Thursday, October 16, 2014

It Takes a Village

Dear Jules,

Well, it's not totally official yet, but I received unanimous votes on my tenure on Tuesday from work. This means that we can stay here, you can go to school here, and I can keep working at this awesome place, the College of Charleston.  Maybe someday you can attend the REACH Program there.

It's been seven years (almost) of teaching in Charleston.  I remember my first day teaching; I lost my keys, couldn't get into my office, was in tears not knowing how I was going to get home.  I knew no one and felt so out of place.  Now I walk on campus and say 'hi' to almost everyone, from the groundspeople to the janitorial staff to my colleagues to my students.  It's so nice to feel that I'm somewhere I belong, somewhere I'm accepted, somewhere I'm even respected.

When you graduate from college of find a job (or whatever your goals will be), you will know this feeling: the feeling of moving through a world where you "fit."  It's not an easy thing to accomplish, and I know that, in some ways, it will be harder for you, but if anyone can do it, I know you can! And when you do, I want you to remember the people who helped you get to where you were going.

People congratulate me, but this accomplishment belongs equally to the people in my life who have pushed me on when I wanted to give up.  My dad, who you are named after, was always so proud of me; thankfully, he knew I was in a Ph.D. program before he passed away, and I just know he would be proud now, but he was the one who put in 50+ hour weeks working retail to support our family; he was the one who always did what he needed to do so that we could go to good colleges and get good jobs.

My mom, Nagyi, deserves perhaps even more of the credit.  She spent so many nights quizzing me before tests in junior high and high school; she helped me when I decided to apply for a Fulbright in Hungary; she drove me to my interview at Assumption when I was too anxious to go by myself; she always believed in me, even when I did not believe in myself.  At one point, my anxiety was so bad that I honestly don't know if I would be here right now if I could not have called her ever night, sometimes even at 3 a.m.  One time, she came to my apartment and held my hand so that I could sleep at night.  These are the unacknowledged sacrifices of a mother--they don't come with Ph.D.'s or "associate professor" titles, but I would not be here right now if it were not for her.

Ben, the love of my life, your Daddy, has always believed in me.  He's the smartest person I know, so it means a lot that he engages me intellectually, that he's always willing to talk about my teaching or about my research.  He has been there with me since my Ph.D. exam, through the dissertation defense, and obviously through these seven years.  He's seen me cry about article rejections and teaching evaluations, but he's always turned it around and made me believe in myself again.

My in-laws and Ben's family have been very supportive, and I would love to give a shout out to my mother-in-law, who always understood how important my job is to me, my father-in-law for his quiet but steady support, my brother-in-law, who really has the biggest heart ever, and especially Maggie, my sis-in-law, your aunt, who remembered the date of my tenure review and took the time to email and then call me.  That just meant so much to me.

And then there are my wonderful friends--Cindy, who has known me since our MA at Boston College, who was also there for me during that really tough time in Worcester, who was there when I was accepted to UNC and visited me when I felt equally out of place in a Ph.D. program, who flew down for my dissertation defense and my wedding, who is your wonderful Godmother, and without whom I don't know where I would be.  Eliza, who I met during our Ph.D. program, was there for me when I didn't know anything else.  Her and her husband, Mark, have accepted me as members of their family, have been so very supportive of me, and are also wonderful Godparents to you.  Liz, who I also met in the Ph.D. program, who has also been there for me when I needed to talk, is one of the best listeners I know, who is always excited and enthusiastic about life, who reminds me why I love literature so much.  Mike, who was my first friend in Chapel Hill and has heard about so much as I've gone through the Ph.D. and now tenure, and Sara, my friend who always reminds me to focus on what matters in life.  When I think about the service learning my students do, and I think about my own interest in service, I think of her.  Pam and Sandy have been there since, well, Kindergarten and second grade.  They've seen me develop from a shy, awkward, and perpetually naive/clumsy high schooler into a still clumsy but much less shy and awkward person.  I'm really blessed to have all of these people in my life.

So when I think about it, "it takes a village" not only to raise a child, but to enable us to get through life's up and downs and still stay above water.  I know there will be many more ups and downs on this road but, as I think about where I've gotten to, my heart feels extremely grateful.  I hope to some day be one of these people on your list, which will also include your Daddy, your grandparents, and your honorary sister Bertie.  And hopefully many, many more.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Special Place

Dear Jules,
I wanted to write on your blog about a place you went to when you were not even walking, when you were a bit over a year old.  Before we put you in a school with everyone (all the friends I'm sure you have today), we wanted you to work on some basic skills like walking and communicating.  So your dad and I enrolled you in the Charles Webb Center.  This is a school for special-needs kids, but I'm not calling it "special" in that cheesy, slightly condescending way.  I have rarely been to a place where I have felt so much unconditional love, and not just for you (let's face it, you're a ham!), but also for children whose disabilities make it a bit harder for people to accept them.
For instance, one young girl has Cri du Chat syndrome.  She doesn't talk, but she is mobile and loves hugs (she would never let me go!).  Unfortunately she also bites and pinches, skills that you are slowly but surely also learning.  Yet the teachers always included her in educational activities, always gave her the hugs for which she hungered, and treated her just like you...just like everyone else.  I grew to love her, as I grew to love all of the kids there.  I'm crying as I write this because, without the support and love of this place, I don't think you'd be in such a great place as you begin in ECDC, the College of Charleston's (fully integrated) pre-school.  The teacher told me that yesterday, on your first day, you played with the kids, ate all of your food (no surprise!), read books, and made a few friends.  You didn't cry, you weren't rattled, you knew what to do and you did it, thanks to CWC.
So I wanted to post some pictures of just some of the people who made your time there so amazing.
This is Mrs. Washington, who runs the center (although Ms. Bonnie also did for a while!).  As her sign proclaims, her office door is always open.  In between fundraising and meeting with parents, she helps out in the classrooms, always helps to make lunch (have I mentioned how much I will miss not having to make lunch??), plays, ans is always up for a snuggle.  Her own son went to the Webb Center: just another reminder of the committment people have to this place.
We met Ms. Susan, the woman with the white (or, as my hair stylist would say, platinum blonde) hair even before she came to Webb!  One day, we were playing at the Children's Museum of the Lowcountry, and we met this woman who was very interested in playing with you.  She asked where you went to school, and when we said the Webb Center, she told us that she was applying to be a nurse there...and she got the job!!  Susan has been not only a great nurse and teacher but also a good friend to our family, and I hope that we stay in touch with her and her grandson, Kortez (on right).  Kortez was your best friend at the Webb Center; in fact, Ms. Bonnie used to call him your boyfriend because he would hold your hand and take you places!  One time, when your dad and I were going to a party, Ms. Susan and Kortez came to our house to take care of you.  Most special to me, though, is that Kortez was your buddy for Buddy Camp this year; we picked him up, you all played through the morning, and then I took you both for lunch before we returned to the Webb Center.  In fact, one time, you both had bathroom accidents in the middle of the park, so I ended up running across the park with two naked children!  (You parents will tell me this was a rookie mistake, and I admit it).

This is Katelyn, who came to work at Webb just this past summer.  You two formed such a bond, though, and you were always running to her, your arms open for just one more hug.  I will remember how much she loved you, but I will also remember her as your hairstylist.  Every day, you would come home with some complex hairstyle that I could never in my life imitate (in fact, I might take you by there for a touch-up...and do you cut, Katelyn?).  You two literally fell in love, and I also hope to be seeing more of her.

 I wish I knew how to make a collage, but here are some more pictures of you with people you spent a lot of time with and loved (and clearly there was a blue and coral color memo!).

Ms. Stephanie has been your teacher ever since March, when you were moved up to Toddler 2 (you 'graduated' from both the nursery and Toddler 1 during your time at Webb).  She also loves to hug you, has always been there with a smile and encouragement for me, and really cares for your well-being.  This summer you had some crappy (literally) diarrhea issues; at one period, you had an incident once a day!  Once we realized that it wasn't a virus and wasn't contagious, we took you right back to Webb, where Stephanie and Katelyn selflessly took care of you and put up with, well, the reek.  Stephanie has been such an asset to the Webb Center, and these kids are lucky to have her.
This picture is vintage Julia- I love it because it shows how much you two love one another.
And last but definitely not least, Ms. Bonnie was there for you as the interim head of the Webb Center, and then, for a good long while, as your Toddler 1 teacher.  I honestly cannot say enough good things about this woman.  Her voice, yelling "Julesie- Woolsie!!", every morning, never ceased to cheer me up.  She probably has the biggest heart of anyone I've met, and she cares about her kids's education.  In fact, I would come in sometimes at 4 (okay--rarely.  Those of you at Webb reading this know very well that I'm that parent who rushes in at 6 every day).  Well, when I did come in at 4 or even 5, I would find her still there (she got off work at 3), working on crafts, projects, decorations for the entire school.  She decorated every year for the Christmas Party, which was just amazing and meant so much to the kids and to their families.  When I asked her what her weekend plans were, she often responded that she had a lot of work to do on projects for her classroom.  As a person, but also as a teacher, this woman went above and beyond.  She has been at Webb for over 20 years, I think, and I think she's the soul of the place.  Her smile, her laugh, her boisterous voice, her artistic talent, and her big bear hugs just make the place what it is:

On your last day at Webb (we'll be back!!!), we had a cupcake party for you, and things got a bit out of hand:

Everyone had a great time, though, and I'll always remember the way you crammed entire cupcakes into your face as your friends sat around the table.  

You gained so many skills there--more importantly, I think, you got so much unconditional love there- that when I ask "who's a smart girl?" you point to yourself and say "me!".  This, I think, will put you in good stead as you join your peers without special needs. 

I also want to say to the people reading this in 2014 that some of these kids can't, for logistical reasons, be integrated.  For some of them, the Webb Center is the only place they can go, the only place that will fully accomodate and accept them.  Yet this center is run on a shoestring budget, mainly supported by the Disabilities Board of Charleston and by the Avondale 5K run.  If you click on this link, you'll see the sweetest video in the world, featuring Julia in the beginning!!!  Please consider running it (we will be there running with Jules), or donate to it, or just make a donation to this amazing place.  I feel so blessed that we heard about it from Julia's then-occupational therapist, and that we have been able to call these people family. 

As you move on, make new friends, I want you to remember what these people have done for you: for us.  You went from swinging in a baby swing all day at day care to crawling, then walking, then running down the long hallways and yelling "no, no, no!!."  You went from being spoon fed to feeding yourself.  You went from barely expressing yourself to becoming a diva (thanks a lot, Bonnie!).  You may have graduated, but the Webb Center can always count on me for anything.  You all have a piece of my heart.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My partner

Lately, you've been signing both "Momma" and "Dada," but you kept saying "momma" for both.  In speech therapy, Diane and I worked really hard on getting you to say "Dada" instead.  The beam of joy on his face when you said it to him spoke volumes: of how much he loves you, how much he appreciates the effort, how important you are to him.  As I see many friends who are single mothers struggling to provide their kids with everything they need, I think about how lucky you are to have a father like him.

But this post isn't about least, not in that way.  I want to write today about partnership--it sounds so cold and clinical, doesn't it?  I mean, we don't read romance novels about partnership or fantasize about having a partner when we're little girls watching Disney movies.  But if you should decide to get married, my fondest wish for you is that you have a partner: an equal who respects you, works with you, roots for you, and pushes you.  That is what your Dada is to me.

When God created Eve, it wasn't because Adam wanted someone to provide for, someone to "protect," someone to satisfy his bodily desires.  God created Eve because Adam wanted a partner.

The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be all alone." (Genesis 2:18)

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.   (Genesis 2:24)

Where does the Bible say that man is supposed to provide financially for a woman?  To physicall protect her?  Even the "they will become one flesh" means that they both satisfy each other, not that only she satisfies him.  I say this because I think partnership is underrated.  Of course you need the other stuff too, but there's no better feeling than knowing that you can work things out together, whether they be emotional issues, work-related stuff, or even raising a you!  From very early on in the time your Dad and I were dating, I knew, instinctively, that we would be good partners.  We were raised with the same basic values, but we're different enough that we complement each other.

Of course, we have romance, and we have laughter (which is almost equally important), but it's that partnership that pulls us through day by day.

And I always knew beyond a shadow of a doubt--even when we were dating--that your dad would be an excellent father.  And he is.  He takes you to school every morning, goes to all of your important meetings, takes you to lunch so that I can work, swims with you, wrestles with you, loves you with all his you are.  In fact, when you were born, he said "she's perfect."  That was it.  Never any worries about the diagnosis, never any doubt, never any grief...he has always, always loved you unequivocally.

It warms my heart to see him doing swim lessons with you- he works so well with you and you both just have the best time:

So yes, he's an amazing father, but more importantly to me, he's a great partner, a great husband.  My mother, a very smart woman, told me once that it's important not to lose your relationship in your children, so I wanted to write today not about him as a father, but as a person and a partner:  my best friend.

Monday, July 14, 2014


Dear Jules,
This summer, when we were planning our two weeks of vacation, we decided (after Nagyi  unfortunately couldn't come), that it would be great to spend some quality time with your Godparents.  Because you're an only child, and because we wanted you to have all of the spiritual support in the world, we decided that you would have four Godparents.  This vacation, you were able to see all of them except for one, which was such a treat (Greg, we missed you!).
We spent our first week of vacation in Asheville, North Carolina, with your aunt Cindy.  Cindy is one of my oldest friends: I've known her since we did our MA together at Boston College, and we lived in Worcester, Massachusetts together for what was a difficult year for both of us.  Like all difficult times, this one brought us together.  Even though she lives in New Jersey and we live in South Carolina, I'm so glad we've been able to keep in touch, to be there for each other through jobs, breakups, moves, and the everyday travails of life.  In fact, Cindy was my maid of honor when I married your Daddy.
Cindy is honestly one of the most unique people I've ever met, and one of the best.  I appreciate that she savors life and makes everyone laugh while simultaneously not being afraid to be vulnerable and let her feelings show.  I can't imagine anyone not loving her, and she loves you so very much, too!  In a typical Cindy moment (although me and Daddy decided on this one), you both got temporary tattoos, which Cindy thoroughly enjoyed.  Not only did she go along with this, but she played it up and showed it off every chance she got:
In this picture, you had a skull with a little hairbow and she had a heart with a flame (I think).  You decided pretty early on that you absolutely love Cindy and cried whenever she went away; you don't even do this for us, your parents!  We had so much fun; we went to some waterfalls, we went to downtown Asheville and played in the splash park, and we drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We then went to Seabrook Island for a few days, and she went with you to the beach, which you loved.
You were pretty upset when she had to leave, but I know we will see her next year.  She truly is family to us, and I hope that, as you read this, she is still family for you.

Thankfully, when Cindy left, you only had a few days alone with your parents before your next set of Godparents, Eliza and Mark, came, with your Godsister, Bertie.  Now, they are smarter than I and don't want their pictures online, so I'll just leave you with these words and pictures of you.  I met Eliza when I was a prospective Ph.D. student, at a bar.  She was so simultaneously easy to talk with and really classy: one of those people you just respect and want to emulate.  When I decided to go to UNC Chapel Hill, we became close friends pretty quickly.  She was there for me as I transitioned to being a graduate student, and we also spent a lot of time together after she and Mark lost their first child.  
That was a horrible time, and I admire how strong they both have been in persevering past that and maintaining their relationship.  They thankfully had a healthy little girl, Beatrice, who really is like a sister to you.  You also follow her Cindy, you know and love her.  
We began their visit with some oysters, which your father persisted in cooking until he figured them out--
and some chicken paprika, which we ate at about 10 p.m.  because we talked and enjoyed each other so much.  You and your sister slept in the same room, as you always do, and you really enjoyed having her nearby.  And then, of course, you got to go to the beach together:

I love that last picture, becuase it reallly represents your relationship so well (oh, by the way, we also got some temporary tattoos.  Yours was smaller this time, and we even persuaded your elegant Godmother to get one).  You can see it there on your sweet little arm, which I just want to reach out and kiss.
I just came back from a conference, and you were with Grammy and Papa for a week.  I know you all enjoyed each other, but I missed you so much it hurt.  Always remember how much I- and your wonderful Godparents, and your grandparents, and everyone around you- loves you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Dear Jules,
One of the most special things in the world is the relationship between a grandchild and a grandparent.  I luckily had very special, very different relationships with my mother's mom, with whom I went to church, and my mother's dad, with whom I played violin, listened to stories, etc.  See Dedi.  You are lucky in that you have special relationships with Papa, Nagyi, and the woman I'm writing about today, Grammy.

When I first met your Grammy, I thought of her as more of a friend than a mom.  She has such an adventuresome spirit, is always up for an outing, and makes for an excellent shopping partner!  One of the things I reallly see in both of you is your zest for life...sometimes despite the odds.  When you go to the ocean, you get right in the water with no fear, and this is what your Grammy does.  Even if it's difficult, she wades right in and experiences life fully.  She's persistent and won't take "no" for an answer, which is something I envy but, thankfully, something you share with her.  In fact, Diane, your speech therapist, said that your spirit and your "willfulness" would take you far in life, and I can already see that.

Just a few years ago, I was on the phone with Grammy who, in her early fifties, wanted to go back to school to study photography at the prestigious Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).  She had talked to someone who told her she should stay at home with her husband, your Papa, and she was having doubts.  I told her that she needed to do this...I like to think that this conversation, along with the support of your Papa and her own determination, spurred her on in taking that leap--to continue our metaphor--into that water.

And the water was chilly and deep; she spent many many nights awake working on homework, had to have her work critiqued by eighteen-year-olds (who, let me tell you, are not kind critics!), and, most difficult, she lived almost four hours away from Papa.  It was not an easy time, but she did it.  She graduated Summa Cum Laude and is now a bona fide photographer and, recently, a painter.

I like to tell this story to my students because it would have been easy for her to back down.  At this point, she did not need the money, she had a house, and she could have just done photography as a hobbyist, but this was her dream, and she followed it.  She did not take "no" for an answer.

Not only is Grammy persistent, but she's one of those people who manages to pull this off and still have lots of friends because she has such a big heart.  She has been nothing but accepting of both me and your aunt Maggie, and this woman would go to the ends of the world for her boys.  She loves you so very much, and you have been developing a very special relationship.  Last week, she came and spent about three days with you; you went to the beach, to a few therapies, but mostly just enjoyed each other's company.  Here are some "selfies" that you and Grammy took:

Just seeing how happy you both are makes my heart smile, and I would like you to have these pictures and treasure them as you both grow older (and possibly less silly...though I doubt it).

On a personal note, it meant a lot to me that Grammy took time not only for you, but also to do something special with me.  Because I'm busy with you and with work, I don't often have time to do "girl things," and it's really easy to forget to do things for myself.  Grammy came with me to a studio called Wine and Design, where we had a few glasses of wine and then proceeded to copy one of their paintings...from scratch!  I have really no sense of spacial orientation and was terrified at the thought, but Grammy helped me every step of the way.  And we both painted sea paintings to go in your room:

I know they won't be in your room forever, but maybe you have these in storage and can remember this story.  I really did not like my painting until Granny told me the problem was that I had too many colors.  I fixed it and tried to "unify" it, and I think it turned out much better.  She didn't do it for me--it's definitely my own painting--but her advice helped.

This is, I think, the key to good parenting: to help your children but not do things for them. I can already tell that it's going to be so hard; when you're having trouble, I just want to make life easier, to do it for you.  But this painting makes me proud because I did it myself, and because I accepted advice (also not the easiest thing for me).  And so your Granny isn't only adventuresome and kind, but she is an excellent parent and grandmother.  You have special, very different relationships with all of your grandparents, and I think the magic is that you learn different things from each one.  

Nonetheless, every time you jump fearlessly in the water or insist on doing things by yourself, I think of this woman, her invaluable influence, and her precious love for you.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dear Jules,
Today, June 6th, marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  Now I fully expect you to talk to your father about this, because my historical knowledge of WWII is very very hazy, but I do know that Normandy was important to your Great-Grandfather (remember?  The one in the picture in your room? Every night, we say:  "Momma loves you; Dadda loves you; Grammy loves you; Nagyi loves you; Papa loves you; Great-Grandpa loves you; your aunts and uncles love you; Puck loves you; and God loves you."  Right now, your favorites are "Papa," "Puck," and "God," which I guess I could psychoanalyze...).  He served in the 463rd battalion, 79th infantry division, and was part of the Normandy invasion, which is amazing.  He never drank, but he would always drink a bit of Calvados  to celebrate the occasion.

I've been thinkng about Great-Grandpa a lot, as I never had a great-grandparent, and my own grandfather died four (!) years ago now, almost to this day.  And we visited him recently in Rome, Georgia.  He lived for a long time with his wife, Jean, who he absolutely adored, in El Paso, Texas.  Grandpa used to tell lots of Jean stories, and all of them were similarly almost worshipful.  In these stories, Jean spoke her mind, told this Brigadier General what to do, and he did not mind one bit.  He just adored her so much, and I knew he was in love with you when he said you resemble her (which I'm not sure you do, but still...).  I need to find a picture of her to put on this blog for you, but I digress.

Your dad was very close to Great-Grandpa growing up; he would stay with him, help him feed his pet turtles, hang out on his hammock (you also enjoy this!), and read book series, most notably the Oz books.  I actually met him through his 463rd Battalion reunions, which I started attending even before Daddy and I were married.  I still have his honorary pin which, to me, meant so very much.  Both Aunt Maggie and I received pins, and they were a clear "welcome to the family."  Both of us knew how much he loved and cherished not only Dad and Uncle Lee, but also their girlfriends--soon-to-be-wives (For Grandpa knew a thing or two about love, you see).  At these reunions, he always gave the closing speech, which he practiced and delivered from memory in a manner that I envy.  The speeches were not (thankfully) mostly about war, but more about strategy, the friendships these people developed, and the love of his life, Jean.

In 2006, your Dad and I had the opportunity to stay with Great-Grandpa for a week in El Paso.  We had such a lovely time.  Every day, at 0900 (military time), we would leave the house for an outing somewhere: we went to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico.  I unfortunately can't find my pictures from then, but these were wonderful times.  We would get back for lunch, and everyone would take a nap while I went for a run (some things never change).  Then we'd all go get dinner somewhere.  I really grew to love your Great-Grandpa during that week and am so grateful I got to see him at his prime.

You've also met your GG a few times.  We've thankfully had the chance to spend two Thanksgivings with him.  During the first one, in 2012, you were almost two--here is a picture of him and some other people you might recognize:
GG, Papa, You, Papa-Dada, and Aunt Maggie


In 2013, we went to Aunt Maggie and Uncle Lee's house in Durham, North Carolina; Grammy drove to Rome, GA to pick up GG and take him first to Charlotte, and then over there.  Again, you and he got along famously.

This past weekend, we went to visit him in Winthrop Manor, where he's currently staying.  His health has declined a good deal; he's in a wheelchair, was on oxygen, can't read books or really hear much any more, and keeps falling.  I really wanted you to see him (and him to see you) while he still could, so we drove to your Aunt Emily and Uncle Mark's house in Atlanta, where you got to play with your cousin Lucy, and then to Rome.  I was a bit nervous about how this all would go, but you just went right up to every single resident, waved, and gave hugs.  You were especially sweet with GG and requested that you sit in his lap:
Every time I look at it, this picture makes me tear up.  You felt so at home in his arms...and just look at how much he loves you!  Even when he's not around any more, I hope you can look at this picture and feel pride and love for this amazing man.  When he came to visit you for your first birthday, I asked all of our guests to contribute a song to a playlist, and his choice was Perry Como's "Til the End of Time."  It's a beautiful song- here's a link to it:   Here's a part that I find most touching:

Till the wells run dry
And each mountain disappears
I'll be there for you, to care for you
Through laughter and through tears

Even if he's no longer physically here, your Great-Grandpa, like your Nagyapa and so many others who will love you, will be there, caring for you, always.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


It has been a whirlwind of a weekend; we had a family reunion at Myrtle Beach where you go to see your cousin Oliver and meet your newest cousins, Stella and Lucy.  We all ate too much, talked too much, stayed up way too seemed like the perfect weekend.
Except for one thing.
Today, May 18th, is the 13th anniversary of my father, your grandfather (Nagyapa)'s death.  I can't believe it has been thirteen years of living without him, and I'm constantly sad that he never got to meet you.  I know he would have loved you so very much; in fact, I know he's looking down from Heaven loving on you right now.  As I've written before, you are named after him--his name was Julius (Gyula), the same as his father's, the same as your uncle's, and now you are carrying on this family tradition.
So today I would like to memorialize Nagyapa by posting some pictures of him from my childhood.  He was mostly the photographer and is not in many pictures, but I want you to see him, to know this man.  Your grandfather was a man who had his priorities straight and knew what mattered.  In 1956, he escaped from Hungary after the revolution, lived in a refugee camp in Austria, emigrated to Poughkeepsie, NY, worked at Fargo, and then  volunteered to serve in the US army.  My dad loved all of the opportunities that America offered him, but they were there because of his hard work:  as a salesman, he worked long, often thankless hours and saved assiduously to be able to send money back to his family (another priority for him).
He also knew he wanted to wait until he met the right woman, and that's why he met Nagyi a little later in life.  Once he married her and had us, he knew that we were his priority.  He could have opened that camera shop, could have taken more chances, but he worked at Montgomery Ward and the Rocket Store and at Caldor because they were a source of stable income and could support his family.
Here is a picture of Nagyi and Nagyapa with me, probably in 1973, what would have been my first Christmas?  We never had a whole lot of money but, like Randy Pausch writes in The Last Lecture, I won the parent lottery.  This was my second birthday in 1974:

Here's a rare picture of just him with me and your uncle.  Since Nagyapa was the photographer in the family, he is rarely in any of our pictures.

I think I would never have met your Daddy had it not been for Grandpa and Nagyi.  They both sacrificed so much not only so that I could get a Bachelor's Degree but also a Master's:

And, three years later, when I decided I wanted to apply to Ph.D. programs, both of my parents were so supportive of me.  You know, it's at Chapel Hill that I met your daddy, and the rest is history!

Anyway, one of the things Nagyapa loved the most was photography.  I tried to get into it but never had the eye that he, and your Grammy, do.
 I especially love this picture, not only becuase it's so well-composed but also because it captures one of those brief, elusive moments of beauty.  That butterfly will only alight for a few moments, but this picture makes the experience immortal--it's captured forever and almost made more beautiful through art.  This is exactly why I love poetry and literature, and it's exactly why I'm writing you these letters.  Even though you will never meet Nagyapa, I do hope that you get a sense of him through these letters that I'm writing you.  In that way his memory, like this gorgeous picture, will live in your heart, with you forever.  He is, and always will be, a part of you--I see him in your smile, your focus and concentration, your incredibly deep love of music.  In this way, he lives on in stories, in his own photographs, and in you, his precious little granddaughter.

Becuase Nagyapa valued family so much, I'd like to think he would have been happy that we spent this usually painful weekend with family, building new bonds and reinforcing old ones.  But I don't ever want to let new family get in the way of the memories I--and, hopefully, you--will always treasure.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Gratitude Day 2

Today I'm grateful for Charleston, this beautiful city in which I live.  I'm sitting out on our porch writing this, and It's so amazing to see the jessamine getting ready to bloom, the azaleas out in full force, and the dogwoods blooming away.  You like to run the bridge with me, and here's a picture taken on top (the Cooper River bridge).

 What really gets to me here is that, even in the midst of ugliness, in the midst of decaying stone and human trash, we see beauty.  Remember that as you go through life- to look for beauty everywhere.

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Lately, it's been all too easy to feel ungrateful.  It's the end of the semester, I've had so many "problem" students, my allergies are absolutely killing me, and you still have trouble getting through a week of school without getting sick.  Yesterday afternoon, in a rather foul mood, I attended a funeral of a colleague's husband.  This young man, who was only 32 and died of head and neck cancer, fought as hard as he could, smiled as much as he could.  According to the priest, one of his last prayers was for "happiness."

I haven't been able to stop thinking about him, about his family, about his two young children left without a dad, about the way that he could ask for happiness at such a devastating time in his young life.  It's too easy to look at the negatives: to see everything wrong instead of cherishing everything that's right.  So in memory of Mike Lonon, and also because this is a lesson I would like for you to learn, I'm going to be posting short things, words or pictures, every day, of something I'm grateful for.

I'll start today with your daddy, my amazing husband, Ben.  I'm grateful that he drives you to school every morning (and gets up at 5 to do so!), that he never complains about our often uncreative food options when I'm working, that he lets me sleep in on Saturdays and wakes me up with hugs from both him and you, that he took you to lunch today so that I could work.  Speaking of which, I should stop procrastinating and do that.  But I wanted to start this today, and I can't think of anything better to start with.  I would be lost without my husband, my best friend, and I feel such pain when I think of my colleague losing hers.  God bless you, Mike, and may you find happiness in the arms of your heavenly Father.