Reflections Archives

Wedding in Monona!

There’s a faith in loving fiercely the one who is rightfully yours
especially if you have waited years and especially if part of you never
believed you could deserve this loved and beckoning hand held
out to you this way.

Our eldest daughter was married in Monona today at Winnequah Park. The appropriateness of both the location and the marriage sunk in more deeply with each passing moment of the day. This area of Monona has been the background of so many of our activities over the years. Here are some of the many charming details of the wedding:

The presence of the ubiquitous Canadian Geese:

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The gazebo on the lagoon where the ceremony was held, which was festooned with flag decor that is required to remain in place through July, yet somehow added to the charm:

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Peonies were used in the bouquets and the table decorations. The peonies were taken from my dear friend’s peony bushes. We have since discovered that peonies symbolize prosperity and romance and are an omen of good fortune and a happy marriage:

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The bride made lemon bars (and gluten-free macaroni and cheese) the night before the wedding for the reception:

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The music during the ceremony was a recording of Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major as performed by George Winston. This was the same song used during the processional of my and my husband’s wedding:

And I think of the story of the storm and the people
waking and seeing the distant, yet familiar figure,
far across the water calling to them.
And how we are all preparing for that abrupt waking
and that calling and that moment when we have to say yes!
Except it will not come so grandly, so biblically,
but more subtly, and intimately in the face
of the one you know you have to love.
So that when we finally step out of the boat
toward them we find, everything holds us,
and everything confirms our courage.

The ceremony was performed by our neighbor Carmela. She and Tom and their family were one of the very first families we met when we moved to Monona 16 years ago, so her presence was very fitting and appreciated.

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The average couple spends $30,000 on their wedding. According to this research,  spending $20,000 or more increases the odds of divorce by 3.5 times compared to folks who spend $5000-10,000. For the best odds, spend $1000 or less, the price range this wedding happens to falls into, which hopefully bodes well for their future. It also pleases me that she was able to have the wedding she wanted with a minimum of interference and projections hurled her way.

According to the Gottman Institute, renowned for research into successful marriages, there are two things necessary for a successful marriage: kindness and showing genuine interest in your partner’s joys.  Fortuntaely I’ve seen plenty of both in this couple, both today and the past year, and no doubt will in the years to come.

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and you want to live, and you want to love.
And you’ll walk across any territory,
and any darkness, however fluid,
and however dangerous to take the one
hand and the one life, you know belongs in yours.

– Poetry excerpts from the poem The True Love by David Whyte

Deceased yet Consolation

It’s something of a coincidence that this week, of all weeks, my 8-year-old daughter had to master the pronunciation of the words “deceased” and “consolation.”

Thursday morning, which was also coincidentally the day 9-year-old Christina Taylor Greene was laid to rest in a casket handmade by monks in Tuscon, AZ, it was my daughter’s responsibility to stand at the lectern of IHM church (she’s a student at IHM school) and read the petition for “consolation” and “for all the deceased” during the morning mass.

She landed this gig a week ago after playing Rock/Paper/Scissors with the neighbor boy, who also wanted to read this petition. She won and had been elated about that ever since, working carefully with me every evening to make sure she pronounced “consolation” and “deceased” correctly, over and over again.

A perfect refrain for the week, as it turns out.

She recited the petition perfectly that morning and I thought of Obama’s speech the night before (perhaps the first time I’ve ever been deeply moved by a presidential speech) and the part where he said we see ourselves and our children in the victims:

For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.

And:

Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

After my daughter read the petition, Fr. Bart encouraged the kids to not lash out in anger when hurt, to instead seek healing and to help heal others. That, along with Obama’s speech, are small steps in the direction of consolation, along with the stories of the acts of heroism that occurred during the shooting.

My daughter doesn’t really yet know what the reality of being deceased means, as she hasn’t lost a loved one. She can pronounce “consolation” now but has yet to express it or experience it at a deep level.  When that day arrives, I hope, along with Obama, that this country really will live up to her (and all our children’s) expectations and that she’ll have reason to say, “We are so blessed. We have a good life,” like Christina used to say to her mother.

Memory Eternal, Christina, Dot, Dorwan, Judge Roll, Phyllis and Gabe.

FAR FROM MONONA, WISCONSIN

Like many families, this month finds us traveling in an attempt to stall the end of summer. For us August is always a sort of time travel. Each year we return to the scene of the crime, Cape Cod, where my wife and I were married twenty years ago this October. The place we lived while the roads seemed lined with possibilites.

As we bored our five children with tales and sites of where we married, lived and dreamed of the life we would have in Hyannis Port (or Hyannisport) it all seemed like only yesterday. To our teens it also seemed like only yesterday, as they moaned and groaned that they had heard all of these stories and seen these sites before. But this year was different. This year they took note of where we were.

For the first time our tribe seemed to realize that the homes perched upon Nantucket Sound were mansion-like. They were in awe of the exculsive Beach Club and envious of teens their age driving very nice jeeps with little care– several nearly falling out of those jeeps as they parked however they wanted– as if intoxicated.

“How could you ever leave Hyannis Port?” our daughter asked us.

I asked myself the same thing suddenly.

It was not easy. At the time it was a heavy loss.

“I wish I grew up here!” our oldest daughter complained. “Then I would be rich and spoiled, if you didn’t move from Hyannis Port.”

It was true, I thought as I recognized the teens in the jeep from a family I waved to and greeted as neighbors when our children were all still in strollers. Hyannis Port was a long way from Monona, Wisconsin.  Far from Monona, Wisconsin I wondered where our plan had gone wrong. We had failed to give our children the lives we hoped to give them.

“You are spoiled,” I told my daughter.

That did not go over well.

“You are richer than you know because you are growing up in Monona.”

That did not go over well.

In Truro we treated ourselves to a meal out because too many cooked meals on vacation make it feel almost like not being on vacation.

The server was a teenage girl who said she enjoyed working at the seaside spot, located near a string of salt houses grown out of sand and sea grass so that the yards are the Atlantic Ocean. When I asked the teen server if she enjoyed working the dinner shift, rather than the early morning breakfast one she did last year, she said she did, I asked if it was because she could go to the beach during the day.  Her answer surprised us.  She does not go to the beach during the day, she told us, but cleans houses and watches children because there are no jobs in Truro during the off-season. She has to work hard when she can she said. This stayed with us.

As we left our daughter who wanted to have grown up in Hyannis Port said she felt rich and spoiled because she lives in Monona.

We continue to travel Cape Cod this month, reminded of where we began our life together and how we thought it would turn out.

None of it is as it should be according to the plans we made. Monona, Wisconsin was not even on the map for us twenty years ago. The plan did not belong to us but, somehow, it could not have turned out any better. Of that we all are sure.

A MOMENT OF TRANQUILITY

July always finds us spending countless hours at the pool for lessons, free swim and special events. So I found myself in the middle of our 32nd lesson when military jets flew overhead.

Two small boys near me began yelling and counting the jets. It reminded me of the period of time when our teenagers were that age.

We would stand in the yard of the small house we rented watching the jets fly over us. Sometimes I would hope the jets would not fly over when I had our kids, we only had three then, all taking a nap at once. During those stolen moments I would have a very narrow window to sit in the yard watching a ball float in the kiddie pool for a moment of tranquility. The jets would fly over. Everyone was awake.

As I thought about this I realized two things all at once. The first thing: As those jets passed over the yard all those years ago when our teens were still small we were not at war. The second thing: Our youngest do not remember, have never really known, a period of time when we were not at war.

One of the many images that have remained with me these past five years, as I have worked on a novel about a group of young people forever changed by the events of September 11th, was how empty the sky was when no planes were allowed to fly overhead. It struck me as I stood on Lake Monona with a filled stroller that day. I am still moved by the memory of it.

Reminded of my quest for a bit of quiet time those few short years ago when our teens were still babies really, during a period of time when peace was all that we knew, I could not help feel a bit sad for all that we have lost. Then I smiled at the loud cries of the boys.  They looked like performers as they attempted to roar loud as the jets, jumping and dancing around the deck of the pool while their parents wearily looked for the thing we are all in search of–peace and tranquility.

Yesterday while walking my daughter home from swimming lessons at the pool, a 5 or 6-year-old girl biked past us on the sidewalk, politely saying, “Excuse me” as she confidently whizzed on by.

She was wearing a swimsuit and shorts and had clearly just come from the pool too.

I noticed that no other kids were with her and there wasn’t even a parent in sight!

My mind immediately flashed back to the early and mid-1970s, when I and the other kids in the neighborhood routinely rode our banana seat bikes all around the neighborhood…and beyond.

Ahhhh, banana seats. Remember those? My bike was early-1970s shades of green and yellow with a floral banana seat, white basket and streamers coming out of the handlebars.

Eventually I ditched the basket and streamers and swapped out the floral seat for an edgier black one, so I could fit in better with all the boys in my neighborhood.

Of course I coveted my cousin’s green Schwinn banana seat bike because it had five speeds and one of those cool stick shift things, like this:

I also liked those seats with the high chopper style bars in the back:

Anyway, back in my day, a young child riding a mile home on a bike from the pool would’ve been completely routine.

Now it’s not normal at all.

So I silently cheered this little girl. Kids from the Millenial generation are the most over-parented kids ever so I thought that maybe there’s hope after all. There’s at least one girl out there who gets to taste the same independence we middle aged folks (and older) did at that age.

She continued to bike down Healy Lane and, eventually, I noticed a car slowly pull up and drive alongside her.

The girl turned onto Winnequah and the car kept slowly following her.

Oh oh.

Was she being followed?

Yep… a parent eventually got out of the car. Alas.

Kudos to the parent for at least letting the child experience that much independence (I haven’t done that much). And, like any parent, I, too, haven’t ever let my kids bike alone at that age. Sigh.

The book Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) talks about this phenomenon (library link is here).

The author let her nine-year-old son take the subway home alone in 2008 (something that was routine in the 1970s and 60s) and caught so much flack about it she ended up on national TV shows defending herself.

She gives all kinds of statistics that show how crime rates are lower now than they were in the 1960s and 70s yet parents today marinate in anxiety.

She even shows how if you actually wanted your kid to be abducted and put him in your front yard in the hopes that someone would snatch him, it would be more than 700,000 years years before someone would come along and take him.

Here’s a map that shows how much kids’ freedom to roam has been reduced over the generations.  An eight year old boy in 1919 often walked alone to his favorite fishing spot six miles away. Fast forward to 2007 and his eight year old great grandson is only allowed to walk 300 yards away from home alone:

There are all sorts of things to blame for our anxiety – things that didn’t exist a generation ago: 24 hour cable news shows, the stories that circulate on the internet making us more aware of every crime out there, true crime shows and shows like Law & Order, etc.

Last week I spotted a banana seat bike in an antique store that was in terrific shape. I’m tempted to buy it for my six-year-old. If we can’t bring back free range kids, maybe we can at least bring back the banana seat?

REAL AMERICAN IDOLS

Anita’s post regarding an Elvis Sighting in Madison reminded me of American Idols as one of mine appeared on television.

As I was going through my morning routine Friday Sting appeared on the TODAY SHOW. He was singing songs I recalled from college. I stopped to remember a brief meeting with him.

One college summer, long before I ever dreamt of living in Monona, friends of mine made a plan. We would all take the last day of work off of our various summer jobs to travel up to Wisconsin from Chicago to see THE POLICE in concert. Enroute we stopped at an Oasis that stretched across the highway. It was pretty empty. In line for food we saw the band–THE POLICE.

Because we were all in college we tried to play it cool. But one of our friends brought along her younger brother. He was in high school, very energetic. To our dismay he did not mind approaching the band in line for food. Grant asked for an autograph! This flew in the face of my attitude of never approaching public people. Dismay melted among our small college group as Sting stood with us signing a ticket stub for Grant.
“Are you going to this?” Sting asked Grant, regarding the concert we were on our way to that afternoon.
Grant nodded, responding with his usual amount of excitement.
“So am I!” Sting said as he handed Grant the autographed ticket stub.
For the rest of the night, the rest of his life I am sure, Grant prized that ticket stub. I have always cherished the memory also.

I do recall Elvis in a different way than Anita does because my mother was crazy about him when I was young. She still is. As a child I saw every single Elvis movie, so it seemed. Our mother would dance around to his music, first in our Chicago apartment where the Elvis films played on television then later in our various homes. For her sixtieth birthday party our mother had an Elvis/Fifties theme. I recall Elvis in his prime, and the red faces my brother and I had for our mother as she danced around to his music. We laughed at her and her ‘old’ music. Given to depression most her life our mother seems to have known little happiness. Those moments with Elvis were happy times for her.

Real American Idols: Elvis and Sting. The other morning when Sting appeared on television I almost started to dance around. Luckily I came to my senses so I did not have to see the red face of my teenage son who had a late morning at the high school as I enjoyed my ‘old’ music. But in my head I was dancing–to an Amercan Idol because every little thing he did was magic.

Living like you are dying

For almost a year now I have been living as if I am dying. Not because I am dying but because I am surrounded by a series of lasts as our oldest son prepares to leave for college.

Just before last summer I became aware of the fact that our son would be leaving us. I suppose I knew it all along but it became real as our lives were flooded with college visits, applications and test scores. As he finishes his search this week that has taken him from California to Boston and all points in between it has seemed at times I am left with the remainder of a long lists of ‘lasts’ as he prepares to leave Monona.

Last fall was the last time he would celebrate his birthday with us at home. Next November he would be in a dorm somewhere with his friends, most likely.

The holiday season was the last that would not include the rush of travel, a bus or train for him to catch or us to meet–possibly a flight if he went far away.

During the heavy snow of January and February I realized it was the last winter I could call through the house for him to shovel for me. Time to buy that snowblower I have been putting off. Spring has brought a series of lasts as he finishes his time at Monona Grove High School.

This summer we will know the last of the lasts. Our last time gathered together to watch the Memorial Day Parade together. The last Fourth of July Celebration with all of us together? A last swim–even though the pool is not our son’s passion. What if he stays at school next summer? Is the yearly trip we take as a family in August our last together? Will he be somewhere else doing something else during that time? Can we even fit the trip in with the move to college now part of our backdrop?

But in the end college is not death. It is a birth of sorts. I remember it well as the time my ‘real’ life began. So in the midst of all the lasts and leaving that have managed to tug at me this year there have been hints of the things to come. A time of excitement and celebration. A new life for our son in a different place. It just won’t be happening here in Monona anymore–or with us.

The Other Tom Mulroe

Tom Mulroe is dead.  The news traveled to Monona last week. It was a surprise to me.

The year I was fourteen I was named Carrier of the Week for the local newspaper I delivered in Oak Park, a suburb outside Chicago.  After my name and photo appeared in the paper I became aware of another Tom Mulroe my age who lived a few blocks away from me on the other side of Austin Boulevard–in Chicago.

Prior to that my father was the other Tom Mulroe for me.  I am his junior, named after him.  When he died a few years back friends in Oak Park thought at a glance that it was me–then realized it was my father.

Over the years I have heard about what the other Tom Mulroe is doing. During college we ended up both being friends with a co-worker of mine.  I heard that he married young and had a large family, did not move too far from the area where he was born.  Out of high school he did odd jobs.  The last I heard he sold sinks–was quite good at it.

Three years ago this Christmas we spoke on the phone.  I talked about Monona, where I live.  He was eager to bring his family here, to a place he said that he felt sounded like heaven to him.  A town in Wisconsin by a lake. It was the type of place he’d like to retire to he said.

Time passed.  We both were caught up in our lives.  He never made the trip.

At fifty he died last week.  The news came to me here in Monona over the phone from my mother, who was aware of the other Tom Mulroe through me.

In the midst of all this I became aware a few weeks ago of a book called THE OTHER WES MOORE by Wes Moore.  It details the lives of two men who have the same name.  I was reminded of the other Tom Mulroe then, just prior to hearing he had died.

The truth is there are many other men named Tom Mulroe.  My teenagers put my name on Google a year or two ago and found them.  The one I knew was not one of them.  I intended to talk about that over the phone with him when we spoke again, or if he ever made it to Monona–a place he perceived from our conversations to be heaven.

Encounters of the “Public” Kind

Like all towns, Monona has a fair amount of public people who reside in it.

Recently I was told that I was rude because I did not introduce some people who I was with to a public figure who I am neighbors with.

We were at a park near our home when this happened. The public pereson in question was juggling three small children on playground equipment. It struck me as odd that I might have been rude for not introducing the people who I was with to this public figure.

If you live long enough you more than likely find yourself in the path of a public person. Long before we were married my wife and I encountered Oprah Winfrey on a street in Chicago. We kept walking, although I would have enjoyed meeting the woman attempting to get into a car.

On a train to Boston from Chicago, when we were wearing a rut in that portion of the country, we sat in a cafe car alongside John Madden who was reading. He is famous for a fear of flying. We ignored him.

This has become a pattern. I never considered it rude or questioned it, although our teenagers felt like we missed out the summer of the election when we saw our current president riding bikes past us with his wife and children during a visit to Chicago.

The year we were married Rose Kennedy turned 100. We were living on Cape Cod. All of Hyannis Port was flooded by people attempting to get a glimpse of the big Kennedy Party that July.

We had lived a few doors down the road from the Kennedy Compound long enough to come to ignore it and the sightings of United States royalty.

I went to the beach that Sunday to avoid the crowds determined to ‘encounter’ a Kennedy. That was when I bumped into Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Alone on a stretch of sand I later learned the Shriver Family owned, I was annoyed by their appearance. Who were these people who were suddenly a part of my solitude on an isolated beach I had made my own since living there?

I felt invaded by the couple with a young child in their arms who laughed and took photos, not recognizing them in my bothered state.

As I was leaving, my time alone on the shore ruined by these people, they were also leaving. On Cape Cod large green flies that bite are a part of the summer landscape. Salt boxes are positioned near the shore to attract them but they still can be a presence. This is when I realized who the couple I was bothered by were.

‘Wicked flies,” the man said in a voice that could only belong to Arnold Schwarzenegger. I nodded then left after a few moments of local small talk that never included my disclosing to them that I knew who they were.

Later when I told people this story, as all of Cape Cod talked about the chaos the birthday party for Rose Kennedy had caused, I was surprised when I was told I should have demanded an autograph and taken photos.

I was known in those days for always having some sort of camera with me. A woman my wife and I know, who is like a mother to us, said I had more grace than to do that.

It turned out Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger were the ones with grace since I was on a beach they owned and was invading their private moments.

I had the same feeling then that I did recently when I was told that I was rude for not introducing the people who I was with to the man in the park with his children.

Is it rude to ‘ignore’ a public person or perhaps ruder to not ignore them?

Would I want to be approached while I was with my children at a park?

If I had made the introduction I suppose the camera phone might have come out earlier than it did. A photo of the man and his children would have been taken instead of my ushering us to the parking area–on with our day.

I suppose I was a bit rude because I excercised a bit of control over the situation from my end. But then isn’t that what all of us do during our inevitable encounters with public people–one way or another?

Every Clinic Should Have a Singing Janitor

While leaving an appointment at the 1 S. Park clinic in Madison today I had the pleasure of listening to a janitor sing as I waited for the elevator.

He’s an older man so the music was from another era and vastly more pleasant than the usual hits piped through speakers in stores and clinics.

As we stepped into the elevator together he greeted another employee and chatted briefly with her.

After the doors closed he told me what a wonderful woman she is and how he wished he knew Spanish better so he could speak with her more fluently in Spanish. His smile and energy were infectious.

Then he started singing again as we left the elevator.

We had only about 15 seconds together so there was no time to ask him how long he’s worked there or get any other details about his life.

Yet those 15 seconds told me volumes about him.

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