Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Husband and His Many Many Wives

For the past two summers my 18-year old daughter Melissa spent a week with her family in Raleigh, NC.  During each visit, Melissa's Aunt Stacy, Uncle Gregg, and cousins Amanda and Nick simply spoiled her rotten.

This summer we wanted to return the favor and welcomed my niece Amanda to New Jersey. Melissa and Amanda are close in age, yet the miles between them make in-person visits a rare treat. That's why we wanted to be sure we treated Amanda to a week full of (what we hoped would be) tons of fun.

For her first day we scheduled a visit to the beach, however an unusual chill in the usually hot and humid July air forced us to activate Plan B, a visit to "The Art of the Brick" at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute Science Museum.

Now, you may love legos. You may hate legos. You may be indifferent to legos.  But no matter how you feel about this toy that has entertained children for generations, you must go to "The Art of the Brick".  The exhibit features lego sculptures unlike anything I have ever seen!

My husband Bob initially resisted the activation of Plan B.

"What do I want to see a bunch of legos for?" came his predictable protest.

However, Melissa and Amanda, who were excited to go into Philadelphia for the exhibit, (a short, 30 minute drive) convinced him to join us for the fun.

Once inside, Bob immediately realized how wrong he had been! He snapped photo after photo of the jaw dropping lego sculptures, which included a replica of the Mona Lisa, a giant dinosaur, and the Liberty Bell.

Every few minutes, Bob, proud of his ability to capture such unique snapshots of these remarkable sculptures, enthusiastically showed me the many photos he had taken using his iPhone.

At one point during the exhibit I curiously watched him from the other side of the room as he showed his photos to a woman I did not recognize.

"He's so proud of his pictures he's now showing them to strangers," I chuckled to myself.

Now, at this point in my story I should remind you that Bob and I have been married for 21 years. I will also remind you that I am caucasian, about 5' 5" and have long brown hair.

The woman who had politely consented to look at Bob's pictures was African American, about 5' 2", and had short, curly brown hair. The only similarity between this woman and me? We were both wearing a shirt that had a similar pattern.

Yet my Bob, my husband of 21 years, thought this woman was me!

When I walked over to join them, Bob gulped in surprise. Somewhat embarrassed he exclaimed to the woman, "Oh my god I thought you were my wife!"

The woman looked at me.  I looked at her.

Then, with a wink she said, "Yeah, because you and I look so much alike!"

Laughter ensued, but the kicker is, it was not the first time that day that Bob had mistaken someone else for me!

Earlier that afternoon we had taken Amanda for lunch at Philadelpha's famous Reading Terminal Market.  After our delicious corned beef sandwiches, we made our way through the crowd to a bakery which sold home-made chocolate  chip, butterscotch, and peanut butter cookies.

After Bob purchased the best baked goods ever, we continued to peruse the many stores inside the market.  That's when my husband of 21 years reached into his bag of cookies, broke off a piece, and offered it to....A TOTAL STRANGER!

Yes, that's right, he thought she was me.

This time, the mistaken "wife" and I had the same skin and hair color, yet she was a good two to three inches taller than me.

Sigh.

Fortunately, since that fateful day in Philly, Bob has not mistaken anyone else for his wife. But just in case, I'll be wearing a brand new shirt, every time we go out!



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Friday, July 3, 2015

Melissa Turns 18

It's 11pm and I am snuggled under my cozy down comforter, drifting slowly and surely off into the welcome arms of slumber.  Suddenly from down the hall, I hear a small voice calling out to me.  In that blink of a moment, I pretend not to hear it, wanting instead to enjoy my warm covers and drift off to sleep.

Alas, I hear the voice again, a bit louder now...a bit harder to ignore.

"Mom, can you tuck me in!"

This request from my teenage daughter Melissa elicits mixed emotions. The day has been trying, and I long for sleep. However, I pull myself out of bed and walk down the hall for one very simple reason...my daughter wants me to tuck her in.

That's right. Melissa wants me to tuck her in. Something that rarely happens these days.

I walk into her room and find her lying in bed, troubled, and having a hard time getting to sleep. We talk for what seems like hours....about friends, family, school, boys, work, her youth group, becoming a high school senior, and heading off to college in one year's time.  I share my own experiences, empathize with her wide-ranging emotions, and in the process, hopefully impart some insightful words of wisdom.

Bedtime has held that special place as "mommy time" ever since Melissa came into my life.  The bonding began in infancy, when our evening routine included a bath, a bottle, and a book.  As a toddler, she sat on my lap while I read "Good Night Moon". As an extra special treat, I let her take the book into the crib with her...a source of comfort and, perhaps, a reminder of me.

As my baby's world expanded, night time remained mommy time.  There were countless hours playing in the tub with naked Barbie dolls and Disney princesses.  And of course, the night time routine would not be complete without mommy reading one book, or two, or even three or four.

As she entered grade school, we started on chapter books....and my cherub usually convinced me to read much more than the promised one chapter a night.

All too soon, Melissa developed the skills to read on her own, but that didn't stop me from spending time by her side before I tucked her in and kissed her goodnight.

Oh how I treasured tucking her in.

And now that my "baby" has turned 18... I still do.

Yes, that sweet little infant is now 18.

She is on the cusp of one of life's fantastic journies...about to start her senior year in high school and schedule college tours. Thanks to her independent spirit, she simply can't wait to graduate, move into a dorm, and experience all of the wonder of life away from home.

Away from me.

Don't get me wrong.  I am so thrilled that my shy little girl has grown up into such a strong, passionate, beautiful, and independent young woman.....I just didn't expect it to happen so soon.

In the coming months, she'll celebrate a season of "lasts".

The "last" first day of school.
The "last" chorus concert.
The "last" school show.
The "last" last day of school.

Yes, she will celebrate... but I will mourn.  Because for 18 years my daughter has been my world, and I'm not quite sure I know how to let her go.

But I will find a way.

For this is Melissa's time.

Time to shine!

Time to explore!

Time to break free!

And I know, wherever life's journey may take her, mommy is always going to be there to tuck her in.

All she has to do is call!

To the left is my baby enjoying the carousel at a neighborhood fair. To the right is that same "baby" enjoying the carousel at Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum during the Prom!



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Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Father's Day Tribute to My Man of Steel

(This post originally ran on Father's Day, 2013....on this Father's Day, June 21, 2015 - it bears repeating! It has been slightly modified from the original)

As my husband Bob, teenage daughter Melissa, and I walked out of the movie theater after viewing yet another incarnation of the tale of Superman, there was one solid aspect of the film that Melissa and I agreed was not up for debate.  The bottom line...........Superman is just downright HOT!

Muscular, sizzling, sexy HOT!

As my daughter and I engaged in an in-depth discussion of Superman's adorable attributes, my  hubby glanced over at us and declared, "Oh just cool it you two!"

I looked at him and smiled, taking his hand in mine.

"Not to worry sweetie," I said.  "You'll always be my man of steel."

And honestly, I meant every single word.

No, I'll admit, Bob is not faster than a speeding bullet.

No, I'll admit, Bob can't leap tall buildings in a single bound.

And no, I'll admit, Bob can't slip into a phone booth, don a cape, and fly from New York to Paris and back again in under 10 seconds.

But what Bob can do is be the most amazing husband and father in the world, and that makes him my Superman!

When I met Bob over two decades ago, he had been wearing the "daddy" hat for nearly 16 years, having raised his daughter Jessica on his own.

Today, Jessica, a union executive, lives in Virginia with her husband Brian. They are happily planning for the arrival of their first baby, due in August! Throughout her teen years, wild college days, and the uncertainty of young adulthood, Bob remained the rock in my step-daughter's life.  He imparted on her the value of hard work, commitment, and standing up for herself, as well as a deep appreciation of love and family.

Bob and Jessica (who is 7 months pregnant)
Since I first entered Bob and Jessica's world, I have been in awe of their relationship. Their emotional connection has never wavered, despite the miles that separate them. She has always been able to trust him, to confide in him, to seek guidance from him, and to share with him. As he prepares for his new role as Grandpa and to witness his "baby" become a mother, his love for her remains so fierce.......he'll never let her go!

As Jessica evolved from a toddler to a young adult, Bob rarely entertained the notion of having another.  Being a single parent came with a myriad of challenges, something Bob didn't look forward to living through a second time.

That is...........until I came along.

I offered no negotiations on this topic.  Our life together had to include children.

Three years into our marriage, as I stared at the positive symbol on the over-the-counter pregnancy test, I unabashedly rejoiced, while Bob greeted the news with fear in his heart. Nine months later, when our bundle of joy arrived in all of her glory, Bob took this miracle into his arms and gave me an "over-the-top, ecstatic, jubilant, euphoric" smile that I had only witnessed one time before - on our wedding day.  As soon as he scooped his newborn into his loving, big, strong, daddy embrace, our baby daughter Melissa became one with his heart and his fear simply melted away!

Bob and Melissa after her high school
production of Les Mis
As we guided Melissa through each phase of her young life, I became the over-protective parent, while Bob challenged her to spread her wings.  She learned to ride a bike thanks to his willingness to trust her and let her go (and by ordering me into the house).  She spent hours cuddling next to him on the couch, watching cooking shows or concerts.  As Melissa entered the preteen years, he dusted off his old guitar, placed it in her gifted hands, and never looked back. Today, music has become an incredible bond between them...drawing them together with a shared passion for learning, exploring, and creatively growing together both as musicians, and as father and daughter.

This Father's Day, along with a family lunch, home made cookies, and greeting cards from the two girls who have brought such joy to his life, Bob received an unexpected gift from two teenage boys. Their card held this simple yet heartfelt message

"You have been a father figure to us.  You rock!!!"

Celebrating Chris's graduation!
 The teenage sons of my dear friend Angelica, we felt that Chris and Brandon  needed some extra love, support, and attention in their lives.  "The boys", as we affectionately call them, have spent countless hours at our home, bonding with Bob through their shared love of Zombie movies and Superheroes.  He helped teach Chris to drive, celebrated Brandon's confirmation last year, and Chris's graduation from high school last week.

I did not believe that the simple act of spending time together, asking about their lives, showing interest, and sharing our hearts could truly have such an impact...but it did.

So, to my Bob, my Man of Steel, my Prince, my Night in Shining Armor....thank you for your compassion, your patience, your strength, and your love.  You are a fabulous, loving father to Jessica and Melissa. You are a caring, fun, strong father figure to Chris and Brandon, and.........

YOU ARE THE LOVE OF MY LIFE!

Happy Father's Day Bob!  
I love you!




Super Dad Bob with our daughters Melissa and Jessica

Bob with Brandon and Chris (and Spiderman!)


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Monday, May 25, 2015

The Apology

I stood there, frozen, with a basketball in my hands as I listened to the daring taunts of my preteen peers.

"Throw it Lisa"

"Throw it Lisa"

"Throw it Lisa"

The target? The garage door of the Smith House (not their real name).  My peers had been bombarding that garage door all day in a successful attempt to annoy the Smith family. For reasons I'll never know, they decided that I should have a turn, and handed the ball to me, a shy, gawky 11-year old who most certainly knew right from wrong.

If I threw the ball I would betray all the good my parents had instilled....if I didn't throw the ball I knew that my preteen peers would find a new target....me.

Be bullied or become a bully?

Those were my choices.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith had three sons, ages 4, 7, and 10.  To this day, I'll never quite understand why the Smith family was so disliked by every kid on my street.

Those poor Smith boys were teased.

Relentlessly teased.

Most of the time the assaults were verbal, although on occasion the oldest Smith boy bore the physical brunt of one or more of the brutish boys on the block.

On that fateful summer day, the kids had decided that pounding the Smith's garage door with a basketball would be a great way to while away an afternoon.  Each time the ball hit the garage door, Mr. Smith screamed out the window for them to stop, giving those kids even more incentive to take turns throwing the ball with all of their might.

Then they handed the ball to me.

Be bullied or become a bully?

Much to my overwhelming regret I chose to become a bully.  I threw the ball, which hit the garage door with a sickening bang.

An uneasy silence followed.

We waited for Mr. Smith's familiar scream out the window.  But no scream came.

Suddenly.....the unthinkable happened.

Mr. Smith came storming outside as a group of petrified preteens scattered in every direction!

No sooner had I run into the safety of my house, a knock came at the door.

IT WAS MR. SMITH!

Even though at least a dozen kids had thrown a basketball at his garage door that day, Mr. Smith chose to speak to my mother.  I suppose he thought of me as a good girl.  A shy, gawky 11-year old good girl who wouldn't succumb that easily to peer pressure.  He expected bad behavior from the other kids...but surely not from me.

I don't remember my mother's punishment that day, nor after all this time does it really matter. I just know that nearly 40 years later, the memory still haunts me.

Shortly after that incident, a "For Sale" sign went up on the Smith's front lawn. I heard that they moved to protect their kids. They found a neighborhood where their sons could grown up without being bullied.

For years I longed to apologize to the Smith boys for the small role I had played in forcing them to move. But I soon learned that saying sorry isn't always the best way to go after I received a very strange apology from a woman I barely knew.

Her guilt-ridden words came via Facebook messenger.  She wanted to apologize for something mean she had said to me during our senior year of high school, way back in 1983.

I had no recollection of the incident. What's more, I had no recollection of this woman. I didn't remember her name, nor did I show any glimmer of recognition when I viewed photos on her Facebook page.

I wondered why, after all of these years, she had reached out to me. If she somehow thought her apology would make me feel better after being the target of a hurtful diatribe spoken decades earlier, she failed miserably. Why on Earth would I want to be reminded of something hurtful that had long been forgotten?

Perhaps she wanted to assauge her own guilt, rather than ease her victim's pain.

That's when I realized that my reason for wanting to apologize to the Smith boys was completely selfish. I too, wanted to assauge my own guilt, rather than ease their pain.

I reconnected with one of the Smith boys not too long ago.  I appreciated his warm greeting even though he barely remembered anything about me.  He had been blessed with a beautiful wife and children, and most important, he seemed quite happy.

I could have apologized for throwing the basketball against his garage back in 1976.....but why bring up something that had probably long been forgotten.

So I didn't apologize.

There was no longer any need.

Me, circa 1976 - during my gawky preteen days




















To learn more about preventing, stopping, and responding to bullying, visit http://www.stopbullying.gov/

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Mother's Day Video

My small family reluctantly stumbled out of bed much too early than should be allowed for a Saturday morning.  After listening to our alarm clock force us awake at 6 am every morning of the work week, my husband Bob and I longed to take advantage of the weekend break and cuddle for just a few minutes longer under the cozy, warm covers.

But alas, t'was not meant to be.

Dozens and dozens of teenagers were waiting for my 17- year old daughter Melissa's arrival at their youth group weekend retreat located at an overnight camp roughly an hour and a half away....and mom and dad could not disappoint.

We ran through the house, grabbed our coffee and keys, and gently encouraged Melissa to get it in gear, lest her friends dare start the fun without her.  Before walking out the door Melissa pointed to a sealed envelope sitting suspiciously on top on her computer keyboard.

"You are not to open this until tomorrow morning!" she commanded.

"Ok," I replied with a shrug.

"I'm serious," she said. "You can't open it until Mother's Day. Promise me you won't open it until Mother's Day."

"Ok, ok, I promise, now let's go!"

As Mother's Day dawned the next morning, I realized with a twinge of sadness that the people who meant the most to me, the people who had made me a mother, were not there.

Melissa would come home later that day, happy and exhausted from her weekend retreat.

Bob had kissed me goodbye an hour earlier as he put on his "music producer" hat and headed to a studio to put the finishing touches on five beautiful, original songs that Melissa wrote and recorded. He too, would be home later that day.

I knew a call would come soon enough from my step-daughter Jessica and her husband Brian, whose love spanned the three hour distance between us.

Yet, at that moment, in the wee morning hours, my family seemed like worlds away.

I was a mother, alone, on Mother's Day.

Fortuately, I still had the envelope. The suspicious envelope that sat on top of the computer keyboard, waiting to be opened.

I pulled out a greeting card which contained the following instructions, hand written by my daughter.

Step 1: Go to my lap top
Step 2: Open it
Step 3: Located in the middle of the screen is an icon that says "Mother's Day Best Day" Click on it
Step 4: Watch and cry

She should have included "Step 5 - Get Tissues".

The video featured Melissa playing guitar and, with a voice like an angel, performing a cover of  "The Best Day", a heartfelt song written by Taylor Swift as a poignant tribute to her mother.

As my baby girl sang, a photo montage transformed the computer screen into a visual history of my cherub's life journey with mom by her side.

Melissa playing in the snow, bundled so tightly she could barely see.

Melissa dressed as Tigger, experiencing Halloween for the first time.

Melissa and mom splashing in the pool.

Daddy and big sister Jessica.

Birthdays and holidays.

A high school awards ceremony.

The Junior Prom.

My tears came without warning.

Uncontrollable tears.

Tears for a young lady whose childhood seemed to have slipped through my fingers...despite my monumental efforts to never let go.

Tears for a sweet baby who has evolved before my very eyes into this incredible person who is now in high school, who drives a car, who writes her own music, who volunteers as president of her youth group, who works a part-time job, who spends hours laughing with her friends.

Tears for a beautiful young woman who has less and less time ......for me.

Next year, she will graduate high school and continue on her life journey alone, with mom no longer by her side.

Yet, the time and love she put into the video told me one very important thing.

I still matter.

And I know I always will.

                   ~

Click the link below to watch Melissa's Mother's Day Video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfuIpBCLmJM














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Sunday, May 3, 2015

*Bathing Suit Shopping
(A great way to build self-esteem)

Walk into your neighborhood book store and head on over to the self-help section.  Once there, you'll be sure to find rows upon rows of well written words of advise from self-proclaimed doctors, psychologists, and get well gurus who will gladly fill your head with pages of wondrous wisdom designed to lead you on the path to endless joy and self-fulfillment.

However, I have a faster way to get  you thinking about how wonderful you are.

Go bathing suit shopping.

Seriously.

In every department store in the world, sales reps should change the signage from "bathing suit" department  to "self-help" department.  For once there, you'll hear women crying, screaming, pounding their heads on the walls, all in an effort to "let it all out" and follow that glorious path of self-improvement!

It had been quite some time since I took this self-improvement journey.  However, during a recent visit to  our local swim club, I looked down at the bathing suit fit snugly on my body and noticed a (gasp) tear in the fabric.  Hoping my fellow pool mates would not see the 10 foot long  quarter inch rip across my stomach, I hurriedly threw a t-shirt over my head and hid my suit from public view  for the remainder of the day.

Of course, after discovering this wardrobe malfunction, I realized I could no longer don this particular piece of swim wear, leaving me with only one bathing suit left in my closet.  I could opt to wear this same suit over and over, however, my pool mates would most certainly notice.

Pool mate one:  "Can you believe Lisa is wearing that bathing suit again?"
Pool mate two: "I know, she wore it last weekend, can you believe it?"
Pool mate one:  "She probably didn't even wash it."
Pool mate two: "Well at least she's not wearing that horrible suit with the 10 inch tear."

With no other choice left to me, I set out to procure a new bathing suit, and to build some self-esteem along the way.

So off I traveled to the department store and proceeded to the "self-improvement" section. I suppose many women had already visited this part of the store for enlightenment, since the majority of the suits were marked at 60 percent off.  Woo hoo!  I felt better already.

Although the self-improvement section had slim pickings, I managed to find a handful in my size (whale).  Carrying suits of yellow, orange, black, and blue, I made my way into the dressing room.  The distinct sounds of sobs told me I had come to the right place.  I smiled to myself, knowing that so many other women were coming here to feel better.

I secured the dressing room door and wrestled with bathing suit number one, which immediately transformed me into a hippopotamus.  Although the "zoo animal" look certainly was chic, I decided to keep searching.

A sizzling, multi-colored number beckoned to me, and I happily struggled to get my various body parts through and under and around and over the multiple twists and straps.  I glanced in the mirror, only to see a reflection of a well endowed woman who revealed much more of her "endowment" than anyone but her husband should ever see, if you know what I mean.  I could feel the lump start to form in the back of my throat.  Oh boy, my self-esteem monitor was really started to rise!!

Next came a black beauty which promised to turn each woman who dared squeeze through the straps into a runway model.  I put one leg in, then the other, and up I pulled.  Yes, I could certainly see myself walking down the runway in this little baby....if I had been modeling MATERNITY CLOTHES.

The lump in my throat grew in size as I wiped a tear off my puffy cheek.  I was not afraid to let my emotions flow freely and fully embrace this self-improvement stuff!

One more to try on, a conservative blue and white bland bathing suit which sat alone on the rack, marked at 80 percent off, and praying that someone, anyone, would take it for a spin.  This time, the suit slid on quite easily, and my "endowment" fit nice and snug and secure in all of the right places.  I turned to look in the mirror and there, staring back at me stood......my grandmother.  Perhaps the suit was a bit too conservative.

With tears flowing freely, I took all of the bathing suits and threw them on the floor of the dressing room, feeling much, much to good about myself to properly return them to their hangers.

I walked out of the department store empty handed, but with a healthy dose of renewed self-esteem.

I can't wait to go suit shopping again!!!

Me at about age 5...the last time I felt comfortable in a bathing suit!


(*This post originally ran in May, 2012 - and I still "enjoy" bathing suit shopping just as much!)

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Sunday, April 5, 2015

The College Visit

I graduated from Temple University's School of Communications and Theater with a journalism degree in hand, ready to conquer the "real" world and leave my carefree college days behind.

I could barely imagine nearly three decades would pass before I returned to the school, located two miles north of Philadelphia's thriving center city.

A school that held so many memories.

Good memories.

Awesome memories.

Memories that came back, in all of their vivid glory, when I set foot on the campus on a recent Friday, my daughter Melissa, a high school junior, by my side.

Melissa came to this college tour somewhat unsure of what to expect. The product of a suburban upbringing, she originally dismissed the idea of a large urban campus like Temple, thinking that a small rural or suburban college would suit her just fine.  However, when I learned she wanted to emulate her mom and study public relations and communications, I strongly suggested she at least visit my alma mater.

The university has changed, grown, evolved with the times.  In my day, if a student ordered a "Grande Espresso Macchiato" from the campus cafeteria, she would get nothing but a confused stare in return. Today, students can order their macchiato at 3:00 in the morning if they want, thanks to the 24-hour Starbucks that provides much-needed caffeine to co-eds cramming for finals.

But improvements in the coffee offerings are just the beginning.  In my day, (the paleolithic era) students wrote their term papers using an electric typewriter. Today, the campus boasts a sophisticated tech center with hundreds of MACs and PCs, new restaurants, a hotel, and the completely renovated and barely recognizable student center where I whiled away so many hours of my college experience.

Yet, some things still remained the same. The famous hut selling piping hot soft pretzels to ravenous students, the open spaces, the trees, the park benches where, as an incoming freshman, I sat quietly observing the new world around me, relishing in the joy of knowing it was ok, on a campus of 25,000 students, to simply be alone.

It had been a cathartic contrast to high school, where it was defintely not ok to be alone.

In my high school, students were unfairly labeled by their peers as   "the popular kids"  "the geeks"  "the jocks", or "the druggies."   But then, there were the students like me. The lonely, awkward kids who failed to fit into any of these categories.  The kids who didn't draw attention...who failed to be noticed. The kids who were loners.

Loners who were unfairly labeled as losers.

College changed all that.

I entered Temple University and embraced my individuality, my solitude, my willingness to sit alone on a park bench where nobody judged me.  It was a feeling unlike any I had experienced in my young life.

I felt liberated.

I felt free.

Happily, the solitude I so willingly embraced did not last for long. A group of friends entered my new college world. Friends who became inseparable during my tenure at Temple.  A group of wonderful people who never put a label on me, who only loved me for me....and 28 years later, still do!

The soft echoes of those carefree days full of friendship and laughter followed me as Melissa and I joined the guided campus tour. We visited the tech center and the School of Media and Communications, the dorms and the dining halls (Melissa's favorite!).  We learned about the curriculum, the wide range of course offerings, the extra curricular activities, internships opportunities, and dozens of ways to get involved, make new friends, and gain valuable experience in preparation for the "real" world.

In my daughter I could sense that familiar longing to break free from the confines and conformity of high school and embrace this new world far beyond the comfort of our quiet suburban neighborhood.

As I looked at Melissa, her face full of wonder, the memories of my college days began to quietly fade away.

For this day, this wonderful moment in time, belonged to Melissa's future, not to her mother's past.

And whether she chooses Temple, or finds another school that's the perfect match, if she's anything like her mom...I know she'll do just fine!

Melissa and me, during a tour of Temple University, enjoying a "famous" soft pretzel

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