My Family Can’t Talk To Each Other; Y’all How About Yours?

My Family Can’t Talk To Each Other; Y’all How About Yours?

My family needs to talk.

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It’s not so easy.

“Ah, yes, raising two teenagers,” you nod in compassion and understanding.

Yes, thank you.

But that’s not it.

Well, it is many days.

The problem, I’ve diagnosed this week is something bigger.

It starts at the beginning.

We don’t speak the same language.

Ours is a family with folks raised in California, the Midwest, and the South.

The basic problem–no one can agree on how to speak.  I’m talking simple pronunciation.

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There are members of my family who swear the pen you write with and the pin you use to stick something should be pronounced the same.

They’d wager that bet and bit should sound the same.

Let’s all sit here awhile until we’re all set.

Might as well, since “sit” and “set” are meant to sound the same.

To them, anyway.

I tried a little test, writing three words down on a pad of paper.  “Say each word,” I instructed my daughter as I revealed each one individually.

“Bin,” she said as I showed her the first word, b-i-n.

Next came the boy’s name, B-e-n.

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“Bin,” she said again.

“You say, ‘bin’ and ‘Ben’ the same?” I asked, making double-sure.

“Of course,” she was already bored with me. “How else would you say it?”

“I say, ‘bin’ for the container and ‘Behn’ for the boy’s name,” I shared.

“No one talks like that,” she informed me with great teen authority.

“We can make this even more interesting,” I said revealing the third word, b-e-e-n.

“Bin,” my daughter said for the third time.

“Let’s call your aunt in Canada,” I offered, “And ask her.”

“Why? How would she say it?”

“Been, same as lima bean,” I ventured, thinking of how some Canadian pronunciations have crept into my sister’s speech in the seven years she’s lived there.

Not that I can point fingers.

When I moved to Atlanta more than 20 years ago to work for CNN, my parents were thrilled for the career opportunity and terrified for what the move could do to my speech patterns.

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“The first time you say, ‘y’all or ‘fixin to,’” my California native parents declared, “we are coming and packing your things. No child of ours will speak like that.”

Y’all, they had no idea what was in store or how bad and confusing things would get around here.

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It makes for great, shall we say, “debates” at the dinner table where no one agrees that my California speech pattern is accent-free.

Midwestern Husband looks at me like he married a cross between exotic flower and California hippie.

The teens just think the way I talk is simply further evidence of how weird I am.

At least this does explain one mystery of life.

These teenaged girls can’t be blamed for not cleaning their rooms.

Poor dears, simply don’t understand what I’m saying.

And you, Dear Reader?

Are you living in a house with multiple accents? Spell them out for me in the comments section.

Find more stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

How Can My Friends’ Worst Phone Call Ever Lead To Someone’s Best?

How Can My Friends’ Worst Phone Call Ever Lead To Someone’s Best?

Joy.

Today, I’m thinking about joy.

Joy, the name of the wife of good friend, Brian.

Joy, the emotion instantly drained from Brian’s heart when he received that phone call a couple weeks ago.

Maybe you’ve gotten one of those phone calls, Dear Reader.

One with the worst news possible.

While Brian was working out of town, Joy was involved in a single-car accident.

He was on the next plane back home, staying by Joy’s side for 10 days.

Stayed there until doctors said there was nothing they could do, explaining that it looked like his wife was there, but she wasn’t. Her brain had no activity. There was no Joy.

But there was something he could do that would change at least four lives.

Would he, could he, give permission to donate Joy’s organs?

What might seem like an obvious answer for you, wasn’t so easy for Brian.

Of everything they had discussed in their 20 years together, they had not gotten clear on organ donation.

“There’s a chance she wouldn’t have wanted to do this,” he shared with me.

She was also the woman who couldn’t turn away a rescue dog or cat.

Who couldn’t say no to that kind of life.

So, Brian said, “Yes,” choosing to make Joy the ultimate rescuer.

“They know for sure they had people waiting for her heart, pancreas, and kidneys,” he shared looking for some glimmer of meaning his tragedy.

“The phone call,” I said. “Maybe we can think about the phone call.”

“As awful as the phone call you got a couple weeks ago,” I offered. “Can we think about the phone call at least four families got this week?”

One with the best news possible.

I reached out to a wonderful family who knows both calls.

My neighbor’s niece, Camden, died in a car accident in 2000. “Her brain injuries were irreversible and we too had to decide whether to donate her organs or hold her when she took her last breath,” her mom, Maury, shared with me.  “We chose life. For others. We donated her organs.”

There’s another chapter to their story.

Eight years after the death of their daughter, Maury’s husband, George, was gravely ill, the one in need. It was as if losing his only daughter and slowly, literally broken his heart. Now, he was the one waiting for a heart transplant.

That’s when they received another midnight phone call, the one telling them there was a new heart for George.

This time the miracle was theirs.

“There’s nothing you can say that’s going to make this all right for Brian,” Maury counseled me. “With grief comes so much guilt and the ‘if only’ and ‘what if’s.’”

I know that.

I prefer for life to feel tied up with a neat little bow instead of the mess of tangled spaghetti it so often does.

Maybe you understand.

Maybe even in the mess, you, too can appreciate how much can change with a single phone call.

Maybe today, you, too, can think about Joy.

Find more stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

Picking Grandparent Names: Is This The New Baby Boomer Contact Sport?

Picking Grandparent Names: Is This The New Baby Boomer Contact Sport?

My cousin is doing well, thank you very much.

She survived a life milestone which I had no idea was supposed to be so challenging.

And yet, as it often is with life passages, things like puberty, parenthood, or gray hair, we learn from those who bravely go before us.

My cousin has picked her grandmother name.

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As my mom’s first cousin, she’s actually kind of late to the grandparent game. Her older daughter hasn’t had kids and her youngest just got started.

There we were connecting at the modern, cyber family reunion, aka, Facebook, oohing and ahhing over pictures of her new granddaughter when I had to ask, “What’s your grandma name?”

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“I am Nana,” she replied, beaming her new name through the online universe. “Sally, (her mom, my grandmother’s sister) was Nanny. The other grandma is Grammy. So Nana was available. Who knew it could be so complicated?”

Complicated indeed.

Apparently, the new baby has two sets of grandparents on her father’s side. One of them jumped on the Facebook comment thread, “We’re going to let the baby decide what to call us.”

Was this equally new grandparent suggesting my cousin somehow robbed their mutual granddaughter of some right?

What I took as a jab, my cousin handled with total grace. ““Isn’t our little one lucky to have so many grandparents,” she wrote.

So is this a thing?

Is picking and claiming grandparent names the new contact sport for Baby Boomers?

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Both my grandmothers were “Nana.”

There was Nana Lil and Nana Ann.

My sister and me with our Nana Lil.
My sister and me with our Nana Lil.

There was no confusing them, as they were two very different women.

My mom is Nana.

Me?

I’m prematurely prepared.

“I already have my grandmother name,” I announced last year to my girls.

They looked at me with dread.

“I want to be called, ‘Guppy!’” I announced with gleeful anticipation of a day that is hopefully many, many years away.

‘Guppy’ was the girls’ first nickname for me as we were becoming a family about 5 years ago.

Okay, so it came because I had a case of Bells Palsy for a couple of months and my face looked like it was melting off my head. The girls decided I looked like a guppyfish. Maybe not the easiest of times, but Guppy it has been ever since.

“I will be Guppy. And Dad will be Puppy! Guppy and Puppy!”

The kids’ expressions looked like I had just served them up a plate of rotten spaghetti.

Who knew there would be an added benefit of this Grandparent name game? I do believe I just came up with a new version of teen birth control.

Forget about sex ed, just come up with a horrifying grandparent name.  These kids will not be making me a grandmother anytime soon.

That means for now, I need to live vicariously through you, Dear Reader.

Do you have a good story behind your grandparent name? Or the name you call your grandparents?

Find more stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

Is It Just Me? Why Do I Always Do This On Airplanes?

Is It Just Me? Why Do I Always Do This On Airplanes?

I am that lady in Seat 12B.

Maybe even stuck in that middle seat of 27D.

I’m that lady you’re trying to discreetly poke your travel partner. “Check out the woman over there,” you whisper. “She’s crying her eyes out.”

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Dear Reader, what is it about airplanes?

The altitude?

The recycled air?

The isolation 36,000 feet above the ground?

Whatever it is, I’m a goner.

Just say, “Boo,” and I’ll start crying.

Watching a movie, that on the ground would bring a tiny tear to my eye, inspires a flood of water works.

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Recalling a simple, pleasant memory leaves me a mess.

Working on some of my more heartfelt columns— well, forget about it.

My friend, Tricia, who is good at making me not me feel not entirely crazy, confessed one day that she is equally tear-challenged on airplanes, as well.

Now, when either one of us takes a trip, we text, “Safe travels!” along with that particular emoticon face with tears streaming down the cheeks, because we know what’s coming.

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I find myself thinking about this particular condition as I fly back from a trip with my baby sister.

A few months ago she called me and said, “Come join me for a Sisters’ Trip in the French Alps after I wrap up a business meeting!”

There were only two things to say, “Mais oui!” and “Husband, could you please cash in some miles?”

Sister and I had a grand time. We hiked, we laughed, we shopped. We ate. We took care of no one but ourselves.

It was simply bliss.

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As I fly home, I’m thinking about the lifetime gift that is my sister.

I remember our parents telling my brother and me they were going to have another baby.

I remember my brother hauling me in the backyard and threatening me to beat me up if I told any kid on the block that our mom was pregnant. He was 8, I was 7. The difference of that one crucial year meant he understood what our parents had done to create this situation and sure wasn’t going to spread news like that around the neighborhood.

I remember her being born, winning the bet with my brother that the baby would be a girl, as this was back in the day when you had to wait to find that out.

I remember creating slumber parties for her friends, driving her carpool, being her protector, so many of the things a tired older mother is happy to pass onto an older child.

And here we are a zillion years later, married, living in different countries, still able to giggle like we are kids.

Her world knows her as a big time entertainment executive.

I know her as my little sister.

I’m so proud.

So, thankful,

So…

Wait, I better head to the plane’s bathroom for some Kleenex. Either that, or ask to borrow the sleeve of the stranger sitting next to me.

Surely, it must be the air up here.

Find more stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution,the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

Mother’s Day Panic Button: I’m Messing Up Big Time; Help Me Fix It

Mother’s Day Panic Button: I’m Messing Up Big Time; Help Me Fix It

You know those warm, fuzzy gushy feeling columns you read around Mother’s Day?

I’ve written a few myself. (Like this and this.)

Yeah, this isn’t one of those.

Oh, it’s about motherhood, all right.

But this one is more like hitting the motherhood panic button.

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A button I hit the other day while, don’t get too excited, sewing on a real button.

A button that had fallen off one of my girls’ school uniforms.

That’s when I realized–

These children,

Scrap that,

These teenagers,

These young adults—

Don’t know how to sew on a button.

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Don’t even know how to thread a needle.

Holy Worthless Parenting, Batman! I’ve forgotten something so basic, so elementary, so important about motherhood.

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I’m supposed to be raising humans.

Humans, as in people who are one day, all too soon, supposed to be functioning adults in this world.

I’m not the only one, am I, Dear Reader?

The only one who has been so busy building self-esteem, creating moments, acting as chauffer ensuring these precious beings arrive safely at each social opportunity, each after-school activity?

So busy, I forgot basic life skills.

Talk about major fail.

And so I started scribbling out The List.

Can my girls sew a button?

Cook?

Figure out how to get from here to there?

I’ve started shoving my precious baby birds out of their comfort zone.

Last week, I dumped them in the middle of the grocery store.

“You guys are making spaghetti dinner tonight,” I announced. “You need to go buy all the supplies you need. Oh, and here’s your budget.”

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Momentary panic set into their teen brains, but they figured it out. Well, I think they did. Husband and I went out to dinner that night just to be safe.

Then, there is Daughter who is learning to drive.

“How are you going to get there?” I asked the other day as she got behind the wheel to get to her friend’s house.

“I, well, you go, then,” her eyes crossed and her brain scrambled as she actually didn’t know how to get to the block 10 minutes away where she used to live.

Turns out you don’t have to think about how you get somewhere when you sit in the passenger seat madly texting your friends while your mom does the driving and the thinking.

We got there, eventually, with a few bonus left turns.

Of course, there is this—

This column is written by a former kid, the one whose dad cut her pancakes right up to the time I went to college.

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I’m not sure what it was about a knife and fork, but I couldn’t seem to master it.

I was clearly no Einstein in the life skills department, myself. Yet, I somehow grew up to be a functioning, pancake-cutting adult.

This is my Mother’s Day gift I’d like from you—

Please add to The List.

What other basic, human life skills do my kids need to know?

Please help me raise functioning humans with your comments below.

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution,the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

My Birthmark That Wasn’t; Longing For The Mark of Greatness

My Birthmark That Wasn’t; Longing For The Mark of Greatness

I wasn’t born.

This fact was relayed to me by my slightly older brother. About the time he was six and I was five.

The traumatic childhood memory of this revelation came flooding back to me this week, thanks to an endearing news item I stumbled upon.

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I read how two parents in England who got tattoos to match their young daughter’s unique birthmark.

Ah, birthmarks.

They run through my family.

I’m talking the port wine stain kind. They are raised, red, obvious marks, prime target for getting teased.

My brother has one that looks like splat of cherry jelly running down behind his left ear.

My younger sister was born with a quarter-sized strawberry circle on her left cheek.

My darling baby sister sitting on our grandmother's lap.
My darling baby sister sitting on our grandmother’s lap.

And then there was me.

Nothing.

Not a single mark.

You would think this would make me the lucky one.

Not a chance.

My brother saw to that.

Saw a way to turn what could be his negative into his positive.

His tool for doing what older brothers are supposed to do.

Torment younger sisters.

“Well, that just proves it,” he casually pointed out to me one day.

“Proves what?” I took the bait.

“Proves you weren’t born.”

With my brother at San Diego Zoo, about the time he informed me that I wasn't born.
With my brother at San Diego Zoo, about the time he informed me that I wasn’t born.

He stated this fact as simply and plainly as the sky was blue and his birthmark was a lucky badge of honor.

“I was too born!” I protested.

“Nope. You weren’t. That’s why they call it a ‘birth-mark.’ Proof that you were born. No birthmark-no proof-which means you weren’t born.” He was quite pleased with himself.

“Moooooooom!” I went crying to our mother. “Was, was, was I born?”

“Yes, you were born,” she assured me.

Brother and me with our mom about the time she assured me I was indeed born.
Brother and me with our mom about the time she assured me I was indeed born.

Since that day, I’ve tried to take my mother’s word over my brother’s as to proof of my existence.

Still, a little part of me continued to wish that my birthmark was actually hiding in some corner of my body I hadn’t discovered.

You can bet I’ve looked.

A lot.

Chalk this anxiety up to one of our life long challenges—

Being different.

Kudos to those parents who went the extra mile to assure their beloved daughter she wasn’t that different after all.

Parent's new tattoos matching their daughter's birthmark.
Parent’s new tattoos matching their daughter’s birthmark.

Truth is, there’s only so much a parent can do.

We all feel different in a way.

And as you grow up, the stakes get higher.

What is it for you, Dear Reader?

Feels like you’re the only one of your friends who isn’t married?

The only one who is struggling financially?

The only one who’s kid and is struggling with mental illness?

No reassuring words from Mom or valiant act of tattoo can change that.

Except maybe this.

Maybe the realization that we all get something.

Some get the birthmark.

Some don’t.

But we all got something.

Something to deal with.

Something that makes us different.

I’m trying on the idea it’s possible being different doesn’t have to mean being ashamed.

I’ll let you know how that works for me.

As soon as I get around to  being born, that is.

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.

Your Friend Picker–Three Lessons That Fine Tuned Mine

Your Friend Picker–Three Lessons That Fine Tuned Mine

“How do you pick your friends?”

What an awesome question I was thrilled to get recently from a certain young person in my life.

Let’s talk “The Picker.”

The one that selects the friends you choose to have in your life.

My own Picker has been shaped and modified for the better by three wonderful friends over the years.

Thank you, Gina, for explaining it all boils down to fruit.

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“Picking good friends is like walking through the produce aisles at the grocery store,” she told me. “There’s plenty that looks good at first glance, but you have to pick up each piece. Does it feel right? Smell good? Seem like it is a good thing to put in your body? Will they nourish you? Or bring you pain? There will be some friends that seem like a good choice at first, but upon closer inspection, you find they should be put back on the shelf and left behind.”

Thank you, Tricia, for teaching me that those good friends are the baseline for picking a good man.

The oh-so-wise, Tricia, on the far left, along with the equally wonderful friend and teacher, Lori, in the middle.
The oh-so-wise, Tricia, on the far left, along with the equally wonderful friend and teacher, Lori, in the middle.

“What kind of girlfriends do you have?” she once asked me.

“The best!” I declared, thinking the sweetest cherries and berries. Not a mushy apple in the bunch.

“Perfect. Now you should expect the same standards in a romantic relationship that you get from your girlfriends,” she spelled out.

This might sound like Obvious 101 to you, Dear Reader.

Me?

It was a big clonk over the head.

One that I wasn’t ready to hear until my 40’s.

I looked at the magnificent group of women friends who surrounded me and enriched my life. Then I looked at the stupidly long list of junk I’d accepted from various men over the years.   Things I wouldn’t have stuck around for with a female friend.

Not

A

Chance.

That rotten fruit would’ve been back on the shelf faster than you could say, “Squished banana.”

That one nugget changed my focus on the kind of man I was looking for.

Don’t give me too much credit.

It took Sandra to put on the final polish.

Been amazingly lucky to be friends with the wonderful SanDra since we were freshman roommates at Stanford.
Been amazingly lucky to be friends with the wonderful SanDra since we were freshman roommates at Stanford.

“You want to pick a ‘Hand Over Heart,’ kind of guy,” she counseled me after a big break up she was not-so-secretly happy to see come to pass.

“Hand over heart?”

“Yes,” she said. “The kind man who would lay down his life for you, who is such a good solid person that you find yourself actually putting your hand over your heart when you describe him.”

You can bet that Gina, Tricia, and Sandra were all there a couple of years ago when I married my Mr. SummerFest.

I caught a glimpse of Sandra as I walked down the aisle.

Yep, she had her hand over her heart.

“Good pickin’, my friend,” she said.

Talk about the ultimate fruit salad kind of day.

SanDra toasting us at our wedding. The "Dra" Seal of Approval--sought by brides the world over for their selection of groom. Granted to only a special few.
SanDra toasting us at our wedding. The “Dra” Seal of Approval–sought by brides the world over for their selection of groom. Granted to only a special few.

So there you have it, Young Friend.

That’s how I pick.

How about you, Reader Friend?

Find more uplifting stories on my website, DarynKagan.com

Please catch my newspaper column each week in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Dayton Daily News and other newspapers across Ohio.