an offer. It wasn’t the full amount that Kate and John wanted, but it was doable. Kate was ecstatic! As the parent, it was so good to hear emotion in Kate’s voice. I got off the phone and immediately said prayers of thanks.

An offer is just that, so the days ahead will be critical. I will continue to pray that all the paperwork gets filed in a timely manner and that everything goes smoothly. Kate sees this as the only way to save her husband’s life. I see the miracle of restoring hope and preserving a family.

The Mercy Year

Libraries sometimes have a special offer when you can return overdue books, no matter how long they’ve been out, free of charge. It’s a forgiveness that I’ve never been able to take part in because I always return my library books. Maybe they’ve been late once in a while, but I always pay the fine. Life is good.

Lately I’ve been contemplating whether the Catholic Church, in this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed, would be willing to make a similar deal. No matter how long it’s been since my last confession and no matter how many sins I’ve committed, would a priest be willing to sit down and hear my story and help me find a clean slate?

I have no way of knowing for certain, but I’m guessing my last confession took place more than forty-five years ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge. I was a naïve eleven year old, somewhat spoiled, mostly sheltered from all the bad things in life. The worst sin I committed was likely calling my brother a name or not getting home on time for supper.

Then along came an overheard conversation about how my mom had cancer and I had to look up the word in a dictionary to find out what was going on. Even in her last days when she was in a coma my family could not be honest with me and tell me she was going to die. They wouldn’t let me see her to say good-bye. Two years later cancer took my father too. By that time I was an angry adolescent strung out on love deprivation.

How I managed to maneuver high school and college (miracles on their own) by not ending up in jail or rehab or pregnant is beyond my comprehension. Truly, I credit divine intervention. I didn’t have one guardian angel; I had a whole team. God knows, I tried my best to mess up my life and my future. But somehow I always seemed to end up okay. Maybe a few battle scars but generally unscathed.

Still, sins were committed. And I’ve reached a point in my life where I am not proud of those things and I feel the need to tell my story. I don’t want to sit in a confessional booth and go through the list, one at a time. I want a face-to-face conversation, a telling of my story, a purging of all the bad intermingled with the good things I’ve done. I want to tell my story, good and bad, and in the end find a reasonable penance.

Some might argue I’ve paid penance already in my life and yes, I agree I have. Some anyway. People might say that because I am consciously choosing to admit my sins and through confession I seek forgiveness, it shall be granted. I agree with that as well. But to me it’s not the act of confessing, it’s the complete story that I need to unleash. Why it has become so heavy to carry at this point in my life is not an answer I have. I only know it is so. I’d rather do the lion’s share of my penance while I still have time on Earth.

I know if I look hard enough I’ll likely find a priest willing to sit with me, one-on-one, and hear my story. I would hope that he would listen to everything and help me come up with a meaningful plan of action that doesn’t feel trite or insignificant, like Fr. Schultz’s “Say one Our Father and Three Hail Marys and help your mother with the dishes the rest of the week.”

I am not afraid of penance. I am not afraid of priests. But I have been away from the church for far too long, and I have not and still do not agree with some of the decisions made by church leaders. I am saddened by the bad things that have happened. I am frustrated with the greed and annoyed by the attitudes of some church leaders. Forgive me Father for I have sinned, but the church has sinned as well. I want a conversation that encompasses all of that, and more.

Pope Francis smiles and hugs and reaches out. He communicates without words. He makes the Church look so accessible. I seek a cleansing, a purging, some pain, healing, forgiveness and mercy. Is the Church capable?

This Year’s Christmas Miracle

I’m tired because the phone rang at one o’clock this morning. I was deep in sleep and for a moment had to think about what day it was, what time it was, where I knew my kids were supposed to be. In the dark, I reached for the phone and discovered it was my daughter Emily. When I had gone to bed, Emily had just gotten on a plane for the third leg of a long journey home from Grenada where she is a veterinarian student. She is halfway through her grad school program and today is her twenty-fourth birthday. She was so thrilled and relieved to be coming home. I knew her plane was supposed to land around midnight, so I was concerned when I heard her voice on the phone. She apologized for waking me up, then wanted to let me know she was home safe. She sounded happy, not something I was expecting from someone calling me in the wee hours of the morning. And then she said, “I wanted you to be the first to know.” Her long-time boyfriend had just proposed to her and they are engaged.

“Congratulations! I’m so happy for the two of you!” I said, with sincerity. He is a wonderful young man and I think the two of them will make a good life together. I promised to keep her secret until this afternoon, when she was able to share her news with all of her sisters and her dad when they gathered to celebrate her birthday.

It took me a while to fall back asleep, which is why I’m tired today. But this morning I woke up with the realization that after all the struggles Emily and I have gone through—the months of not talking to each other, the horrible things she said to me all through high school and college, threatening to sue me on more than one occasion—when the moment mattered to her, she wanted her mom to be the first one to know. It brought tears to my eyes.

As a mom, I’ve always tried to do the best job I could with whatever circumstances I was in at the moment. Some days were easy and joyful, other days—and there were many—were fraught with drama and worry. Sometimes I had to make decisions that I knew would not be warmly received by my four daughters. Sometimes I knew that saying the right thing would inevitably cause one of them to say horrible and mean things and shut the door on our relationship. But my guiding light was always how I would feel at the end of my day when I sat down in prayer and held myself accountable for my actions and thoughts. I followed that “spirit” as my “mother guide.” It was the one true thing I could place faith in. Getting Emily’s call last night, knowing she wanted me to be the first to know, was a reward I never imagined I would receive. I’m holding the moment in my heart as this year’s Christmas miracle. It’s a reminder to every parent: no matter the struggle, no matter how long the silence, don’t ever give up hope. If you worked hard and laid a good foundation, your child will return to your life on the other side of adolescence. You must believe. Always.

The Blessing Award

At this time of year, I’m often reminded of a game of questions my husband and I often played when we were dating. “What’s your favorite song? Movie? Book?” One question he asked that I hadn’t yet been asked: “So far in your life, what has been your favorite year?” That took a lot of thought on my part—only because I’d had so few great years. I had to walk through memory minefields to think about it before I could answer. Don’t get me wrong—I had quite a few good years. But what was the one that could stand out as the greatest?

I’m reminded of my husband asking me that question every November when people take time to offer daily thanks and count the blessings they’ve received in that year. And so it is that counting my own blessings has been on my mind for the last couple of weeks. Last night, something caused me to stop and ponder the question, What is the greatest blessing I’ve received so far in my life?

My four daughters. My husband. The “dream job” I had before the Great Recession. All of these are great blessings and the first things to come to mind. But if I had to pick one thing, what would it be? Living long enough to have met my grandchildren (those born so far) and watch them grow has been an unbelievable blessing and joy. Watching each of my children grow into a beautiful woman has given me great pride and joy. But what blessing is the greatest, so far?

It’s probably an unfair question because it’s somewhat like choosing a favorite, something most parents avoid at all cost. But last night I found myself in a college auditorium with a few hundred other people when the answer came to mind. So far in my life, at this very moment, I’m willing to go on record and say the greatest blessing so far is the transformation of my youngest daughter.

Brianna is the reason I started this blog back in February 2012—a mere three and a half years ago. It seems a lifetime ago. Our struggles began long before, in late 2008. The economy had tanked, we lost most of our savings in the market crash, we lost thirty percent of the value in our house (our other investment), and I lost my job. My husband was unemployed too. Our comfortable (and expensive) lifestyle derailed, right at the moment when Brianna “came of age” into adolescence. In the month of her fifteenth birthday when her thoughts were full of learning to drive, going to high school, having her first serious “crush”, our world turned upside down. And my nightmare began.

At that time, three of my daughters still lived at home. And the struggles with the older two were more challenging than the silly adolescent trials that Brianna faced. Or so it seemed. Hindsight is so cruel. Yes, of course, if I could do things over, I would spend more time with Brianna and do a better job of shepherding her through those years. Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.

I started this blog out of desperation. So much in my life was so horribly wrong. And Brianna had completely derailed her life and was dangling off a cliff. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, then you know that the police were frequently at our house, that thousands of dollars were stolen, and alcohol and other drugs (including prescription meds) were the only things Brianna consumed. By the time she was eighteen, she weighed 85 pounds, had dropped out of school (after being tossed from high school to an “alternative” school to online-only classes), and was “gifting” her body (and soul) to feel good about herself. (Oh, how it pains my heart to put all this in writing.)

So many nights I couldn’t sleep. So many days I functioned on auto-pilot. I was desperately trying to find a job, beat off depression, and show love to my “new” husband. Finding energy to deal with misbehaving teens only caused me more angst. No matter what I tried, nothing had an impact. At one point I forced Brianna to tell me the songs she wanted played at her funeral. Her death was inevitable, in my mind, and ever the consummate planner, I needed to know how to handle it.

These are the memories that swirled in my head last night as I sat in that auditorium and watched Brianna as she received recognition for her 4.0 GPA (with three semesters behind her) and was awarded with a generous scholarship that will cover a full semester of tuition and expenses.

Brianna never applied for any scholarships. (Read that again.)

The college itself pulled her record because of her GPA. She has a part-time job and another work/study job tutoring other students, so the school is well aware of her financial situation. And even though she had not applied (“So many other kids are better than me, Mom!”), the school honored her.

So much more than the money and recognition of a great GPA, this moment is a mega dose of self-esteem for Brianna, a renewal of her commitment to stay on the “right” path and do the right thing, a validation of believing in and advocating for herself so that she can live a better life. Because she knows what the “other” life looks like.

In the overall scheme of things, the scholarship award ceremony was a quiet event. We didn’t throw a party. We didn’t go out for a special dinner after the ceremony. But every single one of us who Brianna asked to attend the event pulled out all stops to be there. Every one of us had some other commitment or were scheduled to work or didn’t feel very well. No matter. Without any prodding from me, each of us cleared our calendar and made certain we would be there to celebrate this achievement with Brianna.

All those long ago nights when I couldn’t sleep—worried about where she was or whether the medicinal/alcohol/recreational drug cocktail she had taken would kill her or whether she would get pregnant or, even worse, a devastating disease—passed through my thoughts. So did the infinity of parent/teacher/counselor meetings and phone calls I attended, to no avail. The horrible things we’ve said to each other. The hurt and anger that nearly drove us mad.

In September 2008, my mind was incapable of imagining Brianna being recognized for anything worthwhile. But like many parents, that didn’t stop me from believing in her, or rather, believing in the potential I knew was inside her. Last night was a greater moment for me than when she was born or when she boarded the school bus for her first day of kindergarten; greater than the days when she learned to read and write and do math. Last night was the culmination of every step she has taken—good and bad—and all the steps she didn’t take but instead was carried by me or others or saints and angels or yes, even God. For some days He was the only one capable of the burden.

Even though I thought I was doing a horrible job as a parent during Brianna’s worst years, I did the best that I could in that moment. And more importantly, I believed in Brianna and always kept a flame of hope burning. Oh, and I prayed. It was Brianna who one day woke up and decided to change her life. It was Brianna who figured out what it took to earn a GED and she scheduled and paid for the exams all on her own. Without any help from me, she sought out a college counselor and registered for classes. And she filled out her own FAFSA. Brianna may have had my help along the way, but in the end she completely owned her transformation. I will be celebrating that joy for the rest of my life, because that transformation gave Brianna life.