Biking in the Woods…of Memories

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©Cindy Kennedy

The leaves crackle under our bike tires, burying the path underneath the trees.   There is a sense of golden aura, with splatters of rust and green throughout, as we wind along the trail flanking the river. The geese chatter, the slight scent of decay emanates throughout.

As we ride past the mirrored lake, the swing set adjacent, I am transported immediately to my past. I remember coming to these same Captain Daniel Wright Woods often as a child. We would spend the day with our neighbors, the boys and dads fishing, the girls running, laughing, chasing dragon flies, moms relaxing with a smile.

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Afterwards all we kids played together with new friends, made up games on the jungle gym. The picnic was unpacked onto long wooden tables, my mom offering up delicious pans of fried chicken still warm in foil, bowls of cut fruit, homemade chocolate cookies, the rare treat of a can of soda.

When I was in high school, my dad taught me to cross country ski on these snow filled paths. The woods turned magic, covered with sparkling snow, as we careened through the forest.

As we continued on our current bike ride , those memories morphed into later visits, when we brought my kids, their cousins, and our dogs to enjoy that same playground. We clomped over the bridge to a hidden pond for the kids to catch frogs, skip stones, and throw bread bits as the fish broke the surface again and again.

I hope that someday my kids will come visit here, and they will remember all the times we came to the forest preserve with poignant smiles. And better yet, I hope that they can create their own memories here with their friends or family.

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Conquering Men’s Uninvited Advances

Thank you, Donald Trump. Yes, thank you. Since that video of you surfaced talking about “grabbing her pussy” and the myriad of similar follow-up accusations, the conversation of how women are treated, taunted, poked, and prodded with bodies and eyes has become an open conversation.

Women are angry. Women are vocal. Girls and women like myself are talking about acts that happened to us years or a recent month past. We are admitting to ourselves things we might have buried or denied happened (TOO MANY TIMES) to us.

Trump’s misogynistic behavior has brought to front of my mind harmful words and hurtful ongoing occurrences that have impacted my body image, my eating habits, my relationships with others, my thoughts on sex, fashion, and the world around me since I was a child.

I planned to include some of these events in this post. However, after I wrote them all out, I am so furious and disgusted—and even a little ashamed though I did NOTHING to deserve these slivers of my history—at things that were done and said to me growing up that I have chosen to not include any specifics. Taken singly, they may not seem overwhelming. But collectively they have been staggering to my psyche.

They simmer in my brain, clog my throat with bile, frustrate my soul, and cannot heal that wounded child who stays hidden in my heart. Until now, when viewed all together on paper, they boil over and transform me. Stronger. Purified, like the jack pine tree pine cones that only burst during wildfires. Birth.

I am buoyed up by the women who surround me. Also, by those who have shared their revelations on TV and in the papers this week. I hope that we can gather those memories, pile them high only to light afire, then stomp over them in a dance of fury. These occurrences are part of our histories, our being, but they cannot control us. We will then kick them aside and embrace a new reality of acceptance of ourselves. And other women, with the knowledge that many we know have been forced upon and exposed to, verbally and physically.

I hope that this dialogue continues. I hope that this language of rape, of overpowering, of taking what IS NOT WANTED continues. I hope  it whispers breaths of anger and NO into our daughters, our friends, our silent neighbors, our families. And those tentacles of anger and hope reach into other countries, where women have far less freedom to say NO than here.

C

Eulogy for my Dad

My dad, Richard Albert Cardinal, died on June 23, just about 3 weeks ago. I gave the eulogy at his local service this week. Here are the words I wrote and said about him, since a couple people have asked to read them.  We miss you already.  Love you.  Cindy

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My dad leaves behind a wonderful legacy of faith, family, and friendship. He knew the importance of embracing each day, since he first died when I was 15 years old. Now, that might seem crazy since we are here today, but it is true.

He suffered a major heart attack and was clinically dead for more than 10 minutes. During that time he argued with God that he was too young to die, that he still had to support me, Sharon, Dave, Steve, and my mom Barb. And he won that debate with God, which shows what a persuader he was. We were blessed to have him amongst us for 38 additional years.

His Catholic faith remained extremely important in his life. I especially remember him and my mom working on Spring Fever fundraiser at Holy Cross. He performed on stage with his friends, bringing down the house with their song and dance routine.

We moved from New Jersey to Deerfield IL when I was in second grade. During our childhood, my highlight was our annual trips back to the Jersey shore from Illinois. (though we learned early not to help him pack the paneled station wagon). We spent long days hanging out at the beach, went crabbing, and it felt like a huge family party every night. Many of those family members are here today.

After one of his heart surgeries, his friend gave him a book about drawing. I had never seen my dad draw, though he and I often had dueling cameras on trips. Art changed his life. He showed us all that you are NEVER to old to learn. He continued to take classes and paint until just a few months ago.

We were so lucky to have my parents spend the last 10 summers with us in Hawthorn Woods. My parents became surrogate grandparents to my kids’ friends, and friends with our friends. The last couple years they came in right on July 3rd, and the first time we would see them was with all our friends at the local fireworks show.

My dad spent many days here giving art classes to my children Tara, Devon and Ronan and their friends. He would create a lesson plan that Tara would diligently follow, Devon (at 3 years younger) would try to imitate Tara’s work and become very frustrated, and Ronan would just want to draw pictures of animals or spaceships. And my dad would oblige them all. His motto to them was always “paint what you see.”

During their time with us he and Bob would grill together—or Bob would grill while my dad sat and drank wine, he and I spent many hours in my garden, they golfed, we had raucous family games nights, and day trips to Chicago.

Our kids often said that Bobbi and Papa had a busier social life than they did. This just might be true, as my dad has retained friendships from his childhood in NJ, our Lake Eleanor days, and more recently from the Fountain Hills Art League and Men’s Club in Arizona. People were drawn to him because of his sense of humor, that twinkle in his eye. And once you met him, he could be a friend for life.

My siblings and I are spread from here to Arizona to California. We cherish our time together, since we see each other infrequently. There is always laughter and debates whether we are in Puerto Vallarta yelling “watch out for mangos”, exploring Phoenix or the Grand Canyon, realizing that hike down Snowbird was 3 times the length we thought, California, Chicago and Abba dancing Christmas’, Colorado, and several extended family reunions.

I learned how to live by watching my dad and mom. My dad infused in me the love I have for my family, the importance of my friendships in times of laughter and heartache, how to overcome health issues, creativity, standing up for my beliefs and for others, to give back. Most importantly, that life can be short. That we need to live each day to its fullest and never stop trying new things.

We will miss my dad greatly, but we know that he was at peace when he passed away.

 

Class Cliques Conquered

“Time is the great equalizer,” one of my former high school classmates stated, as we gazed around the crowded bar during our 30th high school reunion last weekend (really? can I be that old?)

“So true,”I replied, watching people mix freely. Some who barely knew each other talking like old friends, others sharing remembrances with their long-time pals.

I was hesitant to go to my reunion, but I knew a group of people I see regularly was going to be there.  I figured I could just spend the evening with my current friends if the night was a bust….and I didn’t get to say more than “hi” to many of them.  I was too busy spending time with people I went to elementary school with, and chatted with some high school acquaintances I haven’t seen since graduation day.

Frankly, many of the girls looked fantastic, with a few surgical “enhancements,”  We had friends uncomfortable with coming who are currently unhappy with their appearance, but no one cared once they walked through the door.  Your energy is so much more important than the package it comes in.

There were people I swear I never saw in high schools (class of 500+), people I had not spoken with since elementary school, a couple frankly creepy guys I still avoided last weekend. People flowed freely, all barriers and cliques fallen with time. I was thankful our name tages included our high school photos, since that truly help me recognize a couple faces.

I think of the daily stresses my kids face daily in their high school routines, the social, media, administrative pressures, the sometimes-rigid cliques. Though it is stressful for them, I wish they could see how those invisible and sometime self-imposed walls disappear over time.  I learned surprisingly uplifting thoughts people and shared hilarious stories from both the elementary and high school days.

Donna, I could surround myself in your calm, embracing aura.  Lori, your infectious spirit is inspiring, Maureen, a positive cancer survivor.  Tim and Robert,  you simply kept me laughing.  and Mike and Nancy, how many stories from second through sixth grade could we share?

There were people who we missed at the event–Jim, Marla, Norman, Lisa, Dave to name a few.  And a few close friends no longer alive, to remind us of our mortality–Tim, Bill, Matt, Bob.

It ended up a casual, fun evening that certainly exceeded my expectations.  And I think made us all think a little differently about some of our former classmates, our former youthful selves. I am glad I attended, despite my reservations. C

Freeze Frame

They squirm to get out of reach. “Not again,” they occasionally roll their eyes , the shutter open-close click-click-click.

“That’s a horrible background.  Move over here,” I direct them, to sighs as they shuffle across the yard.

Yes, they might sometimes complain when the camera comes out AGAIN, but they loved it today when I was updating the slideshow in the digital picture frame.

My kids have changed so much in a few years.  Even in this short timeframe, they laughed at haircuts and clothing; they reminisced about wonderful vacations, celebrations with families and friends, and fun days in the neighborhood. We were amazed at how the same friends kept popping up in photos over the last few years.

Was this really 4 years ago?

So many memories.  They fade in our minds, but the photos are there to spark a smile.  And the kids still enjoy to look at photo albums of their parents when they were young.  We can share our memories with them in a disk, though I admit that people can keep too many BAD pictures to clutter their files, their walls, their albums.  And Grandmom will be happy, since we can still tag the people in the photos, without even turning over the faded, dated photographs.

Little angels. That's me, on the right in our homemade costumes.

So pull out your camera today.  Snap some pictures of those who you surround yourself with.  You won’t regret it.   C

Learning to Trust your Gut

A youth counselor. A pediatrician. A neighbor. A teacher. A priest. A classmate.

Respected elders?  Sometimes.  But several recent conversations, these were the people who tried to take sexual advantage of either me or friends when we were younger.

Last weekend’s conversation reminded me of the importance of teaching our kids to “trust their guts”.   Even as adults, we are so programmed from our youth to respond yes to “authority figures” We should remind ourselves and our children that is perfectly okay to say NO.

If we TEACH our kids to trust their feelings, and to listen to their instincts, it might help them avoid a potentially dangerous situation.  We are animals, and our instincts have evolved over centuries.  We need to teach them to listen to their bodies, which can give them warnings that only they can feel:

  •  If a situation feels creepy, it probably is.  Get out, if you can.   It is NOT okay for a young classmate to expose himself to you—one, two, three times—while others smirk in the corners, watching the show created for you.
  •  If you suddenly hear the waves in your ears, ocean miles away, your fingers feeling electric with awareness, take a step back.  When someone asks you to “just send them a naked picture” or “wants to take a few sexy pictures with you” know that when it feels uncomfortable, you can say NO!
  •  That pit in your stomach, when someone touches you, even on our shoulder, when you want to pull away.  When the doctor asks you to strip down because you have a cold, ask WHY?
  •  That shrieking internal voice screaming “THIS ISN’T RIGHT!!”  means “LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE.  I NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE.”  And do it.  Walk away, run away.

Kids, trust your parents, or an older sibling, or a teacher that you DO feel comfortable with. Try to talk to someone if a person has tried to hurt you, coerce you, threaten you, buy you, or you just know that something isn’t right.

Parents, trust your kids.  When they stammer that they don’t want to be around a specific teacher, doctor, babysitter, neighbor, they are most likely saying it because  their internal warning signals have said not to trust someone they are “supposed” to.  Great for them, that they recognized these feelings.

Sometimes kids—and adults—can’t verbalize WHY they don’t trust someone, don’t want to be around them.  And that is OKAY.

These recent conversations were scary because of how many people I know were preyed upon, fortunately with no success.  But another weakened day, and any of us might have been victims.  A life-lesson for me that “trusting my gut” is still important, sometimes my kids can be wiser than me about certain people, and teaching them to “trust their gut” can be life-saving.

Take tonight to talk to your kids.  Share these words with them, if you wish.  It is that important to me. C

2/8/12–Two updates.  One is the sad fact that an elementary school in LA is replacing their ENTIRE staff after arrests for 2 teachers committing lewd acts, a third one today.  Two is that it is incredible how many people reached out to me on FB today to share their similar stories.  TALK TO YOUR KIDS NOW!!  Have the squirmy conversations now, strengthen your kids–and yourself–for life.

Remembering Tim

The earthquake that rocked the east coast yesterday was far overshadowed in my life by the unexpected death of my high school friend Tim last weekend.

Tim was the guy in high school who was larger than life, ready with a hug, an infectious laugh, a true smile, welcoming all into his circle…unless you were against him on the opposing football team. Then be afraid.  His friendships extended the clique boundaries,  as he spoke his mind, celebrated life since I have known him.

Tim was instrumental in keeping our friendships alive since high school days, as he planned mini-reunions and holiday gatherings for us. Still there with his hug, a toast, asking about our lives, joyous about his family, his children, memories of high school coming forth.

Facebook expanded his circle further, reconnecting him with fellow alumni who he might not have known very well during high school.  His political views were opposite mine, but it was fun to bait him after his 50th political cartoon of the day. He posted well wishes to many people I knew.

Monday morning I logged into Facebook and began to see a trickle of comments about Tim’s shocking death last weekend, which became a pouring of well-wishes  and memories as the word so quickly spread around the internet.  There were phone calls and internet hugs and a vicious bike ride as I let this horrible, stunning news sink in, followed by tears in the shower, salt mixing with water and shampoo sluicing down the drain.

Tim: father, husband, son, friend, brother, neighbor was clearly loved by many people, based on the outpouring of emails I have seen this week.  We lost a great person, an honest man, a social leader for our group.  Heaven became a happier place this week, as  Tim joined some of our other friends there: Bill and Scott coming to mind first.

I feel the most loss for his wife and children, trying to accept their new reality. We will connect with our high school friends this week at his wake, his funeral–tears and hugs abound.  Not the annual social outing we look forward to repeating again in the near future.

Friends, hug your children today and tell them each day how special they are, how loved, how important. Tell your friends how they bring joy into your lives, don’t let your spouse stand forgotten. Sadly, Tim’s death is a reminder of the brevity of life, and how we need to live and love each day to the fullest.

Tim, rest in peace.  We wil celebrate your life and miss you greatly.  More tears as I write this.  We miss you already. C