Tag Archives: personal

Greetings from Ashland

Wind chime close-up

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Well, it has been a while since I have had the physical or mental space to be able to write anything other than (yet another) to-do list, but today, my new office in Ashland is officially open for business.

My computer equipment and desk are the same, but the locale is different enough that my head is still spinning from the change. Instead of a four lane highway populated by trucks heading to the depot and students queuing up at the front entrance to the community college across the street, the view out my window now consists of a placid stretch of road only populated by leaves skittering in the New England wind and the occasional squirrel. The windchimes that Matt and I have spent our lives together slowly collecting are hung around the outside of the house, much as they have been in every home we have shared, but now, as never before, their songs are clearly audible no matter where you stand in the house, or how tentative the touch of the wind. It is almost as if we had been collecting them just to hang here.

Our return to what passes for normality in the Sheehy house occurred in a staggered fashion. Ana was very anxious to get back to her academics, and so I ran up to her school and got her enrolled and ready to go two days after we first walked in to our new house in Ashland. Frances was a bit more relaxed about it, and wanted to start the next day. Owen, predictably, wanted NOTHING to do with school, much preferring to stay home with me and fill my ears with his stream of consciousness chatter. This worked well for him given the fact that as a child who requires special education services he was a little more complicated to get enrolled in school.

When I finally got Owen started at school on Monday morning, one week after our Ashland landing, and after about two and a half weeks of no school, I walked back into our big house, filled only with boxes and cats, and felt the silence begin to close in like a woolen blanket until I was literally paralyzed by the stillness. It is kind of ironic that the quiet that I have craved as an ideal for all these years would be so unsettling when it becomes the reality of my life instead of an abstract goal to work towards. I drowned out the silence by finding my local NPR station and using it to fill the empty audio spaces with familiar voices and shows, although periodically I would so a cognitive double take when I realized that the weather report being announced was for Boston rather than New York Metro or that the announcer was drawling the “r” sound as only a New Englander can. Other than that, the sounds of Public Radio soothed me like an old blanket and made me feel more like I was at home rather than visiting some far away land and I began to dig through boxes, feeling like I was opening presents, even though it was just my same old stuff that was contained inside each box.

Later, as I prepared to retrieve the kids from their various schools, I realized that it was not so much the quiet that unsettled me as the sense that I was really alone here in this place. My life has always been somewhat solitary, and it usually suits me quite well to have several hours in which I need not speak to anyone but  my cats and I can explore ideas and be able to examine, and express my thoughts without interruption and without the need to attend to the needs of others. Always before, however, once I left my house there was a world outside that contained friends and familiar faces that I might encounter. Here, the world outside is undiscovered, and that reminds me of my solitude. I guess I am lonely…but I am not unhappy.

Life is good, and I am thankful for mine, in every respect.


Owen and His Egg

In all the madness of moving, Owen’s school has decided to gift us with the opportunity for him to participate in a time-honored program designed to teach children responsibility….


Egg of Columbus. I ate it 10 minutes later.

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I remember this particular activity well. The child is entrusted with the responsibility of “caring for” an egg, which arrives in the classroom adorably swaddled in Easter grass and nestled snugly inside a small, easy to tote around box. Everywhere the child goes, the egg is supposed to go along, and their tandem journey is to be recorded in an “egg journal”.

The whole program is oh so adorable, and rich in layered lessons as well as a healthy dollop of language arts. A wonderful lesson.

At least, in theory.

The reality of this exercise out in the trenches, however, is that an eight year old boy, no matter how well-intentioned and enthusiastic typically has about as much impulse control as your average squirrel.

I knew I was in trouble when Owen came sprinting out of the school on day one of his Egg Odyssey simultaneously cradling his precious egg in his hands (“mommy he is so CUTE! I will call him batman!”) and plotting with his friend Nick about how they were going to pimp out his little eggmobile. This poor egg, profoundly adored by its guardian was to be the focus of all of Owen’s energy for the next week.

I shuddered as I thought of the potentially scrambled ramifications of my son’s devotion on something as fragile as an egg, and decided that I was grateful that his teachers had at least thought to hard boil the eggs before sending them to their foster homes.

My conviction that this project was probably not so appropriate for a bunch of second graders was reinforced when after testing the aerodynamic properties of his ovoid charge he decided that his planned modifications of his egg box needed to be revised to accommodate wings.

Alarmed that the project would end even before the first journal entry was made, I discouraged further flight testing.

Owen’s serial attempts to modify the egg box he was sent home with eventually resulted it its complete disintegration, and the egg spent the remainder of its ordeal in a recycled egg carton. As can be expected this egg became almost as much my responsibility as it was his. Supervising a rambunctious 8 year old supervise an egg seemed an impossible, if not cruel task to set to any parent, much less one trying to coordinate a long distance move on short notice.

The week of the egg odyssey eventually came to an end, and he did manage to bring most of the egg back to school on the final day. I was somewhat comforted when I saw some of the other bedraggled specimens, with their cracked eggshells held together with band aids, being brought back on that final day.

I do wonder, however, if all the children were as honest as Owen was in his journal. Several of his entries simply read “mom put egg in the fridge”.

The Inertia of Stuff

Duct-tape Moving Van

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Packing for this move has given me the opportunity to sort through and actually touch at least most of the things in my house. It has been an interesting, and sometimes entertaining experience to open every drawer and box, reach into the back of every shelf and find all the things that time and indecision have led me to save, hide or treasure.

The things I have come across in my basement as I pack it all up range from the mundane (tote bags brought home as convention shwag, spare dishes and an extra set of silverware) to the unbearably adorable (old photographs of Frances enchanting her brand new parents as an exceptionally cute infant) to the slightly startling (an extremely dog eared copy of The Communist Manifesto…..which I am pretty sure is not mine because I come from a long line of diehard socialists).

Matt has changed jobs a few times since we have been together, and upon leaving each place, he would lovingly  pack all  his papers and records into a sturdy box, and bring it home to store, with the devout conviction that he would  need these things again, either at his new job or at some other, unspecified time. The truth, however, is that once stowed in the corner of the basement devoted to the storage of these boxes, he would NEVER open them, or need them, again. I had to loom over him, fixing him with a stern glare while shaking a large garbage bag to get him to sort and empty these boxes. Amazingly, a stack of 5 large boxes was reduced to a small plastic file tote.

In short, one of the more interesting things that I discovered that I already knew (but have been unable to accept much less act upon) is that most of the things tucked away into safe and cozy corners of the house for storage turn out to not to be “stuff important enough to save” so much as trash that we would probably never even know was gone if it were swept away in a flood.

To be fair, I am equally guilty of hoarding old papers.  In fact, I have been lugging TWO of those plastic file totes filled with the sum total of my career as a research scientist….approximately 450 photocopied articles (each averaging about 25 pages…do the math), numbered and indexed by keyword (or at least they would be if I had a MSDOS computer on which to run the reference management program I used to index them 10+ years ago). In fact, I honestly thought that I had disposed of these papers years ago, but I guess I must have chickened out at the last minute and stuffed them back into the crawlspace from which Matt pulled them last week.  What is really funny about these papers is how horribly useless to me they really are. I mean,  let’s face it, when am I going to have an emergency need for information on the electrophysiology of learning and memory in infants? This time I made double sure that these papers went out the door and NOT into our POD.

In another instance, I realized that I was sitting on the floor of my basement, patiently sorting through a pile of old artwork created by my kids at various times, which would not be so odd except that THIS particular pile of treasures had gotten wet at some point, and were distinctly moldy and more than a little smelly. So there I was, peeling apart the wrinkled and spotted pages, stuck together with a mixture of finger paint and something unpleasantly biological in search of items that I could salvage from this mess. Even as I realized in horror what I was doing, I found that I could not stop, and actually felt a pang as each spoiled and spotted page went into the trash bag.  I had not laid eyes on many of these things in over a decade, they were not in good shape, and perhaps even might meet the definition of toxic waste (who knows what kind of nasty byproducts result from the decomposition of school glue) but yet I could not let them go.

I have decided that the stuff we squirrel away in our basements and attics generates its own special form of inertia because it really seems like in many cases, when you keep something, you wind up continuing to keep it simply because you have already kept it so long, and in fact, over time, this thing becomes increasingly difficult to get rid of not because of any intrinsic value but simply because of the fact that you have had it so long.

And so I set off again for my basement to pack, making sure to leave room on the POD for that (already packed) box of my grandmother’s everyday dishes that I never unpacked from our last move much less actually used, and yet somehow find impossible to part with.


Moving update

Since we began the humongous effort of relocating our entire clan I have spent hours scrambling my belongings, stuffing the things that I am not consigning to the rapidly growing rubbish heap on the side of my house into boxes while staring in horror as my home transforms itself back into a house.

One of the first things we found out about moving in a bad housing market is that we basically have to buy our way out of our house. Second best does not cut it…the house has to be perfectorwewill be stuck with it. The contractors, of course know this, and they descend like sharks on a blood trail…

I do not care to disclose the disgusting amount of money we have had to invest in this house that we are leaving behind, but suffice it to say that I knew we were in trouble when the basement guy that we had in our living room one night early on gave us a lecture (complete with visual aids) on the reputation of his company and the quality of the materials they use before he would even consider break input his calculator to give us a figure. He also had smelling salts on hand to administer to the shell shocked homeowners after he dropped his bomb.

While the concrete over our new basement floor was drying we packed the kids and headed to Massachusetts to find a place to live, and actually found paradise.

The house we are going to rent (with the informal assumption that we will eventually purchase it) is a grand center hall colonial with a variety of amenities that I never imagined I would have in any place I called my home, such as a wet bar and a jacuzzi in the master bath. The real selling point, however was not what was in the house, but what was outside it. Standing at the far edge of the lawn, Matt and I looked down into the shallow ravine where a tiny brook burbled over the stones, and realized that the only sound other than the song of the stream was the rush of wind through leaves and the clatter of a squirrel sprinting up a tree. This blessed loud silence was a far cry from what we hear when we stand in our yard in Edison.

Matt and I looked at each other, my eyes filled with tears and I knew we were home.

The rest is just logistics.

More to come…..

Changes are afoot

Traffic lights can have several additional lig...

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Life in the NJ town we have called home for the last 7 years is pretty good.  We have great schools, nice neighbors and have met many people that I am proud to call true friends.

Our house, for which we overpaid, is a solidly built cape cod, built in the 50’s when particle board was unheard of. We have done a lot of work to it, bestowing upon it new siding, windows and roof. Unbeknownst to us when we purchased the home, there is a trucking depot so the view out our front window is often interrupted by trucks alternately roaring by or shrieking to a stop at the traffic light outside our door. The new windows we invested in mute the sounds from inside the house, but the front yard is only quiet enough to relax in on weekends.

Despite the noise, Matt has invested time and energy in learning about gardening on the fly, and has produced a lovely yard full of lush, neatly trimmed hedges, flowering bushes and green lawn that he lovingly mows in different directions each time.

We have painted the walls in colors that please us, ranging from bright primary colors in the kitchen to a deep eggplant on the walls of our bedroom. The color of the walls hardly matters, however, since the majority of the space is covered with our eclectic collection of paintings, photographs and objects d’art that we have collected over the years.

In short, we have made ourselves at home.

We have had wonderful times with wonderful people and life here is good.

This is not to say that life is perfect. We have had our hard times under this roof.  Matt and I have spent many evenings sitting in our living room or laying together in our bed puzzling over the traumas and agonies that come with lives not led in isolation from the world, or your parents.

It was within these walls that I retreated in terror when I found out I had cancer, and here where I lay in the shelter of Matt’s arms and cried for the fear I would not see my children grow. This house sheltered me as I endured the poisoning that they call cancer treatment, and it was also here that I again embraced hope and celebrated the life that I now knew I would live to see.

Several months ago, Matt went to Cambridge to interview for a job at Harvard. He has a job that he likes, so he went into the interview with no expectations and a minimum of anxiety. He unleashed his inner librarian during the interview, giving the search committee a good, unobstructed look at who he really was and what  he could offer. He figured that he had nothing to lose by being honest and intense, and assumed that they would be frightened off.

Much to his surprise (but not so much to mine) he was very enthusiastically offered the job, which as it turns out, is perfect for him.

And so I begin the long, hard goodbye to this house that has been our home.

I packed my first boxes today, so it has really sunk in that I am really going to be moving. I know that this will be a positive move, and I am looking forward to living in a picturesque New England town….but yet It is so hard to contemplate breaking the continuity of our lives that have led us to this moment, the strands of friendship and shared experiences, the gut knowledge that I have developed about what it means to be from Edison. I am afraid, but I know that the strands that have woven into the tapestry of my life until now will not unravel once we leave this place, but will create the foundation for pattern of my days to come.

The Ol’ Rusty Gazette: a look back

Trailer Date: Summer 2009

The trip did not start out soggy, but when it began to rain, the effect was no less than spectacular.

On the first night, the five of us were first jarred awake by the deafening clamor of a storm hovering over our heads. Lightening cast stark shadows through Ol’ Rusty’s cloudy plastic windows, and the thunder seemed to be strong enough to shake us off the earth altogether. Silently, we lay in our beds, in awe of the power of the storm, yet feeling snug and safe in our portable little home.

There is definitely something to be said about experiencing the raw power of a storm in the woods and we all shared that elemental joy as we lay in the deafening silence.  We knew that there was little to fear from this stormy night.  We were all together, the rain could not touch us and we did not need to fear the lights suddenly going out.

The next morning dawned bright and clear, and we took advantage of the abundant sunshine to try and dry out our gear. The storm had insinuated fingers of moisture into our trailer despite our best efforts, and there were quite a few things that needed to be hung out to dry. The reality of weathering a storm such as that one is that we can endure it, we can admire it, but we can never truly escape it. On a more concrete note, Ol’ Rusty was so named for a reason, and she does leak a bit around the edges.

We enjoyed our slightly damp day enjoying the smell of the water, squishing around camp and tromping through wet leaves in the woods. By days end, my toes were unpleasantly withered and white from the constant wet. I kept my smile and my sense of humor, but there was a rather large part of my heart that longed for surfaces not spattered with mud, my clean(er) house and my soft bed.

That night, another storm rolled in.

This storm lacked the awesome power of the first night. It was not a storm of rolling thunder and cracks of lightening, but rather, more of a medium sprinkle that was just enough to create puddles on the leaves of the trees above us that then descended to the ground in irregular sloppy drops creating a legendary stew of mud.

In the face of these meteorological conditions, Frances and I did what we deemed sensible, and retreated into the camper and burrowed into our sleeping bags. We took turns cranking our wind-up lantern so we could read. Our precautions helped us stay as dry and warm as is feasible in such conditions.

A bit of honesty here: I love camping, and am a big fan of nature, but I am not as big of a fan of mud, and I despise being cold, so I would just as soon escape the great outdoors when the sky begins to leak.

Call me a wimp, but there it is.

Matt and the younger kids decided to embrace the mud instead of hide from it. Frances and I shook our heads ruefully and told them not to bring mud into the camper when they were done.

Not much of a fire was possible in the damp drizzle, but the three of them capered around the fire pit anyway, sloshing in the mud, giggling and singing songs. Matt is well known for rewriting songs on the fly to suit his fancy, so trying to sing along with  him can be an interesting  proposition, but the kids valiantly tried to keep up with him and they would all howl with mirth when he sang the wrong words on purpose.

At some point during the festivities, the squeals of delight suddenly turned to frightened cries, and I bolted from the camper to find Matt standing somewhat unsteadily beside the fire pit with the side of his face covered in blood.

He insisted he was fine, and tried to revive the dance, but he was very unsteady, so I had to talk him out of it, and try to convince him to sit for a minute so I could get a look at his head.

As I stood next to Matt with a clean towel pressed to his head, looking critically into his eyes without knowing quite what I was looking for, I realized that this might be serious… but life not being as definitive as it might be, I was not sure.

I had questions such as:

Is the wound serious?

Is there a concussion?

Does it need stitches?

We are in the middle of the woods…where do we go?

When I looked around for someone to ask, I realized that all eyes were on ME to give the answers.

I suddenly felt very alone.

One of the things I learned as I left my childhood behind is that life is painted in shades of grey. As a (so called) adult, finding answers is not as easy as asking a question. There is often nobody to ask for guidance, and you simply have to stumble along as best as you can.  When you add parenthood into that equation you not only have to stumble along, but you have to ACT as if you know the way or risk scaring the kids.

This would really be so much easier if there were a procedures manual, but failing that having a partner helps a great deal. Unfortunately for me, my partner was in questionable condition, and needed me to take the helm alone on this one.

Honestly if I had known that this is what it meant to be an adult and in charge, I am not sure I would have signed up voluntarily.  For that matter, when did I become a grownup anyway?

Returning to the problem at hand, I tried to assess things objectively.  Scalp wounds bleed a great deal, I told myself, so the amount of blood does not necessarily equate with the severity of the injury.  On the other hand, I had heard too much about sneaky injuries that can look fine, but have catastrophic consequences down the line unless promptly checked by qualified medical practitioners.  Of course, these stories were gleaned from the tabloids and medical tv shows, so the truth behind them was suspect at best.

As I tried to decide whether to drag my reluctant, and very muddy husband to the nearest ER (wherever that might be), he continued to insist that he was fine.

I wavered, and by reflex I almost capitulated to his insistence, but in the end, I decided that it was better to be cautious, and I made my decision to take him in, and I dragged my now complaining, and still very muddy husband out of the campsite and back into civilization.

The GPS answered the question of where. Civilization is not as far away as it seems when you are camping in the woods, after all.  The doctor in the ER, after eyeing Matt’s extremely dirty feet, examined his head, and ordered a CT scan and some socks.

It did not turn out to be terribly serious.  He had a mild concussion, and needed about 5 stitches. These days, the dent the experience left in his forehead is only visible from some angles, and when he regained his wits the next day, he thanked me and acknowledged that the trip to the ER was not a total waste of time.

On a more profound note, the whole experience illustrated how relative the experience of adulthood really is.

Sometimes the blind really do lead the blind.

As for me, I am glad that I have a partner to help me navigate the darkness.

Owen goes to the Orthodontist

Owen has crooked teeth.

Basically, his two bottom front teeth are in front of each other instead of next to each other, resulting in certain esthetic deficiencies as well as the practical problem of how to keep the corn from lodging between them at a barbeque.

Our dentist noticed this quite a long time ago. In fact, the day in kindergarten that I brought Owen in for his first evaluation and cleaning the Doctor shook his head and advised me to start saving my pennies for braces.

In fact, several months ago when I last brought the kids in for cleanings, I was advised in no uncertain terms that THIS was the time to take him to the orthodontist. It seemed a bit early to me, as Owen has only lost 3 of his baby teeth, but times change I guess. Early intervention works in education, so why not in dental engineering?

Even so, the very thought of bringing Owen into the den of the dreaded orthodontist shredded my heart. I had no desire to inflict on my son the social stigma, physical pain and esthetic disruption associated with the installation of assorted metal hardware into his mouth.

I remember the tales I had been told in the period before I learned the reality behind the metalmouth myths. The pain…the suffering…the total deprivation of all things chewing gum related.

The truth, as I experienced it, was much less sordid. The wax that they gave you to cover the sharp bits of the studs was very well suited for sculpture, and was fun to chew during class. The tiny rubber bands were wonderful for securing the tips of tiny braids, and if you were exceptionally skilled you could hook one end of a band around a single stantion, covertly draw it back so that rubber band would become a tiny projectile capable of sailing an impressive distance.

About the only thing that lived up to the horror of the tales was the night brace. I, like every other person I have ever spoken to about this private night time torture of youth, hated that horrible contraption. I tried to wear it, but inevitably I would forget to put it on at bedtime or I would take it off in my sleep. Considering that my teeth became straight despite my non-compliance I imagine that its true benefits were considerably overrated.

Even more serious was the fact that the thought of paying large sums of money to make Owen’s mouth even larger consistently made me break out in hysterical giggles. Not a good situation in which to start a professional relationship with a new medical office.

In the end, it took me about 6 months to get it together enough to actually make the call, despite the numerous reminders I left for myself scrawled on sticky notes stuck to my computer monitor or scrawled large with double underlines in bright yellow chalk on the kitchen blackboard.

When I told him that I had made an appointment for him, I expected him to be reluctant, or perhaps a bit scared, but he was fairly calm about the whole thing almost seeming to look forward to the new adventure. It was not the reaction I was expecting, but I went with it, assuming that he did not have enough background to have developed a scary scenario for himself.

So it was that I was more nervous that Owen when I brought him in for his initial evaluation.

Bracing for the worst (so to speak) I held his hand as we walked through the door. Just inside the door, greeting us before we even laid eyes on the receptionist, was a pair of arcade style video games sans coin slots. As predictably as any dog in Pavlov’s lab, Owen smiled and drifted towards them with thumbs outstretched as I walked to the receptionist’s desk to check in.

Sitting behind the desk was a woman with the whitest, straightest teeth I had ever seen. I wondered if the office required a dental evaluation as part of an application for employment, and if denial of employment due to an overbite would be considered discrimination under current law.

As Owen played some games, she sat me down in a graciously appointed office to sign papers and give me the orientation talk. Her coverage of the nuts and bolts of the procedure consisted primarily of some vague gestures towards the model teeth. I felt my heart begin to sink as she spent a significantly longer period of time covering the financial aspects of the arrangement. I was startled to find out that she possessed an incredibly detailed understanding not only of how dental insurance worked in general but also knew off the top of her head the specifics of how my particular type of coverage worked in particular.

Braces are expensive. This was not a surprise to me. What was a surprise, however, was that this office did not work on the pay-per-office-visit model that the rest of the medical community operates under. Instead, they work more like an auto body shop. An estimate is given, the work is done, and then the bill gets paid.

Very tidy.

As she wrapped up the orientation talk with a bit about follow-up care, she slipped in the fact that she was 48 years old and that she still wore her retainer every night. I am not entirely sure I needed to know this about her, but it certainly explained the almost eerie perfection of her smile.

The orientation talk done, Owen and I were led into the office for our tour. The office consisted of a row of standard dental examination chairs, each facing a flat screen television displaying a current movie piped in from Netflix, and I was told that even though all the screens play the same movie, they will take requests.

I also learned that the braces themselves have had a 21st century makeover. Instead of the standard gunmetal grey, today’s brackets are now fastened to the ever present wire with tiny colored bands that are available in a rainbow of colors, can be installed in an infinite variety of color combinations and patterns and are easily changed to suit the chromatic whim of the proud brace-ee.

There were two chairs occupied in the office on the day we were there. One, we were told was a young man getting his braces off. It went without saying that this was an important day in the life of any self-conscious adolescent. The other chair held a young girl who was getting her braces put on.

I received a blinding sliver of a smile from our guide as she indicated the chair that held the girl with the newly minted metal smile and told me that this girl has been looking forward to the day she would get her braces since her older sister first got hers. She paused after this announcement to look at me expectantly, which good because I had stopped in my tracks as I processed this last comment.

Owen had drifted back to the video game as the tour and exam wrapped up. As I peeled the controller from his hand on the way out the door, he looked up at me, and with the light of excitement in his eyes asked me when we would be coming back.

Complete reversal of orthodontically related urban lore and public opinion in a single generation.

Years of propaganda and market research seem to have finally paid off….although Owen would probably say that it was just the video games.