Connected By Blood Only

Dear Michael and Caroline,

We played a little game as kids, my sister Linda and I. Our parents would go out for the evening, leaving us with a babysitter. We would be sent to bed earlier than usual, certainly sooner than either of us wanted. So we would go upstairs, to our respective bedrooms, the babysitter down in the den, two levels below, watching TV. But rather than go to sleep, we would stay awake, together.

She would poke her head out from her bedroom door while crouching on the carpet, and I would do the same from the other end of the hall. Probably neither of us even had to say anything, so well did we know this drill. And then we would take a ball, maybe a Spaldeen, all pink and smooth, and roll it along the hall, back and forth, flicking and catching it, the ball spinning along silently on the carpet, the babysitter none the wiser.

It was how we staged a little rebellion, my sister and I, back when we were kids, maybe seven or eight or nine. We played this game many a Saturday night, all the while smiling and giggling at our secret fun.
But I remember so little else about her as a girl, so few other episodes. I do have a sense of her, of course, and what she was like. She was a girl, born after I was born, a year and nine months later, and that alone gave her a distinct quality of otherness.

Later, as adolescents and teenagers, we went in our own widely different directions. She hung out with her friends, I with mine. She had her boyfriends, I my girlfriends. She always tried hard in school, getting good grades, while I hardly tried at all, doing poorly. She always behaved well, never coming home late or acting fresh or getting into fights, and I had a talent, whether at school or home, for getting into trouble, for landing detention or tearing my pants playing baseball.

My mother never seemed frustrated with her, or angry, whereas her attitude toward me leaned toward the disappointed. I must have felt pretty jealous of her for a long time.

Now, of course, my sister and I are out of touch. It has to be 10 years since I’ve seen her, and we’ve spoken on the phone maybe three times, always the result of her calling me. We fell apart years earlier, though less dramatically, with me simply liking her less and less.

The breaking point came – no surprise here – over two consecutive financial entanglements.

So there you go.

Linda called me right after 9/11 to ask whether we were all right. I acted cordial, but no more, and told her I appreciated the call (true).

She called me a few months ago, too. She asked how we were all doing and I told her a little, reluctant to share much. She told me she was divorced now and lived alone in her house. She made a point of letting me know Barry had given her the house, as if I cared, as if I were going to ask. And that was kind of the problem right there. She always had to let us know how well off she was, and I hated her for that. And never forgave her, either.

She sounded sad on that last call – lost, really, and lonely – and I felt sorry for her. And I remembered how she and I rolled the Spaldeen back and forth in the hall as kids.

But however much I might have felt tempted to reconnect with her after all these years – after all, we have a shared history; she’s the only other person on the planet raised by my parents – I resisted. And then I realized it. We had never had much together, really. There was never a there there, a true warm spot. And now we had even less. Now we had something close to nothing.

P.S. – Linda and I have since reunited.

Cornered No More

Dear Michael and Caroline,

From time to time, when I was a boy, my mother would get a little physical with me. She would smack me on the behind if I did something she considered wrong.

One time I played after school in my good pants – I was supposed to have changed first – and tore a hole in the crotch. My mother smacked my ass but good.

Another time I punched my sister in the stomach, none too cool an accomplishment. My sister told my mother about this malfeasance – who could blame her? – and my mother, Solomon-like, decided to go tit for tat. She punched me in the stomach, too, only with adult force, hard enough to leave a bruise as a souvenir.

I’m pretty sure that was the last time I ever hit my sister (though it was never a habit of mine in the first place).

At one point my mother got the idea that physical punishment should be administered to me on a regular basis. She got it into her head somehow that we should follow a schedule. Every Sunday night, say, she would dish out something corporal for my cumulative transgressions during the previous week. So if I had torn my good pants or hit my sister, she would keep score.

For this purpose, she graduated to the use of a long, wide wooden spoon.

That first week, I dreaded the arrival of Sunday night. She called me into the bathroom across the hall from my bedroom. She showed me the sheet of paper on which she had recorded my acts of misconduct. Then she pulled out the wooden spoon.

She paddled my behind till I winced, squeezing out tears in silence. Then it was over, and for whatever reason, she never deployed the spoon again. Maybe she saw how much it had hurt and regretted it, or my father got wind of her new regimen and put a stop to it (the latter scenario unlikely because he typically gave my mother free rein).

But far and away the worst behavior from my mother involved intimidation. She would get upset at this or that – who knows why? maybe I spilled crumbs from a cookie onto the carpet – and slowly back me into a corner in my room, near my closet. She would hiss and fume, her face twisted in rage, as she came toward me and cornered me. She would raise her hands as if to strike me and see if I flinched.

In these moments I have no memory of her actually laying a hand on me. That never seemed to be the idea. It was done to scare me, and for years it worked. Those scenes seemed to go on forever, my mother like a volcano, first spewing smoke, then erupting. Step by step she would back me into the corner, her voice growing louder, more furious. I would cringe and cower. She would raise her hand to feign a swat and I would put my arms out in front of my face to shield a blow that never came.

One day I decided to try something different. My mother had me cornered, I was completely out of room, without means of escape, and finally, after all these years, I had had enough. By now I was maybe age 12, bigger and stronger than before, though still smaller than she. She went into her windup, pretending she was about to slap me. Only now, instead of pulling away and whimpering, I snatched both her hands by the wrist.

My mother looked startled.

This was something quite new.

I seized her wrists and pulled her arms down and squeezed with all my might. My mother pouted and sobbed.

“Stop,” she said. “You’re hurting me.”

But still I held her wrists tight, asserting my new authority.

She had taught me lessons for years and now I was going to teach her one, too. I had no real interest in hurting her, only in stopping her from hurting me. But I wanted to make sure she understood my gesture.

“You’ve done this to me for the last time,” I said.

And from then on she and I were on a different wavelength. She was going to have to find herself another scapegoat. All I knew was that it was no longer going to be me.

Leonard The Lion-Hearted: Part 2

Dear Michael and Caroline,

I was always of two minds about my Uncle Leonard. On the one hand, he was a cool guy. Handsome, charming, successful, with cool cars, a cool French wife with red hair and a French accent, a cool house and a cool job. He could outsmart anyone, and probably had.

One time he came out with the most epigrammatic quip I had ever heard, delivered altogether spontaneously. In reference to our Uncle Morris, my grandmother’s oldest brother, who was rich enough to live on Fifth Avenue, but no doubt rich by dubious means, he said, “Morris, as a matter of principle, never does anything legitimately.”

Leonard could always cut right through the crap, cut right to the chase and, while at it, cut your heart out, too.

He played catch with me once on the front lawn of our house in Fair Lawn. I was probably nine or ten years old and already deeply in love with baseball and thrilled to be having a catch with a certifiable grownup because my father seldom if ever found the time.

Leonard threw the ball hard, smacking loudly into my glove, and my hand started to smart. I told him to throw softer because it hurt, but he kept throwing hard, maybe to teach me a lesson, to teach me life could be hard, life could hurt, you had to throw hard, live hard, too, so you better learn to catch a ball that came in fast.

He also told me something at my bar mitzvah party in 1965. My grandparents the Shefts funded the party at a place on Route 4 in Paramus called the Steak Pit, now a discount clothing outlet. Quite a shindig, with maybe 100 or 200 guests, a band, plenty of food and booze, the works. Family and friends came over to me bearing envelopes stuffed with either checks or cash or bonds. And Leonard saw me and came over to whisper in my ear, “Just so you know, nobody here really cares about you, Bobby – none of these people.”

I suspect he was drunk at the time, maybe even close to dead drunk. I hated him for saying that, it was pretty rude under the circumstances, especially with me only 13 years old and all, even downright mean, as if it bothered him to see me getting all the attention.

So now I’m going to give you the on-the-other-hand kind of stuff.

Leonard talked against his mother often, called her stupid and manipulative and ill-intentioned, and I resented that, too, disbelieving him. Why would he try to turn me against my own grandmother, who, as he knew full well, would do anything for me, and often would?

Again, to warn me, just as he had at my bar mitzvah. Warn me to watch out because little was ever as it seemed. The guests at my party had come to get dressed up, dance, eat, drink, pass out business cards, check out what people wore, compare cars and status – more so, no doubt, than to honor me. They pretended to be there for me, but really were just out for a good time.

My father once warned me about Leonard, my father who never badmouthed anyone. I forget the context of the conversation, but he told me something about how Leonard never really got along with anyone all too well. So it indeed seemed.

He got divorced.

He fell out with his son, Peter.

He squabbled constantly with his mother.

No doubt he worked his employees hard. Somehow, he must have had a hard time growing up.

My mother, his sister, is deaf, profoundly so, and that must have sucked up all of his parent’s attention. He grew up feeling neglected, a second-class citizen, passed over for his deaf sister, who could be temperamental in her own right.

Funny how life goes. Your views, or at least certain views, sometimes soften with time (while other views harden). You understand actions better, more sympathetically. Almost everything Uncle Leonard ever did with me that once seemed so wrong now feels just about right.

My Uncle, Leonard The Lion-Hearted

Dear Michael and Caroline,

So here are some bare facts about my Uncle Leonard. Probably born ticked off at everything, though maybe the cause was more nurture than nature.

Went to military school for a while, apparently because he acted unruly, though I’m unsure how so.

Went to Horace Mann prep school for a while, too, but got kicked out, and I wish I knew the specifics.

My grandmother had a photo of Leonard in his military uniform looking stern, practically glaring at the camera. I asked her why he looked like that, almost angry, and she replied, no doubt with understatement aforethought, “It’s possible he was unhappy.”

Went to Yale Law School – Old Blue, as he once mockingly called it; he always had a lot of mockery in him – and married a Frenchwoman named Monique while there.
Spent some time in the Army – had to be the early 1950s – and learned to drink himself under the table, or maybe just others.

He joined a so-called white-shoe law firm, and eventually struck out on his own.

He harnessed his anger in the service of argument, a trial lawyer so ferocious as he argued a case in court as to be downright feral.

“Know how I win in court?” he once asked me at a family dinner. “I cut the other guy’s balls off.”

Rather a vivid pointer, that, bordering on barbaric.

He kept lions all over his house – statues of lions, paintings of lions – no doubt because he fancied himself a lion, Leonard the Lion-Hearted.

He built his law firm, along with a partner, until he had 20, 30, 40 lawyers reporting to him. He mainly represented insurance companies, including the illustrious Lloyd’s of London.

Once over dinner he announced to the family, with no small pride, that he would now be affiliated with Lloyd’s as an agent. He told about how, once at a meeting with other Lloyd’s representatives, someone had said to him, “Sheft. Is that a Jewish name?”
Lloyd’s had allowed in few Jews, perhaps none ever from New York, and he had crashed the club, proudly so.

Oddly, he had long since joined the WASP precincts, talked like a WASP, openly admired WASPS, the old money, the snobbery, the social standards.

P.S. – See part 2 tomorrow.

A Mom In Full

Dear Michael and Caroline,

She always knows.

Mom knew how to get us through your being in the hospital as a little girl. She knew how to deal with the teachers and the principals to pull you through school. She knew how to take care of all your stomachaches.

She knows how to take care of pretty much anything, even me.

She’s always cooked the food and cleaned the clothes for all of us. She’s kept the books and paid the bills. She even painted the walls of our bedroom, sponge-style, complete with perfect wallpaper trim.

She always knows what to do and how to do it. When we had troubles, she knew how to handle it. It made no difference what cropped up.

My grandparents the Shefts failed to disguise the displeasure they felt on hearing I was going to marry her. My father once gave me money, saying I had no obligation to repay him, only for my mother then to demand I pay it back. It bothered Mom, but she kept her cool.

She always knew how, almost as if she were born an adult. We had so many worries over the years, so many struggles, but she somehow kept herself together and took care of it, never complaining, never feeling sorry for herself, never making me feel anything toward her but pride.

And it’s all because she always knows – knows how to say what has to be said, how to do what has to be done. In that sense, she’s one in a million. In that sense, too, she’s almost my exact opposite.

I almost never know. I almost never knew before, and seldom know now, what to say, how to act, about anything really. Some people have the gift of common sense, an internal compass that guides decisions, leads to good judgment, and she has it in spades.

It’s among the reasons I’ve always respected her and trusted her and relied on her and certainly loved her.

Without her help, without her practicality and advice and loyalty, I shudder to imagine what might have become of me. It’s a tricky project, trying to express everything she means to me, this special woman, this soulmate, this angel from heaven, this Elvira. But let me try here and now. Let me get it all into one sentence.

I owe my life to her.

Mother’s Day Guest Columnist Deborah Kennedy: What I Never Got To Tell My Mother

Deborah Kennedy is the author of the novel “Two Kinds of Color.”Based on some true characters and some true events, it’s about a mother’s love and sacrifice for her children, two white and two black, on Chicago’s South Side. Herwebsite: Deborah, who is married and lives in Las Vegas, is working on a second novel. Here, in a break from this blog’s tradition of showcasing letters from parents to children, is Deborah’s letter to her mother, Ethel Joyce Hamilton.

Dear Mother:

Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, my siblings and I knew nothing about the meaning of the word “prostitution.” We became aware of it while inside the small bedroom the six of us shared in Chicago. Our door was connected to your bedroom. Through the keyhole we watched an array of men pay you cash for flesh. When you came up short of enough cash to give my own father, your pimp, he beat you mercilessly. Sometimes to make more money you would pull the fire alarm connected to the building’s hallway. The fire department would arrive and the firefighters did their business with you.

Now let me tell you about me and my siblings.

First, let me tell you about your son, Jerrald: He was a lover of baseball. One day he got tired of watching flesh for cash. With the little money he and I had, we decided to go to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play baseball. When the game was over, we had to walk home. The money that could have gotten us a ride on the bus was spent on hot dogs. On the way through the white neighborhoods we ran into a group of white children. One screamed, “Hey nigger, what are you doing with that white kid.” We ran when they threw rocks at us. After we got home, I said to Jerrald, “Those kids called you a nigger.” Later that night, I realized I was the one they called a nigger. Even though Jerrald never telephones me, and I’ve only seen him a few times over 15years, I want you and Jerrald to know I love you.

Next, let me tell you about your son, Tracy: I remember the rainy afternoon when he and I took a short cut through Washington Park. We were on our way to the apartment of a man called Red Sunny. We wanted to find out if he was Tracy’s father. When we got there, Red Sunny’s wife opened the door. There was a boy standing beside her, close to Tracy’s age. He could have been his twin. The last time I talked to Tracy was by telephone in 1980. He told me he was training to be an army sniper. It was the last time I heard from him. The army has no paperwork on him as a soldier. Though I have no pictures of Tracy, his face is embedded in my memory. He had the most beautiful green, slow-blinking eyes. Wherever Tracy is on this earth, be it in body or in spirit, I want you and him to know I love you.

Let me tell you, too, about your daughter, Cynthia: I remember all the fighting I did to protect her. It was so difficult for her to attend an all-black school. These days, I’m so glad Cynthia is always there for me. It’s such a blessing that she forgave me for my cruelty toward her when we were children. When you were not home, our sister Vivian pushed us to fight one another. I guess stuff like that goes with growing up in that kind of environment. Whatever the case may be, I want you and Cynthia to know I love you.

Let me tell you, finally, about your daughter, Vivian: My black sister. I believe she suffered the most. As adults, she went almost ten years without speaking to me for a ridiculous reason. It broke my heart not to hear from her. When I tried to contact her, she never returned my phone calls.Though we are speaking now, I wish we were closer. If we didn’t call one another on birthdays I would never hear from her. I believe one day she’ll put the past behind her. If she does, and even if she does not, I want you and Vivian to know I love you.

When you could no longer work the line of prostitution, because your beauty had faded, you became a brutal and vicious alcoholic. On certain days when your eyes sought mine you saw my father. When you beat me with the electric cord, I felt how much you hated him. When I moved to Los Angeles, and vowed never again to speak to either you or my father or my siblings I finally broke down and called father. “Your momma has been dead for two years,” he said. I curled into a ball and tears rained for days. I remembered how sweet, loving, and kind you were before hell drew you. When Cynthia sent me your death certificate, it stated “Death by Hepatitis, Intestinal Bleeding, and Liver Disease caused by Chronic Alcoholism.” I smiled because I realized you drank yourself to freedom. I remember the day you told me my father took you to a woman to abort me, but you got off the cot and went out the back door. Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy. I’m Deborah Kennedy, your youngest girl. I just wanted you to know I love you with all my heart and soul completely. Thank you for saving my life.

P.S. – Please see my tribute to a special mother (my wife Elvira) tomorrow.

Mother’s Day Guest Columnist Faith Tissot: Why I Write Letters To My Kids

Faith Tissot, 40, lives in East Hills, New York, with Marc, her husband of13 years, and Juliette, 7, and Christian, 2. She is a registered nurse and also has two dogs, Dakota and Melbourne.

Dear Juliette and Christian,

In my 12th week of pregnancy, I wrote a love letter to you, Juliette, my first child. Now you’re seven years old, and I still write you a love letter every month.

I began writing love letters to you, Christian, after I had carried you for almost five months. Now you’re two years old, and I still write you a love letter every month, too.

A few months before we conceived you, Christian, I was pregnant with another child, Luke. But he hadnon-mosaic trisomy 21, a fatal form of Down Syndrome, andwe lost him in my second trimester.

That’s why I took longer to get around to writing letters to you, Christian, than I had with Juliette. I was afraid to make the commitment until we had a good idea we would be going to term with you.

In my letters to you, Christian, I told you how you were my rainbow after the storm. When we learned you were a healthy baby boy, I wrote about how you healed my heart.
While pregnant with you, Juliette, my adoptive mother was gravely ill, dying of uterine cancer.Bearing two children later prompted me to go looking for my birth parents. As you both know, I was adopted at the age of five.And then, thanks to help from my loving husband, I had that first conversation with my birth mother and father.

In my letters to you, Juliette, I wrote about worrying that my adoptive mother would die before she could see you born.

In my letters to you, Christian, I told you about my dream that my adoptive mother, by then deceased, was happily congratulating me on carrying you.

That’s one reason I write letters to my kids. Because I’m adopted, I know very little about my early childhood. Because I’m adopted, I longed to find my roots. Because I’m adopted, I wanted to preserve our history as a family, and to forget nothing. I intended for you both to know who you are and where you came from, and to hear it from me, your real mother.

In writing these letters, I’m doing for you what no one ever did for me, nor could.

So what have the letters told you kids so far?

For starters, how when I first saw your heartbeat on the sonogram screen, Juliette, I cried. And how, when you were born, on Good Friday, Barry White’s voice came over the radio in the delivery room. And how we spent our first Easter together in my room on the maternity ward. And how you wore an Easter outfit I got for you, right down to the chick socks.

How right after your birth, Christian, I held you and studied your features, and how your disposition has turned out to be a sweet as sugar, how your personality is so tender and loving, and how you make me laugh.

My letters also tell you how wonderful your father is, the love of my life, along with how we met, and how I knew he was the right man, and how you should both marry your best friend, someone as wonderful to you as he is to me.

My letters have recordedyour milestones, too, such as your learning to read and making new friends, all your triumphs and tribulations. I try to answer your questions, too. About why your Uncle is in Afghanistan. About how we lost Luke, and how losing him broke my heart. About my adoption and how I’ve struggled with the pain it has brought me.

I also try to share a few lessons. To cherish the small moments, to look at nature and live in the moment. To choose friends based on character. How actions tell you more about who someone is inside than looks.

Always I write how very much you are loved, how very much you mean to us and I and how very proud of you we are.

In my letters, I’m telling you about yourselves to protect you, to protect you from ignorance and doubt. I know less about myself than I would like, but I know enough. You’ll always know more than enough.
In that sense, my love letters to youright a wrong.
I’m trying to make sure all your questions are answered.

All your prayers, too.

P.S. — My adoptive mother lived to see Juliette born after all. She lived another 10 months, long enough to hold her in her arms and attend her baptism.

P.S.S. – Please see guest column from Deborah Kennedy tomorrow.

Mother’s Day Guest Columnist Sandy Chang: How Your Brother Saved Your Life

Sandy_chang_brothers Sandy Chang, mother of Titus, 10, and Jed, 7, is married to Lee Chang and lives in Stockton, CA. If you’re interested in more miraculous family stories like the one below, please visit

Dearest Titus:

When you were 18 months old, you started bruising very easily. Late one evening, you had a bloody nose that refused to stop. Blood came out of both your nostrils; it was seeped from your mouth.

Your father and I rushed you to the hospital. As we waited in the emergency room, your lips became very pale from your losing so much blood. Your blood soaked through a large bath towel. You no longer even had the strength to cry.

The doctors diagnosed aplastic anemia. It’s a rare blood disorder related to cancer and found primarily in elderly people. Moments later an ambulance rushed you to the University of California Davis Medical Center and Children’s Hospital in Sacramento, California.

I was unable to believe any of this nightmare was real, so much so that I demanded that they discharge you immediately. The doctor in charge said offered a solemn warning. He said, “He’ll die if you leave.”

A few days after the hospital discharged you, I noticed your skin color had again turned pale. You were no longer full of energy.

We visited the hospital for red blood cells and platelet transfusions at least three times a week for the next 15 months. The doctors said that the more transfusions you received, the more likely the iron building up inside your body would cause your liver to fail.

The doctors estimated a life expectancy of less than 10 years.

I was willing to do anything for you. But it looked like all the money in the world would still do your health no good.

Two months after your diagnosis, I became pregnant by surprise with your brother Jed. As it happened, we decided to bank his umbilical cord blood stem cells. His cord blood was collected at no cost as part of the hospital’s Newborn Possibilities Program,® a free public service based on medical need.

Next, you underwent chemotherapy to address the damage to your immune system. Then surgeons transplayed your brother’s cord blood in you. The procedure took a few hours.

A few months later, doctors considered you cured.

Now you are 10 years old and in the 4th grade. You’re healthy, happy and 100% cured. You go fishing and play basketball and football, your favorite hobbies. All that remains of what happened to you, physically, are the scars on your chest.

Banking your brother’s cord blood at birth was the best decision I ever made. It’s the only reason you’re still here with us today.

All my love, faith and hope,

Your mother

P.S. — My family is hardly alone in reaping the miraculous benefits of cord blood banking.

Keegan Doheney was diagnosed with leukemia and at the age of 5 had a grim prognosis. Luckily, Keegan’s parents had banked the cord blood of his younger brother, Keldan. That cord blood was infused into Keegan and now, 9 years later, Keegan is still in remission and cancer-free. Keegan says, “My little brother saved my life.”

Joseph Davis was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, a painful and deadly disease. No match could be found in the donor pool. As it turns out, when Joseph’s mother became pregnant with a second child, brother Isaac was a perfect match. Minutes after Isaac was born, doctors collected and infused his umbilical cord blood into Joseph. Today, just a few years later, Joseph is a healthy and active young boy.

Brandyn Orr was only age two when doctors told his parents he had leukemia. Fortunately, his parents decided to bank his brother Devyn’s cord blood at birth, and it was a match. The cord blood was injected into Brandyn in a transplant procedure. Now 11, Brandyn has an extra special bond with his brother.

Cord blood is the blood that remains in your newborn’s umbilical cord after birth. It contains valuable stem cells that can be used in a variety of medical treatments, such as regenerating healthy blood and immune cells after chemotherapy.

Cord blood stem cells have succeeded in more than 25,000 transplants over the last 20 years. Researchers today are investigating newborn stem cells from the umbilical cord as potential therapies to treat conditions that have no cure today.

This field of medicine, wherein scientists evaluate the use of a child’s own cord blood stem cells in experimental treatments for brain injury, cerebral palsy, and hearing loss, is called regenerative medicine.

Protecting your family is a top priority. You can take the first step by saving – or “banking” – your newborn’s cord blood. It’s a one-time opportunity that can change a life for the better, even save one.
P.S.S. – Please see guest column from Faith Tissot tomorrow.

Mother’s Day Guest Columnist Annie Powell: Two For One, A Bargain At Any Price

Annie Powell lives in Sterling, Virginia with her husband Kevin, her daughter Emily, four, and Cameron and Jacob, 1 ½-year-old fraternal twin boys. She works full-time for an education technology company and struggles balancing work and home and really hopes to figure it out one day. In her spare time, she enjoys going to the park with her kids and deepening her knowledge about and passion for photography.

Dear Emily, Cameron and Jacob,

Life hasn’t worked out the way we had expected. But it has worked out exactly the way it should have. I mean, come on. Your Dad and I met at a bar on New Years Eve!

After our wedding ceremony at the church, the skies opened and buckets of rain fell. Our family and friends joked this might be a sign that your Daddy and I were going to have “many” kids. We only planned on two. (I should have thought of the quote “When you make plans, God laughs. He must have laughed at us then.)

Alas, we headed to our reception with our guests and danced until our feet hurt.

The week of our first anniversary, we found out we were having you, sweet Emily. In our new home in Northern Virginia, we doted on you, the beautiful little daughter God had given us to take care of here on Earth. You smiled early, went to sleep early, crawled early and walked early. We loved you so much.

Just after your second birthday, Emily, we found out we were expecting twins. As we explained to you, “Two babies will be growing in Mommy’s tummy at the same time.”

“Just like Dora got a baby brother and a baby sister at the same time?” you asked, referring to the “Dora and the Explorer” Episode when her mommy had boy/girl twins.

“Yes, baby girl, just like that.”

I had to go on bed rest for the last two months of the pregnancy, and you really became a Daddy’s girl then. You two did everything together, taking trips to the park and going to the pool.

When Cameron and Jacob finally arrived, each at 4 lbs 7 oz, you were too young to go to the hospital to visit. You had to wait a full week until you could really examine these little people who would be living with you. We captured your first moments together on video. Emily, you went up to each brother and looked at his face and rubbed his cheek so gently.

Now, Emily, you are 4 ½ and your brothers, Cameron “The Mayor” and Jacob “The Little Professor,” are 1 ½. You three play like you’ve figured it all out — figured out who can play a little more tough, who hides in the best places and who to give the food on your plate to when you don’t want to eat it.

Yep, different from what we expected, but we wouldn’t trade it for the world. If our prayers are answered, you three will eventually grow up to protect each other and, luckiest of all, be best friends.

P.S. – Please see guest column from Sandy Chang tomorrow.

Mother’s Day Guest Columnist Laura Rossi Totten: Reaching The Finish Line, Your Cheers In My Ears

Laura Rossi Totten, mother of 9-year old girl-boy twins, is a recovering perfectionist and transplanted New Yorker, She blogs about parenting at My So-Called Sensory Life and recently made her publishing debut with Make Mine A Double. A public relations expert (, Laura lives a “few hours away” from her favorite city with her family and border terrier.

Dear Julia and Matthew:

In January, when my sister Lisa convinced me to sign up for the More + Fitness Magazine Half Marathon in New York City, I first felt fear, mixed with a little panic. What had I gotten myself into?

I had never — and I mean ever — participated in a race. And unless you count my 100-meter high school sprinting, I’m no distance runner. So how could I possibly run 13.1 miles? When would I find time to train for 12 weeks? Would I be claustrophobic running with 10,000 other women in Central Park?

When I told you two about the marathon, you exploded with excitement and joy and words of support and praise. There was no turning back now.

I showed you pictures from last year’s More + Fitness Magazine Half Marathon on my computer, printed out the course map, and explained my training schedule. You helped me pick out new running gear and shopped with me for energy gels. And through it all, your reactions — along with your Dad’s — delighted me.

“Go, Mom!” you cried out.

“You can do it!”

“Find your can-do-coach!”

“We’re proud of you!”

Your cheerleading was tireless. It was all I needed to hear to get me going. Throughout my runs, I thought about you two all the time.
Seeing myself through your eyes motivated me to believe I could pull it off. As I moved through my weekly training , increasing my total mileage from 10 to 21 miles, you two were with me for each mile.

When my knee felt stiff, I saw your smiles.

When I was tired, the cold water bottle you tossed out the car window with Dad gave me strength.

And when I thought I was too exhausted to get through my training, you played coach and told me I could do it.

As only children can do, you two treated my run every Sunday like it was the real marathon. You helped me make a healthy breakfast and plot my course. After my runs, you offered me ice or a massage or a nap. You made dinner every single Sunday with Dad for three months — meals more delicious than any in a five-star restaurant, meals that nourished my body and my soul.

As my marathon countdown turned from weeks to days to hours, it became clear to me that my main source of motivation was the two of you. Already, at the ripe old age of nine, you already know never to give up.

On April 15, along with almost 10,000 women, I ran that half marathon, feeling as if you two ran every step with me. I saw your faces on the sidelines. I heard your cheers in my head. You reminded me to drink my water and slow down, take it easy on the down hills.

As I ran the long last mile, I imagined over and over again how it would feel to hug and kiss you two when I crossed the finish line. You made me feel invincible, like a super hero. I’ll always treasure my Marathon Medal and the beautiful green sign you made (“Congratulations Marathon Mommy!!! Love, Julia & Matthew”). But nothing will ever shine as bright as your eyes on me at the finish line.


P.S. – Please see guest column from Annie Powell tomorrow.

Mother’s Day guest columnist Deirdre Marie Capone: Naming Names And No Longer Holding My Breath

Deirdre Marie Capone is the great-niece of Al Capone and the last living member of that family born with the last name “Capone.” She is the mother of four children and the grandmother of 14. After she retired to Southwest Florida, her family urged her to write her story of growing up in this infamous family. In her book, Uncle Al Capone – The Untold Story from Inside His Family, she shares for the first time the intimate details of life within the Capone family. The book can be purchased in any bookstore. A personalized signed copy can be purchased from her website,

Dear Kim, Kevin, Bobby and Jeff,

I am a Capone. My grandfather was Ralph Capone, listed in 1930 as Public Enemy #3 by the Chicago Crime Commission. That makes me the great-niece of his partner and younger brother, Public Enemy #1: Al Capone.

For much of my life, this was not information that I readily volunteered. In fact, I made every effort to hide the fact that I was a Capone, a name that had brought endless heartache to so many members of my family. In 1972, when I was in my early thirties, we left Chicago and my family history far behind me. I reinvented myself in Minnesota and made sure that no one in my life other than your dad knew my ancestry. I succeeded, even with you four children.

I was terrified that if you learned you had “gangster blood” running through your veins, youd be exposed to the same pain I had experienced.

So, when Bobby came home from school one day in 1974 to announce that his class was learning about Al Capone, it knocked the wind out of me.

Ever since you children started school, I had developed the habit of asking,“What did you learn today?” when you came home. Of course, I always listened to your answers with great interest, but on that particular day, I felt like the whole world had just slid out of focus, leaving only Bobby and me. There he was, smiling and cheerful as usual, telling me that he was learning about my uncle in his fourth grade class.

My heart seized, but somehow, I managed to get out a half-casual, “What did you learn about Al Capone?”

“We learned that he was a gangster,” Bobby told me. He went on to tell me about Prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s, Al’s bootlegging operation, and how he had been such an expert outlaw that when the police finally nabbed him, the only charge they could pin on him was tax evasion. I was so astonished that it was all I could do to nod along as he spoke.

Later that evening, when Dad and I were alone, I told him about what Bobby had said. I felt like I had been holding my breath ever since Bobby so innocently chirped the name “Capone.” Dad and I decided together that we couldn’t keep the truth from you four any longer. We had no idea how you would react, but one thing was certain—we didn’t want you to hear about it from someone else. And now that Kim and Kevin were teenagers, they had started to ask about their grandparents. We couldn’t keep this from you forever.

That evening, as Dad and I gathered you kids in the kitchen, I was petrified. This was a moment that I had created in my head time and again, since Dad and I decided to start a family. And each time I imagined it, it ended badly. I thought you kids would be furious with me for keeping the secret, or for being a Capone in the first place. Maybe you would be ashamed of me. But worse yet—maybe you would be ashamed of yourselves. Maybe hearing the truth about your family would send you into the same kind of downward spiral that had swallowed so much of my childhood.

When I was growing up, I had often been mad at God for making me a Capone. I couldn’t understand why other children weren’t allowed to play with me, and my heart broke every time I heard someone murmur a slur or saw the newspapers print awful accusations about the family I loved—and the family that loved me in return when everyone else shunned me. Given my difficulties growing up as a Capone, I just couldn’t imagine that things would be any different for you children. As I sat you down at the kitchen table and prepared to break the news, I felt like I was on the verge of crushing the happy life that Dad and I had worked so hard to give to you.

I could tell that you sensed my nervousness, and you were unusually quiet as I told you I had something important to say. I squeezed Dad’s hand tightly, and the words came slowly.

“There’s something I want to tell you about my family,” I began. “Al Capone was my uncle. My grandfather was his brother. I was born Deirdre Marie Capone.”

For a split second, there was silence in the kitchen. I could feel my heart in my throat. Then you four children looked at each other then back at me. Then, at the exact same instant, you four children exclaimed, “Cool, Mom!”

As soon as the word “Cool!” broke the tension in the room, all four of you were peppering me with questions. “What was he like? Was he nice to you? Did he love you? Do you look like him? Do you have pictures?”

Relief washed over me. I had been building this moment up in my mind for so many years, and now here I was, discovering that something that had once been shameful to me could be source of pride for my children. I tried to answer your questions as best I could. I pulled out my family photo albums and began to introduce my own children to the people who had loved me most when I was their age.

P.S. – Please see guest column from Laura Rossi Totten tomorrow.

Coming Attractions: My 2012 Mother’s Day Guest Columnists

Five mothers of all ages from around the U.S. will perform a special act in honor of Mother’s Day this year. Starting on Monday, May 7, each mother will go public with a letter she wrote to her children.

They’ll do that through my second annual Mother’s Day special right here at

The lineup:

Deirdre Capone of Southwest Florida will tell her four adult children how she feels to be the last living relative of gangster Al Capone still to carry the Capone name.
Sandy Chang, a mother of two in Stockton, CA, will share a letter to her youngest son that reveals how his older brother saved his life through a cord blood transplant.
Faith Tissot, a 40-year-old nurse, will tell why she has written letters to her two children every month since pregnancy. As an adopted child with little knowledge of her own early past – and as a mother who once lost a baby in utero – she explains how motherhood inspired her to contact her birth parents and preserve her own personal family history.
Laura Rossi Totten of New York City will fill us in on how her nine-year-old boy-girl twins recently inspired her to complete a half-marathon, by far the longest she’s ever run.
Annie Powell of Sterling, Virginia will give us the lowdown on how, after bearing a daughter and planning only one more child, she delivered twin boys – and detail the many delights that have ensued.
Deborah Kennedy of Las Vegas will come aboard, too. Though she has no children, she will post a letter to her deceased mother, an abusive former prostitute and drug addict once married to her pimp. It will tell how she and her four brothers and sisters have fared since her death – and to declare, once and for all, her love for her.

Such chronicling among mothers may be a trend. With the ongoing rise of Mommy bloggers, anecdotal evidence suggests that more mothers than ever are writing about their children, in some cases in the form of letters. Social media enables mothers to easily create digital scrapbooks, capturing milestone and minutia alike.

By now you know exactly how I feel about this stuff. We all have something to say to our kids, and we should just say it. But we should also get it in writing. Only then can we truly prevent our memories of family history from being forgotten and irretrievably lost.

Besides, if your children learn what you’ve done with your life, maybe they can better imagine what they can someday achieve. And if they know who you are, maybe they can also discover themselves.

So please share the upcoming guest columns with family, friends and the world at large to help spread the word. After all, mothers (and fathers) who commit to the simple practice of writing down personal family history create a legacy that lasts forever. Thank you.

How My Daughter Saved Me From Laziness

Dear Michael and Caroline,

For most of my life I was hardly famous for working hard.

As a kid in school, I gave the least effort needed for me to get by, whether in class or in sports. In my first jobs, I never put in any extra energy unless I absolutely had to – neither came in early nor stayed late. When I freelanced at home, I would take breaks to shoot hoops or take a nap.

But then something happened that changed my work ethic for good, something momentous and marvelous.

You, Caroline. You were born.

It was 1988 and we had money problems. My income had shrunk because I’d decided, quite irresponsibly, to focus on writing my first novel. My family, especially my grandmother, until then usually ready to help support me, was growing disappointed with my professional pursuits.

And then you came along.You had such dark eyes and such animated features, always making faces, and we loved you so much, all three of us. And you made me want to do better.

Oh, make no mistake: I already had other incentives. But none inspired me as much as you. I would look at you in the crib, so small and needy and perfect, and I would think to myself, I really better get off my ass and start to make a decent living now.

Luckily, I landed a lucrative part-time job in New Jersey. I was doing the sort of work I never expected or wanted to do – editing and revising reports from management consultants to clients. Three days a week I drove an hour, put in about 10 hours, then drove more than an hour back, pulling down $50 an hour, for about $1,500 a week, much more than I’d ever earned. And my boss was picky to the point of psychotic.

But guess what? I never minded any of it. And you know why? Because I was finally doing what I needed to do. And that money in really handy just then, really pulled us out of a hole, and even though the gig lasted only about eight weeks, it was just the quick fix needed.

And within the next year, I took another part-time job, also in New Jersey, this one for two days a week. And from then on – from then until now really, the whole length of your life – I’ve finally worked hard, worked close to an average of six days a week. I discovered, at age 35, that you could go beyond the fatigue and make the extra effort and be rewarded.

And unless I’d run into financial trouble – and unless, most of all, you had come along – I question whether I would have made this leap. And this appetite for hard work has served me well over the years, especially the job at Ogilvy, and also with all the stuff I do on the side.

And I can trace that change directly back to you. It was you, little girl, who, more than anyone else – more than Mom or my parents or my grandparents – made me finally get serious about my responsibilities to my family and myself.