Monday, September 27, 2010

Back from Paris and Lourdes!

Thank you for hanging in there with me. I get concerned that this road is long and boring for you, and a bit self-conscious about all these e-mails, but really appreciate both your support and your presence in my life. Thank you.

My last chemo session went well, but the new blip on the scene was that something was literally growing out of my stomach. It is where I was opened from the surgery, and it looked like colon and was freaking me out. Some things are just meant to stay inside your body and remain unseen! Plus, we planned to leave for France in a few days (more on that later) and I was worried this could change those plans.

While all this was going on, Tiron got diverticulitus and had already scheduled an appointment to see my colorectal surgeon for that. So I muscled in on his appointment. We both saw her at the same time and got the two for one rate (two charges for one appointment). He got antibiotics, I got that thing burned off (yikes, but glad to have it taken care of), and we were good to go.

For the better part of the past year, I’ve been drawn to go to Lourdes. I’m not a Francophile, I am not a frequent traveler, and frankly, I’ve never felt a need to go to a religious site. So this was a surprising calling.

First the dog, which I never thought I would want but love, and now this.

The question was, how to get there. Between chemo, the kids’ schedules and needs, my funky diet, and the emotional hurdle of leaving the kids for the first time and going that far away, it just didn’t seem to be do-able. Still, I was drawn.

Have you heard the story of the woman in the flood? It goes something like this:

A flood was coming and the police drove by a woman standing on her porch.
“We are evacuating the town. Get in our car and we’ll drive you out,” they said to her.
“I’ll wait here and God will come for me,” she replied.

As the flood waters rose, a rowboat went by. The rowers said to her, “Everyone is evacuating. Get in our rowboat and we’ll keep you safe.”
“I’ll wait here and God will come for me,” she replied.

The flood waters rose higher and she sat on her roof. A helicopter flew over and the pilot said, “The town has evacuated. Get in the helicopter and we’ll get you out of here.”
“I’ll wait here and God will come for me,” she replied.

After she died in the flood, she asked God, “Why didn’t you come for me?”
To which He replied, “I sent a car, a boat and a helicopter. Why didn’t you take them?”

One of my favorite things is when God works through people, and I feel like that is what happened here. Our dear friends invited us to their apartment in Paris. Coincidentally, it was during a week that worked well for us, both kid- and chemo-wise, and we decided to go! There was no way we could have done it without them (and my parents to watch the kids), and I truly feel like God was working through Julie. Thank goodness she let him!

So, after the chemo and surgery appointments, we flew to Paris. It was my first time there. Paris is wonderful, of course. We did all the things I love to do: visit with friends, wander the streets of a beautiful, vibrant city, shop for food and cook. Well, I didn’t cook, since I eat mostly raw, but we ate our meals at the apartment in order to accommodate four different diets. So I was able to mostly stick to my diet. The baguettes and cheese are impossible to resist!

Then Tiron and I headed to Lourdes.

For you non-Catholics, Lourdes is a pilgrimage site. Think, Mecca. I never in my life thought I would be doing a pilgrimage, but then, life is full of surprises, especially these days.

I met some wonderful people. Father Brian (pronounced Bree-un) and Father Patrick, both from Ireland, shared jokes and stories with soul. Anne and Claire from Scotland were like two angels who appeared out of nowhere and guided me on my journey. Plus, they told me they thought I was in my 30’s – loved that! Or maybe I just didn’t understand their Scottish accent…Little Monica (age 5 ½ -- she insists on the “1/2”) from Rochester was so joyful and fun, skipping as we retraced the difficult steps of life of St. Bernadette.

The place itself is incredibly large. There were over 25,000 people there and it didn’t feel crowded. In two days, I only saw a portion of it. There were two cathedrals and numerous chapels, the Grotto area, the baths, a bookstore, museum, information booth, and much more. Except for the bookstore items and candles, everything was free.

I have no idea how this place operates and pays to keep the lights on. It was clean without constant street sweepers, had no graffiti, and, despite being so welcoming and open 24/7, had no homeless people sleeping on the benches or police patrolling the streets.

It felt calm and peaceful, interesting and reverent. And, like many places that touch the soul, difficult to describe.

People go to Lourdes for miracles. I’m not sure whether I got a miracle, but I don’t feel like I was there looking for one (though, I would not turn away a healing miracle, in case anyone is listening!). I just felt like I had to be there. Anne and Claire from Scotland said that it appears I was “invited by Our Lady” and that felt right – that I was invited there and just had to go. The pull was so strong. The reason may not be clear to me, but that is okay. I did what I had to do, and I hope I did it well.

It is clear to me that I couldn’t have done it alone. I appreciate your prayers and good wishes, which give me energy and keep me going. I appreciate all that you did to take care of the kids (those of you who are local) – thank you for that. They had a great week and felt loved and secure.

Thank you for all that you continue to do for all of us, and thank you for sharing all this with me. One of the Stations of the Cross depicts Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry the cross, and making me think of the ways that others help us carry our burdens. You truly do that. This path would be entirely different and way more difficult without you. You make a difference in our lives.

Chemo on Tuesday….

Love, Marie

P.S. If you are interested in the stories from my experiences at Lourdes, I will be posting them on
or let me know if you prefer an email.

To keep them readable, I wrote a different post for each event. They aren’t all there as I write this, but I expect to have them up soon.

If you want to read only one story, I would recommend the one on the baths:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lourdes: The Baths

The Baths
Friday, September 24, 2010
8:00 a.m.

Our Lady of Lourdes identified an underground spring to Saint Bernadette. Today, you can bathe in the water from that spring. I decided to do this. Everyone warned that the women’s lines were hours long. They advised me to arrive well before it opened and to plan my day accordingly.

The baths were open from 9 – 11 a.m. and again from 2 – 4 p.m. Since I had only one day available to do this, I decided to aim for the 9 – 11 slot, using the 2 – 4 slot as backup. I didn’t know what they did at closing time; did they send everyone away who had been waiting all that time? I planned to get in line by 7:15 a.m. At that time, I may not be first in line, but I expected to get in.

When the alarm rang the next morning at 6:30, the baths suddenly seemed less important than getting a bit more sleep.

Dragging myself out of bed at 7:30, I was glad to see that last night’s thunderstorms were over and, while the skies weren’t clear, it stopped raining. I put on the only outfit I had: a sleeveless summer top, a light cotton sweater, a pair of tights and flat shoes. I grabbed my raincoat just in case I needed it.

When I reached the baths at 8:00 a.m., all 17 covered rows of seating (with 12 – 14 women each) were full, so I filed in behind about 20 women standing in line outside between two white metal bars. The bars were set far enough apart for one person to stand comfortably. Two could squeeze side-by-side.

As I waited, a few drops of water fell on my head from the trees above. No big deal. I looked at the sky: clear on one side, and dark and foreboding on the other. Ha – like life. I hoped that the clear side was pushing out the dark one.

The two women ahead of me looked more like they were going out to a club than to the baths. In their mid to late twenties, tall and thin with long, straight hair, stylish clothing, nice make-up and finished nails, they held themselves confidently. One of them took a tissue to carefully wipe off the railing before she leaned on it. It reminded me of something my mother would do, and I briefly thought, they must be Italian.

Soon, I noticed the conversation of the three Italian women behind me, who were about my mother’s age. They stood on the shorter side of average and a bit stocky, well-dressed with beautiful jewelry and handbags.

My Italian is rusty and like a toddler’s at best, but it sounded like one of the women needed to go to the bathroom. So, I moved aside to let her pass, as did all the women ahead of me.

She was almost to the front of the line when, whoosh – a thin woman with short grey hair who stood all of 4’11” blocked the way. Standing squarely next to the metal barrier on her right, she slid four long, thin candles across her stomach until they reached to the metal bar on the left, effectively blocking the narrow pass. The Italian lady talked with her, but Candle Lady apparently did not understand Italian. So, Italian Lady walked back along the line to return to her spot.

In my observation, every group of Italian women has one strong personality who directs the group, and this was no different. Strong Italian Lady said, in no uncertain terms and in a slightly demeaning tone (loosely translated), “What do you mean, she said no? You just go back there, say, ‘Mi Scusi’, then you walk by.”

They argued a bit over this (as the Italians I know do) but Strong Italian Lady won and Bathroom Italian Lady tried again to make her way through the line. And again, when she reached the Candle Lady, whoop, the candles came out and blocked the way.

This time Candle Lady wouldn’t talk or even look at Bathroom Italian Lady. She just stood there facing forward, holding her candles sideways.

I thought this was hilarious and giggled out loud. Strong Italian woman started to talk with me. In Italian.

“Non parla Italano,” I said, meaning to say, “I don’t speak Italian” but I actually said, “You don’t speak Italian,” essentially confirming the fact that I don’t.

“Ah, comprende Italiano, no?” she asked with a knowing look. “Un poco?”

“Pocino pocino,” I replied, making a motion of “tiny” with my thumb and forefinger.

Bathroom Italian Lady returned again, defeated and annoyed.

More words, but this time from the girls in front of us, confirming they were Italian. Gorgeous Strong Italian Girl spoke up.

“That woman is crazy. You have to go to the bathroom.” She waved her hand sharply at the gentleman monitoring the line, as if she wanted to order a drink at the bar, and he came right over.

“She needs to go to the bathroom.”

The man told Bathroom Italian Lady to come with him, and she left the line and followed. A few minutes later, as she made her way back to us through the line, she shot daggers with her eyes at Candle Lady. Such good Catholics. I guess we all have room for improvement. As for me, it was good for another laugh.

At some point, a woman started to lead the rosary in French, with intermittent hymns. I love the rhythm of the rosary in any language. It is repetitive and meditative and speaks to something my soul, even if I don’t know what they are saying.

After an entire rosary in French, another woman started one in Italian. The Italians around me responded, almost as in a Pavlovian way.

At one point, the Ave Maria was sung, and everyone automatically sang the refrain.

The rosary continued in French and Italian, French and Italian, interrupted only by hymns, until the doors opened at 9:00. A man gave instructions in French, and several of the women seated in front moved into the bath area.

Though the line now moved ahead, the Italian women and I were still outside, now standing in light rain. Strong Italian Lady shared her umbrella, then offered a chocolate square to me. I said gracie for the umbrella and no thank you for the chocolate, clearly offending her.

“Oomph” she said, simultaneously brushing me off with her hand while returning the chocolate to her designer handbag. I recognized that sound / motion pair. It meant, “Fine. Your loss. See if I offer you anything else.” Fortunately, she kept her umbrella up for me. I was starting to get cold and didn’t want to be wet, too.

The irony was not lost on me that I was headed to a bath. With water.

About five or ten minutes later, the line moved forward again and we could sit on the benches under the roof. I sat between the two gorgeous girls from Naples and the three older Italian women. They occasionally conversed across me, and I loved hearing all the Italian.

By now, I was definitely cold. I pulled a hat and gloves from my handbag, which helped a little but not a lot. They were letting women move ahead at roughly the rate of 4 women every 5 minutes, so the line kept moving enough to give me hope. Each time, we would either stand and walk to our new seats, or shuffle our butts along the bench, depending on how far we got to move.

The rosary and singing continued. Women got up to go to the bathroom and returned to their seats. Though it was still pouring rain, husbands arrived and waved from the walkway to check on their wives in line.

When the Italian women’s husbands arrived, one woman said critically, “Look at him. No umbrella. Crazy.”

It made me smile that her welcoming comment about him was basically a critical one, and that he obviously didn’t really mind.

When I was about halfway to the baths, a woman on the bench in front of me waved me toward her. I leaned in, wondering what on earth she could need from me but happy to help. Smiling, she grabbed my upper arms and rubbed them to help me stay warm. I didn’t realize that I actually looked as cold as I felt. I considered leaving to take a hot shower, but the line moved just enough to keep me in it. Besides, if all these women were doing it, I can do it.

Later, Strong Italian woman reached over to me and rubbed my arms and back. It reminded me a little of a story I once saw about the Holocast: As the women were headed to the showers, the older women took care of the younger ones. I tried to push that image out of my mind.

After three hours of sitting, standing, talking, rosaries and hymns, we made it to the front bench. I had no idea what these baths would be like, but I suspected they would be cold. It is spring water, after all. I wasn’t excited about more cold. I don’t even like a cold swimming pool on a hot day. I assumed they would be outside, in the rain.

But, the next step was inside to change and there, things felt like they moved a bit faster. I waited so long to get here, I wanted it to go a bit more slowly. But, not a choice.

A woman with a warm smile appeared from behind a curtain and beckoned me into one of the changing rooms. As I approached, she asked what language I speak. A woman who spoke English with a lovely French accent suddenly appeared and led me further into the room. It felt like a group changing room in a discount women’s clothing store, except that each of the five women changing had another woman behind her, holding a blue sheet for privacy.

My helper gave instructions on how to change (“take everything off, and if you are wearing a bra, hold it in your hand”) and pointed to the hooks for my clothes. She held a blue sheet around me for privacy while I undressed, then wrapped it around my shoulders and told me to sit in the plastic chair that is under the clothes hooks.

I noticed that the floor is surprisingly dry for a bathing area through which hundreds of people just passed. Also surprisingly clean.

My sheet is a bit wet, though, and it grosses me out to sit in a plastic chair that held who knows how many naked butts. I opt to stand. I now feel warmer than I did outside, but still a little chilled.

My helper repeated instructions that I saw on a wall chart: Collect your thoughts and choose an intention. Stand in front of the curtain, and I will be called when it is my turn.

I tried to focus on my intention, but I I could hear a big splash in the bath. Did someone fall in? Do we need to jump in? It made me wonder what was behind the curtain. I now assumed that I would step outside into the rain and have to jump into a big, deep puddle with lots of other women.

I was next. The curtain opened, and I was led through.

I’m not so good at going with the flow and like to know the lay of the land before I dive into anything, so I was a bit disoriented. Plus, I wanted to take everything in and it all just seemed to be moving so quickly.

Thankfully, the baths were inside! There were walls around it, and I was the only one going into it right now. The bath itself was stone, long and narrow in front of me, with two steps leading down into it. I wondered if I could just do a step or two, if that would count or if I would have to take the plunge.

The water was surprisingly clear. I don’t like hot tubs because they either feel like I’m getting into someone else’s bath water, or that I am soaking in chemicals. But frankly, I have seen more backwash in my glass of drinking water than there was in that tub, so I was amazed and felt okay about going in. Not that anyone would have asked me.

Two women, one standing on either side of the bath, each held one side of a twisted white sheet, wringing it out together as the water fell into the tub. I was relaxing a bit, then surprised as the woman who led me in now held my shoulders while she reminded me to focus on my intention. She directed me to raise my right arm, which I found a bit confusing, so she did it for me. Then suddenly, the three women removed the blue sheet and replaced it with an ICE COLD WET ONE.

I was adjusting to the shock of having a cold sheet wrapped tightly around my body when I was told to take the first step into the bath.

I did and, as cold as the water was, the sheet was colder and distracting me. I really wanted to get rid of it and just do this without it on. I also wanted to go slowly into the bath, like I do with a cold swimming pool, but the other two women (who were previously wringing the sheet) grabbed one arm each and insistently led me into the deeper part of the bath. One of them told me to sit while my brain responded “Are you crazy? This is freezing!” Then they told me to relax and basically pushed me down until I was sitting in the bath.

I was so focused on freezing that I didn’t exactly revel in the experience. I think that I briefly remembered my intention but definitely forgot to say the prayer I was supposed to say while in the water, and before I knew it, they pulled my arms up to guide me out of the bath and were saying the post-bath prayers of thanks to Our Lady of Lourdes and to Saint Bernadette. I was supposed to say those with them, but I was more than two steps behind.

They put my bra on, replaced the blue sheet, and guided me through the curtain to the dressing room.

When I started to get dressed (again, with someone holding the blue sheet for privacy), I noticed that most of my body was already dry. How on earth was that?

I walked out of the bath house alone. It was pouring outside, and I had no umbrella. Cold bath. Cold rain water. Water was everywhere.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lourdes: In need of healing foods

Lunch break
Thursday, September 23, 2010
12:00 noon

I stopped at the bookstore and bought a few small books, then met Tiron for lunch. He had done a tour of Bernadette’s life that morning and recommended it for me for the afternoon.

After all the walking for the Way of the Cross, I didn’t feel like wandering the city. So we decided to try the hotel restaurant for lunch.

The hotel restaurant had two salads. One had lettuce, eggs, tomatoes, duck and pine nuts. I could eat the lettuce and pine nuts. The other had lettuce, goat cheese and olives. I selected the first.

The pine nuts arrived charred, but the service was great. The salad was large enough to hold me over for the afternoon, and I cheated on my diet with a bit of mediocre bread.

For a town that attracts people who need healing, the food could be healthier.

Lourdes: The Way of the Cross

The Way of the Cross
Thursday, September 23, 2010
10:30 a.m.

The church had a printed schedule of events for the day (yay! I love having things written down!), so I took one, and Rose, my English-speaking guide, walked back with me to the statue where we first met.

I had a lot of questions about events I heard of but were not on the schedule, and she answered many of them. I wanted to know where the Grotto was, how to get holy water, and any information about the baths.

So, she walked with me to the Grotto, which was sort of on the side of and below the cathedral. Past that were the baths, and I could see women waiting there. She described where to find the water from the spring.

Then she had to go to her next job, and I needed to find Fr. Patrick if I wanted to do the Way of the Cross.

Five of us joined Fr. Patrick for what I think of as the Stations of the Cross. He asked if we wanted to do the High Stations or the Low Stations. I didn’t know the difference.

Turns out, high and low were literal terms. The High Stations are on a mountain, so you walk up high. I didn’t get a chance to find the Low Stations, but I assume there is not as much climbing involved.

We started up the hill. Fr. Patrick is from Ireland and full of stories and jokes. We reached the first station and stopped there.

The stations are beautiful gold sculptures and a bit modern. They are positioned on the hill above the path. This first one had steps leading up to it, and I saw women on different steps, kneeling, praying, and then WALKING ON THEIR KNEES to the next step. On the next step, they stopped to pray, and again, walked on their knees to the next step.

On one hand, I kind of hoped he wouldn’t ask us to do that. There were more steps than I could count, and we’d be doing stations until dinner if every stop was like this. On the other hand, I’m still the person who believes that extra credit is part of the test, and I wanted to see if I could do it.

Well, we didn’t do the steps, we stayed at the bottom of them. Father Patrick started the pattern he would continue for all the stations: Read a brief passage from his book about that station, then tell a modern-day story of what that station means to him.

I remember one in particular right now. For the station where Jesus was nailed to the cross, he said that it makes him think about people in wheelchairs, or hooked up to machines. They can’t leave those, and are basically nailed to them.

He asked us to do the walk in silence, and gave us this prayer as a suggestion for reflection while we walked:

Alone with you, O Lord, I journey on my way.
What need I fear when thou are near
O King of night and day.

As we walked, I couldn’t seem to remember the words. I was feeling a little inept.

At some point during the stations, I always start to cry, and this was no different. Now I had no prayer, and tears. Ugh.

The last two stations are on the downhill slope. The station depicting where Jesus is buried is literally in front of a cave in rock in the hill. Not only is it quite moving, I thought it was cool that the topography worked out that way. And the final one, where Jesus is risen, also uses the natural rock in the hill.

At this point we were done, so I asked Fr. Patrick one more time for the words to that prayer (and wrote them down), we said our goodbyes and returned on our own.

Lourdes: The English Mass

The English Mass
Thursday, September 23, 2010
9:00 a.m.

We climbed the steps to the second floor of what used to be a hospital building, then turned left into a room where the English Mass was held. Later in the day, I noticed that the French, Italians, Germans and other Europeans have their masses in the Cathedral, the Grotto, and other places that are larger and feel more like a church. But there are fewer English-speaking pilgrims, hence, a smaller space can be used.

I took a seat a few rows back from the front. Father Brian (pronounced Bree-un) started Mass by acknowledging Padre Pio, and the connection to that familiar (to me) Italian saint helped me to relax.

Fr. Brian’s friendly approach built community throughout the Mass, at various times telling jokes, having us introduce ourselves, and asking where everyone was from.

I was surprised to find that there were only a handful of us from the U.S. Actually, I didn’t see any other hands raised (besides mine), though there must have been at least one other. Lots of folks from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales as well as Singapore, Malasia and India. I saw the nurses we met at the café the night before, who had recommended the Day Pilgrimage to me.

There were three other priests at that mass: one from India, one from Malaysia, and…I forget where the other was from. They briefly introduced themselves and had various roles leading the Mass. None of the hymns were familiar to me, but everyone else seemed to know them.

The best part: When I left, there was a written schedule of options for the day. I love that!

Lourdes: Meeting our Guide

Meeting our Guide
Thursday, September 23, 2010

The religious area was one block from our hotel. I planned to do the religious parts of the trip on my own, but Tiron came with me to make sure I was settled.

We walked past all the trinket stores, crossed a street, then through the large gates and down a wide hill.

At the bottom of the hill, we easily found the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and starting looking for the green sign that said Day Pilgrim in English. We noticed Day Pilgrim signs in other languages, as well as people putting flowers in the fence surrounding the statue.

This place was MUCH larger than I expected, in every way. Across from the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, there is a cathedral with beautiful mosaics. There were also two large, temporary white signs in front of the cathedral saying Lourdes Cancer Esperade. (Lourdes Cancer Hope) in large green letters. The cathedral had a paved area in front of it, I suspect for gathering.

The information building was nearby with a sign pointing to the bookstore around the back. There were a few other relatively non-descript buildings. One had a large sign in English: CONFESSIONS.

Looking back toward the entrance, there was a steady stream of pilgrims filing in.

Among them walked a woman carrying the green Day Pilgrim sign in English. She was thin, with grey-blonde hair, maybe in her late 60’s. She had pale skin and a calm voice.

“Hi, I’m Rose. I’m from the United States, and I have the honor of being your guide.”

Rose described the schedule for the day. I could do any of it that worked for me.
9:00 Mass in English with Fr. Brian (pronounced Bree-un)
10:30 Way of the Cross with Fr. Patrick
2:30 Tour of St. Bernadette’s life in Lourdes
5:00 Eucharistic procession
9:00 Candlelight procession

Tiron returned to the hotel, and my day began.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lourdes: Arriving by train

Arriving at Lourdes
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
8 p.m.

Tiron and I took the train from Paris to Lourdes and arrived around 8 pm. It was dark, but neon signs identified bars and brasseries. In a weird way, it reminded me of New Orleans, though I doubted we’d see strip bars and drunken frat boys.

Earlier that day, we visited Notre Dame in Paris, and the place felt more like a museum than a church. Tourists ignored the signs marking prayer areas and requesting silence as they laughed, talked, and took photos. I wondered if Lourdes would feel touristy and commercial as well.

We grabbed a taxi to our hotel. The streets around our hotel were filled with more neon signs identifying restaurants and countless shops selling the statues, medals, and trinkets that we Catholics seem to collect. 

Our hotel was bright and modern. We checked in, then wandered off to find the recommended restaurant for dinner.

As we walked, I kept an eye out for shops that might sell fresh vegetables, but saw none. As we passed a café, we overheard two women, dressed in white nurses uniforms, speaking in English, so I stopped to ask them about the things we should do in Lourdes.

“Well, if you have only one day,” they told us in their beautiful Irish accents, “we recommend the Day Pilgrimage. At 8:30 a.m., find the green sign at the statue of the Blessed Virgin” (as if I knew where that was) “and your guide will take you from there.”

By now, it was 9 p.m. and people carrying candles were walking from everywhere, all in the same direction. I recognize the makings of a candlelight procession when I see one, but I decided that we should get food and start fresh tomorrow. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Love is in the air!

I wrote this note before I got this week's chemo but am just sending it out now....


Thank you so much for your emails, phone calls, and cards, as well as your comments when I see you. I realize that I don't always respond or call. I generally intend to reach out to you in return, but I sometimes can't at that moment, and then, later, life starts whizzing by and I don't return to it all. Please know that I remember your words and your sentiments as I go through my days. I truly carry them with me, and they carry me, too. Thank you. It's hard to explain the expansive feeling this all gives me.

This round of chemo impacted me for more days than usual. Typically, I feel better by Saturday morning, but this time, I was still wiped out on Saturday night. On top of that, the awful stomach cramps returned the following Wednesday. I was happy that they passed by the next morning.

Thankfully, all of that is history and I feel great again. And when I am feeling good, it is hard to remember how bad it all felt. Then everything seems to be okay, and life is sunny again.

The big news here surrounds the start of school. Like many families, we loved our summer together and hated to see it end, while we were all ready and eager for school to start.

Aidan returned to school on the day after Labor Day, and he is in a "loop" year, where he has the same classmates, teachers and classroom as last year. It had been explained that, because this is all very familiar, it is like an extension of last year and the kids can jump right into learning. I was a bit skeptical, mostly because I still carry a bit of attitude that says, "my son doesn't necessarily conform to the norm." Still, I kept a hopeful eye out for signs a smooth re-entry to school.

On the first day, I was surprised by how familiar it all was to ME. I loved seeing the familiar, friendly faces of parents who have become our friends enter the classroom with their children, everyone full of summer sun and energy. The animated conversations made the air sing, as the kids were saying hello to each other and the parents were saying good-bye to the kids.

I took a moment to watch the dynamics of the children in the classroom. I am not a naturally child-centered person. I often have mine tag along with me rather than structure my day around them. I don't understand what goes on in their brains, and I'm not the most patient person on earth. In fact, there was a time in my life where I viewed parent-child affection as something akin to the feelings that can arise between kidnapper and captive. I'll admit, I have come to adore my own two little kidnappers!

And, sure, I liked Aidan's classmates. But I was blown away to find that I was suddenly in love with each and every one of these kids. I love how one of the boys starts his day by reading a book, how a little girl likes to draw by herself as she slowly joins her friends in conversation, and was surprised to realize that I even know these little details about them, that I noticed that without really knowing that I did. I love the way they interact together, how they invite others into their circle, how they push and shove to make space for themselves and for their friends.

As I watched Aidan happily playing with a friend he missed over the summer, I realized that I love these kids individually and as a group and am so thankful that he has friends who know him so well, too. And I get to be part of it all.

I hope that you are happily surprised by the love you feel for those in your life, and get to take a moment to feel the love and happiness they share with you.

Love and blessings to you,