Total Eclipse of The Heart

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So I’m a little late with this post.  The solar eclipse happened two days ago and I’m first sitting down to write about it now.  Part of the reason for that is time, but I also wanted to do some research.  A quick look at any social media platform will reveal that many people were super-psyched about the eclipse.  And also that just as many were not interested and were sick of hearing about it.  The lead up to the eclipse was, I’ll admit, somewhat annoying.  It was all over the news.  There was a run on eclipse glasses, which resulted in price gouging.  Warnings about eye damage to humans and animals were posted and reposted everywhere.  I planned to go about my day as usual, possibly going out in my backyard at the appointed time (for us in NYC we got 71% coverage at around 2:45pm).  Then “Eclipse Monday” actually came around and I got sucked into the hype. I was glued to my TV.  The Staten Island Advance’s Shane DiMaio went “Facebook Live” with an Eclipse Party that was happening on the campus of the College of Staten Island, both educational and entertaining.  I watched that on my phone while I sat in my backyard waiting for the “big moment.”  What was it that drew me in?  What was the appeal?  Why was I suddenly so excited about the eclipse?  In short, I wanted to feel like I was part of something special.

Our lives are all about connections: social media connections, business connections, family connections, etc..  As an educator, a big part of my job was to help students make connections to abstract ideas and concepts.  This is the learning process.  We take in a new concept by comparing and contrasting it to things we already know; we connect it to other ideas and concepts and incorporate into our own well of knowledge.  The solar eclipse, for many, represented something that they could connect to, something that not everyone everywhere would get to experience.  It was something special.  According to Google, special is defined as, “better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.” While we all share the same sky and stars, the eclipse was another way for us to feel special and connected to other viewers.  It may become the new, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” Now it will be, “Where did you watch the 2017 Solar Eclipse?”

Then I asked myself, why is it so important for human beings to feel special?  I think it basically boils down to wanting to feel like we are important, like we matter.  This happens when you receive recognition for a talent or achievement.  See my post about participation awards here.  But it also happens in relationships, both romantic and platonic.  My cousin Christine and I have a special relationship.  Those of you who have watched Grey’s Anatomy will understand what I mean when I say Christine is “my person.”  We are connected not only by blood, but by similar experiences.  It is a connection that only we share together.  It is different from usual friendships.  It’s special.

Feeling special is even more important in romantic relationships.  The connection that romantic partners share is different than that which they share with anyone else.   Very attached partners often describe this special connection as one that occurs on various “levels,” and when they feel this connection on multiple levels, the more special the relationship feels.  My readers who watch Friends will surely remember Phoebe describing that type of specialness and connection with lobsters when she assures Ross that he and Rachel will eventually end up together because “she’s your lobster.”  Who wouldn’t want to feel that close and connected to their partner? That’s what makes their relationship different from anyone else’s, that’s what makes it so special.

I seem to have taken the long way around, but this is why I became so excited and mesmerized by Monday’s eclipse: it allowed me to feel connected to something special.  And to me, that was awesome.

Mother’s Day Reflections

My parents are both in their 70’s (my mom would kill me if I revealed her true age here).  They are considered relatively “young” among senior citizens.  Dad is typical for his age in that he is beginning to confuse his memories, often mixing up myself and my oldest daughter in the context of the past.  He catches himself, or recognizes his error when we point it out to him, and moves on.  My mom, on the other hand, is a bit trickier to deal with…..

Mom, Lily, and Me

Mom has many physical ailments: 2 different kinds of arthritis, fibromyalgia, trouble absorbing nutrients as the result of a previous gastric bypass surgery, a thyroid condition, and necrotic bones in both feet.  All of these conditions are difficult enough to deal with alone, but when you put them together it becomes one giant medical nightmare.  The number of pills she takes on a daily basis is astonishing.  She also has monthly infusion therapy for her arthritis, and a shot to help ward off osteoporosis.  She has appointments with doctors of various specialties near constantly.  She has always been on top of things with her own medical care, seeking second opinions when necessary, and always keeping us informed.  But about three years ago, my brother and I noticed that she seemed to be “off her game” a bit.  As we watched, the steady decline became more noticeable.  We were worried.  In what can only be described as an intervention, my brother and I insisted that she have neuro-psychological testing completed. If she was beginning to show signs of Dementia or Alzheimer’s, we wanted to know right away.  And if she wasn’t, we knew a baseline test would be helpful in assessing changes later on.  After much insisting, and yelling and crying, and with little assistance from my father, Mom was tested.

Testing revealed a deficit in the prefrontal cortex.  This is the frontal lobe area of the brain involved in complex behaviors, specifically involving planning.  Mom’s issue was in “sequencing.” She has trouble giving directions or following a recipe, for example.  This was a deficit, but considered “within normal range.”  No official diagnosis of Dementia or Alzheimer’s, but I was worried.  Mom was tested again 18 months later after suffering a series of seizures caused by a medication (ironically enough, it was a medication that is often used to treat seizures).  This revealed a steady decline in the same area, but nothing that was outside of the normal range.

This doesn’t sound that bad, right? Except that my mother is of above average intelligence.  That alone is enough to make the situation way worse than it seems.  How, you ask? Because she’s smart enough to know how to cover it all up.  She has the strength and fortitude to pull it together in front of friends and family and physicians.  When I insisted that I attend certain doctors appointments and spoke of my concerns about her, most people looked at me like I was crazy.  Clearly the woman I was referring to was a weak, feeble, shell of a person and not the picture of robustness and resilience that I was sitting next to in the exam room.  The frustration I felt was beyond description.  My mother led the brigade against me.  She told me I was worried for absolutely no reason, she mocked me and called me “warden,” or “mother.”  I cannot tell you how much this stung, and still does.  This was the woman I looked up to, the woman who told me I could do anything I set my mind to, who helped me in my darkest hours to overcome setbacks that I thought would kill me.  She is a “Brooklyn girl” through and through.  She swore to me when I moved to Staten Island that she would NEVER follow me.  But when I was widowed in 2003 with two very young girls, she swallowed her pride and moved to Staten Island to be closer to me, to help me raise her granddaughters.  So now here I was, a woman of the same hardiness and resilience, trying to return the favor, and she basically called me crazy.  My knee jerk reaction to this was to pull back.  Fine, you’re in control? Go for it.  Mess it up on your own.  Or, as a true “Brooklyn girl” would say, FUCK HER!  But once my boiling Sicilian blood simmered down, I realized I couldn’t do this.  This is my mother.  I have to help her.  I have to make sure she’s being cared for appropriately.  This, my friends and readers, has been an uphill battle.  And it continues.

Mom and Dad have been married for 52 years.  I say each year on their anniversary that I remain shocked that one of them is not currently serving time for the brutal murder of the other.  On the outside, they don’t seem to like each other very much.  They revel in catching the other one in a mistake – of any kind – and rubbing their noses in it, very much the way one might do to a dog that peed on the living room carpet.  However, if you spend enough time with them (and God help you if you have to), you will see glimmers of genuine affection between them.  Underneath all the bickering and nastiness, they really do love each other.  Now with that being said, you would think that Dad would be a great ally here.  As John McLaughlin would say (and I know I’m dating myself), WRONG!

Dad is the poster-child for the path of least resistance.  After 52 years of marriage, he avoids “the fight.”  I have the ability to say whatever I want to my mother.  I say it and go home to my own house, without her.  I don’t have to deal with any reperFullSizeRender 5cussions, any lingering attitude or resentment.  Dad does.  So he chooses not to engage.  I can’t say I blame him too much there.  But it does make my job that much harder.  When my brother and I threw a fit because mom was still driving, Dad literally stood by and monitored our argument. The woman has necrotic bone (that means dead bone!) in her feet and has noticeable trouble following sequences – she should NOT be driving! Dad’s response: “Well, she doesn’t go far.”  Great, she kill herself or someone else in an accident locally.

I find myself talking to Mom the way I do my 7 year old.  Everything is a negotiation.  Negotiating with a 7 year old, by the way, is like negotiating with a terrorist.  I now possess a full and complete understanding as to why our government refuses to do this.  Simply put, it’s futile.  It’s a losing battle from the start.  In return, Mom often behaves like a 7 year old.  She’ll say yes to appease me, agree to things to get me to shut up and leave her alone, only to then go behind my back and do what she wants to anyway.  Clearly this is where my stubborn streak comes from.  It’s maddening.  It’s frustrating.  And, it’s hurtful.  I’m trying to help and I often feel like I am being destroyed in the process.  In a car ride recently, I was lamenting to Sam about the situation.  I turned to her and said, “If I ever do this to you and your sisters, please just shoot me.”  She smiled.  Allie yelled at me,”MOOOMMM! Why would you say that to Sam? One day she’s just gonna shoot you and when we get upset she’ll say ‘What? Remember that time in the car when she said…’”  Allie was exaggerating, but probably not by much 🙂

Anyway, this is my conundrum: how do I make sure that my mother is protected and taken care of, that her needs are being met, without humiliating or denigrating her, and also allowing her to fully participate in making decisions about her own life with the dignity and respect she deserves? In addition, I am going through a grieving process of sorts.  The woman of strength and fortitude that I described is slowly but surely slipping away.  The mother I knew, who would always try to swoop in and save the day, the woman who took care of her own children while also taking care of her dying mother-in-law, is all but gone.  Lily will never know the “Grammie” that Allie and Sam knew.  She will never have sleepovers with her grandmother or go shopping together in the mall, not the way Allie and Sam did.  This makes me sad.  The relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter is a special one.  I had that kind of relationship with my grandmother, which is why I named Lily after her.  There’s a meme I’ve seen on FullSizeRender 6Facebook a lot, that says that no matter how old you are, you still need your mom.  When I see that now, my heart sinks.  I feel that way often.  I just want my mom.  I want to share my problems with her and have her tell me that everything will be fine.  But it won’t happen.  It can’t happen.  My mom is less and less herself with every passing day.  I feel alone and often unsupported.  I find myself avoiding spending time with her, in order to avoid facing the reality of her existence.  When this happens, I feel guilty.  Today is the best she will ever be.  And every “today” will be like that.  I’m wasting precious time.

On Mother’s Day, this weighs heavily on my mind and my heart.  I always spend the time around Mother’s Day reflecting on my own motherhood journey.  This year I’m also reflecting on my role as a daughter.  Am I a good daughter? Have I done enough for my mother?  Have I missed something?  I also imagine a conversation, way in the future, between my own girls.  It goes something like this:

Sam: Mommy is insane.  I can’t take it any more.  Allie, you have to take her.

Allie: I always take her!

Sam: Let’s make Lily take her.  Lily never takes her.

[Lily’s phone rings]

Lily: If I have to take her, I’m putting her in a home.

While slightly amusing, the thought of becoming a burden like this upsets me.  I’m the mom.  I’m supposed to take care of my kids, not the other way around.  Which brings me back to my own mom.  If I were in her position, would I have enough humility to admit that I was “slipping?” Would I deny what was going on or confront it head on?  If I was, indeed “slipping,” how would I want my girls to handle it?  Would I even know when something was wrong? If I didn’t, would I believe my children when they point it out to me?  The answer to all of these questions is a completely honest, “I don’t know.”  I’m not sure how I will react or behave.  People have a tendency to believe that we know how we will react in certain situations.  When we hear of someone else’s issues or problems, we say, “Well, if I were her, I would….”  Sometimes we’re right.  But most of the time we’re wrong.  You won’t know until you get there.  And, unfortunately, neither will I.

J.D. Salinger wrote, “Mothers are all slightly insane.” I know, for sure, that I am.  For the sanity of my children, I hope to be able to recognize and confront decreases in my mental and physical capacities in the future. And if I don’t, they can always throw this blog entry in my face.

Happy Birthday, Jon

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Christmas Day 1993(ish)

Today is Jon’s birthday. He would be 48 years old. This is the 14th year I’ve celebrated his birthday without him. On his birthday, I often spend time reflecting on the past year of my life and the lives of our girls and my relationship with each of them. I wonder if he would be proud of me or give me that look, the one that only he could give me, the one that I would understand clearly meant that he was disappointed and not happy.

People are constantly telling me how strong and brave I am. They tell me what an inspiration I am to them and what a bang up job I’ve done with my girls in the face of such a horrible tragedy. Well today, my friends, I will let you all behind the curtain. Just like the wizard in The Wizard Of Oz, things are not always as they seem in my life. When I first lost Jon, I was overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, but also fear. How was I going to get through my life without him? Could I be both mother and father to our girls? And while I’ve learned that I am capable of navigating life on my own, the truth is, I’m still scared. I feel weak and insecure. Every day. I worry about my daughters constantly. The thought of losing my own dad is beyond devastating to me. To see my brave girls live everyday without their father breaks my heart over and over again.

I know I have made mistakes in my life, some minor and some not so minor. But I want Jon to know that I tried. I still try. I do the best I know how to do. I have sacrificed my own happiness and desires for our girls. I put their needs, often, way ahead of my own. I do this because I’m a mom and it’s my job. But I also do it out of guilt. I did not cause the car accident. I didn’t cause the driver of the car that hit him to make an illegal turn. But I carry the guilt. My girls are growing up without a father and I feel tremendous guilt about it. Nothing brings me greater anxiety than the High School Father-Daughter Dance. Danny has been amazing, thrown into the deep end of the parenting pool without a life vest. He stepped up and did all the things that dads do with their daughters. And I’m so grateful that he did, and does. But, without any disrespect to him, he’s not their father. Events like the Father-Daughter Dance are just a bitter reminder, a slap in my face that Jon is not here. I feel guilty about this. The annual Sports Awards Dinner, their birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Father’s Day… these are all days that I dread. These are days that my joy is tempered with sadness for all that Jon is missing but also for all my girls are missing out on. They will never experience the joy that I know Jon would feel with each high school and college acceptance, with each road test passed. They will never know what it’s like to make their father proud, to see the pride in his eyes when he looks at them. I feel guilty about this.

I’m human, and therefore, imperfect by definition. That is often reflected in the goings on in my house. Along with all the laughter and happiness, there is yelling and fighting and withdrawal. When this happens, I’m often looked to for solutions. “What should I do?” “Can you please talk to her for me?” This I feel no guilt for. This makes me angry. It’s exhausting to be the one who is expected to have all the answers. And though Jon often left a lot of the difficult parenting jobs to me (like explaining where babies come from), he is the one that I would turn to for help. I have been robbed of that. Seven Orlando, Florida high schoolers on “spring break” in Miami, took that from me. I’ll always be angry about that.

Every February 1st I will look back on the previous year, and all the years that have passed. I hope that Jon sees how hard I’ve tried. I hope my girls one day recognize how hard I tried. I hope they all understand that everything I did, or didn’t do, was done with love. I know I’ve fucked up a lot, but it has never been my intention to hurt anyone. And more importantly, I’d like to think that I’ve learned from my mistakes. I’ve taken the lessons my mistakes have taught me and integrated them into the person that they have caused me to become. As the saying goes, if we don’t learn from history, we are destined to repeat it.

Happy birthday in heaven, Jon. You are loved, cherished, and missed, not only today, but every day. xoxo

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The four of us at my brother’s wedding, August 2002

 

I Will Never Forget

screen-shot-2016-09-11-at-8-16-23-pmIt has been fifteen years since the attacks of September 11th. For some it feels like a lifetime ago. For others, like it was just yesterday. And for some of us, it’s a mixture of both. No matter which category you fall into, it was a horrible tragedy. It was an awful day. It’s a day I will never forget.

The first reports on the news were of a “small plane” crashing into one of the Towers. I called my dad, who was safely at home in Brooklyn. I remember noting it was such a beautiful day, with clear blue skies. How could anyone not see the Twin Towers, even from a small aircraft? My dad, big conspiracy theorist, said, “We are under attack.” I rolled my eyes. I have since apologized for that.

My brother worked directly across the street at One Liberty Plaza. I managed to get him on the phone, and described to him what was being reported on television. The people in his office had no idea what was happening. I could hear panic and chaos of sorts in the background. He rushed me off the phone. He was heading to the designated meeting place on his floor to hear from whoever was in charge about what they were going to do. “I’ll call you back,” he said. That was the last time I spoke with him for several hours.   He and a friend from the office got on the last ferry that left Manhattan for Staten Island. Life jackets were handed out as people boarded. There was no certainty that they would make it to the Staten Island side. I finally heard from my brother when he arrived back home, with no keys. He had to break into his own house. My story has a happy ending. Far too many others do not.

Each year on September 11th, I remember those frightening moments. I remember being afraid. I remember being afraid that my brother was dead. I remember tremendous acts of kindness amongst our fellow citizens. The gentleman that escaped on the ferry with my brother is a diabetic. He had no supplies with him. My brother took him to a local CVS where they gave him an interim supply without a charge. The pharmacist, refusing the money, said something like, “Be safe and God bless America.” I remember schools in our area “adopting” local firehouses and police precincts, sending them little notes and treats to thank them for protecting us, for being the ones to run into the buildings while “we” were the ones running out. I remember. I remember lots of insignificant things and lots of big details. But I remember.

Lily, age six, saw me crying this morning. She wanted to know why I was upset. Using very basic facts, I explained to her about the attacks of September 11th, that many people died. Her generation may acknowledge this day in history, but they will not remember feeling the pain and sadness that my generation does. This thought made me even sadder. When I asked my daughter, who attends school n Ivy League college, how September 11th was being remember where she was, she reported “nothing I know of is happening on campus today.” This made me angry.

My cousin, Lisa, teaches the second grade. She is able to incorporate the significance of this day in her second grade classroom. She gives her students a brief summary of what happened, obviously limiting graphic details. She then uses it as an opportunity to talk about heroes. Her students talk about who the heroes are in their city. They then write about who their hero is and why. This is perfect, in my eyes. There were many stories of heroic acts both before and after the Towers actually fell. These stories touched me, inspired me. This is the story of September 11th I prefer to remember. Bravo, Lisa, for helping second graders understand that.

Some day, and I fear that day is coming all too soon, September 11th will be that day on the calendar that people have a vague understanding of. It will be that day that’s kind of important because of some terrorist attack. Very few will remember that a plane also struck the Pentagon that day or that passengers on another plane taken over by terrorists lost their lives trying to take it back over Pennsylvania. I’ve barely mentioned that part of September 11th in this post. As someone who lived through it, albeit from the safety of being on Staten Island and watching on television, it is important to me that the next generation, and generations after that, understand what it felt like to be “there.” I want them to understand what it felt like to think that my brother was dead. I want them to understand what it felt like for the people of missing loved ones who worked at the Towers; what they felt not knowing if their loved one was alive or confirmed dead. I want them to understand what it felt like for someone to have a loved one whose remains have never been recovered. I want them to understand what it felt like to be the partner, parent, or child of a first responder, who knew their loved one was running towards that disaster while everyone else was running away.

I am hopeful that because of television, the internet, and social media, this day will retain at least some of its significance. I was so full of emotion about this particular aspect of September 11th today. That’s when I realized that I am one of those people who has an almost complete disregard for the commemoration of other tragic events that have already occurred: wars, mass shootings, other terror attacks. I was overcome with guilt. There are people in Aurora and Columbine, Colorado who feel the way I do about their movie theater and high school mass shootings dates. How could I have been disrespectful without even realizing it? I was not personally affected by those events. I wasn’t a parent who lost a child at Columbine High School or a loved one at the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight.” To those people, whose lives have been touched by these and other horrific tragedies, I apologize for not remembering you or acknowledging your pain on those significant dates. This feeling of guilt also made me realize that it is the responsibility of those who were affected by the tragedy to keep the significance alive. This is why I tell my story to my children every year. I hope that they will tell their children, when they ask why September 11th is important, my story about my brother. That is why I wrote this post. I will never forget.

Why I Also Celebrate the First Day of School

My unknownlast two posts were about how difficult dropping off at pre-school and college (and everything in between) can be. Today I sat to write about the somewhat well known mom ritual of celebrating, amongst ourselves, the day the kids go back to school.

For my family, summers are meant to be relaxing. Students and teachers are “off.”   Summers are laid back. No school schedules. All after-school activities are on hiatus. In my house, summer means sleeping late and staying up late – for adults and kids. It means dinners aren’t often planned until the last minute and leftover macaroni and cheese is an acceptable breakfast. It means we are almost always available for impromptu get-togethers and parties. It means everyday can be pajama day. It all sounds pretty good, no? Well, hang on a second. This can also translate into a boredom disaster. We are used to a constant buzz of activity in my house. We run from school to dance or karate or soccer. My six year old will often say, “Where are we going now?” as she jumps in the car, as she’s just used to being in the car often. The lack of routine in the summer can be too long. The truth is, I had looked forward to the down time of summer. I was ready for school to be over in June. I was ready for “laid back and chill.” And so were my daughters. Kids need that break as much as we do.   We had no family vacations planned. Lily didn’t want to go to camp and I didn’t want to get up early to take her so I didn’t fight her on it. Sam is sixteen, so she had plans of her own. The result of all of this purposeful lack of planning was a gloriously relaxing July. My cousin was in town from Florida. I was able to plan lots of family and grown up time for us. It was beautiful. Then August hit. Boredom set in. Lily was in need of stimulation and she made that painfully obvious. I arranged play dates with friends and special shopping excursions. Her sisters even took her out “Pokemon-ing.”   And while it was still very difficult for me to leave my oldest at college for her junior year, I am now I’m ready for the hustle and bustle of the new school year. Continue reading

For My First Baby

As we drive off to your junior year at college…..

Allie,

As I sat down to write this post, I thought I would be writing about how dropping your daughter off at college, even for the third year in a row, is just as gut-wrenching as the first day of pre-school drop off. And it most certainly is. I’m feeling as broken hearted now as I did that first day I dropped you off at pre-school – and then also kindergarten and high school.

Then I started thinking… I’m a very sensitive woman, as you are. I feel things, good and bad, very deeply. Other people like us do exist. So I’m probably not totally off my rocker for feeling this way.   I know you know I’m proud of you, and not just of your noteworthy accomplishments (of which there are many). I’m proud of the woman that you have become. You are intelligent, caring, nurturing, considerate, empathetic, giving, courageous, humorous, kind, affectionate, forgiving, and brave. You are an inspiration to me in so many ways. The way you handle yourself, how humble you are, how you always hold your head high. You are the bravest woman I have ever known, without a doubt. You proved this to me, and the world, when you were only six years old. Continue reading

The First Day of School

My cousin is dScreen Shot 2016-08-23 at 8.12.16 AMropping her only child off at school today for the very first time.  I dedicate this post to her, and to moms everywhere who are bringing their little ones to school for the very first time xoxo.

 

Chris,

I know how nervous and overwhelmed with emotion you are right now.  Dropping your daughter off at school for the first time is a milestone – and a nightmare.

I could tell you that you’ll be upset but it won’t be that bad.  I could tell you the you won’t be thinking about her every minute of your day.  I could tell you that you won’t have the urge to call school, “just to check on her,” over a thousand times today.  But I’d be lying.

The first drop off is gut-wrenching.  It feels like your heart is being ripped out of your chest.  You will doubt every decision you have made – from the choice of the school all the way down to her first day outfit.  You will doubt yourself as a mother, asking yourself these questions, and many more, repeatedly:

  • How could I just hand my daughter off to TOTAL STRANGERS?
  • What if she gets hurt? Will they know how to calm her down?
  • What if she has to go the bathroom but is afraid to talk to the teacher and has an accident?
  • What if there’s an asshole bully in her class and he/she hurts her?

I wish I could take all these fears and anxieties away from you.  I’ve lived this scenarios three times over.  And the bottom line is this: IT’S HARD.  But hard is not bad, it’s just, well, hard.  There’s no away around it, only through it.  You’re experiencing another “rite of passage.” This is another step on your motherhood journey, a journey that you and Emma will walk together.  You will guide her on this journey.  But, sometimes, she will guide you.  She will help you discover strengths you didn’t know you had.  You will feel a love so deep that you think it’s the most it could ever be – and then it will grow even deeper.  She will teach you more about life than you can even fathom at this moment.

So the best advice I can pass on to you is to allow yourself to feel a sense of gratification today.  You grew this life in your body.  You taught her how to eat food with utensils, how to “go potty,” how to say please and thank you, and I know you taught her how to stand up for herself (old school Brooklyn style). YOU gave her all the skills she will need to succeed in school.  Be proud of the job you’ve done!

There will be tears, hers and yours.  But you will make it through.  I wish I could be there with you, to offer more support than this simple letter.  Just know that if I could be there, I’d be walking behind you with a box of tissues – and a big pitcher of sangria. 🙂

You will ROCK the first day drop off.  I know it.

Love you to the moon and back.

Love,
Anj