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Confessions of a mutant X-Mom brought to you by the voices in my head

 


I am not surprised to learn that michrochimeric fetal cells are commonly embedded into every fiber of a mother’s being, from her marrow to her brain.

Let me break it down.

screen-shot-2016-09-14-at-9-07-28-amMy baby, Julianna, is 22 today. It’s been more than 8,030 days since she left the incubator that is my womb, and yet, I feel she is always with me.

For example, I often have a flash in my brain that says, “Call Julie,” and before I pick up my iPhone, there she is on my incoming digital display. I could never explain that, fully, but I had a hunch it was something organic, like we think the same thoughts.

So on that hunch, I Googled “babies cells stay with mothers” the other day and found a slew of scientific data confirming what the four other little voices in my brain had already told me: The mother/child bond is based on more than all those late-night feedings.

Turns out that during pregnancy, michrochimeric fetal cells, aka your baby’s DNA, seeps into your body parts, via the placenta, and can end up anywhere and everywhere. It’s a sciency word based on a Greek myth. Homer first mentioned the chimera in the Iliad to describe a three-headed fire-breathing beast, part lion, goat and snake.

Because scientists tend to be the kids who geeked out over sci-fi movies, comic books and mythology, they naturally borrowed that colorful idea to describe what happens on the cellular level when a woman hosts a baby in her uterus for nine months. As an aside, it can also happen in utero when an unviable fetus doesn’t make it to the finish line, and the cells become absorbed by a twin fetus, or the host mother.

And, this can happen every time you carry a child, which means someone like me who has four children ends up carrying all of them around with me inside my head.

This would explain a lot.

The voices in my head.
The voices in my head.

Like the way I am always thinking about them and their welfare, going to extreme measures to locate them when they fail to check in, or historically asking them annoying questions I already know the answers to, like, “Don’t you think you need a jacket?” or “Shouldn’t you be doing your homework?” I already know the answer is “Duh,” but I ask anyway. It’s written into the maternal script.

But it also explains why over the years my husband has felt I seemed to care more about their welfare at times, than his, or why when one of them forgot their lunch box or came to me with a boo-boo on their knee, I had to drop everything and race to school with sustenance, or make a ceremony out of fixing everything with Neosporin, a Band-aid and a kiss.

When they hunger, I hunger; when they hurt, I hurt. Dramatic, I know. But now I have proof that it’s not just a feely-touchy estrogen thing. It’s a scientific actual thing.

I also learned that the presence of these cells can protect a mother’s immune system – helping her own wounds heal faster, or even protecting her from certain types of cancer – sort of the way stem cells can fix broken ones.

Anyway, I bring this up for two reasons, possibly three.

First, I want my dear husband to know that while he has my heart, our four children have invaded all of me, down to the fiber of my being. It’s hard to let them fly from the nest without activating my internal homing device, and explains why there are so many helicopter moms out there.

Happy Birthday.
Happy Birthday, Julianna.

Secondly, all you helicopter moms out there can stop feeling ashamed for your hovering. You love your kids because you created them, but also, because they have created you. Once you’ve given birth, you are a different person based on your mutated DNA. I guess that makes us like superhero X-Moms with amazing mutant powers, like anticipating a phone call from our college kids before the phone even rings.

But finally, I want to reassure my beautiful, adventurous, kind-hearted daughter that at 22, she will always be my baby, regardless of the time she spends outside my uterus, thanks to her baby cells that live on inside of me.

And that, even on her most difficult days, when she feels nobody could possibly understand what she’s going through, her mutant mother with the wild heart of a five-headed beast is right there with her, or more precisely, she is always right here with me.

Happy birthday to us.

The Shape of a Mother’s Heart


Today is Aimée’s birthday. I gave her some gift cards and a little crystal elephant necklace last week when she came up to New Hampshire for a visit. Sounds lame, but after 37 years, picking the right gift is still as hard as finding the right words to express what she means to me.

Nothing seems to measure up.

Fortunately, the universe sent me inspiration.

….

Pregnant at 16 is not where I ever expected to be, but there I was, eating for two; my future – our future – unsettled. I imagined that there was no way for me to be a competent mother. I had barely made it through Algebra 2. Things between me and my boyfriend had ended before I knew there was a baby coming, and there was no looking back. Without much family discussion, it was understood that the best thing for my baby was not necessarily me – not at 16.

By June, someone pointed me in the direction of an adoption agency, the Children’s Home Society of New Jersey. I agreed to go to counseling sessions, to fill out the preliminary paperwork – at around the same time the boy who had loved me from a far, and who had planned to be my husband since 8th grade, professed his eternal love for me, and for my baby.

I told him he shouldn’t give up his freedom for the burden of a girlfriend with a baby.

He still never listens.

It was also around the same time I began to sew an elaborate baptismal gown to dress the baby in for when she left me, and the hospital. My intention was to relay a message to the fortunate woman who was to become her mother, who would recognize the love that went into every stitch. I wanted her to know that this baby hadn’t come from just any wayward teen mom, but rather one who had managed to recreate her heart into the exact shape and size of a delicate dress, fit for an angel.

It was a true labor of love.

With no skills, beyond the basics of ninth-grade home-ec, I purchased a few yards of white dotted-Swiss, some lace and yellow satin ribbon. Not knowing if this would be a girl baby or a boy baby, I instinctively picked up two daisies to add to the coat of the three-piece ensemble, and five delicate buttons – three yellow luminescent ones for the overcoat and two tiny duck buttons for the back of the gown.

I labored over this project for weeks, using my mother’s old cast-iron sewing machine, a relic from the 1950s. It had a sticky foot pedal, a temperamental bobbin and a dull needle, but I was not deterred.

By August, the outfit was finished, not coincidentally around the same time I stopped meeting with the social worker at the Children’s Home, and around the same time I’d accepted that the boy who planned to be my husband was truly, honestly, whole-heartedly excited about being a dad.

By September 12, my beautiful baby girl was born, and I had never felt so perfectly suited to anything in my life. Loving her was more than instinct – it was like we’d been together forever. Meeting was just a formality. I already knew everything about her, from her familiar nose to her exceptionally flexible toes.

By December, a dear woman from church, Debby Clarke, had stopped by with a gift from the heart – unlike me, she actually had skills and had sewn a beautiful baptismal dress for Aimée, trimmed in pink, with a lacy bonnet. I didn’t mention the dotted-Swiss gown to her, and accepted it with sincere gratitude. By January, Aimée was baptized in Debby’s dress, and the three-piece dotted-Swiss, already relegated to storage.

Over the course of my life I have lost track of plenty of significant items, some I have been searching for, with no luck, for years.

So when I went up to my closet this morning, hoping to find an old photograph that might punctuate a birthday post for my daughter on Facebook, the swatch of dotted-Swiss draped over the side of a cardboard box under the weight of some stored sweaters caught me off guard. I had almost forgotten about it.

I tugged on the sleeve and pulled out the dress. Next to it, a pile of once-important papers was harboring a length of yellow ribbon. It was the little bonnet, which had somehow gotten separated from the dress. I instinctively clutched the fabric to my chest and started for the stairs when I heard myself sobbing. Halfway down I turned around and went back up to the closet, tossing sweaters from the box until I found the third piece, the jacket with the daisies and tiny yellow buttons.

I sat down on the floor and carefully slid the sleeves of the gown into the jacket, noting the elastic had lost its stretch. I snapped the snaps and smoothed the wrinkles, running my finger along the hem, admiring the workmanship that I’d forgotten went into this little dress that had never been worn.

I marveled at how beautifully the yoke was seamed to the bodice, and how both hems were hand sewn admirably straight. Somehow, with no guidance, I managed to attach the tiny sleeves to the flowing garment without puckering the delicate fabric, and judged the circumference of a baby’s wrist, tacking elastic in place, stitch by stitch, turning the cast-iron balance wheel of the sewing machine by hand.

And that’s when it hit me.

I will probably never in my life be able to put into words what motherhood has meant to me, but if pressed, I would say that it feels a lot like holding a three-piece antique dotted-Swiss christening dress in my hands, a remnant of a place and time that changed everything. Every stitch, a labor of love; sewn with the best of intentions, perfect in all its imperfection.

Happy Birthday, my Beloved.


dress


Written Sept. 12, 2013.

Last Days

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.58.24 PM


Monday, day of the moon.

My father is mostly asleep, but there is an uneasiness about him as the sun rises. Last night the nurse showed me how to stream classical music from the foot of his hospital bed to the two speakers on either side of his head. Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” was on endless loop. He reached for my hands, nodding in the affirmative at the chord changes and wistful progression of the tune, a reflex. We know it well. It is one of the few songs he taught himself to play with gusto on the piano, and it is part of the soundtrack of his life. For now he has lost his words. I am not so sure he knows who I am anymore. He seems not to know he has lived a long life devoted to art, to education, to civic duty, to quiet contemplation of the mysteries of life. But he feels the melancholy in the music, and his instinct is right; this moment — sad and beautiful — is as familiar as it is out of sync.


Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.58.36 PMTuesday (day of Mars), rain continues to fall outside my father’s hospital room window. I summon the spirit of the mythological god of war on his day to bring some fight to this battle. The past 24 hours have been quiet.

Frustration conquers persistence. The exception: a sing-a-long before bedtime. Dad found the melody and parroted sounds, humming along in familiar places. Jean made it in time to collaborate on “The Littlest Worm,” in stereo, which earned us a smile, before his slumber. Today blood pressure is uncharacteristically high. I will take it as a sign that his blood is boiling over his predicament, despite his countenance, placid, like a puddle after the storm. Today must be rally day, a day to press forward against the enemy of time.


Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.58.52 PMWednesday, (day of Mercury). Also related to Odin (or Wodanaz) the highest of the Norse gods, presiding over art, war, wisdom and death. Odin lived in Valhalla, where warriors went after they were slain. I am preoccupied less with Viking lore and more with the words that trickle from my father’s mouth as he sleeps. Aphasia from the stroke means his language, when it comes, is a jumble of syllables strung into nonsense.

I prefer to think of it as primal language his brain is reverting to, sounds absorbed in utero that he extracted from his mother’s German vocabulary. It is bubbling up now, part instinct, part reflex.

Odin, by way of description, is like Gandalf from the “Lord of the Rings” — wise, all-knowing, artistic, inspirational, flawed. Literally, an old man with a white beard and one good eye, which precisely describes my dad. Today he is Odin in repose, translating the wisdom of the ancients in his mother tongue, on a dream quest for renewed strength – mind, body, spirit. Still, I now know why Wednesday’s child is full of woe; some days unfold before us in such a way that all we can do is follow its lead. Breakfast waits for hunger. Breathing happens as long as our lungs seek oxygen. Wisdom comes slowly, a gift of experience and time, to those who wait. It can’t be given, only received. Sleep is an escape hatch, where our dreams come true. We drift away on a lullaby that loops between our hearts and somewhere deep in our brains, in a language we have yet to decipher, only when we feel safe enough to let go.


Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.59.05 PMThursday, (Thor’s Day), and the god of thunder arrives, crash-boom-discharge. No time left for finding the next best place to deposit your loved one, they say. Then, the sturm und drang of diagnosis, prognosis, limitations, probabilities. The business of healing and recuperation quickly ties our hands and leaves us in knots. Time heals no wounds when time is removed from the equation, as long as Medicare is calling the shots and picking up tabs. The only thing left to do is to wield Thor’s mighty hammer, summon the power of its lightning. Crash-boom-behold, an unexpected bed in an acute rehab is open and waiting. A little more time to heal, granted. A little more room to breath. A little more grace for the man who has never cut a corner or taken the easy road; the man who has always paid his dues. On his behalf, Thor’s Day is hammer time, a day of conquest, as we forge ahead avoiding the path of least resistance.


Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.59.19 PMFriday, day of Frigga, (aka Venus.) One man’s setback is another man’s victory lap. Detained at the hospital for tests and treatment, Dad has been covered completely in vibrant prayer for the past 6 days, tangible intercessions swirling around him, just like the rainbow peace sign love blanket that warms him now. Love is here, and because it is her day to rule, I suspect tonight my father will rendezvous with Venus, his long-time muse, and in his dream-sleep they will dance their familiar dance, as she leads him to paradise.


Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.59.31 PMSaturday (for Saturn’s day, god of liberation and time.) On the seventh day the skies celebrated the return of the sun and dad’s liberation from hospital care. Today’s medical mambo began with another potential setback, and ended with a reminder that human resilience cannot be calculated or quantified. Against all odds he is settled in at Chandler Hall where tabula rasa means his future begins now. From this day forward my prayer is that vivid sunsets never cease to unfurl before him like a stairway to heaven, and that until he is ready to levitate, he enjoys the view, for all its worth.


Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 2.59.37 PMSunday, (day of the Sun). Forever more, Starday, as the Sun is a star and everything on Earth, including us, is made from stardust. Just like the sun, we burn brightly, miraculously, powered by some life force in the core of our being. Not our brains or our hearts or our lungs – rather, the conductor that orchestrates all of it, powering our human-shaped star machines. Spirit. Spark of life. The original God particle. Today my father’s spirit shines like the sun, even if the parts of the whole are out of sync, his soul burns furiously, brightly, it warms the room and melts my heart, for all of its courage, undimmed by the machinations of mere muscle and blood.


Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light. – Dylan Thomas


I am going to miss this guy. Thank you to all of you who have lifted our family in your prayers. He promised to paint me a beautiful sunset. Can’t wait to see it!

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 3.00.01 PM
In loving memory of Herbert Mandel,

who arrived with a crash on Thors Day, Oct. 29, 1925,

and died battle weary, on Day of Mars, May 10, 2016.


Obituary

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 3.15.53 PMHerbert Mandel, prolific artist, author and educator, died May 10, 2016 at Chandler Hall hospice following a brief illness. He was 90.

Herb was born on October 29, 1925 in Philadelphia, PA, third son of Wilhelm and Josefa (Kohler) Mandel, who emigrated from Germany with their two older sons, Wilhelm and Heinrich Mandel.

Herb was a gifted artist and his talents opened many doors for him over the years.

He attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the Barnes Foundation, and Temple University/Tyler School of Art. He was drafted into the Army Air Force and served during WWII and was assigned to special services as an artist.

He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a master’s degree in education, which led him to teach commercial art at the newly opened Bucks County Vocational Technical School. Herb’s passion for education and strong belief in the vocational education system led him to move from the classroom to Supervisor of Instruction, where he remained until his retirement after 41 years of service.

Highlights of his life included a road trip to Mexico with a college buddy during which he was pick-pocketed of his wallet and passport during a bullfight. He also attended a garden party at the home of artist Diego Rivera. Later in life, Herb toured Europe twice while in his 70s, and took his family on an epic trip to Germany in 2014, to visit the village where his father was born.

Over the past 50 years, Herb’s art was mainly focused on creating a collection of oil paintings, linoleum block prints and wood carvings depicting stories from the Bible. His work was included in many juried exhibitions over the years, and he produced a small collection of self-published books of his artwork and original verse.

Herb met his future wife, Ann Mary Allen, while he was a ceramics instructor at the Philadelphia YMCA. They fell in love over their mutual appreciation of music, art and literature, married and moved to Levittown where they raised two daughters. They were married for 50 years until Ann’s death in 2004.

He is survived by his daughters and sons-in-law, Jean and Mark McBryar, of Levittown, and Carol and Jim Robidoux, of New Hampshire; five grandchildren: Aimee Robidoux, of Levittown; Neil Robidoux, of New York City; Heather McBryar, of Levittown; William Robidoux of New Hampshire and Julianna Robidoux of Oregon; nephews Chuck and Arn Everman, of New Jersey; Fred Kukral of Indiana; and a niece, Denise Buechele, of Arizona; cousins Norbert and Rainer Vögele and Karin Müller of Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Calling hours will take place on Friday May 13 at Beck Givnish Funeral Home, 7400 New Falls Road, Levittown, from 6-7-30 p.m. with a time of sharing and remembrance from 7:30-8 p.m.

Election 2016: How We ‘The Walking Dead’ People created this real life ‘House of Cards’

"We the People..." makes for an awesome tattoo. Otherwise, it seems to have lost its relevance to us as a country.
“We the People…” makes for an awesome tattoo. Otherwise, it seems to have lost its relevance to us as a country.

In the U.S., right now, this is our choice:

Screenshot 2016-02-24 at 3.03.04 PMOur presidential front-runners are Donald Trump, a reality TV star and casino-obsessed billionaire on his third trophy wife (whose current business venture, by the way, is making moisturizers out of caviar that cost $150 per ounce.) Maybe you missed this tidbit, but Trump is at the center of a class-action lawsuit for bilking thousands of people out of money for his fraudulent “Trump University,” which he promised would make them rich (but instead it went out of business and he got richer and they got nothing);
Screenshot 2016-02-25 at 9.20.10 AM


And then there’s Hillary Clinton, a woman who stood by her man through more than five alleged consensual extramarital affairs and a few rape allegations, even while President,  and who is also the subject of a murky and disturbing investigation by the FBI, as to whether she violated the public trust, misused her power, and breached national security.

She contracted with an obscure Denver company to handle her email via private server. Who do you know who requires a private email server?

The investigation includes her top aides,  like Huma Abedin, who — by the way —  is married to Anthony Weiner, the Congressman who lost his job for sexting.

Bill and Hillary Clinton have earned $153 million in speaking fees since exiting the White House.

Hillary Clinton's longtime personal assistant Huma Abedin married Anthony Weiner in a ceremony officiated by Bill Clinton. /AP Photo
Hillary Clinton’s longtime personal assistant Huma Abedin married Anthony Weiner in a ceremony officiated by Bill Clinton. /AP Photo

Where are the questions about these things from journalists on televised town hall and debate stages, holding their feet to the fire on my behalf, because I really want to hear the answers?

Are we just going to pretend these are the right people to be at the top of the heap?

Where is the outrage from voters, who don’t want to be force-fed candidates with questionable personal or professional integrity? All I’m hearing from voters are the mindless repetition of campaign slogans: “I’m With Her,” and ” Make America Great Again.”

Really, United States of America? This is what you really want?

For those who say where were the questions about Barack Obama’s thin resume on public service, or his alliances with the Rev. Wright, or his co-opting of white people’s racism by saying his grandmother was “a typical white person,” I’m talking about Election 2016, here, and the state of things right now.

I will point out that eight years ago everyone was convinced that by now their guns and ammo would be gone from their cold, dead hands, and that Barack Obama was the anti-Christ. 

It appears to me guns are still plentiful. And Trump’s public service resume is so thin, it doesn’t exist.

These things, strung together, signal to me that as a country we have lost our way, when the only leaders we can muster are those who either can buy their way into the White House, or who are so protected by the established system that their very real legal entanglements and personal shortcomings don’t make our radar, let alone shake us to our core.

As for me, right now I’m shaken, and stirred.


I’m not even promoting Bernie Sanders here. I’m simply saying that, if we did away with the absolutely ridiculous caucus process and the expensive and pointless primary process, and just let voters vote, today, instead of dragging it out for two years, we would be left with a President Trump or a President Clinton.

And then, everyone would go back to watching “The Walking Dead” and “House of Cards” in peace which, in my estimation, is a perfect metaphor for what we are as a people and what we expect from leaders in the White House.

It’s overwhelming to watch, and impossible to comprehend.

We the Walking Dead People and our cold, dead hands.
We the Walking Dead People and our cold, dead hands.

And to those who say, ‘You can’t judge Hillary Clinton for what her husband did,” well, I say do your homework, and consider what you would do if you suspected your husband was a sexual predator throughout your entire marriage, or more sympathetically, a “sex addict,” who when asked the simple question, emphatically denied what he’d done with a 22-year-old White House intern less than half his age.

In the White House.

My husband has a lot of annoying habits, like trying to pitch his socks into the hamper from across the room and missing 75 percent of the shots, or smoking his cigars indoors when it’s too cold to go outside, but if I knew him to have a “problem” with controlling his sexual urges, I would kindly release him from his marital contract, wish him well, and then continue my quest for the country’s highest office without his help on the campaign trail. But that’s just me.

Juanita Broaddrick says Bill Clinto raped her and "Hillary tried to silence me."
Juanita Broaddrick maintains Bill Clinton raped her and “Hillary tried to silence me.”

Oh, and I forgot about this: “The taxpayer watchdog group Judicial Watch announced Tuesday (Jan. 2015) that it filed suit for the costs of U.S. Secret Service protection of former President Bill Clinton when he rode on convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s private jet, dubbed the “Lolita Express.”

Can anyone explain that to me?

What I see when I look at Hillary and her long public record is a chameleon. She stands on no particular principle until it is convenient for her, politically. She blamed the women (that is plural, by the way) who accused her husband of sexual misconduct. She was against gay marriage until there was a shift in the public dialogue. The fact that people can string together words like “Whitewater,” “Benghazi” and “private email server,” among others, and know that it implies questions about Clinton’s own conduct, should be troubling.

giphy


Hillary voted for war, then admitted it was a mistake. She was a proud moderate until a true progressive began to resonate, and now she robotically says, “I’m a progressive who gets things done” every time she’s on TV. She has wanted this office for so long that it appears she will do anything  to attain it.

As power couples go, Hillary and Bill have stacked up millions through the Clinton Foundation. The amount of money they have raised for her campaign is obscene by middle-American standards. If we took all the money raised by all the candidates and put it together, it’s billions of dollars dedicated to one thing: becoming president of a democracy, of the people, which they are in essence buying.

Doris 'Granny D' Haddock stepped outside her comfort zone and walked across America for campaign finance reform. It took her 14 months, and she was 89 when she completed the journey.
Doris ‘Granny D’ Haddock stepped outside her comfort zone and walked across America for campaign finance reform. It took her 14 months, and she was 89 when she completed the journey.

How about campaign finance reform? I walked along the Potomac with Granny D and carried her flag for a bit, just to give her a break. That moment helped me understand that even a woman in her 80s could make a difference and be a leader. People continue to push for campaign finance reform in her spirit. Was she too old to have impact? Money raised by political campaigns doesn’t help any American, one bit. It’s used solely to send out misleading propaganda through the mail and airwaves, and to pay people to dig up dirt to sabotage opponents.  Nothing will change until something changes. Hillary, at the very least, is the status quo.

And while I’m on a roll, we started with, what, 15 GOP candidates?Now we’re down to Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich and Carson, none of which strike me as ready for Prime Time – and I haven’t even scratched the surface of their political or personal pasts. I’m beyond bewildered.

And then there were 5.
And then there were 5.

I guess we can blame ourselves, but I don’t really blame myself. I have always voted for someone I personally would want to be president for what I perceive to be their personal and professional qualifications. If “we” only have ourselves to blame, then someone also needs to explain to me why it’s only people with millions of dollars in their war chests who can even dream of being president of the United States of America. When did that happen?

If you’re not already rich or famous or entrenched in the political system and the kinds of backroom deals that “get things done” we only hear about – but never actually get to understand – you don’t get to lead the free world based on your ideas, ideals, skills, judgement and integrity, only on whether you know how the game is played and how much it will cost to “get things done.”

I don’t know what popped my cork today.

Maybe it was watching Chris Cuomo during last night’s CNN “town hall” holding Hillary Clinton’s feet to the fire by showing her a clip from comedian Stephen Colbert, and allowing her to dodge the actual question being posed, as to her level of honesty with the American people.

Or maybe it was the photo circulating last night, of two people dressed in KKK garb at a Nevada caucus rally holding signs saying they represented the New England Police Benevolent Association, and that “Trump speaks for them.” They were  later identified as two black men, and alleged members of the Black Lives movement. No matter who they were, or why they were there, they were there dressed as Klansmen at a place where people were coming to vote.

Nobody blinked. They just Tweeted.

Two men as photographed Feb. 23 at the Nevada caucus.
Two men in KKK garb as photographed Feb. 23 at the Nevada caucus.

Or maybe it is the mindlessness with which we as Americans are approaching this weighty decision, by posting memes on Facebook tearing down those we DON’T support. And frankly, that is the only power we wield any longer, our own personal space on the not-free Internet.

Maybe it’s the continued drum-beating for Donald Trump across the country, from people who see him as a leader, some kind of savior of democracy.

He’s no leader, or savior.Screenshot 2016-02-25 at 9.17.34 AM


I remember a great leader who had a dream, who saw a country divided and spoke out about it — until he was shot dead, but they couldn’t kill the message; change had already started. He alone had no particular power to right the wrongs of racism and discrimination, but he knew wrong from right, and he had the courage of his convictions to speak against the status quo. Martin Luther King Jr. was a leader, and he continues to be a savior, in spirit.

As a journalist, maybe what set me off was the endorsement of our statewide newspaper for Chris Christie, whose own questionable political and corrupt dealings should never have qualified him for a run at president in the first place. Or how our statewide newspaper waited until the 11th hour to point out the madness  of Trump as a viable candidate, saying that Trump is a bully and unfit for office, when they had the local and national platform as the First-in-the-Nation Primary’s statewide paper to do that 2 years ago.

Or maybe it’s the lackluster endorsements by every major newspaper in the country, for one unfit candidate or the next.

Here’s an idea: How about newspapers that refuse to endorse any candidates because none of them are fit, and a call for a complete do-over, a clean slate of candidates, an end to the madness that is Election 2016, because “We The People” are supposed to be running the show here.

How about that?

And the seasons, they go ’round and ’round…

It’s late August. I know this time of year by heart, by the evening chill, by the setting of the sunflowers as they abandon hope and droop to the grave.

Summer’s end means everything changes. Again. Weather and wardrobe, as always.

My youngest will go west to Oregon in a few weeks for another year of school. Schedules will shift to accommodate the autumn equinox. My husband’s bicycle commute will become darker in the morning just as my body clock will remain loyal to the beating of my circadian heart.

I will rise before the sun, my mind racing ahead, like the seasonal aisle at CVS, where flip-flops and sunscreen have been replaced by colored pencils and notebooks, soon to make way for Halloween masks, then horns of plenty and finally stocking stuffers.

But for this day I find my place on the front steps and steal an hour in the filtered blaze of an August sun to study the tired dance of the bees, pollen wrapped like bandages around their legs as they flit from marigold to mum.

My purple echinacea petals, sun-bleached and pale, have lost their will to live. My winter squash crop has depleted every umbilical vine and hang by waning threads. The fate of my straggling watermelons and green tomatoes, still uncertain.

A friend told me yesterday that his last child has left the roost. He and his wife have downsized. They look forward to traveling more, working less. It is the soundtrack to my generation: the next hurrah.

Meanwhile, my college graduate is questioning his immediate future. What was it all for?

I don’t even try to humor him. I have no assurances for him because everything changes.

Dreams, American or otherwise, really make no sense once you wake up and try to analyze them, or explain them to a friend. They are as vivid as they are elusive. I can’t tell my son not to worry. I can’t promise him that he will land a great job and save lots of money and fall in love and get married and buy a house and have some kids and find his purpose and be happy.

And even if I could, I’m not sure that’s his dream.

The few apples in the back that have survived predators and pests are almost ready for picking. My grapes are starting to blush and should be enough for some juice, or jelly.

I noticed some crows have been gathering by the pond as the sun winds around to meet them there, in the tall purple grass behind my house at dusk. Soon enough they will tire of the grass and will flock to the bare birch branches instead. And clinging there, just before the autumn light fades, they will join in a woeful crescendo until, on cue – some internal cue that is only clear to the collective of crows – they will all at once disperse, like someone tipped a bottle of disappearing ink.

They will flow away from the trees in a chaotic swirl and a violent swoosh, a sudden rush of change that takes my breath away. Every time.

(Carol Robidoux is editor and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com, an independent news site covering Manchester.)

Remembering Dan Reimold: The force was strong with this trailblazing journalist

“Dream Big. Create. Learn. Teach. Repeat.” – Dan Reimold

In the past week I’ve been catching up on a treasure trove of articles created by one of the most passionate and prolific journalists I have ever known.

Dan Reimold, 34, was found dead inside his Wynnewood apartment last week. No official cause of death has been cited, but his family says it appears to have been an accident due to a fall at home.

I met Dan in 1998, his senior year of high school. He applied for a spot writing for reality, this newspaper’s teen section, which incidentally is celebrating its 20th year.

My job at the time was to determine which aspiring writers from area high schools had sufficient sea legs for the rite of passage that is reality — where the Love Boat meets the Titanic when it comes to smooth sailing in an angsty sea of adolescent uncertainty.

But for two decades it has stayed the course and mostly been an honest testament to teen life. Dan served it well. I like to think that it served Dan well, too.

He arrived in the office with some writing samples. He was lanky, soft spoken, serious. We talked about his other interest, running — a way for him to focus his thoughts or clear his head. He listened as much as he spoke, and was eager to be part of the group.

Dan was one of the best young writers I’d encountered, before or since.

Timing is everything, it seems. That Dan died two days before a reality anniversary celebration in Bensalem — Dan’s hometown — is coincidence.

But it feels like something more.

I was just getting ready to walk out my door for the six-hour drive to Levittown from New Hampshire when I found out Dan was gone. I had to re-read the post about his passing twice. The first time I was sure I misunderstood. The second time, my heart and soul felt the utter and absolute loss one feels at the news of the passing of an innocent child.

Some of the original reality panel members at the 20th reunion, holding one of Dan's cover stories.
Some of the original reality panel members at the 20th reunion, holding one of Dan’s cover stories.

I wasn’t able to stay in town for this past Monday’s memorial service, but Dan has been with me in spirit, even since before the news of his death. In fact, a few weeks ago I urged him via Facebook to hurry back from San Francisco so we could catch up during the reality reunion. I didn’t know for sure he was coming, but I had a feeling he was going to try.

That was his way. He had a knack for being everywhere.

After graduating from Bensalem High School in 1999, Dan went on to earn a trifecta of collegiate diplomas — first Ursinus College, then a master’s from Temple University, then to Ohio University for his doctorate. From there, Dan became a student of the world. His Facebook photo albums are like a travelogue — Paris, Spain, Singapore, New Orleans, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Oklahoma, for book tours, speaking engagements, NBA games, interviews with student editors, therapeutic road races to clear the cobwebs.

By 2010 he had penned his first book. Three years later, a second book, both of them focused on college media and the evolutionary field of journalism. He was a Fulbright research scholar and taught over his brief career at five universities in two countries. He remained humble, if not understated over his achievements, and yet his topical expertise and easy way with words earned him an uneasy celebrity status. Dan was an endlessly quotable source for international media outlets and contributing columnist for major publications, including the Huffington Post, USA Today, Neiman Media Lab and Poynter.com.

But Dan’s long-form writing is where he shined.

He launched College Media Matters, an online storehouse of information. He posted constantly about the state of media education, cranking out blogs and podcasts and Twitter updates. Often Dan was embedded, like a war reporter, providing colorful first-hand accounts of the battles being won and lost in the field of journalism.

He represented the future of our industry because he was the chronicler of change, how technology and political correctness, censorship and shifting sensibilities, were creating a new blueprint for the way news is created, delivered and consumed.

One of the things Dan did right, which made him so successful, was he knew how to get out of the way of a story.

He gathered information and became the conduit for others’ best practices. He observed the trends, trials and tribulations, and then offered insight and context, usually drawing experts into the mix. He could have been the Han Solo of a journalistic empire, if he wanted to. But the force was strong with Dan because he was a born Yoda.

Cover story from the BCCT reality section, Aug. 27, 2015 tribute to Dan Reimold.
Cover story from the BCCT reality section, Aug. 27, 2015 tribute to Dan Reimold.

Dan traveled the globe speaking to student groups and advocating for the need to keep building a relevant collegiate curriculum for future journalists. He spent quality time with student editors picking their brains as fodder for future fires he would light through his writing; sparks meant to illuminate, inspire and ignite passion in others.

Dan was a writer because he couldn’t help himself. One of the first pieces he wrote for reality was one in a series filed under “Brainstorm.” The first one was titled, “After Hours at the Inkwell,” in which Dan describes what I can only imagine was a typical night for him, burning the midnight oil, transcribing the flow of thoughts from brain to pen to journal.

“Midnight. My sensory-fed stream-of-consciousness flows, lead-stained and ink-blotted, onto a parched blank page. Words like reflex pour unending inside the college-ruled container. At half past it’s half full. Of thoughts, ideas, muses and would be forever lost without my script-filled hiatus from slumber…”

Screenshot 2015-08-29 at 12.59.47 PMDan left so much unfinished. He was out there in the trenches, lighting fires and leading the charge for all of us — students and seasoned journalists alike. If anyone was going to do something to shape the future of news delivery, chronicle its evolution, and then pick it apart for our edification, for better and worse, it was Dan, whose epic six-word Yoda-like memoir says everything we need to know about him: “Dream Big. Create. Learn. Teach. Repeat.”

All that’s left now for the rest of us is to find a way to keep his fire burning.


Originally published in the Bucks County Courier Times reality section, Aug. 27, 2015.

My Turn: There are items we carry through life that help tell our stories. These are mine.

Screenshot 2015-03-23 at 9.32.33 AMBy CAROL ROBIDOUX
For the Monitor
Sunday, March 8, 2015
(Published in print: Sunday, March 8, 2015)

Best Friends Forever Photo Booth Selfie (circa 1974)

Craig and I met at a Presbyterian youth group. He was Charlie Brown to my Lucy in a church production of You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. We asked each other to the ninth-grade semiformal, saving both of us from having to go with someone else who might actually want to make out, or slow dance.

Instead, we tangoed across the dance floor with sweeping steps during every slow song that night, proving we were all at once zany and free from the teenage bonds of uncomfortable young love. On weekends, we sometimes rode the train to Philly for incense and adventure. Then we’d sit by the art museum fountain, light some incense and mark the time to see how much longer his Marlboro 100s lasted, compared with my Salem Lights.

It later occurred to me that maybe Craig wanted to like me as a girlfriend but couldn’t bring himself to cross that line. He finally told me one night, about five years out of high school, that he had a boyfriend. I’d already figured it out, with my rudimentary reporter skills.

“I know,” I said, hugging him tight, mostly so my tears soaked into his jacket before he could see the manifestation of my fear, that this new AIDS virus I’d read about was inevitable.

As for Irene, we became BFFs in fifth grade. Our sisterhood was solidified during middle school by ’70s funk, Wolfman Jack’s “Midnight Specials” and the day her father left home, never to return. That was the beginning of her unraveling. Over the years, I’d gotten pretty good at gathering up her loose ends and tying them off, best I could, with unconditional love.

I lost Irene for a time, to life and circumstances. But today we are closer than ever, even across the 350 miles between us. Craig, our mutual “teddy bear,” is relegated to memory, a casualty of fast living and loving. His heart was failing by 40, and the HIV disqualified him from a transplant.

Although I can’t find the store credit receipt I received from Target in January for a gift return, I have carried the joy and the weight of these two cherished friendships with me for 40 uninterrupted years, tucked in an inconspicuous fold of my wallet.

The High School Ring

In 1976, I had to select my high school ring from a catalog. It didn’t take me long to settle on a silver pinky ring with a black onyx stone. I mostly just wanted something unique as possible, anything but the kinds of rings I knew my Class of ’77 peers would select – shiny gold with starburst birthstones in happy primary colors.

Onyx was supposed to represent inner strength. If nothing else, I was certain my ring would be one of a kind. In hindsight, it was the obvious subconscious expression of my teenage need to prove myself unique in a sea of typical teens.

So typical.

I couldn’t have known how unique my journey would be. By the time I graduated high school, I was a mom. My college dreams, deferred. The day my pinky ring arrived during senior year, I picked it up from the office, took it home and tucked it directly into a little jewelry box for safe keeping. It felt irrelevant. It’s the only jewelry of my youth that I’ve managed to not lose. I have never worn it. But it will always represent who I thought I was at 16, and everything unexpected I have become. It couldn’t be more relevant.

The Wedding Ring

I married young. Jim and I were 19, and we wouldn’t even own a car for a good year or more after that. But somehow, my husband-to-be saved up enough to buy me a beautiful marquise engagement ring. He left work at the sheet metal shop one night after putting in some overtime and ran several miles across town to the mall, just before closing, to invest in our future.

It’s interesting to note that, over all these years, my husband has been through three or four wedding bands. I most recently replaced his ring last year on our 35th anniversary.

By contrast, my ring has never left my finger. Except once.

Several years ago, I caught it on a metal door handle of the Sears at the Mall of New Hampshire, which collapsed the ring around my finger like a vise grip.

I took it to a local jeweler and had the urge to ask whether it could be reset with four small birthstones, one for each of my kids. It could, she said, but I’d need to replace my wedding band, which fit like a jigsaw piece into my old setting.

I considered that some 25 years into marriage, the ring of my youth no longer represented who I was. Or rather, it wasn’t sufficient in expressing who I now was. I paid extra for the updated setting, which I love, and decided to pass on a replacement wedding band.

Time – and Jim – have taught me that a ring can be lost or replaced, or even modified. The commitment part of a relationship doesn’t magically come from the actual rings you swap at the altar, or even from the engagement ring you update 25 years later. It comes from everything that happens in between.

The Silver Band

My father is an artist who has dabbled in every medium. One of his phases was jewelry, most of it copper enameling using a tiny desk-top kiln, something I remember watching him do as a kid.

Before he discovered copper, and long before I came along, my father tried his hand at silversmithing and, to my knowledge, produced only one thing: a slender silver ring with a squiggly design on top.

He never wore it. It was kept in a small ring box on top of his dresser.

And while I guess I was always aware of its existence, I never knew that he’d actually made it until I asked him about it last year, while poking through some of his stuff.

I also am not sure why he made that particular ring, or why he never wore it, but that day, out of curiosity, I slipped it on my finger and it was a perfect fit, a wearable piece of art that feels like it was made just for me.

The Locket

My mother was born in 1918, one of two daughters of George Riddle Allen and his wife, Mary. By the time I came along in 1959, her father was long gone and her mom died a few years later.

My earliest memories include sneaking into her bedroom while she napped and quietly lifting the locket from her jewelry box, then prying it open with my tiny fingernails. I would steal a few minutes more to look at the face of the mystery man pictured inside, peering back at me from behind a tiny pane of shattered glass.

Although it probably didn’t need to be, I kept my relationship with the man in the locket a secret, for fear my mother might scold me for “playing” with her old locket. Worse, once discovered, she might move it to someplace unknown to me, where I couldn’t get my hands on it anymore.

When my mother died in 2004, the locket was the only thing I wanted, feeling it was somehow always mine. This past January, mom’s sister Marian died at 93. I flew to Indiana for her funeral and returned with a small pile of old photographs. One of them is of my mother’s mother as a young girl, pictured with her parents and brothers. Her father – my great-grandfather – is the man inside the locket, the mystery man of my childhood, finally revealed.

The Pocket Watch

Screenshot 2015-03-23 at 9.34.11 AMWhile in Indiana for the funeral, my cousin Fred and I found an old pocket watch in his mother’s steamer trunk. He said I could have it. Like the locket, I discovered the watch has a metal shell that can be pried open if you slip your fingernail just so into the silver crease.

Old habits are hard to break.

On the back of the watch is an inscription, “JE Wright, 1800-1877,” a new cherished item to keep, a new mystery man yet to discover.

(Carol Robidoux is editor and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com, an independent news site covering Manchester.)

Imperfect endings: Baby boomers are beginning to grasp what it means to grow old in America

Actress Bette Davis once said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” If true, then I may be a sissy in the making, because I’m not looking forward to old age – not after watching it take my 89-year-old dad hostage.

He’s developed a habit of keeling over, unannounced. The neurologist believes it’s due to the changes in his brain, or maybe a sudden drop in his blood pressure when he stands, or both.

Brain shrinkage, I’m told, affects certain physical functions, including the ability to stand in one place without giving in to gravity.

Add to that the pre-existing conditions – macular degeneration that’s robbed him of his vision; neuropathy that’s made it hard for him to feel the ground under his feet or push the pedals of a car (and hence, the loss of driving privileges); sluggish heart, which led to a pacemaker that protrudes from his bony chest; dim hearing; no sense of smell; and an uncooperative prostate that’s taken over his bodily functions.

He’s running out of reasons to wake up in the morning, he says.

The last time he keeled over I was down in Philly, visiting. I had just stepped into the next room when I heard the crash. At first, I figured it was the heater repairman working in the bathroom. But as I replayed the sound in my mind, something was wrong. I ran back to the living room to find my dad splayed on the floor, refrigerator door wide open, a half-gallon jug of iced tea near his head, his glasses at an odd angle by the jug of tea, all three of them miraculous inches from the unyielding edge of the coffee table.

His eyes were closed. His face, pale. My heart, pounding.

The ambulance ride to the hospital was nerve-wracking, and the three-hour wait for an actual emergency room cubicle was frustrating. You’d think a Friday afternoon might not be such a busy time at the ER.

A CAT scan revealed a “slight bleed” on Dad’s brain. He had suffered a similar fall in January 2014, with a similar outcome. So I already knew that, unless the bleeding got worse, he’d likely just have to rest while his brain reabsorbed the leak.

We spent the night together, he in the neurological intensive care unit, me in the “family room” down the hall on a pull-out couch. By the next morning, the doctors and physical therapy team said the only way he could pass go and head for home, rather than a rehab center, was if he was going to have around-the-clock supervision.

He has good health care and some resources socked away. But the costs of medical care are out of this world, and there’s only so much Medicaid and Medicare will cover, leaving lots of elders falling through the gaps between the rising cost of health and safety, and bankruptcy.

His nurse, who explained she went through something similar with her own dad, described Dad’s fall as a “game changer.”

“This isn’t your first fall. You’re lucky, Mr. Mandel. Had you hit your head harder, or hit it on a table, or been alone, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Do you have a living will?” she asked him. “Because if you were placed on a respirator and you don’t have your wishes in writing . . .”

My thoughts drowned out the rest. I couldn’t hear her voice anymore over the little voice inside my head, informing me my father is not going to live forever. This is something my own heart condition prevented me from understanding: It loves him too much to see him go.

Those baby boomers among us lucky enough to still have a parent or two left are already living between worlds – trying to figure out how to gracefully escort our parents through the valley of the shadow of death while juggling the trials and tribulations of being fifty-something – which for most of us means our own looming health issues, compounded by teens or college-aged kids, over-employment or unemployment, maybe long-distance caregiving, or maybe dividing care with siblings scattered around the map.
My cousin, who just buried his 93-year-old mother, told me about the trials of being the only child left to make decisions. It was costing close to $8,000 per month for his mother’s nursing home care in Indiana. He tried to keep her in her home, but had some bad experiences with in-home caregivers who were less than trustworthy. The nursing home seemed safer. Yet, in the end, she fell – more than once – suffering hematomas and humiliation.

“We can’t be with them around the clock,” one of the caregivers told him.

The tribulation for the rest of us comes as we struggle to make the tough joint decisions with siblings or spouses. We could agree to disagree, but that doesn’t help get things done. So it gets messy, even ugly, with collateral damage that may be permanent.

We won’t know until it’s over.

Last week, I found myself on the phone with a colleague, a guy I’ve never met in person. The preamble to the point of the call had us both apologizing for being distracted in the past few weeks, both of us dealing with aging parents.

I said my own experience had led me to decide that I will be happy to live to 75, tops. That will be long enough to squeeze a few more memories into my brain before it fails me. I don’t want my children to have to second guess when to take away my car keys or get me a full-time nanny who’s adept at changing adult diapers.

“I told my sons I’m just going to take a walk into the woods one day and that they shouldn’t follow me,” my colleague said.

I laughed, not because it’s funny, but because it’s so compelling. I appreciated the fact that I’m not the only one planning my own “going away party,” knowing what I now know about getting old.

“My husband and I have decided, when the time comes, we’re going to do everything that we’ve been told not to do – heavy drinking, lots of smoking, maybe some non- prescription drugs. There will be butter and bacon,” I said.

“Hey, give me a call. I’d come for that,” said the guy on the phone, also laughing the uncomfortable laugh of our inevitable but self-directed demise.

If old age ain’t no place for sissies, then I guess it’s time to toughen up. I’m talking to you, baby boomers.

Once we figure out how to help our parents make it to the other side, we’d better take a cold, hard look at what growing old in America means.

Because the view from here, so far, is unwelcoming.

(Carol Robidoux is editor and publisher of ManchesterInkLink.com, an independent news site covering Manchester.)

RELATED STORY: A WAKE UP CALL FOR BABY BOOMERS? THIS REALLY GOT ME THINKING

On the edge of Entrepreneurial journalism

Your new calling card as an entrepreneurial journalist.
Your new calling card as an entrepreneurial journalist.

My endeavor to maintain an independent news and information site, Manchester Ink Link, fits right in to what the industry is signaling to be the next wave in journalism.

It will require well-trained journalists with equal parts curiosity and technology skills, a fearlessness to create something vibrant and unique, and the ability to find a way to support the work, either through site sponsorships, a “member model” like NPR relies on, or the addition of banner advertising. There are new ways emerging all the time to make that process work in ways that serve both businesses and advertisers, and journalists who want to keep the boundaries clear, between journalism and revenue.

Here are two heartening things:

A new grad course in Social Journalism will be offered at CUNY starting in January, and what I love about the description is it’s exactly how I’ve been describing my goal as an independent journalist. The description reads in part:

Social journalism is about more than producing “content” and filling space. It is also not just about social media, although we think it is vital for today’s journalists to understand and master these tools. Social journalism is first and foremost about listening.

Whether communities are brought together by geography or shared interest, social journalists serve them best by building relationships and helping them produce tangible impact that goes beyond page views or clicks or “likes.”

Often, doing so will involve writing stories, but it will also include sophisticated use of data, connecting people with each other, and helping a community to organize and take action.

Another new initiative, just launched last week is The Open Standard, a Mozilla platform. The About section goes like this:

The Open Standard provides online news coverage of open, transparent, and collaborative systems at work in technology and our daily lives. Our purpose is to showcase the positive global impact of these systems  and inspire more people to seek out, support and adopt open principles of accessibility, participation and experimentation.

The Open Standard is published by Mozilla, a global community of technologists, thinkers and builders working together to promote openness, innovation and opportunity online.  We will disclose and be transparent if we take a position on or promote the products and services of Mozilla or a partner company.

If you wish to know more, please feel free to contact us.

 

My Turn: A successful journey through the minefield of addiction

Screen shot 2014-10-15 at 6.59.06 AMMy son, at 23, is lucky to be alive.

Statistically, he is a member of a generation decimated by an opiate drug epidemic so far-reaching that in 2010 – the year he graduated high school – New Hampshire reported having a higher percentage of people abusing pain medication than any other state, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The largest demographic was young people age 17-25.

And it continues even now, an epidemic that has led directly to the resurgence of heroin, a drug that is a much cheaper and far more deadly alternative to painkillers.

I guess it should be a given at this phase of my life, but I am frankly overjoyed that my son is a senior at UNH, and that he’s managing his life, his money, his studies and his future so deftly. I slip him gas money when he visits and he takes it, reluctantly. He is acutely aware that his childhood is defunct, and that standing on his own two feet is the only way to move forward in this life.

I say he is lucky because, in the same way I’ve heard veterans of war wrestle with survivor’s guilt, I can’t quite understand how my son found his way out of enemy territory, mostly unscathed.

As a mother, I’ve been over it a hundred times or more, and still, there are no good or logical answers.

I only know that five years ago, I didn’t see much hope in his heart for the future. He was trapped in a high school where his big brain was overshadowed by his apathy for the rat race. He underachieved because he was mostly invisible to the educators who were there to help him find himself, obscured by his long hair and the space between academia and its relevance to his world.

Looking back now, I realize there was a sub-narrative to the plot I couldn’t see because it was written in the secret language of teenagers. Now I understand that my son’s apathetic Wonder Years coincided with the pharmaceutical phenomenon we are now recognizing as the pathway to opiate addiction.

Many of his peers – smart kids, dumb kids, athletic kids, kids from good families and fractured ones – dabbled with pot and alcohol, moving on to illicit encounters with cough syrup, LSD and the premier ADHD drug Adderall – which they learned quickly would help anyone focus enough to cram for a test and excel. It was easy enough to score from someone whose brother was diagnosed with an attention deficit disorder.

Better living through chemistry led many of these kids to discover oxycodone, another easily acquired pill dished out like candy to anyone with pain. Like Adderall, it was a magic pill that quickly boosted their adolescent spirits, or dulled the pain of their perceived losses – dads that were MIA., parents who didn’t engage, romances that didn’t materialize or economic realities that didn’t support brand-name fashions or top-of-the-line technology.

My son is one of the lucky ones because some primal lobe in his big brain lit up enough to guide the rest of him out of the darkness of dabbling that has swallowed too many of his peers whole.

If you’re reading this and judging these kids, or these families, who struggle every day with opiate addiction, you don’t know the half of it. You don’t know how many of your neighbors and co-workers continue to dance this exhausting tango with a diabolical partner that won’t let go, spiraling into the twirling, clutching drain of fatal desperation that robs them of their finances, their hopes and dreams, and, sometimes, their children.

New Hampshire lags far behind in addiction treatment. Ask anyone involved in the bureaucracy. They will confirm that it’s a problem we can’t solve through law enforcement. If you’re lucky enough to find your way to a treatment bed, five days of detox and 12 steps at a time for 28 days is a futile dance that does not add up to long-term recovery.

It only leads back to a revolving door of the most powerfully relentless addictive substance on earth, which is claiming those who otherwise may not have been prone to the disease of addiction.


Join the HOPE for Recovery Rally at NH Statehouse, Oct. 18, 2014, 11a.m. -2 p.m.


According to the state medical examiner’s office, although prescription drug-related deaths dropped between 2012 and 2013, from 88 to 72, heroin-related deaths have nearly doubled, from 37 in 2012 to 70 – and that’s just as of June.

This is more than unacceptable and should be at the top of our to-fix list, just as it was for Pete Shumlin, governor of Vermont, who scrapped the PowerPoint version of his 2014 State of the State speech to focus on just one topic: how to mount a counter-attack on the heroin and opiate addiction threatening his state.

My son and I don’t talk much about those we know who are still prisoners of this particular drug war, or those who died on the battlefield. He and his own two feet have moved on.

He has the right to judge them, I suppose. He has the right to despise the human weakness that prevails when someone gives up and gives in to an enemy that takes them over and delivers them into the belly of the beast.

I was happy to hear he was planning to stop by with his girlfriend after a birthday dinner for two out on the town. I decided to bake cupcakes, the chocolate-peanut butter ones I used to send to school with him for classroom celebrations of his youth – and not because I thought it would remind him that childhood is only lost to us if we choose to forget the dreams we dream and lessons we learn while we dwell there.

But because his life is my gift, his experience has been my teacher, his losses have left permanent scars on my heart – the heart of a mother who celebrates another year of hopes and dreams for a son who, for no reason I can put my finger on, didn’t get caught in the vice-grip death trap that is our opiate drug addiction epidemic.

And because I get to celebrate another year with my amazing son and light a birthday candle for all those mothers who can’t, and who never will again.

As published in the Concord Monitor, Oct. 10, 2014

(Carol Robidoux is a freelance writer who lives in Manchester.)