30 July 2008


"So, help me if you can
I've got to get
back to the house at Pooh corner by one.
You'd be surprised there's so much to be done,
count all the bees in the hive,
chase all the clouds from the sky.
Back to the days of
Christopher Robin and Pooh."

And that is exactly where I am today. Wednesday. In two days, my son will move to West Virginia. Today I am thinking of him, remembering mental snapshots, and about every ten or fifteen minutes, I get this HUGE lump in my throat. You know, the kind that reminds you that tears are a breath away if you're not careful. I don't know how much longer I can go on being careful. I want to cry. I really do and I'm not a person given easily to tears at all. There have been times when I wish that I could cry, but today, tears are threatening at every turn.

I already miss Justin. I was on my way home from work this past Monday, to collect three cats and take them for their vet appointments and rabies vaccinations, and suddenly this car appeared beside me, honking, and there was Justin. At the intersection of College and Shipyard. Smiling. Laughing. Passing me by in the dust.

He beat me home with minutes to spare. We started corralling the cats and he drove Felix, Magellan, Princess and me to the vet and took each one in, separately, handling it all with great finesse. I laughed and only suffered three small puncture wounds on my arm because Magellan was a little nervous.

As I was waiting to pay the bill, one of the staff asked me how I was going to handle having Justin move away. I looked at her and smiled and said, "not well.". She laughed. I couldn't have been more serious.

This is going to be tough. I mean, I have a HISTORY with this kid! I knew him before anyone else, except for God. He used to swim inside of me, punch my ribs and do somersaults and it took 2 1/2 days of back labor to coax him out. We know each other well.

Sunday Night, at about 10:00 PM, he cajoled me into going to see "Stepbrothers" at the movies. He didn't have to twist my arm. We rode in his Cobra Mustang and I don't believe he went below 70 the entire way. He whipped that car around, changed gears effortlessly and I held on for dear life. He looked over at me and with an impish grin said, "Mom, we need one great last adventure before I move, right?".

We have had some seriously crazy adventures, Justin and me. The movie was silly and funny and perfect for people grappling with serious stuff like moves hundreds of miles away. On the way back home, he said, "Listen, you got the best deal. You had me for the first 21 years!".

It's true, I have been privileged to be close for 21 1/2 years. I am just so grateful for that. But at this particular moment, it's not soothing my separation anxiety.

I can't even fathom, this Wednesday before his big move, how much I am going to miss him. I am grateful for e-mail and cell phones and text messages, but that's not the same. It's just not the same at all. I want hugs. Justin has always been the affectionate one, the sensitive touchy feel guy, introspective, never arriving or leaving without a generous and heartfelt hug and kiss on the cheek. That's hard to do from West Virginia. What am I supposed to do?

I know what I'm supposed to do. I'm to be grateful that this is a very positive, happy opportunity. He will, after all, be under the bright tutelage of his father. He will learn so much and be among family and have the chance to explore a whole new world (Justin was born in Amarillo, Texas - the only one among us who is not a native WV'ian). He will also have Stephanie with him, who is now his fiancee. He will be in my old stomping ground, the area where I was raised and spent the first 25 years of my life.

It's not like he's going into the service. He's not bound for Afghanistan or Iraq. He's not headed to a medical center in a faraway town for a bone-marrow transplant or an experimental clinical trial. He is heading into a great future. I'm beyond thankful for all of that, truly I am. But I have to tell you, I am selfish. I am just so selfish because, left to my own devices, I would keep him close to me and I can't do that. I raised both he and Katie to grow up, spread their wings beyond their comfort zone, find passions and then have the tenacity and guts to take on the world. I didn't raise shrinking violets and neither of them are remotely timid.

We've lived all over the US. I've taken them on vacations to many unique places. A few years ago the three of us hopped a plane and visited France for a week. We've shared a cruise together. Poked around the Islands of the Bahamas. We've witnessed space shuttle launches, opened and closed Disneyland (California), Disney World (Orlando) and Euro Disney (Paris). We've ridden space mountain more times than I can count. We've jumped into pools, streams, fountains and oceans in our clothes. We've brought home strays of every species imaginable and raised mice for the snake collection he once proudly tended, until he discovered skateboarding which he ultimately gave up when he happened on Mustangs which coexisted nicely with his awareness of girls.

Together with Katie, we made up stories on dark stormy nights and read Edgar Allen Poe. We've walked the floor with ear infections, waited anxiously in emergency rooms for stitches and I've been called for school conferences more than once because he wasn't "doing his best work". We cried together when my marriage broke up. We've argued over both stupid and really serious things. We've slammed doors, screamed at each other and said things in anger we never came close to meaning.

I've been suckered into all kinds of schemes and scenarios and bought what he was peddling more times than I can count, even with a calculator. I've stayed up all night worrying when he didn't come home at the hour he promised and I've been filled with rage when he didn't tell me the truth. Justin has also personally, on even more times than I can count, exhibited a level of compassion both toward me and others, that has literally taken my breath away.
Out of all those things, what I remember most keenly are the times when he's taken my breath away. Those times far outnumber everything else.

I am proud to say though, I really did stand my ground when he wanted to adopt a caiman and I was always firmly against adding a ferret to the family. You pick your battles, right?

You know, they never tell you this stuff when you are about to give birth and you lumber into Lamaze Class. They cover such inconsequential things - contractions, labor, transition, epidurals, what to take to the hospital, how to bathe the baby, when you can expect to light a fire and burn your maternity clothes and stuff like that.

From where I sit, with a daughter who will be turning 25 on the 26th of August and a son who will be hitting 22 on the 21st of November, that pre- and -post natal era feels like it lasted about as long as it takes to blink my eyes. Of course, at the time, it seemed urgent, serious and some of it was terrifying to consider.

What they don't tell you in Lamaze class and, to be fair, what is impossible to convey, is the heart investment of the entire experience. I never knew I could deeply love and cherish anything (and I've had some great dogs!) as much as I have adored every facet of being a Mom. I mean, part of me wishes I had known all this stuff back in the day, but in reality, it would probably have been far more of a hindrance and I'm sure God knows it and worked all the logistics of the process out, but I have to testify that no matter where I go, what I do, whatever I may achieve or own or brush up against, it will never, ever come close to what raising a little girl and a little boy has given me. It is, in fact, an entity all unto its own. It is so intermingled into my being, the sheer depth, the strength and resilient durability of the parental bond.

God surely knew what He was doing in THAT department because there have been a few times when I thought...what the heck are we doing here and does someone have a manual or is there a service that could finish raising these kids until they're the more reasonable and responsible age of, oh, say 30? God knows that love paves over the pot holes and rough patches, and God knows He is right.

But "those" moments breeze by and before you know it, the kids are back in your good graces and you find yourself ecstatically devoted and signing on for the next exciting and improbable chapter of the craziest book in the world. And the most unbelievable part of it all is when you're on the page where "
Kids grow up and move to a new town", you tearfully, wistfully pine, you so seriously wish you could start that book over and write it all again. Even the hair-raising parts which are generously sprinkled throughout.

This...is going to be tough. Painful. Definitely hard to swallow.

This is...life. Wouldn't you just know those two would pick the times I said, "You've got to try! You can be ANYTHING and go ANYWHERE if you just set your head to it and if you want it bad enough!"

That's just so like them. Selective listening. You really can't trust them.

I feel as though I resemble my kids when I would take them to the pediatrician for vaccinations or flu shots. "Wait, I"m not ready! Wait, please, wait! Give me a minute...not yet!!!!!!". And of course, the needle had to break the flesh and deliver it's payload. It was always going to sting, sometimes a little and sometimes a lot, and no amount of preparation could change that.

No, no, no, no, no! I am not ready for Justin to move. But if he postponed it a few days, I wouldn't be any more prepared in a week, two weeks, six months or a year. It's going to sting, but we have to get on with it. His future is calling and it's time to answer the damn phone, load up the moving van and head for those ridiculous hills.

People ask me if it was like this when Katie left home, when she made her way to Manhattan in May 2006. In a way it was and in another way it wasn't. You see, Katie was born with a plan. Spend anytime around Katie and you just realize that she has a list, steely determination and a fierce independence and no time for tears. I love my daughter with the same passion that I do my son and I have a great deal of respect for the way she tackles the streets of NYC, new jobs, her fear of flying and any obstacle silly enough to get in her way. She's amazing and it's not that she doesn't have a heart, she simply doesn't wear it on her sleeve.

Justin and I, however, aren't like that at all. Our entire shirts are covered in hearts. It's just the way we are. Sometimes, I am stunned by just how much like me he is, not simply in appearance, but in temperament, mannerisms, thought processes, behavior and quirks. That apple didn't far fall from this tree.

I want to walk outside and scream at the very top of my lungs, to no one in particular, "MY SON IS MOVING AWAY AND I AM REALLY GOING TO MISS HIM AND I AM HURTING BIG-TIME RIGHT NOW!!!!!", but I haven't been at this office all that long and people might talk. Besides, he just called and we're having lunch at his old work place in a few minutes. I can't be late. He's buying!

I'm sure I'll cry on the way back to my office, and I'll cry tomorrow at random times and don't even ask me about Friday. This weekend is going to be rough and I know that. My friend Sharon called me yesterday, "just to check on you. I know this isn't easy.", and she does know it because she's watched one of her sons move to San Diego and the other one to Lake Tahoe. She knows the landscape of where I am headed and she will be right there and cry right along with me and then she'll talk very sternly and tell me - "Enough - let's go to the beach and eat chocolate and drink tea.". Good friends do things like that. I love her. I love all of my friends. I'm crazy about my family. I adore my cats. I have the best dog in the entire world. My kids? They not only have my heart, they are my heart.


Beyond all this missing stuff, trust me, it's not lost on me how spectacularly blessed we all are. For as much as this is going to EXCRUCIATINGLY "sting", and you better know it will, I also know that these tears spring from good things. They spring from love, hope, golden opportunities, and at least a thousand or so blessings. I mean, if you have to cry, this is as happy of an event as you could hope for to sob over. There isn't any undue worry or fear. I know deep inside, that this sadness is of the happy variety and I must keep that in mind. No one is sick, estranged or at wits end or the thousand and one issues that can come up that truly can rob you of your sanity, serenity and sleep. I'll adjust and we'll slide into a new "normal", carve out a new groove - grateful for all that we have, always mindful of how well off we sincerely are, and hopeful for a bright future. We'll make new memories in different cities. <I practice sounding convincing when I say this. So far, I'm not really buying it.>

But in the meantime, I really do plan to cry a bit. I can sense Katie rolling her eyes and I expect a call at some point next week from her telling me to knock it off, grow up and get busy writing. She's not heartless, she will at least allow me the weekend to wallow. And then she'll say something really wise like, "How do you expect to meet a sailor with red eyes?"

Good point.

It's "Shark Week" on the Discovery Channel. I should be happy, right?

24 July 2008

Headline News...

OK, this will be quick because I'm tired and ready to hit the bed but these have been some busy times in the Cook/Parker Home.

Here's the scoop! (Pssst...there are some new photos on the flickr site - click on the moving pictures on the right sidebar).

Someone became engaged in this family and for once, it wasn't me! Last Friday (18 July) Justin presented Stephanie with a ROCK and she said YES!

We welcomed and enjoyed company from West Virginia on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I just returned from The Pilot House in downtown Wilmington and a lovely engagement/farewell dinner hosted by Stephanie's lovely grandmother. She and I have made plans to get together after next weekend, following the kids' move, so we can cry and miss them together. They haven't even left yet and I already miss my son. I fought back tears a couple of times tonight.

My Mom is on the mend, but let me tell you, that fall left her with some serious bruises and after seeing the latent bruises I can only imagine she has bones made of steel. What a feisty lady she is. How blessed we are she bounced back.

I'll write more later, but for now, I am ready for sleep. These are busy, emotional, heart-tugging days. We're so excited for Justin and his new adventure working with his father in West Virginia, but we're all going to miss him tons.

I'll fill in the blanks this weekend.

13 July 2008

The Things That Matter Most Really Aren't...

...Things At All. They aren't even Lincoln (POS's) LS, iPods, or swimming pools.

Last night or, rather, about 3:00 am this morning, I was asleep when I woke up to see my Dad's worried, searching eyes. Not a good sign at 3:00 am. I was awake instantly, bolted upright and said, "What's wrong?". I mean, nothing can be right when someone wakes you up at 3:00 am, right?

He told me in a quiet but anxious voice that my Mom had fallen going to the bathroom and could I please come downstairs. In a flash, I was down those stairs and walked into my parents room to see my Mom rather slouched in her chair, eyes closed and cradling an arm that was dripping blood from two angry looking lacerations; open, harsh wounds on her delicate tissue paper thin skin. I walked over and asked her what happened?

"I fell. I fell and hit my arm. I couldn't see and it was dark.", she whispered, mumbled really, in a weak voice without opening her eyes, head tilted to the side.

I asked her if she could move or if she thought she might have broke something, other than the painful looking skin on her arm.

"No, well, I don't think so. Need to lay back. Could I have a cold cloth on my head, please?".

I heard my Dad rifling around in the drawers of their bathroom, searching for bandages and antiseptic. I ran to the bathroom and found a wash cloth and ran cold water through it. My Dad brought a towel to lay beneath her bleeding arm.

Mom told me that the cloth wasn't cold enough and could I please put some ice in it? I raced to the kitchen and grabbed five ice cubes and wrapped them up in the wet cloth. My heart was beating fast and my mind was racing at a thousand possibilities always arriving at the same question..."What should I do next? Should I call 911?".

I walked back in, my dad was standing close to my Mom, gently stroking her arm and asking her if anything was hurting. It was at that moment that my heart made a giant leap into my throat at the sight of both of them. As scary as this whole scene was, it was just laden with a gentle sweetness that completely epitomizes their relationship.

Devotion is intangible but theirs is so sturdy, so strong and durable, that you can nearly reach out and touch the current that courses between them. It's effect was pervasive inside that room last night. It softened the rough, sharp, scary edges of an event that no one wants to confront at any hour, but is especially foreboding at 3:00 am.

Mom welcomed the icy cloth I delivered and we slowly eased the chair she was sitting in back so that her feet were propped up and her head could rest without slipping to the side.

Again, I asked her if she thought it might not be a good idea to get this checked out at the hospital.

"No, just let me lay here for a few minutes and we'll see. I don't want to talk...just let me lay here for a few minutes."

Dad had brought me a chair to sit beside her and he had settled into his desk chair. I looked over at him but his eyes were fixed on her.

I held her hand. I felt so privileged to sit beside her, even as my mind groped for something more that I could that might have offered her relief and comfort. She's not had much experience being the "patient". In truth, I have had scant experience being the caregiver. We were both assuming unfamiliar roles, but I believe we were doing the best we could at that moment.

Every few minutes, I would ask her if she was feeling better? She would tell me that she thought so, just give it a little while.

As I sat there, in the low light of their bedroom, I looked around at the trinkets, the photos, the books, word puzzles, momentos and then my mind would come back to, "Should I let her lay here or should we really be on our way to the hospital?". I just didn't know what to do but I hoped that what we were doing was enough. Of course, I prayed. Mostly my prayers were for guidance, comfort for my Mom and some kind of form of wisdom to know that what we were doing, at that moment, was the right thing.

Felix, our black, quirky cat walked in the room, followed by Cassie, who looked around as they were assessing the situation and knew something wasn't quite right. Felix looked up at my Mom and then walked over to my Dad and rubbed alongside his ankles. I think he was offering my Dad the only comfort he was capable of expressing. Both animals settled down in the floor, side by side, at the foot of my Mom's chair. Their eyes were inquisitive yet compassionate.

And I sat there, for well over an hour, stroking my Mom's hand, readjusting the rag on her head, asking her if she was feeling better, if she needed anything - maybe a sip of water? Tea? My dad sat quietly at his desk, facing us, drawing on his pipe, fingers interlocked on his lap.

After about half an hour, Mom asked me to wring the cloth out. It was getting drippy. My father got back up and started looking again for bandages but seemed only to find the 1 inch square band-aids which wouldn't begin to cover the angry gashes on her arm.

"Barbe, they're in the wicker basket at the top of the cabinet. You can't find anything...", she said in a rather bemused fashion. It was at this point that I finally decided we had made the right decision not to call 911 right away. She was coming back to us and taking charge. If she was able to direct our fumblings, Miss Maxine was assuming her position. I welcomed those words and my Dad, without missing a beat, smiled and said, "Well why don't you just walk in here and get the band-aid yourself!". Again, these were good signs at what was now 4:40 AM. I finally breathed a sigh of blessed relief.

I walked in the bathroom and found the shelf, the bandages and the peroxide and went about the business of attending to Mom's arm. She had finally opened her eyes and was watching as I poured small dollops of disinfectant and we both studied the scrapes as they bubbled and fizzed. I asked her if it was stinging? "No, not a bit!", she chided, as if I was somehow implying she was a wimp or whiny old lady. Again, this was a good sign.

After I bandaged her arm, she finally decided she was ready to make a try for the bathroom which had been the original target of her nocturnal wandering about. Daddy fetched her cane and I took her arm and together we made our way slowly to the bathroom. As I stood in there waiting for her, I quickly flashed back to when I was a little girl, and how many times she had taken such impeccable care of me, in so many situations, nursing me through tonsillitis, bronchitis, many bouts of the flu, pneumonia, a car wreck just last summer, and how capable she always seemed to be; how secure she always made me feel, by virtue of her sheer, stable, loving presence. What a gift she's always been. What a gift she continues to be.

Those midnight moments bring life into perspective with blazing speed. As stressful and scary as they can be, such times deliver clarity into what matters most in this life, as nothing else can. When I finally returned to my own bedroom last night, I thought about what had just happened, and the thoughts that had been razzing my brain prior to my middle of the night wake-up summons.

I had been irritated with machines, prior to my 3:00 am wake-up call. The front end bumper of my car was loose and making contact with the pavement. Not to mention the fact that in the last few weeks, in addition to the rear driver's side window which refuses to go up or down, the door handle to driver's side no longer works which means I have to roll my window down and open my car from the outside. Add to this the "check traction control" light that announces itself in the "status window" of the dashboard, the broken drink holder in the console and the fact that the sun roof window didn't close all the way last week leaking water onto my iPod, thereby completely rendering it inoperable, has made me feel a complete and utter distaste for my car and daily I find myself pining for my old PT Cruiser which got great gas mileage and even though it was lacking in many of the bells and whistles that come with my Lincoln (POS) LS, I honestly enjoyed driving it so much more.

So last evening, as I was sitting here surfing the net, I was filled with contempt for the Lincoln, the iPod (which I REALLY miss!!!!), and wondering how so many things could go wrong on a car in such a short amount of time. I wasn't exactly in the best of moods. I would have gone outside for a late-night swim, but my pool isn't completely cleared (however it is definitely on the mend after Friday's latest round of work by Pool Specialists!), so last night rather than swim, I stewed. Completely pissed off by the breakdown of the gadgets and machines I rely on every day. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of mechanical glitches.

But early this morning, there were no thoughts of a broken iPod, the dragging front bumper of a Lincoln LS, or a murky pool. My focus was instantly narrowed to what is precious in my life and what is precious is family, close, dear, dependable friends, and even the concerned countenance of a loyal dog and cat. That silly car in the driveway, the cloudy 33,000 gallon pond in my backyard, and even the busted iPod don't even register on the "matters most" meter. Those things can be repaired and replaced and will never cross my mind at the end of my days. What will transcend that threshold are the mainstays who bear the monikers of Justin, Katie, Mom, Dad, Stephanie and so many close buddies who make my life feel golden more times than I possibly deserve.

No one would ever volunteer for the 3:00 AM wake up call that I experienced last night, but attached along with the attendant angst, is the reminder of the volume of love that situates itself in my life, and as the vital signs return to normal and the world is illuminated courtesy of the dawn of yet another gift of a day, gratitude remains long after the tide of terror washes back out to sea and the storm moves out.

After a few more hours of sleep this morning, I walked downstairs to find my parents happily chatting over cereal and coffee, reading the newspaper, sun streaming in through the large windows.

"Good Morning!", my Mom almost too cheerily announced! Ah yes, she was back in the saddle - a little bruised and bandaged, perhaps, but "not nearly as sore as I thought I'd be!", she almost smugly added.

I guess the lingering result of last night is that it gave me even more reasons to be grateful, to be reminded of the fragility, and in awe of resilience and durability, that is life.

Life is, in fact, so much more than good, even if your car is crumbling and your iPod is a thing of history.

Life is absolutely amazing.

07 July 2008

Unrealized Nightmares...Unmerited Blessings

I went to Greenville, South Carolina last week. I left on Monday Evening, after I had studied the myriad of interstates that would carry, and possibly confuse me, between Wilmington, North Carolina and my forecast destination. It's 312 miles between here and there and my major stumbling block, the area where my eyes kept returning to, was the Interstate bypass that would (hopefully) take me around Columbia, South Carolina. That was my least favorite part of the route, at least visually on the map, because I don't do well at all when I'm on multiple lane freeways in heavy traffic. Such driving is terrorizing for me. I know that because I've had all of my most impressively horrific panic attacks while trying to bypass large metropolitan cities in both light and heavy traffic. It can be distilled in one fourletter word. Fear. Pure, unadulterated fear.

But I had a plan because we're nothing without them, right? I would leave around 6:00 PM from Wilmington the night before I would need to arrive in Greenville. Given that there were 312 miles separating me from my target, I surmised that if I left at 6ish in the evening, it would place me and my car and my terror well past rush hour and hopefully in the lightest, most manageable traffic possible.

In the hours leading up to my dreaded departure, if you had seen me that day, you might have thought I was being remanded to the gallows. That I was facing incarceration and, in a sense, I was - I was becoming imprisoned by my own over-inflated, but nevertheless paralyzing, fear.

I walked about the house slowly. I would pace from my suitcase to the dryer, with a deliberate and defeated gait, robotically depositing the clothes I had mindlessly selected to wear on the off chance I survived my journey. Just in case some blazing eighteen wheeler didn't overstep his lane and crush my car and take me out with it in a fiery ball of cataclysmic devastation. If there was even the slightest possibility I would make it unscathed to Greenville, at least I would have clothes to wear as I trained for the job that would be waiting for me should I twice defy the unfathomable odds and arrive back safely on Wednesday Night to Wilmington.

Frankly, at the time, I would have told you that my odds of winning the powerball were much more favorable than my surviving the roundtrip tour I was preparing to embark upon. My mind was playing some very Un-empowering tapes and someone (me) had tripped the switch on my mental tape player to "repeat".

I finally bid my parents what I secretly felt could possibly be a final farewell and trudged to my waiting car. I would imagine that people being taken to death row probably had a more sunny countenance than the one I secretly wore. Death row inmates face capital punishment. I, however, was staring toward the capital of South Carolina and its eight possibly lethal lanes looming in my immediate future.

I walked out of here with the weight of the world and every agonizing mile punishing my psyche, deeply entrenched in the dangerous and dark recesses of my overactive and often times inaccurate imagination.

I pulled out of the driveway, waving at my parents, who were smiling contentedly, never once realizing the deep danger that the interstate bypass of Columbia was holding in wait for their only remaining and ridiculously panic-stricken daughter. I dug deep within myself and managed a smile, almost feeling sorry for them because I didn't think they stood a chance of seeing me alive again. How sad, because two days later, on July 3rd, they would celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary and what a bleak stain my impending doom would lend to their very special day. They were just so clueless and didn't understand the monumental obstacles that my mind had managed to manufacture.

The first few miles I had to literally fight with myself not to make a U-turn and turn my car around and run back home to my perceived safety zone. Honestly, I absolutely had to beat back the impulse as I made my way toward the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge and crossed the great divide that would separate the men from the boys, and me from New Hanover County.

I hate bridges. I abhor them. I have always had a fear of steel spans. Normally, just the prospect of crossing the Cape Fear Bridge would have been enough to reduce me to a hyperventilating, sweaty-palmed, heart-palpitating and trembling mess, but given that Columbia was on the dusky horizon, I reasoned that I had bigger fish to fry and so I had to put my fear of bridges on the back burner of the stove I use to create mountains out of anthills. No one can reasonably nurture more than a couple of unreasonable phobias at a time, so my fear of bridges had to rescind it's top stop in favor of rapid-fire freeway traffic.

But before I made it over the bridge, I took a side street on my way downtown to Market Street and found myself parking where that major thoroughfare (by Wilmington standards) terminates and I parallel-parked in a spot that faced the Cape Fear River and the USS North Carolina which is moored on the Brunswick County side of the river and is one of our major tourist attractions in this town I love so much.

I sat in my car, window rolled down, watching the tourists smiling on their way to or from dinner, small historic maps in hand, pointing at this structure or that sight, completely oblivious to the terror lurking inside of the white Lincoln LS which was, I must say, expertly tucked into a tight parking spot. I saw the horse-drawn carriage amble to the right of my car, as the horses dutifully trudged their course while the tour guide recited all manner of interesting and historical facts about Wilmington.

It was just another sultry summer evening in a sleepy, southern town teeming with tourists who had probably spent most of their Monday at our area beaches and had driven downtown for a nice meal and a little southern ambiance courtesy of our moss strewn, tree-lined streets and sweeter than iced tea charm. Stupid, clueless tourists. They had no idea the fear contained in the innocuous looking automobile, lurking just beneath the surface of the tousled, wind whipped blond hair of a 48 year old woman who wished for all the world someone would tap on her window and tell her that she didn't have to cross that bridge or merge into the lanes of the freeway that was supposed to take her AROUND Columbia, South Carolina.

I sat in that car, almost frozen in fear, mapquest print-out in my lap, staring absently out the window and wishing, dreaming, that the governor would call and say it was all a mistake - I could still have the job, the salary, the medical, dental and vision benefits without having to drive those looming, doomed 312 miles to Greenville; that someone as clearly bright as me didn't require training or need to make an appearance in a town so far away and INLAND, and that I could just learn everything on the fly and forget this whole silly Greenville madness.

I waited. I sat there for at least 20 minutes knowing that no one was really going to knock on my car window and tell me that it was fine, that I didn't have to go, and that I could simply turn around and return to the safe harbor of my home, my family, my dog and my two cats and my 50 or so fish contained in five aquariums who really needed me to look after them, but oh how I wished someone would have. At the time, I would have given anything for a reprieve, a stay of interstate transit, or a simple change in plans that would allow me to stay home and not venture outside my comfort zone which extends to about ten miles in every direction from the epicenter here at 326 Nottingham Lane.

It never happened. That call never came.

I took a deep breath and knew it was time to face my fears and plow through the list of turns, merges and highways and snap out of it. I wanted to call my Dad and ask him what I always ask when I'm feeling especially shaky and scared..."Dad, do you think I can do this? Do you think I'll be OK?".

I know it sounds completely ridiculous and I always know exactly what he's going to say, but I swear I can't tell you how comforting it is to here his response when I ask him that question. He chuckles in a manner that makes me believe that's the silliest question he's ever heard before in all of his 83 years been asked. His voice is tinged with a durable confidence I hardly ever feel, as he exudes the utmost belief in me and whatever it is I'm afraid to do, whether it's boarding a flight for NYC or Manchester or Paris or sailing or about to give a talk to a recovery group or go in for a root canal or sit for a test or drive to the center of downtown Raleigh or embark on a very long drive all alone. His words always empower me. They make me believe I can do things that my mind tries to trick me into thinking that I can't possibly deal with or handle. It's amazing really, the power of hearing him say that I'll be fine, just fine, and that it won't be any trouble at all and that I will just fly through whatever is looming on my horizon without the slightest hint of a glitch.

It's so comical in one sense. How many times did I hear him express his confidence in me when I was growing up and filled with all kinds of angst over just about everything and what a difference his belief in me meant on more occasions than I can count? I guess it's because as I was growing up and navigating childhood and adolesence and dealing with so much uncertainty and fear after my sister died when I was 13, my dad and my Mom were accruing a track record of being right about 99.9% of the time and guiding me with so much love, so much devotion, wisdom, kindness and compassion.

Late Spring of 1973. That's when most of my biggest fears were born - in the days, weeks and months following the completely unexpected death of my 23 year old sister. I was thirteen at the time, which is a hard age when everything is going perfectly, but my gosh, the day following May 25, 1973, it seems as if I caught every fear and phobia imaginable. And somehow, even in the deep and horrific pain of losing their first daughter, my Mom and Dad managed to guide their second one through the scariest period of my life and to this day I have no idea how they did it.

After having two kids of my own, and understanding the depth and magnitude of love one feels for their children, it's even more inconceivable to me that they had the wisdom and capacity to steer me through what felt like hell. But they did it. They did exactly that. They never gave up on me and they never allowed me to give up on myself, through every bump, stumble and fall I've ever dealt with in life. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't find my parents' strength and the power of their love and understanding, to be a force even unto its own. They have always been my rudder, the artificial horizon by which to fix my position, to navigate when life feels so disorienting and foggy that I have to rely and depend on my instruments because the weather is such that visual flight rules do not apply.

It is, in a word, uncanny. I am, in another word, blessed.

And they were also, a few days ago, as they celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary. Justin and Stephanie joined us and my handsome, sturdy son "manned" the grill and graciously feted us with sumptuous, done to perfection steaks, baked potatoes and, for dessert, Stephanie and I snagged two big hits - Strawberry and Rhubarb pie and Dutch apple pie. It was such a great evening and a very special, intimate celebration for two exceptional folks.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, even though I didn't call my Dad on the way to Greenville for a pep talk, I just replayed one of his many encouraging "talks" in my head and, with a sturdy predictability, I could hear my father's voice in my head telling me it was really going to be JUST FINE! "Nothing to it!", I'd hear him say with a wry smile in his voice, exuding the confidence I often find myself running so short of, forgetting more often than I should, that I do come from sturdy stock and that I am stronger and more capable than I believe myself to be most days. I wish I could get those good tapes to kick in automatically without the fear taking hold, and some days I do better than others, but I guess that each time I face what I perceive as an obstacle or challenge, well, maybe something is strengthened that I'm not yet aware of and perhaps it serves a larger purpose. I don't really know why I let myself get into such a state from time to time and allow myself to become flooded with torrents of self-doubt but I guess the good news is that most times I don't allow it to paralyze me or render me immobile. There were times in the past that it used to have that power and in the past few years, I have at least managed to walk through most fears even if I was shaking just a bit so, well, that's progress, right? Yeah, it's OK to say that.

And, as you might imagine, Columbia proved to be "much ado about nothing". By the time I arrive there, it was nearly 10:30 PM, so the rush hour was long finished and put to rest. Only a nutty blond with exhorbitant fears could be found on the highway at that absurd hour and very little traffic was to be found. From Columbia to Greenville, I pretty much had the highway to myself and arrived in Greenville at around 1:30 AM. I know, I know - most rational people would be afraid to be out driving alone at such an hour - I mean - it would be reasonable to fear that the car might break down, that one might suffer a flat tire or engine trouble alongside an empty interstate in a mostly rural part of a southern state. To be afraid of those things would be prudent, rational and completely logical. For me? Those fears never really cross my mind at all. No, I'm more afraid of all of the things least likely to happen, bypassing the events that have a far better chance of causing me trouble. Go figure. If you do, let me know. I sure can't figure it out but, then again, maybe it's because I'm an Aquarian, and just a little crazy. The only physical pain to report from the trip was contained in the fingers of both of my hands, not unusual given the strength of the grip with which I held onto the steering wheel.

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad and thank you so very much for being exactly who you are, and still taking the time to gently teach me so many things I should have figured out decades ago. Katie, Justin and I love you both so much. As Fred Rogers would say, "just for being you...".