Jeffrey Zaslow: The Party Of Yes

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Ten days ago, I lost a dear colleague, a fellow writer I presumed to call a friend. Jeffrey Zaslow, best selling author and Wall Street Journal columnist, was a member of the advisory board for letterstomykids.org from day one. He once referred to my blog as a “high calling,” a description I took humbly to heart. I learned about his death from an obituary in the newspaper and felt as if I’d gotten sucker-punched. Here is my tribute to him.

In the eight years I knew Jeffrey Zaslow, the best-selling author and Wall Street Journal columnist who died in a car accident the Friday before last, I gave him plenty of opportunities to demonstrate his tendency to say “yes.”

Would you read an essay of mine about my mother? I would ask him. Yes, he would say. May we talk about a book idea I have in mind? I would ask. Yes. Almost two years ago, I told him about my plan to start my first blog. Would he be a member of my board of advisors? I asked him. “Yes,” he said. “Of course.”

Just as I specialized in soliciting favors from him, Jeff, in turn, excelled at granting me those favors.

After I was laid off from a job in 2008, I asked Jeff and others I knew to keep an eye out for new opportunities for me. He immediately offered to give me job references and to steer me toward freelance assignments. But above and beyond almost everyone else I contacted, he also promised to make himself available to talk.

Throughout our relationship, Jeff encouraged me to pursue my ambitions as a writer. You should submit that piece about your father, he would say. You should definitely write that memoir about your family. “You’re a great writer,” he told me – and even though I never doubted his sincerity, somehow I could never quite believe him.

In his articles and books, Jeff wrote about what matters most. Love and loss. Family and friendship. All the personal stuff that happens while we’re out there making a living and trying to earn enough and wondering which suit to wear to a presentation – or, for that matter, how to recruit someone for your blog’s advisory board. He wrote about how we treat each other and also about how we feel, in our heart of hearts, about how we treat each other.

We never met face to face. I knew Jeff only through his writings and our frequent e-mail exchanges and occasional phone conversations. Ours was more a professional friendship than a deeply personal one. Yet his inherent compassion and generosity and humanity always came through loud and clear.

Still, as far as I could tell, Jeff Zaslow never stopped saying “yes.” He said yes to my numerous, and often presumptuous, requests of him. He said yes to the singular responsibility of telling powerfully the stories of people with powerful stories to tell, whether it was Professor Randy Pausch in “The Last Lecture” or Gabrielle Giffords in “Gabby.” He said yes to being a husband and a father and a son and a friend. He said yes to being alive.

If Jeff had ever become a political party, he would have qualified as the party of yes.

Only on one front did I ever have trouble getting him to say his favorite word. I invited him to contribute a guest column to my blog for Thanksgiving, all about his gratitude for his children. But he had just undergone minor surgery and was trying to finish writing his book about hero pilot Chesley Sullenberger, “Highest Duty: My Search For What Really Matters,” so he begged off with an apology.

A few months later I asked him again, this time for Father’s Day. Again, he took a pass, saying he was in over his head.

Then, just last month, Jeff reverted back to form. He had let me know about his latest book, “The Magic Room: A Story About the Love We Wish for our Daughters.” Sensing yet another opportunity to advance my personal agenda, I sought for the third time to enlist him as a guest columnist for my blog. Maybe, I suggested, he could write a piece about why he wrote a book about daughters. He could cast as a letter to his own three daughters.

“Yes,” he said.

“That would be great,” he said.

“I’ll get right on it,” he said.

P.S. — This tribute appeared yesterday in Brevity magazine:

http://brevity.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/the-party-of-yes-a-tribute-to-jeffrey-zaslow/

P.S. — Click below to learn more about Jeff:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203646004577215574045345682.html?mod=

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/11/books/jeffrey-zaslow-best-selling-author-dies-at-53.html

http://online.wsj.com/public/page/remembering-jeffrey-zaslow.html

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Valentine’s Day Special: All The Time In The World

Dear Michael and Caroline,

She’s coming over to my apartment, this cute young woman from Brooklyn. I’m living on East 23rd Street, in the city’s smallest apartment, and it’s Saturday night.

She’s in my doorway now, looking cute, as she tends to do, and out we go. We go east toward Park Avenue South and hang a right on Third Avenue.

In those days, it seemed we would always be doing Third Avenue. It had the action, the restaurants, the bars, everyone out on Saturday night.

We might be holding hands now, her hand feeling so warm in mine.

We stop off at Nizza’s, a pizza place we liked, thin crust and all, maybe two slices each. We’re already quite fond of eating out. We’d spent our first New Year’s Eve at a place called Bar None, lingering for three hours over a five-course dinner complete with a cabaret singer on piano. We might even have already gone to Windows on the World in the World Trade Center.

We like to eat and talk a little, nothing more on our agenda. Maybe I’m telling her how I hated Hebrew school, or she’s letting me in on life with nuns at Catholic school, and maybe we imagine ourselves trading places.

She eats like a lady, no tomato sauce dripping onto her cheek, and it’s all so easy. She’s easy to be with, easy to talk to, easy to listen to. We each feel no temptation to be anything other than ourselves, and being ourselves seems to fit the bill all around.

It’s 1977, maybe late spring, and we just started going out six months earlier. We clicked right away, the second date soon after the first and so on. Jimmy Carter is president, Hugh Carey governor and Ed Koch the new mayor. The city is in lousy shape, crime high, the streets dirty, the economy struggling.

But that’s all a distant backdrop for us. We’re still busy discovering each other, feeling it all out, and it’s feeling right. It’s feeling comfortable. She’s cute and smart and funny. But she’s much more than merely entertaining. She’s steady, mature. She never raises her voice or gets hysterical.

Now we’re back out on Third Avenue, the streets growing thick with pedestrians as night comes on. We go down toward Union Square Park, but probably stay out of it, the better to avoid the drug dealers.

We head back uptown, past those tall, white apartment buildings. We go down the steps into a Bagel Nosh and pick up some tire-sized bagels, either for later that night or tomorrow morning. It’s all as easy as it gets, a guy from the Bronx and a girl from Brooklyn out on a Saturday night in Manhattan.

We’re doing the town on a shoestring. I’m at the Eastside Courier, earning about $9,000 a year, and she’s at Harvest Fabrics, probably pulling down about the same.

Everything is new. We’re new to each other. Our careers are still young. The city still seems, at least to us, to have a certain innocence (we’re still a few months away from the Big Blackout and the Summer of Sam). But I’m heavily vested in the moment, no plans on my mind beyond tonight.

We’re back on 23rd Street now, the sky dark, the street lights on, passing the massive Metropolitan Life Building. We take a bench in Madison Square Park, but only briefly, because the drug dealers are out here, too. The city is otherwise ours, though, because we’re young and everything is ahead of us, our pasts containing little more than our childhoods. She has such soft skin and such a sweet smile and she makes me laugh more than any girl I’ve known, and nothing else matters. I feel good around her, better, smarter, more successful. Neither of us quite suspects whether we have a future together. We’re still in suspense, making it all up as we go along, nothing by any means a given.

We’re back in my apartment now, settling in for the evening. Soon we’ll watch “Saturday Night Live,” back then still a major, looked-forward-to event. We’ll catch Chevy and Dan and Bill and John and Gilda and Jane and Loraine in the act, and we’ll laugh together. Life is good, still pretty carefree, light on obligations. All is promise and possibility. We have no idea what’s coming.

That November, of course, we’ll move into Forest Hills together, and the next June we’ll get engaged, and the following March, married. And then the rest of us will arrive, first you, Michael, and then you, Caroline, completing us forever.

But for now all that’s still ahead. It’s only the spring of 1977, on a Saturday night, and nobody’s in a hurry to get anywhere. We still have all the time in the world.

Valentine’s Day Guest Columnist Alexandra Owens: Our First Time Getting A Second Chance

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Alexandra Owens lives in Morris County, New Jersey, with her husband, Michael, and their two daughters, Gillian, 13, and Catie, 10. Alexandra is the executive director of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA; http://www.asja.org).

Dear Gill and Catie,

I first saw your father on a volleyball court, where he was the man in charge. At 6’3” he was the tallest person there, which immediately caught my eye. (Being almost 6’ tall myself, I notice these details.) I was shy, I knew no one there, but because he was the captain I had the perfect excuse to talk to him.

“Where do you want me?” I asked.

He smiled a wide, welcoming smile that lit up his green eyes, and as we chatted about where I should play, my innate shyness left me.

What got me onto that volleyball court so many years ago was this: my divorce. It was crushing. After eight years of trying to be happy with the wrong partner, I was 30, alone, and very sad. I thought my one chance for happily-ever-after was over and done, so I decided to just try to stay busy on my own.

I’ve told you this story before, because you are so curious about your beginnings. Finding out I was married once before Daddy was a shock to you at first, but then a never-ending subject for questions and speculation.

“Would we have had red hair?” you want to know.

“Wow, I would have been half-Irish instead of German-English-Dutch-Scottish-Russian-Hungarian-Welsh-Native American!”

“How old would I be now?”

And the question you ask most often: “Are you glad you had me with Daddy?”

It was a great volleyball team, and we had a lot of fun. We’d often go out to eat after practice and talk and talk, just getting to know one another better. On one of my very first evenings there I found myself sitting next to this tall captain and we started talking about our lives, telling each other about ourselves.

He told me about learning to be a professional cook, and how he spent so many years working in restaurants and country clubs. Since graduation he’d worked hard, learned a lot, and earned enough to buy his own house at 32 (pretty young to own a home).

Then he told me that he’d finally realized that continuing to work as a professional chef could mean he would never spend evenings, weekends, or holidays with the rest of the world. On those special occasions he’d always be working in the restaurant kitchen instead of celebrating with those he loved, and that was no way to build a family. So just two years before we met, he had decided to find something else that would let him have time for a life outside the kitchen.

That’s when he took the job at the Milburn Deli, the place with the famous sandwiches.

I was impressed — this was a decision few other people would have made, and it showed me his generous soul.

“You’re going to make someone a wonderful husband someday,” I said.

He smiled.

Next I learned that his first chance to be a father went poorly. He was unable to spend as much time with your half-brother as he wanted, and it broke his heart. I could tell this man was meant to have a family—to have children he could raise completely, and a wife to share that road with. When I told him that I knew that, he smiled.

So your question — “Are you glad you had me with Daddy?” is easy to answer. You were already there in Daddy’s eyes the day we met on that volleyball field. I saw you there, and fell in love.

Valentine’s Day Survey: Have You Told Your Kids How You Met Your Spouse?

Most parents have told their children how they met their future spouses. And most say they consider it highly important to do so. But others have never shared that story. And almost none have captured the memory in writing.

So shows my informal Valentine’s Day survey of 100 parents.

For example, 77% of parents have told their children how they met their future spouses. Of those, 45% did so to “preserve personal family history,” while 34% did it because “the kids asked.”

Of the parents who have yet to tell their children, 66% never found the right time, 20% “doubt the kids would be interested,” 7% said it was “unimportant” to reveal, and 7% preferred to keep the matter private.

Asked how important it is – on a scale of “1” to “10,” with “10” being the highest – for parents to tell their children how they met, 43% gave it a “10,” with only 3% ranking it less than a “5.”
Here are some other key findings:

· 66% of the children told how their parents came together reacted with “amusement,” 32% with “appreciation” and 13% with “indifference.”

· All of the parents who told their children did so face to face. Only 4% of those parents also wrote the story down.

· 26% of parents describe their first meeting as “love at first sight,” 7% as “doubt at first sight” and 67% as “something in between.”

The multiple-choice, nine-question survey, conducted online through surveymonkey from January 4 to January 24, 2011, is based on 100 responses from parents.

Personally, I think it’s terrific that most parents tell their kids how they met. But I also urge parents to get it in writing. It’s history, after all. Only then can they be sure that even if the story is forgotten, it will always be there, in black and white, as a reminder.

Here are the full survey results: http://www.surveymonkey.com/MySurvey_Responses.aspx?sm=lmL85waCvc1wh7pCbIT3x6hBnuERptVAqfoj80VENaQ%3d

You Call Him Carmine, But To Me He’lI Always Be Cupid

Dear Michael and Caroline,

Carmine D’Intino lived on the floor below me with his girlfriend Diane. This was the fall of 1976, at 18 East 23rd Street, a three-story apartment building across from Madison Square Park.

Carmine was short, maybe five-foot-five, stocky, maybe 140 pounds, with thick, glossy hair that always landed just right, and he looked a lot like Al Pacino, especially because of his big brown, beagle-puppy eyes.

I got to know him soon after moving into my studio, the smallest in the city. We must have met in the hall or the laundry room or coming and going near the building entrance.

Whatever the case, we got to talking and liked each other. Soon we were taking walks and maybe we went to a bar for a few beers.

He talked a lot, usually clocking in at about a mile a minute, always improvisational and free-ranging and entertaining. He was largely self-taught, the result no doubt of voracious reading, and had ideas about everything, though none I can remember. A wild talker, jazzy, roaming across politics and philosophy, anything you can imagine.

I was then still new to living in New York City, all of 24 years old. Working my first job at a weekly community newspaper, all the hair still on my head.

What can I say about Carmine expect that he fascinated me? He was just about everything I would never be – a risk-taker, spontaneous, adventurous (much like my current pal Al Viletta).

So we became friends of a sort.

You might as well know a little about him, I figure, and you know why. Back then, more than 30 years ago, little did I suspect that he would soon become, at least for a while, the most important person in my life.

He came to my apartment on the third floor, my private estate spread out across roughly 200 square feet, to knock on my door on a Friday night in early October.
Come out with us tonight, Carmine said, me and my girlfriend and her girlfriend.

I’d just gotten up from a nap – Carmine might have awakened me – and was in no mood for anything social, much less meeting a new girl.

Nah, that’s okay, you go ahead, I said. I’m feeling kind of tired.
Come on, Carmine said. We’ll have fun.

And I had no reason to doubt him. He was loud and crazy and knew all about fun. So I changed my mind. Or, rather, he changed my mind. And out we all went.

And that’s how I met Elvira. And within just a few months I relegated Carmine to the status of only the second most important person in my life. And that’s because by then he’d already introduced me to the person who had quickly become (and remains) the first.

P.S. — Here’s the version that appeared today in Newsday: http://www.newsday.com/opinion/oped/expressway-cupid-lived-one-floor-below-me-1.3520829

Valentine’s Day Guest Columnist Sally Wendkos Olds: “I Just Met The Most Wonderful Man”

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Sally Wendkos Olds of New York City is the mother of three daughters, Nancy, Jennifer, and Dorri, and five grandchildren, Stefan, Maika, Anna, Lisa, and Nina, who range in age from 11 to 29. Sally was married to David Mark Olds for nearly 54 years until his sudden death in 2009. She has won awards for her book and magazine writing about intimate relationships and personal growth (http://www.sallywendkosolds.com), and is the author of 11 books, including Super Granny and The Complete Book of Breastfeeding. She is currently writing a book tentatively titled The New Normal, for people whose life partner has died a year or more previously.

Dear Nancy, Jenny and Dorri,

Your father and I met on a blind date after he traded phone numbers with a man I had dated for a little while before deciding he was not for me. That first lunch, on Wednesday, October 13, 1955, was beyond wonderful. Dad and I talked and talked, and I was totally enthralled. Not only was he urbane, sophisticated, witty, handsome, sexy, and in a glamorous profession –- radio personality –he was warm, open about himself and his life and interested in me and my life. In that conversation over lunch we discovered that we were soul-mates. After lunch I told a classmate, “I just met the most wonderful man.”

When he came to pick me up for a date four days later and asked me to help him with his bow-tie, my fingers trembled as I did it and I knew this was the man I wanted to spend my life with. Over the next month we saw each other about twice a week, and then he invited me to come to a family party. The night I received the invitation, I complained to my mother, “If he’s waiting to see what his family thinks of me before he asks me to marry him, I don’t know if I want to marry him. I’ve been sure for weeks — why isn’t he?”

Later that week (before his family party), we were invited to dinner by my friend Margie, who was married to Dad’s friend Bob. After dinner while I was in the kitchen with Margie, she warned me, “Mark has quite a reputation as a ladies’ man.” In the next room Bob was telling Dad, “She’s a nice girl — don’t do anything you would regret.”

Coming home, we pulled up in front of my parents’ apartment in Dad’s black Chevy convertible with red upholstery. He drew me into his arms, kissed me, and then said. “I think we ought to get married.” I barely let him get the words out of his mouth when I said, “I think so too.” I ran into the apartment to tell my parents, “We’re getting married and we want to do it as soon as possible!” I worried that they would be against the marriage because Dad was 13 years older than I and had been married before, but they fell in love with him too and were happy with my choice. Four weeks later, two months after we had met, we married. We were lucky to have had an amazing life together for more than half a century.

Dad gave his version of how we met in the 168-page autobiography he wrote for all of you, in which he chronicled his boyhood, his Army service during World War II, and going into broadcasting as announcer, disk jockey, and finally general manager of a radio station. Here’s an excerpt from his version:

I remember sitting at Helen Siegel Wilson’s, a well known watering spot in Philadelphia, glancing out the window to see if I could spot my blind date. A pretty young woman was just coming in, carrying what looked to me like school books. “It can’t be,” I thought. But it was. And that’s how it started. We talked for a long time, as we worked our way through lunch. My feelings of robbing the cradle (I was almost 35, she 22 and about to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania) disappeared. She might have looked like a teenager, but she was poised, wise beyond her years, honest, and open. “Maybe?” I thought as I asked when I could see her again.

Over the next few weeks we saw more and more of each other. … We went on to see much more of each other in the six cities we lived in over the years. And we had fun with the three of you — summering on Fire Island; going camping; surviving gerbils, hamsters, dogs, cats, tropical fish, and canaries; attending your class plays, concerts, recitals, and gymnastic meets; and watching our three very attractive, very smart, very different children grow up.

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Valentine’s Day Guest Columnist Robin Kramer: Animated, Laughing, and in Love

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Robin Kramer and her husband of 10 years, Joel, together have three daughters, Reese, almost 7, Brooke, almost 4, and Kerrington, almost 2. She teaches public speaking and writing at Penn State University, blogs at Pink Dryer Lint, and is finishing her first book, “Then I Became a Mother.”

Dear Reese, Brooke, and Kerrington,

On an autumn day in 1997 your father and his college roommate, a friend of mine, were walking down Curtain Road at Penn State as I was crossing the street. Even though your dad was running late, his roommate stopped him long enough to introduce us.

Our initial meeting was quick, inconsequential even. I continued to class, not thinking about your father again until I saw him at a gathering with mutual friends. He was genuine and had a quick sense of humor that belied his general quiet disposition. I soon realized one thing: with Joel, what you see is what you get. I appreciated his simplicity and constancy.

We began seeing each other around campus: going on long hikes with a group of friends, sitting beside each other at a baseball game, playing board games, eating chips and salsa while we watched movies, attending the same church, having long conversations. This casual interaction developed so unassumingly that it took me over two years to notice what had become obvious to our friends around us. Whenever I was around your dad, I was comfortable. I was animated. I was laughing. I was in love.

Three months before I graduated, your father invited me out to dinner and a play – our first outing that could be construed as an actual date. As I dressed up for the night and saw your dad arrive in a blue dress shirt and tie, I remember feeling unexpectedly nervous. I felt our relationship shifting. Over dinner we sat in a corner booth and talked about my job offers and plans. Like most young adults facing their futures, I was confused. Your dad simply listened.
Later that evening as he walked me to my apartment, he did what he continues to do so well: he spoke simply and transparently. He told me that he loved me. “You do know that my full intention is to marry you, right?”

I did then.

My mind was made up. I accepted a teaching position in the area. He bought a ring and formally proposed that winter. We were married the next summer, and this past August we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary by traveling for the weekend while your grandparents watched you. You met us at the front door when we returned, climbing on us before we could drop our bags and asking whether we had fun.

We certainly did. It’s what happens when you marry your best friend.

Reese and Brooke, at some point both of you have looked at our wedding pictures and commented that you’re nowhere to be seen. “Why didn’t you invite us?” you asked, touching the pictures, as if we had slighted you like when we wait to eat ice cream after you’ve gone to bed and you notice the bowls and spoons in the sink the next morning.

The answer to your question is simple: Because we got married before you even existed, sweetie. And now you know why.

Love,
Mommy

Valentine’s Day Guest Columnist Vivian Kirkfeld: From That Grim Day Came A Family Of Five

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Vivian Kirkfield is a wife of 44 years, a mother of three (Jason, Peter and Caroline) and an educator and author who lives in the Colorado Rockies. She’s passionate about picture books, enjoys hiking and fly-fishing with her husband, and loves reading, crafting and cooking with kids during school and library programs. To learn more about her mission to help every child become a reader and a lover of books, please visit her Positive Parental Participation blog or contact her at vivian@positiveparentalparticipation.com.
Dear Jason, Peter and Caroline,

Your future dad and I met as freshmen in college. I sat in front of him in English 1.1 and he sat in front of me in Social Science. Both of us were dating other people pretty seriously. And so for the first two months of the Fall semester, we were just classmates who spoke with each other as we walked into or out of the room.

Then came November 22, 1963. The intercom crackled. “The President is dead!” a voice declared.

For several moments no one reacted. And then everyone did. Screaming. Crying. Young men pounding their fists on their desks.

As we all exited the classroom, your future dad was right behind me.

“I’m going to walk home!” I exclaimed to no one in particular. “I can’t face sitting on the bus squashed between hordes of people!”

“I’ll walk with you,” the voice behind me said. “Where do you live?”

As it happened, we lived only four streets away from each other.

By the way, there are some girls who look fantastic even when they cry. If only I were one of those. Whatever eye makeup I was wearing was smudged and probably dripping onto my cheeks and chin. Plus, my nose was red and my skin blotchy. Hardly attractive!

No matter. Your future dad and I walked and talked for over an hour till we reached my house. And when we looked at each other, I know we saw into each other’s souls and we wanted to walk and talk together forever.

Our relationship grew stronger and closer during that next semester. By the summer, we were dating each other exclusively. We got married as soon as we graduated from college. And our relationship has flourished ever since. To this day, we remain the most loyal of soul-mates.

Out of tragedy, then, came an unexpected opportunity for love. In a sense, sad to say, it took a death to bring you all to life. We’ve never forgotten that, and we never will. And neither should any of you.

Love,

Mom

Valentine’s Day Guest columnist Jacqueline Chen Valencia: He Followed Me, But I Found Him

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Jacqueline Chen Valencia is a recovering New Yorker who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana with her husband of four years, Manny, daughter Sofia, almost three years old, and mom Diane. They have three chihuahuas — Loki, Fifi and Snickers – and enjoy hiking, swimming, travel and art. Jacqueline, a marketing/communications professional, serves as senior vice president of Marketing at Amedisys, the nation’s leading healthcare at home company.

Dear Sofia,

I had no idea about Jersey guys until I met the man who would become your father.
I lived in New York City by way of New York University for undergrad. I was, like most 20-something New Yorkers, too cool to date smart men, preferring DJs or men in fashion. I was also too cool to spend time in New Jersey, which to me (having only seen it from the New Jersey Turnpike) seemed to be the armpit of America.

One night, though, my attitude faced the threat known as change. My girlfriends and I were invited to a “white party” — you know, the kind where everything is supposd to be white –on a rooftop near Gramercy Park to celebrate the birthday of some guy from Amsterdam.

It was a crazy party, with at least 100 people there, all dressed in white and dancing under white tents. Best party I’ve ever gone to, complete with awesome music. Then “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige came on. I left my group of girls at the bar to hit the dance floor. This guy came right up and started dancing with me. Great dancer, too. We talked a little small talk between songs.
After that night I gave him precisely no further thought.

Still, I saw him again at another party, and again at a dinner. I kept seeing him at the same events I was attending. And we got to know each other better. One night, he finally confessed — after the white party he had tracked me through my friends to see where I was going to be hanging out each weekend, and found ways to show up. And, it turned out, he lived only three blocks away from me in the East Village.

We became fast friends for a year. Then I helped him through a break-up and he helped me through one too. Long phone calls giving each other advice on how to cope with crumbling relationships (I actually tried at some points to help him win back his girlfriend’s affections).

The weekend my live-in boyfriend moved out, the man who would become your father invited me to stay at his place. He offered to let me sleep on his couch. He ordered in dinner, rented some movies and the next day booked a manicure and pedicure for me. I began to think I could get used to this kind of treatment.

On Valentine’s Day we went out for our first “date.” We hit Apizz on the Lower East Side and had a great time. He talked to me about growing up in New Jersey, and introduced me to Limoncello. He was no DJ or fashionista, but here’s what he was: smart, ambitious, well educated, well traveled — and he could always make me laugh. He came from a great family, had great hair and even danced great.

No one else needed to apply for the job — I was falling for him.

Three years after that first date on the Lower East Side, we became engaged. A year later we got married. And a year after that, you were born.

And in case you ever doubt it, here’s proof that miracles really do happen. Somewhere in there, your father even convinced me to move to New Jersey.

P.S. — The birthday boy from Amsterdam is now your “Uncle” JJ.

Valentine’s Day Special: Dear Kids, Here’s How I Met Your Dad

Dear readers,

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be honoring a favorite holiday of mine, Valentine’s Day.

To mark the occasion, I’ll post guest columns from five mothers of all ages from around the country. Each mom, in a letter to her children, will reveal how she met her future husband.

I’ll also deliver the results of a survey that asked 100 parents nine questions, including, “Have you ever told your kids how you met your spouse?”

I’ll also fill you in on my first date with the woman who became my wife.

Letterstomykids.org is doing all this, once again, for a larger purpose – to urge all parents, mothers and fathers alike, to preserve personal history. Here’s the pledge you can take: http://letterstomykids.org/pages/take-the-pledge

In this case, it’s to get parents to share Valentine’s Day with the kids – and in the process, tell how Mom and Dad met and began a romance that led to a family.

Here’s a preview of the lineup of guest columnists whose stories you’ll hear in the coming week:

· Jacqueline Chen Valencia, a marketing executive, lives in Baton Rouge, LA, with her husband Manny, and daughter Sofia, almost three years old. Opening sentence: “I had no idea about Jersey guys until I met the man who would become your father.”

· Robin Kramer, an instructor at Penn State University, is a wife and mother of three daughters, Reese, almost 7, Brooke, almost 4, and Kerrington, almost 2. “First sentence: “On an autumn day in 1997 your father and his college roommate, a friend of mine, were walking down Curtain Road at Penn State as I was crossing the street.”

· Vivian Kirkfield, an educator and author in the Colorado Rockies, is a wife and mother of three children, Jason, Peter and Caroline. First sentence: “Your future dad and I met as freshmen in college — I sat in front of him in English 1.1 and he sat in front of me in Social Science.”

· Sally Wendkos Olds, a writer in New York City, is the mother of three daughters, Nancy, Jennifer, and Dorri, and five grandchildren, Stefan, Maika, Anna, Lisa, and Nina, who range in age from 11 to 29. First sentence: “Your father and I met on a blind date after he traded phone numbers with a man I had dated for a little while before deciding he was not for me.”

· Alexandra Owens, an association executive, lives in Morris County, NJ with her husband Michael and daughters Gillian, 13, and Catie, 10. First sentence: “I first saw your father on a volleyball court, where he was the man in charge.”

Lapped: My Running “Heroics” (part 4)

Dear Michael and Caroline,

But public humiliation has its value. It can be harnessed as incentive. Around that time, as I approached 18, I became serious about basketball.

And years later, as I stayed in shape, still running from time to time, I took to timing myself in the mile. On that Saturday afternoon in November of 1969, I had completed the mile in 5:56 minutes. For a while now I would go over to the running track at Forest Hills High School and time myself in the mile.

I wanted to go faster than 5:56, to run faster, as a man well into my 40s, than my skinny, 17-year-old, humiliated self had run. I felt certain I could do it, certain, too, that if I could, it might erase the hurt. Basketball had kept me quick on my feet, and I had developed respectable stamina, and I also had a more competitive spirit now. Besides, 5:56 was so mediocre a time that any number of highly fit men of my age could beat it.

The best I could manage was 6:21.

I tried sporadically in the years since, never doing much better than 6:35 or 6:40. I felt good about trying, but still disappointed in the results.

I needed to redeem myself, to wash away the shame of my defeat. I needed to prove that I could run faster in my 50s than I had as a teenager, an accomplishment far greater than winning a high school track meet. I had to keep striving to do better so I could feel like a winner, so I could prove something to myself.

So now let me tell you this. My legs still have plenty of miles left.

P.S. – What’s your worst teenage humiliation? Have you ever told your kids about it?

Lapped: My Running “Heroics” (part 3)

Dear Michael and Caroline,

He said no, sorry, quite decent and sympathetic about it and all, but no nonetheless.

“Please,” I said. “It’s my last chance.”

The coached looked down at the ground, as if my begging embarrassed him.

“Okay,” he said.

And now I’m in the race itself, sure enough, and falling farther behind everyone with each step. I’m losing and losing badly. I’m losing worse than anyone can lose.

Kids from the school are in the stands watching me fail miserably. I’m so far behind I’m losing sight of the runners in front of me. They’re 200 yards ahead of me, already around the curve as I approach the back stretch, then 250 yards, then 300.

We go into the last lap now. My lungs are screaming from the exertion, my breathing growing ragged, and I’m definitely losing steam. I hear footsteps behind me.

Oh, no. Can it be? Can the unthinkable happen here?

The answer, quite plainly, is yes. The runner in the lead passes me.

Lapped – that’s what I was in the only track meet the coach ever let me run in. Lapped by the winning runner. Lapped in an event that had only four laps in the first place. Lapped in public, right in front of the whole school.

Nobody is supposed to get lapped in the mile, and nobody ever does, but somehow I had proven an exception to the rule. The winner had completed four laps before I could even log three.

I forget now, all these years later, whether other runners lapped me that day, too. Maybe so, but I’ve chosen to block it from memory. Getting lapped by a single runner would be sorry enough.

Anyway, I finished the race, more than a full minute later, utterly humiliated. But at least I ran the mile in that meet, and only because I begged the coach to let me. I had wanted to see how I could do, and now I had seen it in the most unmistakably vivid terms possible.

P.S. – See part 4 tomorrow.