Sunday, October 4, 2015

Confessions of a Naïve Step-Mom

Following our nuptials in April of 1994, my husband Bob and I had planned a spectacular 10-day honeymoon in Hawaii.  The only challenge: who would stay with my newly inherited step-daughter Jessica? 

At 18, and only 10 years my junior, Jessica certainly had the maturity and responsibility to stay on her own for a day or two.   However, we both felt 10 days just seemed too long to leave her alone.  Fortunately, my mother-in-law agreed to come in from her home on New York’s Long Island and keep her oldest granddaughter company.  The only caveat, a prior commitment meant she had to return home a day before Bob and I flew back into Philadelphia.  Jessica would be by herself for 24 hours, how bad could that be?

The answer to that question would come a few years later.

While giving our living room bookshelf a much overdo dusting, I came across Jessica’s high school year book.  I put down my sponge, settled on the couch and started flipping through the pages, smiling at images of Jessica and her friends.  It seemed nearly every blank space had been filled in by fellow seniors wishing her well.  Most of the messages were the fairly standard, “Good luck in college”  “Have a great summer”, and “I’ll miss you.”  However, one tiny note scrawled in the corner of the page caught my eye.  

Dear Jessica,
     I will never forget your, “My Parents are on Their Honeymoon” toga party!

We left her alone for one day.  ONE DAY!

Seems I had entered into the mother-daughter relationship with the proverbial “rose colored glasses”.  After my first few dates with Bob, I imagined Jessica and me becoming the best of friends.  “She’ll be the Maid of Honor at our wedding,” I told my friend Fern, who naturally assumed I had become quite delusional.   “Lisa,” she said, bringing me back to reality, “you haven’t even met her yet!”

The truth of the matter is, Jessica did take her place as Maid of Honor on our wedding day, but the journey to that wonderful occasion did not include the bonding that I had imagined.

The first inkling that shattered my skewed view of life as a step-mom came not long after Bob and I got engaged and I had officially moved in.  One Saturday afternoon when I found myself home alone, I noticed that Jessica had left her normally shut tight bedroom door slightly ajar.  I tiptoed into the room, which played host to my step-daughter’s incredible creativity.   Every inch of the four walls were covered with magazine posters of handsome young actors and the latest guitar strumming rock bands, hand crafted paintings, sappy poems, photos with friends demonstrating the silliest of poses, and drawings of the moon and the stars that glowed florescent when one turned off the light.

Impressed, I later told her how much I liked her bedroom.  Apparently, Jessica did not appreciate the compliment.   The next day, a photo of a vicious Doberman pinscher guard dog appeared on a sign taped to her bedroom door, with the following threatening message:  KEEP OUT, THIS MEANS YOU! 

Oh, can you feel the love?!

Poor Bob, forced to play tug of war with the two women in his life.  Jessica privately complained to Bob about me, and I, in turn, kept him at full attention with my rants about her.   Fortunately, my husband had the wisdom to know that the two women he loved would be able to work it out.  And in the end….through the angry tears and shouting matches, we grew to love each other, and work it out we did!

Over years later, Jessica is a Washington D.C.-based union lobbyist fighting for the rights of working individuals.  I have watched her evolve into a beautiful, poised, and professional young woman who constantly demonstrates a fierce love for her family and an unwavering commitment to her work. 

My adorable grandson Miles!
She and her husband Brian recently welcomed their first baby (and our first grandchild) Miles. 

Today, we laugh about our early years together and my foray into the world of becoming an instant parent to a teenage girl. 

However, those early years with Jessica did help me prepare for the wonderful, daily teen drama and angst brought to me courtesy of my own teenager, the love of my life Melissa.

Today, the posters, poems, and pictures now adorn Melissa’s bedroom walls, as she is well on her way to following in the footsteps of the big sister she adores.  As for me, if she ends up anything like Jessica, I know she’ll be perfect!  Two beautiful daughters, what more could a mother want!  

My beautiful daughter Jessica and me!

*This post originally appeared in February, 2012. It has been modified slightly from the original version.

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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Melt Down in the Produce Section!

There are many interesting things to be found in your local supermarket produce section.  You've got your cucumbers, your squash, your broccoli, your asparagus.  Then there's your strawberries, your blueberries, your lettuce, your 14 varieties of apples, and your crying 18-year old teenage girl.



Yes, that's right.

Take a trip to your local supermarket during Labor Day weekend and you too will see this strange phenomenon.

She'll be standing right there, a granny smith apple in hand.

The crying teenage girl.

Whatever could have moved this poor dear to tears?  Perhaps the apples were bruised.  A tragedy, yes, but hardly worth such an emotional response.

Perhaps she wanted to purchase six granny smith apples, but her mother would only allow her to place five in the cart.  Yes, that certainly would have led to a tantrum, but hardly worth a tantrum of epic proportions.

Perhaps the girl wanted to purchase the apples as a snack to take to school.



Did you say school?


That's it!  That's it!

The poor dear suffered an emotional breakdown, right there in your friendly neighborhood produce section, because she truly could not accept that after two glorious months, she had to go back to school! Back for her last year of school!

Yes, that's right!  Senior year.  Something that should have made the teenage girl quite happy.

Our heroine (we'll call her Melissa) woke up that morning full of promise.  She would get organized for school! She would get prepared for school!  She would gather her books, pick out her clothes, plan her meals for school!

She would spend the entire day doing nothing but getting ready for school!

That is, until her horrible mother (Lisa) and her equally terrible father (Lisa's husband Bob) forced her at gun point merely suggested she accompany them to ShopRite so she could pick out her lunch for the first week back at school

The supermarket trip was doomed from the start.

"I don't want to go," she wailed!  "I have too many things to do!"

"I don't know what you want to eat," said Bob. "Come with us and you can pick out your own stuff. You can get anything you want."

"Fine!" she retorted.

Upon arrival at the supermarket, Melissa grabbed a cart and promptly disappeared from view.

In the meantime, Bob and Lisa calmly purused the aisles, putting various necessities in their cart. After several minutes, they decided that perhaps it would be prudent to try and find their daughter.

And find her they did. In the cereal aisle.

"There's nothing for me to eat for breakfast," she whined.

"How about oatmeal, I thought you loved oatmeal," Lisa suggested.

"Ug, I can't stand oatmeal anymore," came her response.

"How about granola bars?" asked Bob.

"I don't like any of them and they are all so bad for you," came her response.

"How about bagels," said Lisa

"I am sick of bagels!" proclaimed our heroine.

And so on it went.  Apparantly this football field sized supermarket did not carry one item that would suit Melissa's taste buds.

"How about fruit, you love fruit," suggested Lisa, refusing to give up their quest for satisfactory food.

"Noooo, I don't want fruit, it always goes bad and then we end up wasting money!" came Melissa's battle cry.

Nevertheless, Lisa marched her offspring off to the produce section while Bob took a detour to the men's room.

Taking advantage of her husband's momentary absence, Lisa decided to have a mother-daughter chat with her cherub, right there in the middle of the produce section.

"Melis, you are normally so happy, but you've been really negative ever since we got here," she said with kindness.  "What's going on sweetie."

"I don't know mom," Melissa confessed.  "I'm really worried about school.  I mean, I have to wake up early and pick out my clothes, and I have to figure out something that I can make quickly for breakfast and what if I get tons of homework, how am I going to handle it and still keep my part-time job at the senior center!?"

And then the tears began to flow.

Right there in the middle of the produce section.

And Lisa did what any mother would do when witness to her child's pain.  She threw her arms around Melissa and whispered words of comfort and held her tight.

Right there in the middle of the produce section.

By the time Bob returned from his detour, Lisa thought she saw the hint of a smile on her daughter's face.  In fact, Melissa even agreed to re-evaluate her harsh judgement of the cereal aisle, and actually found a new brand of oatmeal that made it into the cart.

She had survived the produce section melt down.

A few days later as morning dawned on senior year, Melissa consented to allow her mother to take the final "first day of school" photo. Then, without fanfare, she got into her car and drove off to school...leaving her childhood (and her mother) behind.

But Lisa didn't get sad, and Lisa didn't cry. Because Lisa knew, deep down, that whenever her baby needed to cry, and whereever her baby needed to cry, a hug from her mom would make everything ok.

Melissa's first day of senior year! The last "first day of school" photo. Sob!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Daughters and Grandsons

My grandson Miles lay in my arms, eyes shut tight, lost in a world of newborn dreams. With the free hand that didn't play host to a snoozing baby, I scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed, reading post after post from parents painfully parting ways with their college-bound teens.

As I looked down at the two-week old miracle so content in my arms, my heart ached for so many of my friends who had driven home that day from universities across the country without their "babies" in the backseat of the car.  At that moment, a worn out cliche came to mind ....they really do grow up in the blink of an eye.

My grandson's mommy, Jessica, the daughter who entered my life as a teen when I said "I do" to her dad (my husband Bob), has embarked on that remarkable journey called motherhood, a journey I began on July 1, 1997 when I held my firstborn (and Jessica's baby sister) Melissa in my arms.

On that miraculous day when I looked at my baby girl for the very first time, I simply didn't know.

I didn't know about playdates and preschool and dollies and Disney Princesses.

I didn't know that I'd cherish pushing my cherub on the playground swings and reading her books each night before bed.

I didn't know about tricycles and trips to the beach and Thanksgiving visits to grandma and grandpa.

I didn't know that she'd break out in scary hives when her fever topped 100 degrees, or that her annual appointments with the pediatrician would be followed by ice cream to soothe her tears.

I didn't know about countless hours watching her play in the tub with naked barbie dolls, or countless hours spent untangling her long brown hair while she snuggled in my lap.

I didn't know I'd be shedding tears as she boarded the bus for first grade, or that the tears would still flow as the bus whisked her off to high school.

I didn't know she'd take up the flute in 5th grade or that she'd start playing guitar soon after.  I didn't know she'd have a singing voice like an angel and that chorus concerts and school shows would become an intricate part of her world.

I didn't know she'd be elected as president of her youth group, or how beautiful she would look at her junior prom.  I didn't know that my baby would drive a car, hold down a job, and start filling out college applications the summer before her senior year.

Yes, next year at this time, the mother posting those tearful college farewell photos will be me.  

All of those years ago when I held Melissa for the very first time, I didn't know that my heart would succumb to such powerful love....and that there would come a time when I would have to say goodbye.   

I simply didn't know.

Today, I look at my grandson, Miles, with quite a different perspective.

Because now I do know.

I know that his mommy Jessica and his daddy Brian will mark every milestone in their young son's life with all of the fascination and wonder that all new parents deserve.

They don't know now, but so soon will learn that their unbelievably happiness at earning the title of parents will only grow stronger as Miles enters each phase of his life.  

Because the span of 18 years that today seems like forever will indeed the blink of an eye.

My daughter "Aunt Melissa" with her newborn baby nephew Miles!

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.


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 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.........


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

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.


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

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