Robyn Barberry is the doting wife of her high school sweetheart, the mother of three precocious boys, and the art teacher at St. Joan of Arc school in Aberdeen.

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Great job, Collin!

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Unconditional

The upside to falling down



One month and two days ago I stumbled down the flight of stairs that separate the living quarters from the sleeping quarters in my home.  The boys and I had just woken up.

“How about waffles for breakfast?” I asked.

“Sure,” said Collin.  “Can we make a fort?”

“Sure,” I said.

As I was lifting Leo from his crib, I heard a scuffle on the stairs. I turned the corner to find Collin and Frank halfway down the steps, towing a king sized fluffy blanket.

“Whoa!” I shouted, putting Leo down.  I took two steps and reached for the blanket. “Guys, this isn’t safe. Someone’s gonna get – ”

But, before I could say the word “hurt,” I became the victim of my own prophecy. My stocking feet failed to create enough friction to keep me grounded on the slick wooden steps and in seconds I found myself lying in a heap of limbs and blankets on the landing. Thankfully, the boys managed to escape the avalanche, but when I got up, I felt like I was emerging from a rugby scrum.

It was my back that hurt, in an unspecified spot that seemed to float somewhere in the middle of my body. As the day progressed, I discovered that I could walk fine, but I couldn’t sit down comfortably. And I certainly couldn’t bend down to pick anything up. (An essential movement for parenting young children.)

I waited several days before visiting our local emergent care center, where X-rays indicated that my suspicion, a broken coccyx (tailbone), was not the case. After a further examination, the doctor concluded that my coccyx was bruised. I felt relieved, but not for long.

“Sometimes bruises can be worse than breaks. It usually takes 4-8 weeks to recover from an injury like this.  You’re lucky it wasn’t worse.”

A little over 4 weeks better, I’ve seen some improvement in my mobility, but continue to feel pain whenever I’m forced to sit for extended periods of time or if I try to bend over too much. The doctor is right, it could’ve been worse, but, as always, I’ve been trying to look on the bright side of my current situation. Here are the positive effects of my injury:

1.Since I can’t sit down, I haven’t been watching TV, getting lost in the internet, or lounging around. I’ve been up on my feet, pushing the boys on the swings, organizing cabinets and closets, and actually going places. Unfortunately, I still can't pick up toys or books that without fail manage to find their way onto the floor, but I'm trying to teach the boys to help me out by being more responsible. My productivity has offered a boost to my mood (not to mention my metabolism) and makes me feel as though I’m living my summer to the fullest. The down side is that I can’t take the boys to the pool, but I’m seeking other meaningful experiences for them, like the programs offered at Harford County Public Library. We had a great time learning about the environment at the Abingdon branch just before we went on vacation.


2.I’ve been reading more. As I mentioned, I’m trying to keep up with my boys in their Summer Reading Program, but I’ve also found that reading is a great way to pass the time when the only thing that feels good is pacing. One of the more interesting books I’ve read is "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo. She encourages readers to only surround themselves with objects that make them feel a sense of joy. Her book was a call to action for me and the results of my decluttering experience have motivated me to live a lighter existence. I've also been working on Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman." I'm open to other book recommendations if you're reading something exciting, informative or otherwise "life-changing".


3.I’m paying more attention in church. I can’t sit in a pew or kneel quite yet, so I’ve been worshipping from the gathering space as I walk about, trying to find enough comfort to focus on the rituals and messages happening at the altar. My mind doesn’t drift during the homily and I feel more connected to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I’m hoping that when I return to the pew in a few weeks (fingers crossed) I will continue to be more mindful during Mass.


Not being able to sit is an awkward experience when other people enter the picture. When I start to get curious looks, I feel obligated to explain my situation to everyone from waitresses to Frank's teachers, to college professors (yes, I went back to school...stay tuned for more information). It’s uncomfortable being the only person standing while everyone eats or hulking over a coffee table while your child and his teacher play a matching game or leaning against a wall in the back of a classroom (again, more on my awesome grad class later) while everyone else is sitting. I don’t want the company I’m with to think that I’m trying to dominate our conversations, so I’m quieter than usual. I’m a better listener and observer these days.

My mind is being strengthened as my body heals. By falling down, I've been lifted up. And that is the ultimate gift my trip down the stairs has given me.     

   
 

August 03, 2015 07:58
By Robyn Barberry


An evening with Art and Soul


The only person cooler than your art teacher when you're 8-years-old, is that same art teacher when you're 32-years-old.  Susan Thomey is one of the reasons that I became an art teacher.  From kindergarten through fifth grade, she stood before us in fabulously funky, appropriately accessorized outfits, her short red hair a testament to her Irish heritage and free spirit. 

"Look at my nose," she'd say when she wanted our attention.

Then, she'd transport us to Egypt or France or places beyond our imaginations by sharing stories, posters, fun facts, and gory details (a-hem, Mr. Van Gogh) with us about some of the world's greatest works of art.

After a suspenseful couple of moments, she would introduce us to our assignment, restraining us with her famous line, "When I tell you, but not right now..."  And then, our supplies materialized before us and our imaginations opened wide.

Almost a quarter century later, I found myself once again a member of Mrs. Thomey's class.  This time, we weren't in the basement of the old green St. Margaret's building.  This time, we were on the upper level of a White Marsh restaurant called Flameworks, who have the best burgers and pickle chips in the world, according to Mr. Thomey.  (Their soft pretzels are incredible!)



My classmates included the restaurant's hilarious proprietor, Rose, several members of her family, two of Mrs. Thomey's daughters (including my St. Margaret's classmate, Caroline), another old friend from St. Margaret's, Conor, and even my mom!

In addition to Susan Thomey, current St. Margaret's School art teacher, Peggy Hart, instructed us on how to paint the details of the crab outline before us.  "Even though we're working on the same project, everyone's art is going to be different because you're all different," Mrs. Thomey said.



Joy bubbled throughout the air as we dabbed our brushes in complementary shades of orange and blue.  Our teachers praised us and offered us solutions as we stumbled upon problems.  As time passed, confidence grew, and the canvasses that started out identical were now representations of the art and soul of each member of the class.

Painting classes like these have been popping up all over the place.  It's an environment where anyone, regardless of talent or experience, can release his or her inner artist.  But, in the other places I've participated in social painting activities, I've found the instruction lacking and the environment stifling.  That wasn't the case on this particular night.



When you spend an evening with Art and Soul, you're receiving real instruction from two fabulous art teachers. (It takes one to know one.)  Susan and Peggy have started this enterprise as a way to expand their educational reach to adults.  They'll come to your event, bringing easels, canvasses, brushes, paint, and over 40 years of combined knowledge.  They'll even clean up for you.  And if you're looking for an exciting birthday party idea for your artsy child, Susan and Peggy can help you plan an unforgettable event.

Schedule your next painting event by contacting Susan Thomey at sthomey1@verizon.net or 443-243-1261.    

  

August 01, 2015 09:33
By Robyn Barberry


The case of the stolen birthday gift

 “Now that he’s left the room, I’ve got some bad news,” Becky said.

She had just arrived to join us on our Ocean City vacation, which also included a small family birthday party for Collin, who is her godson.

“Someone broke into my car and stole his gift. I don’t want him to know about it, though. I don’t want him to think that all of Baltimore is bad.”

Becky lives near Patterson Park and teaches Spanish at Archbishop Curley High School. She is almost always wearing Orioles propaganda or at least some semblance of the Maryland flag. This girl loves her city, almost as much as she loves her godson. And he loves visiting her in the "urban community" she calls home.  (Collin pointed that out to Becky when we visited her while his kindergarten class was learning about different kinds of communities.)

“Oh, Beck.  I’m so sorry!”  I said.

“Thanks. I’m so sad because I bought him a Minions tent and pictured it set up right here in the condo. I also got him Minions socks and a Minions activity book. The worst part is that each part was neatly wrapped with a card on top that said, ‘Happy 6th Birthday, Collin!’  Who steals a 6-year-old’s gift?!?!”

Probably the same kind of person who stole my diaper bag, I thought.

“That’s a shame,” I told Becky.  “Maybe it's making some other kid happy.”

“I just hope that Collin isn’t upset that I didn’t get him a gift.  I’ll just take him to get an ice cream or something,” she said.

Later in the week, Becky watched as Collin’s slushy turned his lips and tongue turn blue and his spirits soar courtesy of a week’s worth of sugar consumed in one sitting.  (Hey, it’s vacation!)  When he came up for air, he asked her what the best part of his vacation was.

“That you came down to be here with me,” he said.

All the time and thought that Becky put into choosing and preparing the perfect birthday gift was not a waste.  When we're searching for the perfect present for someone, it's an opportunity to reflect on what makes that person unique and focus on how much we care about him or her.  But, one-on-one time with his godmother over a messy slushy at the Royal Farms on 83th Street, were the kinds of experiences that Collin will remember forever.  Those memories are the best birthday presents anyone can get.



Collin and his godparents, Becky and Greg, on his 6th birthday in Ocean City, MD.



 
 

July 30, 2015 11:18
By Robyn Barberry


Tri, tri again!




They were lined up on the Perryville Community Park dock at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 11th. There were a  little more than 50 of them -- men wearing skin tight black suits and neon green swim caps. A man on a bullhorn was counting down from 30 seconds. Their heart rates began the mountainous climb required by the cardiovascular feat before them. All they needed was for that man to yell “Go!”  At that moment, they would rush the waters of the Susquehanna in one of the ultimate tests of physical and mental strength: a triathlon. 

“That’s my Daddy!” Collin said to the lady with the fancy camera to our right.

“Good luck, Daddy!” Collin shouted. Patrick turned and waved, his eyes obscured by his smoky goggles. His dark, shaggy hair peeked out of his neon green cap.  

Soon, the buzzer sounded, and Collin watched as his dad (and a whole lot of other people’s dads) glided through the murky, tepid river for a half mile loop (sprint distance).

“He’s coming, Collin!  We better hurry!” I said, taking him by the hand to the top of the dock where the swimmers were emerging and dashing off to the second leg of their journey, a 7.8 mile bike ride.  

Collin scanned the faces of each athlete, looking for his Daddy’s beard.  When he saw Patrick speedily ascending the stairs, Collin shouted, “Yay, Daddy!”

We watched him transition to bike mode, cheering him along as he took off for a tour of Perryville, MD at 20 – 40 miles per hour in the open air. This is the hard part. They’re out of sight for so long. 

“I think that’s his orange shirt,” I’d say.  False alarm.  More waiting.  

Collin was getting restless, so I broke out the Play-Doh and picture books I brought to keep him busy.  When Patrick finally came whirring in, dismounted his bike, and ran it to the transition area, Collin and I dashed over to him, leaning on the fence that separated the athletes from the supporting cast.  

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“Rough!” he said, as he strapped on his running shoes for a 2.4 mile run.

Collin and I waited at the finish line, watching for that beard and orange shirt. Finally, we saw Patrick bolting toward the inflatable finish line where we were shouting, “Come on!  You can do it!” and “Dad-dy!  Dad-dy!”  Before we knew it, we were sharing a sweaty group hug.

“Daddy! You did it!” Collin shouted, gazing at Patrick’s finisher medal. 

A triathlon is by no means a spectator sport.  But, I brought Collin along with me to the Diamond in the Rough sprint so that he could see the (tri)athlete in his father.  I wanted him to be inspired to take care of his physical fitness, to attempt and overcome life’s challenges, and to always make it to the finish line. 


July 23, 2015 11:51
By Robyn Barberry


Little bear's big debut

At 10:30 a.m. on July 10th, 2015 in Harford Community College’s Black Box Theatre, Collin took to the stage for the first time, less than two weeks from his sixth birthday.  At that very moment, a star was born. 

In reality, Collin has been putting on performances his whole life. He loves to be the center of attention, especially if he can make others laugh.  Word for word he reenacts scenes from his favorite movies. It started right around the time he turned three and developed an interest in "Toy Story." He would call from the other room, “Mom! Have you seen my Sally doll?”

The first time, I was confused. “What doll? We don’t have any dolls.”

“Mo-om! You’re supposed to say, ‘What, Dear? What was that?’”

I said my line to Collin’s relief.

“Nevermind,” he said, picking up a stuffed bear in the same way that the little girl picks up her Sally doll in "Toy Story."

He had only seen the movie twice, but he remembered who said what and what they did. It continued on through other movies and TV shows, even though we don’t allow our boys to have too much screen time. His memory is astonishing. He’s seen The Little Rascals twice within the past couple of weeks and walks around saying lines from the movie, encouraging the rest of us to participate in the “scene” with him.  (He's our little director.)

When the opportunity presented itself for Collin to be part of a stage production, I enrolled him for theatre camp at Harford Community College. It was led by none other than our wonderful next door neighbor, Ruthie. Collin was a little hesitant the first time I dropped him off on Monday, but he bounced all the way to the car when I picked him up, eager to show me his script for Friday’s big show. The play was about four gentle people, ten terrible trolls, and one sweet bear with the capacity to be scary when danger strikes.

You can probably guess who Collin got to be – the bear. He didn’t have any lines to rehearse, but he did have to practice his growl and his “tricks.” We “rolled over” in the lawn, across the living room floor, and through a pile of towels on my bed. I told Collin to “roll over” while we were in the car and he reminded me that he needed to stay buckled in.  I made him growl, instead.

After four days of grueling rehearsals, the young cast was ready to present their play to a public audience. Friends and family filled every available seat just in time for the lights to dim. Soon, four actors were on stage playing humble villagers, one of whom had a pet -- you guessed it -- bear. Collin came waddling in wearing a brown fur suit and ears. He had a black nose and whiskers. He was so overwhelming cute, it took all my strength to keep from stepping into the scene and squeezing him. But, he had a job to do, and boy did he do it well. His tricks were flawlessly executed and his growl managed to scare all those nasty trolls away.



Before we knew it, Collin was taking his bow and finding himself mobbed by mamarazzi who wanted pictures of their kids with the cute bear. (I can’t blame them.) The buzz of excitement continues to exude from an already exuberant child.  It appears as though he's caught the acting bug -- it's probably hereditary.

Patrick and I met during a high school production of "The Crucible," so we have firsthand experience of the benefits theatre offers young people. Being part of a play gives kids the opportunity to work on memorization and verbal skills, to be a member of a team, to problem-solve on the spot, to gain self-confidence, and to have fun pretending to be someone else – maybe even a bear. I can’t wait to see what Collin's next role will be!

There are still some spaces available for summer and fall acting camps at Harford Community College.  Find out more about these and other summer programs here.

July 10, 2015 07:11
By Robyn Barberry


Every summer has a story (or 25)


One of the highlights of my childhood summers was joining the Harford County Public Library’s Summer Reading Program. My brother and I would tear through chapter books at home, alongside the Chesapeake Bay on Tilghman Island, or on the beach in Ocean City in a race to see who could get to the required 25 books first. Along the way there were games and prizes – and t-shirts, to boot.  The real glory, of course, was the fact that rather than allowing our brains to reduce to mush while we were away from school, we were challenging our minds to create worlds beyond our own. 

This summer, I signed all three of the boys up for the Harford County Public Library Summer Reading Program, with one-year-old Leo and three-year-old Frank enrolling in the “Read to Me” program and “almost” six-year-old Collin joining the Every Hero has a Story campaign.  (When you've got a teacher/writer for a mom, you're a bibliophile before you can say the word "read.")

Upon registering, we received a variety of coupons for free treats at places like Rita’s, Bertucci’s, and my absolute favorite cupcake place, Flavor. Completion of ten books by Monday, July 6th enters participants in a raffle for passes to the Maryland Science Center. If you don’t win that round, you’re immediately entered into a drawing for Orioles tickets. And when you finally reach your goal of 25 books by August 22nd, you will receive a certificate, a free book (!), and a voucher for Aberdeen Ironbirds tickets.

One of the best parts of the new Summer Reading Program is that you can log your books online and even write reviews to share with other readers. 

Collin was ready to get started right away. I let him select a few books and even signed him up for his first library card!  It was a great way to spend a terribly rainy afternoon.


We’ve been reading up a storm ever since. First thing in the morning. Outside on the playground. In the car. While waiting for dinner to be ready. And, of course, before bed.

I’ve even decided to increase my literature intake, starting with Gretchen Rubin’s “Better than Before.”“Better than Before.”  Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman" will be on my porch in two weeks!

It’s not too late to sign up for the Summer Reading Program at your local library. Let’s see who gets to 25 books first!

July 01, 2015 06:39
By Robyn Barberry


Messy Mondays




In the lime green room, plastic  covers the floor.  It’s the perfect setup for the birth of a Jackson Pollack masterpiece, but today’s artists are much smaller.  Toddlers waddle across the canvas in onesies and diapers armed with a variety of painting tools, their parents chatting and distributing red, orange, yellow, green, and blue paint to their little Picassos.  Everyone is having so much fun that it’s hard to believe it’s Monday.

This is no ordinary Monday, it’s Messy Monday at The Creative Cow, a family art center in Forest Hill, Maryland.  Once a month, children aged 9-24 months are invited to explore their creative (and social) all while painting a keepsake work of art.  The cost is $10 per child for a one hour session, and the best part is that the mess stays there!

My friend Rachel and her 18-month-old son, Mason, invited us to Messy Monday in May.  Our designated project was a canvas with a metallic letter (“M” for Mason; “L” for Leo) stuck to the middle.  The boys (okay, mostly the moms) painted around their letter and removed it to find their special letter in a white space surrounded by bursts of color.  They even used the tires on toy cars to paint! 



The highlight of the night was when the hosts brought out shaving cream and the little guys smeared it all over the big paper, all over their bellies, and all in their hair.  Some parents were the victims of shaving cream attacks as well.

The bright, energetic room bubbled over with laughter, but some very important learning was happening, too.  In addition to practicing fine motor skills, the toddlers were tapping into the right sides of their brains, where outside-the-box thinking originates.  This kind of thinking is essential to developing problem-solving skills that will help them make the world a little bit better when they grow up.  But for now, let’s just let them make messes.

Creative Cow will be hosting another Messy Monday on July 13th at 6 pm.  Register by emailing thecreativecowinc@gmail.com and dress for the mess!



    

June 30, 2015 11:13
By Robyn Barberry


Together in any weather: an anniversary story

Our plan was to drop off the boys at their grandparents’ house and head to Philadelphia so that Patrick and I could celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary. God had other plans.

It started with a phone call from my mother-in-law as we scrambled to leave the house; a storm was on its way. “She worries too much,” Patrick said, as we shoved shoes on the boys. Before we even made it to the end of the street, a robo-call featuring the calm and pleasant voice of Harford County Emergency Manager Rick Ayers warned us of a Flash Flood threat. “We’re headed to higher ground,” I said. “We’ll be fine.” But, it was the ear-piercing squeal coming from my phone at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru that derailed us. This time, it was the Emergency Broadcast System alerting us to take shelter immediately. This was NOT a test.

We pulled under the awning at Home Depot and studied the radar on Patrick’s phone as buckets of rain and rapid force winds attacked customers struggling to push their orange carts to the comfort of their vehicles. The worst part of the storm heading straight from Baltimore to Philadelphia…and here we were stuck directly in the middle. Would we make it?

I had been looking forward to our trip all day. In Philadelphia, there are several restaurants that offer incredible vegan food, like the Spaghetti Sandwich and Coconut Club at Memphis Taproom. (There’s even a dairy-free dessert paradise called Little Baby’s.) I’d already settled on a chocolate “ice cream” sandwich when the “change-of-plans” discussion started.

But, it was a conversation we had to have.

“It’s going to be so late by the time we get there that the restaurant will be shutting down,” Patrick said.

“We could go somewhere in Baltimore,” I said.

“That’s just as far away.”

“True...Let’s try somewhere new,” I said, remembering that a place called Birroteca had just opened in Bel Air.  By this point, the storm had passed, so it was safe to drop off the boys and head out on our “recalculated” adventure.

I decided to scope out the place first.  I dashed into the restaurant wearing a hot pink rain jacket and turquoise paisley rain boots.  Before I even finished asking the Birroteca hostess with the bright brown eyes if they had anything vegan on the menu, she ran to the chef and came back with a list of specialties he’d be happy to prepare for me, most of which featured vegetables grown right here in Harford County.  

Patrick and I came back in shortly, with me wearing a cute black and white dress and black sandals.  "How did you change so quickly?" the hostess asked.

"It's an old Audrey Hepburn trick," I told her.  She sat us at a table right near a poster for Hepburn's romantic movie "Roman Holiday," which co-starred Gregory Peck, one of my favorite actors. (Sometimes he reminds me of Patrick.) 

My “Locovore” brick oven pizza loaded with asparagus, garlic, blistered tomatoes and arugula was delicious, but sitting next to my favorite person in the world as he enjoyed his shrimp risotto was even better. And we were only fifteen minutes from home.

The best part of the meal (other than being together) was our funny red-headed waitress who talked to us about her three grown boys, one of whom came by to tell her to check out the sky, which she, in turn, pointed out to us. The rain and wind had stopped, but the sky was saturated in a rapidly changing show of colors from gold to burnt orange to mauve to lavender. There had to be a rainbow somewhere nearby. Even if we couldn’t see it, we knew that God was near and that he always keeps his promises.

We thought we wanted something, but forces outside of our control threatened our plans. We didn’t get angry about it. We thought through it, made a change, and found happiness right where we were.

This is just a silly story about being forced to change dinner plans, but Patrick and I try to handle every obstacle we face in the same way. From financial crises to household chores to discipline to medical emergencies, when problems happen, we work together to solve them. Maybe that’s one reason why we’re still married after 8 years.

June 25, 2015 06:53
By Robyn Barberry


Lessons from my dad

When we become parents, we become providers. At first, it’s the basics: a place to live, something to eat, soft fabrics to keep baby warm. Then, we add education: Sunday school, preschool, K-12, college. But, throughout each moment of our lives and theirs we are teaching our children what we think it means to be a good person.

Those informal lessons are what matters most. They’re the kind gestures we don’t expect anyone to notice. They’re teachable moments that have the sticking power of warm spaghetti. They’re the video clips our children burn into their minds and play again and again. My dad has given me a lifetime of memories that have influenced decisions both big and small since the Father’s Day weekend I came home from the hospital as a newborn. Here are a few of those times when my dad stood taller than most men, and encouraged me to join him in making the world a better place.


*****

I’m seven years old, and it’s summer. We are seated three across the blue perforated vinyl bench seat in my dad’s white Chevy S-10 pickup.

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“To the recycling center,” he said.

“Why?” I asked. I was bored. I wanted to be in my friend’s pool, not in this hot truck hauling bags of crushed cans across town.

“They’re going to turn these cans into other things instead of throwing them away. It’s going to help save the environment, like the Chesapeake Bay,” he said.

For every summer of my life, my dad and his family had rented a house on the Bay to go fishing and crabbing. My cousins and I swam in the waters of the Chesapeake and played baseball and a million other games of our own imaginations on her shores. Maybe those cans would become a boat or something.

It wasn’t popular or easy to recycle when my dad chose to make his small contribution to the environment, but it stuck with me, and now, especially as an art teacher, I’m quick to reduce, reuse, and recycle. God created this world for us and we must honor Him by taking care of it. That’s what my dad taught me.

*****

I’m fifteen years old, and I’m difficult. My dad and I don’t seem to see eye-to-eye about anything. Sports are his life, and I’ve decided to be an artist. It couldn’t be further from my dad’s world, but he built a bridge to mine and made plans to take me to the Walter’s one day. Reluctantly, I went along, disappearing into the alternative music streaming through my Discman (another thing he didn’t understand). 

On our elevator ride to the second floor, we found ourselves stuck. For half an hour! What else could we do, but talk? I told him that I wanted to study art in college, and he suggested I become an art teacher. I told him it wasn’t what I had in mind, but he reminded me that I have a gift for working with children, that I come from a long line of teachers and that a career in education would offer a stable income for my family. I insisted that I wasn’t interested.

My dad maintained his cool, even when the maintenance man who finally freed us from our trap appeared, sandwich in hand. He and I spent the rest of the day taking in Japanese screen prints and Faberge eggs together, my Discman packed neatly away in my purse. I took the opportunity to teach him the art history and criticism I learned in school, and, without knowing it, he set the foundation for my entire future.

*****

I’m 29, I’ve just delivered my second child, and my beloved cat, Kurt, whom I’ve had since I was in middle school, is very ill. Letting him go was losing a part of who I was; the child who still existed in me. He was black and sleek and affectionate, like every other feline my dad had loved, and watching him dwindle into a bundle of bones with sunken pale yellow eyes was too much to take. The vet said he wouldn’t last but another couple of painful weeks, so I made the hardest choice I’d ever had to make.

And my dad came with me. He and I both held Kurt in his final moments, then we held onto each other. His compassion for animals is unrivaled. Both he and my mom are pretty much vegetarians, and, consequently, so am I. He rescued domestic rabbits that some idiot set loose in the neighborhood. Sometimes he buys a bag of food for the shy cats who live with me now. He believes in being gentle towards the defenseless.

My dad attended Archbishop Curley High School and has a special devotion to St. Francis. Maybe that explains the birdfeeders and houses he keeps throughout the yard. He encourages me to do the same.

*****

I’m still 29. A tree has fallen on my house. My parents open their door. “Stay as long as you need to,” my dad says. They help us with our babies. My dad stays up late nights with Frank. They develop a bond stronger than Velcro. He is patient. He is kind. He is always willing to look after my boys if he’s available. And I can’t ask for a better caregiver because he’s done so much for me.

My dad’s given me my faith. He’s filled my plates with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. He’s gave me a place to call home as a child and as an adult. He’s given me my formal education. But most of all he’s give me and my family love. Thanks for everything, Dad!

June 21, 2015 01:25
By Robyn Barberry


Reflecting on cancer: Relay for Life


I try not to think about cancer. After all the time I’ve spent standing helpless on the sidelines watching good people fight a vicious, faceless force from the inside out, I try not to let my mind collapse under the weight of painful memories and recurring images of human suffering.

In winter of 2015, one of my fourth grade students was battling brain cancer, while my godmother, Bonnie, was battling breast cancer. I had to do something, but I wasn’t an oncologist, so what could I do?

Around this time, former St. Joan of Arc teacher Darla Wallace and current SJA parent Christina Kennedy asked me to join their Relay for Life team, the St. Joan of Arc Holy Walkamolies. I agreed. 

I did a little bit of fundraising and recruiting for the event, which would be held on Friday, June 5, 2015 at the Havre de Grace High School track. One of the biggest features of the event was the circle of luminarias made of decorated white paper bags, which would be ceremoniously lit to honor cancer survivors and those who fought hard, but just couldn’t win.

My mom and I purchased four bags for three generations of women who faced cancer: my grandmother Lillian, my aunt Anne, and her two daughters, Nancy and Bonnie. Aunt Anne and Bonnie’s luminarias were designed to honor their victory and continued fight.  My grandmother and beloved cousin and best friend Nancy’s luminarias were devoted to their memory.  I stuck some of my favorite photographs to each bag with pictures I printed onto giant labels. Seeing my courageous loved ones' names and faces was a reminder of why this event was so important.

When June 5th finally came around, the gloomy skies cleared just in time for the opening ceremonies. Survivors were honored, especially my 4th grader, who was able to cut the ribbon to kick off the night-long celebration of those men, women, and children who have faced the trial of a cancer diagnosis.  



Despite the heavy weight of the event, the environment was light and festive. Food trucks and vendors peddled their wares to happy customers.  People in silly clown costumes with elaborately decorated campsites emphasized the “Cirque de Relay” theme. Spirits were high as walkers lapped the track in team t-shirts and teens played Frisbee and football on the field.

There were ribbons of every shade of the rainbow everywhere I looked and enough luminarias to encompass the entire football stadium. I was surrounded by names, dates, and photos on t-shirts, signs, and white paper bags.  At times I felt like I was observing headstones in a cemetery.  “Why so many people?” I asked God. “Why is there no cure?”   

When the sun set a little after 8, a woman shared the tragic story (she called it a fairy tale) of her family’s cancer fight, when her husband, son, and toddler granddaughter were all battling various forms of the disease at once. But, she was grateful to God for the small windows of remission and breaks from surgery that He gave her to enable her to stay strong emotionally for her loved ones.  The tragedy is that her granddaughter lost the fight. The miracle is that her husband remains free of pancreatic cancer nine years later.

Her story reminded me of my own. How God took Nancy from me, but gave me Collin, and gave us time to be moms together.  How my Aunt Anne is a gift to my family because she keeps us all together when times are tough, just as her mother Lillian did.  And how Bonnie’s positive attitude and commitment to Christ and her family have shown me all the armor a person needs to face any battle.

When the luminarias were all lit, the place went silent. We walked around the track as one unit brought together by the worst of circumstances, making the unanimous decision to take our heartache and turn it back into love.


Mrs. Wallace found Collin near our luminarias, rubbing his fingers across the bag, talking to the people in the pictures. He only had memories of two of them, but he felt connected to them all. “These are my guys,” he told her.

On the way home, I asked Collin if he knew why we were there. (Earlier in the night he thought it was a race and took off at top speed in the opposite direction that our teams were walking). I explained to him that we were celebrating the lives of people who had a disease called cancer, which turns the good parts of your body bad. I told him about some of the people we know who had cancer, including Nancy.

I don’t usually like to talk about her. It makes my chest hurt. It makes it hard to breathe. It makes it hard to talk. It’s a lot like having a heart attack, I guess. But, I told Collin that if he had any questions about her, I’d be happy to answer them.

He did. He wanted to know if we liked to go places together, if she liked to play games, and if she had a car. I laughed while I told him stories and realized that it made me feel good to remember her. It was like she never left.

When we got home (very, very late, I might add), Collin woke Patrick up and told him, “Every bag was for someone we miss.” 

Thinking about cancer isn't easy. In fact, it's downright painful. But, it's important to consider the effect such a devastating disease has on its victims and their loved ones so that their fight is not forgotten. Thank you to Relay for Life for offering us the opportunity to reflect.




   
 

June 11, 2015 10:59
By Robyn Barberry

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