It wasn’t supposed to be this way. You and I were destined for a normal life. I had done everything right: First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage. You. But what appeared to be three lives following a very well-worn path, shattered. You see, I blew the most important decision in life. I did not pick a good father for you, and this poor choice sent us both spinning and forever living in the fallout.
I was 30 and had never lived alone. You were five and just getting started.
You were heartbroken. You told me you were going to live with him, and I said nothing, knowing you were wrong. I was exhausted. Teaching kindergartners and first graders all day and coming home to one at night was a lot.
Everything was hard. Making ends meet was hard. Getting you to school and me to work was hard. If you got sick, I was in a panic, trying to find childcare. My employer had been concerned about hiring a single mom, and I was terrified of losing my job. We were cast in a fragile balance, and anything could topple us.
Nights found me quietly crying in my pillow and you calling out, asking if I was okay. I felt awful for making you worry. And you, lost in the shuffle, were quiet and stoic. I tried to add a special time for just the two of us, but even that seemed unmanageable.
As the years passed, life got better. I found stable work, and we fashioned a childhood for you. Fridays were Happy Meal and movie night. I still remember you saying it was the best part of the week. We celebrated when things went wrong because that is when one really needs to celebrate. We took lots of walks and talked. Sometimes we brought flashcards so you could study. Birthdays were marked with slumber parties, games, and swimming. On your special day, you chose one box of sugary cereal, I would typically never buy you, and that one night of the year you could sleep with me. I remember one birthday, when I thought you had forgotten this tradition, coming into the bedroom and finding tweener you waving from the bed.
We celebrated Halloween with parties featuring games and pinatas. Christmas was with family. You were the only grandchild, for many years, and teased mercilessly by your jokester uncles. You reveled in the attention. The spring found you searching for your Easter basket with elaborate puzzles, and throughout the year, the tooth fairy left lengthy explanations blaming Santa for misplaced teeth. (That tooth fairy role always tripped me up.)
Our nighttime ritual included a prayer blessing around 15 people. (I think you had at least 3 of my ex-boyfriends in the line-up!) We always said we would immediately recognize an imposter because we were the only ones on the planet who could recite that prayer.
One summer, we ventured on a road trip, but the air conditioning broke, and we ended up at Circus Circus in Las Vegas. We watched circus acts, rode the roller coaster, ate junk food, binge-watched Tommy Boy, and left around midnight so we would not have to return in the heat.
We visited Granny and Gramps in Wyoming; I staked out the sofa, and you went sledding and skiing. They surprised us with a trip to Hawaii, and we snorkeled in Molokini, helicoptered Maui, and, of course, purchased one of those ubiquitous grass skirts.
For your fifth-grade graduation, identical twin tabbies Baby Boy and Baby Girl joined our little family. You had begged and begged for these little bundles of fur but confessed to me within an hour of their arrival, they were just too much responsibility. With time, you became more comfortable with your role, and throughout your adolescence, those cats became buffers in some very tense mother-daughter exchanges.
With time, you and I started getting a little gutsy. I was on the teachers’ negotiating team and made speeches at board meetings when salaries were cut. You finagled a sweet 16 birthday boat party, became junior class president (putting that darn float together almost ended me), and most impressively, became the class valedictorian, in a time when there was only one. We were finding our way in the world and doing it well.
But it was not all perfect. We had our shared painful past of desertion and bitterness and in our healing had become too connected, or maybe not connected enough. You had to pull away and did it with such fury. I was hurt but should have known this was just part of growing up.
As you got older, financial responsibilities loosened, and we were finally able to breathe. When I took you to college, we went on a shopping spree and I, for the first time, was not nervously asking about price. In future years, we traveled to Thailand, swimming in the Andaman Sea, and taking cooking classes at the Blue Elephant. New Zealand found me filming you bungee jumping, my hands shaking and you dangling upside down, wondering how much of you had been exposed in the jump. In Portugal, we lost ourselves in the winding streets of a medieval city and gasped at the massive record-breaking waves of Nazare.
You graduated with top honors from Berkeley, traveled the world, got your dream job, and found true love with Jon. When I danced you down the aisle, all those old sadnesses melted away, and I realized, after such an inauspicious start, we did it! We really did it.
Happy Birthday, dear Jocelyn! You are definitely part of a Life Well-Lived!
#20: Reaching Across the Aisle: A Cough Drop at a Funeral, Cornering an Irishman in the Oval Office, and Scalia/Ginsburg, the Opera
In a pandemic, one would think our country would come together, knowing we battle a common enemy. We have not. Paradoxically, the United States has become more and more divided. There is a real sense of us and them, seeping from politics into our personal lives. We forget the United States has had gaping divisions in the past and managed to bridge many of them. It started with individuals having profound differences of opinion, doing the hard work, and finding a way to get things done. Some of these former adversaries even became friends.
Abraham Lincoln and his "Team of Rivals"
The 1860 election between William H. Seward, Edward Bates, Salmon P. Chase, and Abraham Lincoln was a bitter battle documented beautifully in Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals. Lincoln, knowing of the deep divisions in the country, brought his opponents together to form an unprecedented cabinet. He wanted a deeper understanding of their diverging ideas, and knew embracing their differences rather than openly opposing them, would work toward uniting the country. William Seward, one of his most staunch foes, became his Secretary of State, a trusted advisor, and with time, a dear friend.
Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill
During republican Ronald Reagan's presidency, Tip O'Neill was the democratic Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi's role now). Although passionately opposed politically, they found commonalities and a way to work together. Reagan quipped, "Imagine one Irishman trying to corner another Irishman in the Oval Office." Regarding Reagan, O'Neill said, "That's just politics, after 6 o'clock we're buddies–we're friends." And if not friends, they did know the importance of getting along. Frequently they went out for a beer after an especially difficult day, and there are pictures of them celebrating their Irish roots on St. Patrick's Day. After the assassination attempt in 1981, Tip O'Neill visited Reagan in the hospital. Finding him in worse shape than previously reported and sharing a common faith, they recited the Lord's Prayer. During their tenure, they worked to end the Cold War, pass tax reform, stop the violence in Northern Ireland, and create immigration reform.
Bill Clinton and George Bush, Sr.
Bill Clinton and George Bush, Sr. battled each other in the fierce 1992 presidential election. Bill Clinton won, effectively making George Bush, Sr. a one-term president, something he never got over. Twelve years later, after the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, President George W. Bush, Jr. tasked former opponents and presidents, Clinton and Bush, Sr. with leading a disaster relief team. Both men thrived in their new roles, spending a great deal of time together, learning of unexpected shared values, and becoming good friends. After their joint venture, they visited each other's homes, played golf, and traveled together. Barbara Bush called them the "odd couple," and George Bush, Jr. joked, after Clinton's surgery, he "woke up surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea...and my Dad." When asked about their relationship, Clinton responded, "I think people see George and me and they say, 'That is the way our country ought to work.'"
George W. Bush and Michelle Obama
At John McCann's funeral, George Bush, Jr. was famously photographed handing Michelle Obama a cough drop. In a political climate where the public is hungry for politicians reaching across the aisle, this moment captured everyone's imagination. On NBC's Today Show, Michelle Obama said, "I didn't realize at the time that anybody noticed what we were doing. President Bush and I… we are forever seatmates because of protocol…So we're together all the time, and I love him to death. He's a wonderful man. He's a funny man." Bush jested, "She kind of likes my sense of humor. Anybody who likes my sense of humor, I immediately like."
Now the media purposely tails them, attempting to capture a little more of their unusual connection. Pictures spanning the internet
show them hugging, laughing, sharing those iconic cough drops, and demonstrating Americans with strong opposing political views can still be friends.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia
During their tenures, Antonin Scalia was one one of the most conservative supreme court justices, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, one of the most liberal. Somehow, these polar opposites became friends.
There are pictures of them riding an elephant in India together, attending the opera, and their families celebrating the holidays. There is even an opera, receiving rave reviews, chronicling their improbable friendship: Scalia/Ginsburg. The tagline for the production is: We are different. We are one.
For the most part, both sides of the aisle love their children, want the best for our country, and would help others, no matter what party, in a catastrophe. Can't we remember this?
Reaching across the aisle, in these troubled times, is part of a Life Well-Lived.
P.S. I have gotten lost in the videos of past presidents at their library dedications. They talk about each other's successes and joke about their own failures. It is refreshing and even healing. A great book to learn more about presidential friendships is The Presidents Club. (I was surprised by the relationship between Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton!)
Back: Peggy Legault (Nurse Peggy), the author, Terry Hardison.
Front: Diane Bridges, Claudia Redfern, Terry Hustwick
(Thanks to Terry Hardison for the picture!)
I met Nurse Peggy almost 30 years ago at Top of the World Elementary. I was calling about a job application, and she was answering the phones that day. She sensed my anxiety and was exceedingly kind. Within a few days, I became the newest second-grade teacher, and with time, Peggy and I became friends.
Students loved Nurse Peggy. They came at lunchtime with their injuries, and she dispensed her first aid, not just in bandages. She was a safe haven for their childhood angst or loneliness. A kind word or a joke from her, and they were back racing across the playground.
Peggy was on the frontlines of any lice infestation, quietly calling kids to her office, and making sure they did not feel singled out. She also alleviated plenty of teachers’ fears with their phantom head itching. “Peggy, I know I have them. Please check me!” Of course, the biggest concern of children, unable to control their bladders, was others knowing about it. Nurse Peggy discretely offered a change of clothing in such a way kids knew this was not a big deal. No one was ever the wiser.
In her office, she had a picture of Vampire Bill (Looking back, I’m not sure this is true. Peggy might have talked about him so much I figured she had a picture of him!) from True Blood and raved about how much she loved him. (Later, watching this very adults-only show, I saw her a little differently!) All sorts of purple and gold Lakers paraphernalia festooned a wall and over her work area was a picture of Barack Obama and her beautiful light-of-her-life granddaughter: Yum Yum.
Peggy had a funny, quirky way of managing people, concealing her profound empathy and sixth sense about what friends and colleagues needed. I think her heart broke a little every time she saw others in pain, although she never showed it. I believe Peggy saw herself as the one to fill in life’s painful cracks and, as a result, she created unique connections with kids, colleagues, and parents. When a young male teacher joined our very female teaching staff, Peggy loudly professed her mad crush on him, making him and everyone laugh, and smoothing his introduction to our school. When I was working on my book, she always asked about it and encouraged me with comparisons to famous out-of-my-league authors. Peggy brought deluxe pillows with crisp pillowcases to a sick colleague and a lovely arch for her garden. She built a special connection to a friend’s daughter and celebrated when she became a nurse, as well. And these are the Nurse Peggy stories I know. There are plenty more quietly swirling around the ether, I will never know. If I broach the topic with Peggy, she gently changes the subject. Her kindness does not need to be acknowledged by others.
Peggy Legault and her favorite nurse graduate: Stephanie Hardison
(Thanks to Terry Hardison for the picture!)
Teaching can be plenty stressful as parents are learning in this pandemic. Years ago, the strain manifested itself for me in breathing problems, leading to panic attacks. Unfortunately, one day in the middle of class, I could feel the growing unstoppable anxiety. I made it to the office, and my principal, not sure what to do with me, had Peggy drive me home. On the way, we stopped for a glass of wine at one of my favorite places overlooking Dana Point Harbor. I loved my job and was terrified these attacks would impact my career. Peggy listened quietly, we talked, and gradually my fears ebbed away, making me feel more whole than I had in a long time. She did that for me and many others as well.
Now, Peggy and I have both retired and no longer see each other every day. But during this pandemic, we have reconnected and are talking on the phone. We share books, our assessments of the world, and I continue to see her beautiful unchanging empathetic spirit.
Nurse Peggy or Peggy, as I call her now, is definitely part of a Life Well-Lived.
Happy Birthday, Peggy!
M.J. Minerman writes for spinsters around the world who have "not found their lids and are pursuing lives well-lived."