THE SCHOOL BELL RINGS FOR THE FIRST TIME…AGAIN! By Lori A Alicea

My baby’s baby starts kindergarten this year.
school - Ayva first day of kindergarten 1

How can it be that just twenty-six years ago the school bus picked up my baby for her first day of kindergarten?
school - Candace first day of kindergartenBackpacks are heavier than ever with the weight of all that school stuff… pencils, paper, tissues, crayons, glue, scissors and a brand new item on the school list…sanitizer.
IMG_1861I wish it wasn’t so sweet Ayva, but school will be a bit different for you than for your mother twenty-six years ago.
school - Candace kindergarten pictureschool - Ayva first day of kindergartenThe school bell rings for five years olds everywhere…for the first time.

The school bell rings louder when that five year old is yours.

School bell stop ringing…
We’re not ready…at least I wasn’t.

Just yesterday our baby’s newborn smell overwhelmed while snuggling them quietly near our heart.
mom and Candacebaby - ayva newbornWe close our eyes for a second and the school bells rings for the first time for my baby’s baby.

For this grandmother, the school bell rings for the first time…again.
mom and daughter - Candace going to kindergartenmom and daughter - Candace and Ayva going to kindergarten

No matter how old a mother becomes, she never forgets those milestones, her children’s right of passages that mark in time their growing up.

I share with you Kindergarten Day for my baby twenty-six years ago.

Kindergarten Day!
The Start of New Beginnings
By Lori A. Alicea

The end of August is fast approaching.  The school bell is ready for the principal to ring.  Backpacks are stuffed, new sneakers are laced and moms everywhere are preparing their children for the first day of school, some for the very first year.

Though I registered my daughter this August for her senior year in high school and my son his senior year in college, this mother never forgot that bittersweet kindergarten day when the apron strings of her heart were cut.

Maybe it was in our maiden walk to school, lamenting my return alone.  Maybe it was their reluctance to leave my side as I brought them to their desk.  Maybe it was seeing their moistened eyes when I turned to check on them one last time.  Maybe it was noticing them looking for me outside their window.  Maybe it was hearing the school bell ring, wanting them desperately to be four again.  Whenever it was, this first day of school painfully required me to release them to their new beginning, severing ties that intertwined our lives before kindergarten.

Before this mom had time to dry her tears, the kids bounced back in new energy with field trips planned to the apple orchard and zoo.  Holiday parties and snack days were scheduled and backpacks daily emptied of schoolwork they were anxious to share.

Soon the refrigerator was papered with reading, writing and arithmetic.  Little friends started to call, inviting them over to play.  Where once we were cocooned in our own world of Sesame Street and adventures to the park, now my children were slowly becoming aware of their wings, spreading them ever so slightly at the edge of our nest.

As ironic that it may seem, I truly believed the best lesson I could teach my children, was to teach them to leave.  In order to pass the test, I had to be willing to open the doors of opportunity along their way, never blocking the entrance to future beginnings, yet keeping exit doors closed off from early escapes of hard times.

When once they scribbled in print, they now they communicate their feelings.  Where once they counted on their fingers, they now calculate life’s problems.  Where once they clung to me and dominated our conversation.  Now one lives six hours away and telephones when he can.  The other, a few steps behind.

Looking back, that first day of school was elementary compared to the final exam of their first day on their own.

Though new beginnings should be exciting, it’s the leaving something old that makes it so difficult.  Thankfully that first day of school I was teacher’s pet, when I allowed my kids to be five.
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JUST A SMALL WINDOW OF TIME By Lori A. Alicea

My Pastor Sr. used to say there’s just a small window of time when your children long to be in their parent’s world. After that window closes, you’ll spend the rest of your life longing and pursuing to be in theirs.

This small sermonette etched and framed itself first in this mother’s heart now grandmother when my Pastor spoke them so many years ago.

I experienced this truth as a mother, and when I became a grandmother, I determined to wrap my arms around as many moments possible with those who me Gaga.

Because one tomorrow not too far in the distance, these grandparent moments will find themselves beyond my reach when that small window of time closes with their growing up.

This small sermonette came to life with the birth of my first child Jake.
jake as a babyThe words from the pulpit wouldn’t be preached by me, but lived through the life and love of Jake’s grandparents, Grandma Cova and Papa Les and their summer Kentucky visits together with their grandchildren over the next twelve years.

My grown children have questioned each other if they as parents would send their small children for summer grandparent visits six hours away for weeks at a time as I did with them. Ok, ok, six weeks; my bad.

I laughed with my son and daughter’s reply to each other, “That would be a big negative.”

Looking back I also questioned those long summer adventures away from my kids.

But remembering as their father spent so many memorable summers on the farm with his maternal grandmother, I wanted the pages of the family grandparent scrapbook to continue and pass this special tradition on to Grandma Cova and Papa Les.

So the spoiling begins in Cave City and Horse Cave, Kentucky where a huge family of grandparents, aunts and uncles smother their love like honey on a hot homemade biscuit to this next generation of little ones.

The legacy of Great-Uncle Condie, a hardworking carpet layer by day and bee-keeper at night, is passed through his love for bees down two generations beyond him and counting, all because Uncle Condie chose to enlarge his circle of influence and love to include a little boy.

This little boy carried into adulthood an uncle’s devotion honored in his middle name, abbreviated as a C.

Let’s not forget Uncle Condie’s wife Aunt Alley and her fabulous meals prepared each morning, noon and night by scratch when you visited.

Her second-floor country kitchen where those signature biscuits baked inside a wood-burning stove is still a fond memory even of mine.

Aunt Alley also left behind a piece of herself amid the squares and stitches she quilted by hand for each child upon their birth.
family jake, uncle codie and aunt alleyThe summer highlights always included excitement alongside a country flavored grandfather.

Papa Les made sure that summer in Kentucky included horses, chickens, goats and rummage sale bicycles. Years later that country memory of chickens lives on in the next generation through Jake’s children.

What would summer vacation be without time spent with your aunts, uncles and cousins?

Uncle Bob and Aunt Carrie made sure a visit to amusement park Guntown Mountain happened; the bowling alley too and so much more. I still laugh remembering the stories that came home packed in the suitcases of my kids after time spent with their crazy aunt and uncle.

Aunt Sue Sue, when she flew into town, spoiled her nieces and nephews beyond expectation. Grown up now, these kids shan’t ever forget an aunt who loved them so well.

Standing out more than any summer memory in Kentucky revolved around cousins being with cousins. No telling what (Eric, Nick, Amanda, Alexis, Candace and Jake) did at their grandparent’s house.  I’m sure those secrets are still baked into the walls of grandma’s house in Horse Cave, Kentucky.

For some reason my son was especially fond of his Grandma Cova.  So much so he named his first daughter after her.

Their deep bond is evident in this intimate moment captured at Jake’s wedding.
grandma Cova and JakeLooking at these two together, I can rewind many conversations with Grandma Cova and her summer visits with Jake.

“Oh Grandma, just one more book please,” a small boy’s request before bed after many other stories before.

Hands of rummy at the kitchen table, preparing all his favorite foods, and her buying a sweet boy candy at the Dollar General where she worked down the street.

The most difficult day though of every summer visit with Grandma Cova ended with Jake waving good-by to her from the back seat of the car, with him having to hold it together without her for the six hour ride home and the remainder of the summer.

Grief for his grandmother overwhelmed my son for weeks. Most days he held it in as best as a little boy could, but eventually the dam of his tears painfully burst.

Every year at summer’s end amid the sadness, Grandma Cova and her grandson dreamed of their next summer together. Jake assured his grandmother he’d be sharing summers with her his whole life; he was all of ten at this time.

As much as Grandma Cova treasured their coveted visits, she painted a picture of Jake for him at the age of twelve, a painting when boys began growing up and enjoying sports and friends over time spent at their grandparents.

Never imagining that twelve year old boy would be him, Jake did grow into a twelve year old whose visits to Kentucky faded into the scrapbook memories.

Grandma Cova loved her grandson Jake as much as he loved her.  I am forever grateful they shared this amazing relationship.

I lamented for Grandma Cova when her grandson’s summer visits stopped, unable to imagine how it affected a grandmother’s heart.

I tried though in a poem I wrote and dedicated my words to the two of them.

Thank you Grandma Cova and Papa Les for the intentional love you displayed to your grandchildren in the summer ways that you did.

Those summer visits in Kentucky were the blueprint for the Friday night cousin camps with my grandchildren.

The age of twelve has been on my mind since our first grandchild celebrated that pivotal year in her life three years ago and now two grandchildren blew out the candles on their tenth birthday cake this year.

Just the other day, one grandson rode his bike from next store just to say hello to his papa; he was spending the night with his aunt and uncle the evening before.

What will twelve look like for this little boy with his Papa and Gaga?
cars 2020 7 04 David working on car Ethan watching
Here is that summer poem I promised.

grandma Cova and Jake

His Summer Time With You
By Lori A. Alicea

How great the day when eyes laid on,
Your grandson’s precious face.
A secret home inside your heart,
He found a special place.

No other child could love you more,
A grandma’s treasured joy.
All wrapped and held within your arms,
One happy little boy.

No other day could not compare,
With things he’d want to do.
What greater moments when he spent,
His summer time with you.

The books you read before his nap,
Adventures were in store.
The nap delayed because he begged,
“Oh grandma read one more”.

The neighbor boy looked forward too,
When June would come around.
A childhood friendship that he shared,
And mischief that they found.

Though Batman was a hero then,
His grandma number one.
No wonder all the time you spent,
To make his summer fun.

Then one day as you sat with him,
The porch, these words you told.
That soon he wouldn’t come in June,
His age, past twelve years old.

No other reason would you give,
Than growing does occur.
But how the memories spent in June,
Would never fade or blur.

Then one year grandma’s words came true,
No books to read at noon.
Her grandson chose to stay at home,
This summer month of June.

With baseball in the little league,
With swimming at the beach.
And riding bikes took grandson far,
Away from grandma’s reach.

She said this day would come at last,
What does a grandma do?
Though growing up will not replace,
His summer time with you.

How great the day when eyes laid on,
Your grandson’s precious face.
A secret home inside your heart,
He found a special place.

PICTURE IT By Lori A Alicea

Christmas thirty years ago, I never pictured it.

Christmas thirty years ago, if you could picture it, was just the three of us, a newly single mother watching her two young children sit in front of the camera for their annual holiday portrait, an insert to the family Christmas card.
XMAS Jake and Candy 2Back in the day, portrait studios were located in the “big box stores”. Closer to the holiday when I usually scheduled our photo session, multiple procrastinated families like mine crowded the couches waiting impatiently for their name to be called, as photographers were unfortunately behind schedule during the final weeks of Christmas.
XMAS Jake and CandyI doubt any young mother pictures it, and I was no exception.
I didn’t think of it, I didn’t imagine it.
I wasn’t in denial, I just didn’t picture it.

I doubt most of us picture it although it’s happening to us all.

The only picture that mattered to me thirty years ago were those of my little boy and girl dressed in their holiday best.

An annual gift wrapped up as a Christmas portrait that only a mother could truly appreciate; a parent’s attempt in preserving the Christmas faces of her children as a keepsake to reflect on when the passage of time caught them growing up.
XMAS Jake and Candy 1I never pictured it until thirty years later when I opened up a packed box of my mother’s belongings, finding a stack of clippings from my old column she saved, stumbling upon a specific column that took me back to the portrait studio where I picked up my children’s Christmas pictures for the holiday season that year.
XMAS Jake and Candy 3EVERYONE’S LIFE IS A STORY WAITING TO BE TOLD
By Lori A. Alicea

No telling how many people cross our path and we never know their name or story.  Faces are everywhere.  Crowded streets; busy stores.  We rub shoulders, but barely make eye contact.  We all have a story, but who takes the time to wonder?

Waiting for my purchase at a local Photography store, I got my first glimpse of him, an old man with downy white hair, possibly in his eighties, sporting an old flannel shirt and yellowed jeans, wearing shoes that had seen better days.

This man didn’t see me as he entered the store, but I followed him around with wondering eyes.

Sitting close by, the exchange between the old man and clerk was audible.  He inquired about the special.  By his casual appearance I assumed a future appointment was in the making.  Assuming wrong, he reached for a coupon from his pocket for a portrait taken that morning.

Directed to the sofa by me, we both sat in silence.  I could hear grandpa’s labored breathing.  I watched grandpa’s wrinkled hands folded, as if in quiet prayer.

In that moment the words to an old song began to play in my head, “If a picture paints a thousand words”.  In that song I began to wonder about the words that painted this old man’s portrait.

Father? Husband? Friend? Lonely? Happy? Rich? Poor?  Who was this person?  Surely he belonged to somebody.  Was grandma alive?  Did grandpa have kids?  If so, do they call?  What about his dreams?  Fulfilled?

Encouraged by a mutual smile, grandpa and I engaged in conversation.

Grandpa told me he was having his picture taken to send in cards to his family.  Grandpa said he didn’t know how long he’d be around, and wanted everyone to have a picture to remember him by.

What a beautiful man, what a lovely idea.  An old man with a story, a book destined to be a best seller, a picture of a thousand words.

I wish I had an extra hour to hear the “rest of his story”, but the clerk was calling my name.

I purchased my pictures and turned around to leave, but stopped long enough to smile at the old man and bid him good-by.  Grandpa smiled back and wished me the same.

Weeks later I wondered about grandpa.  Was grandpa’s picture a delight to whom ever received it?  Was grandpa’s picture a reminder to spend more time with him?  Did grandpa’s card get lost on the stack of other mail?

My questions will remain unanswered.  But that day an old man reminded me no life should ever go unnoticed.  That each life is a picture of a thousand words, a story worthy to be read.

…………………………………………..

Thirty years ago I was in my late twenties and the eighty year old man in the story could have been great-grandfather.
great grandpa in ava illinois

Thirty years later and I now thirty years older, the eighty year old man in the story could have been my father.
dad and cookiesYou never picture it when the “second hand” of your life’s clock is ticking down the minutes.

You never picture it when you’re blowing out another candle on your birthday cake.

You picture it through the lens of the old photographs taken of you in your twenties, thirties, forties and those fifties, soon to open a new chapter in my sixties, when you wonder:

How can it be that so much time has passed since my young children sat in front of the Christmas camera, kids who have grown up themselves and are now taking pictures of their own family at Christmas.

We must picture it that age can’t be controlled any more than the weather.

But you can number your days; to keep watch and value the life you have been given; to not waste our minutes and hours on matters that don’t matter.

“Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.”
Psalm 39:4 NIV

 …What is your life?
You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
James 4:14 NIV

In twenty years I will have attained the age of the man in the story.

Twenty short years and beyond;

I need to picture the impact I want to make with my days and live it in front of the lens and those I am sharing my life with.

Might the story of my life and the story of your life boast a best seller.

Might the story of the old man in the Photo store cause us to be more vigilant and read between the lines of those we rub shoulders with; even strangers we share a couch with for a few brief minutes while waiting, because:

… an old man reminded me no life should ever go unnoticed.
That each life is a picture of a thousand words, a story worthy to be read.

Rock-A-BYE BYE the Years By Lori A Alicea

You don’t think about it during the bedtime hour while rocking your grandchild to a peaceful sleep. That gentle back-and-forth sway of the chair accompanied by a grandmother’s quiet whisper of Rock-A-Bye-Baby, together circling the moon and starry skies along the way to a child’s land of sweet dreams.
Me kissing Kizzie head USE THISYou don’t think about it while staring in the stillness of a child’s face, whose long eyelashes flutter between rest and slumber resembling butterfly wings flittering in a grassy field of wild flowers.
Kizzie no thumb USE THISYou don’t think about it when a child’s pacifier, security blanket and lullaby of a grandmother’s heartbeat calms their innocent worries.
Kizzie in chair sucking thumb USE THISYou don’t think about it when a child’s piggies and a child’s sweet toes have all been counted like sheep to be whisked away to sleep.

It’s in this moment when a grandmother stares into the innocent face of her sleeping grandchild, slightly grazing those rosy cheeks and ears with her fingertips and gently kissing the top of this precious child’s head when she realizes that all her grandbabies are no longer babies anymore.
Kizzie asleep USE THISIt happens just that fast.
It happens when you least expect it;
It happens when you close your eyes for just a second;
It happens when you look the other way momentarily;
It happens though you think that day is years from now.
Yet that bittersweet day finally comes and it has happened to us.
We bid Rock-A-BYE BYE the Years.

Our ten grandbabies are no longer babies anymore.
Kizzie by rose bush USE THIS 1Though our youngest grandchild hasn’t let go of the comforts she enjoyed as a baby just yet, her pretty pink boots tells the story of the steps she’s beginning to take into a little girl’s life.
Kizzie by rocks 10Climbing new heights and discovering her world revealed in the smallest of details, this child is growing up, no longer a baby anymore.

She’ll steal the hearts of many as she already has this grandmother.
Kizzie dressHow I wish Our Rock-A-Bye memories made together could somehow remain in pause, at least for a few extra unexpected trips around the moon.
Kizzie asleep USE THISHow I wish I wouldn’t have been caught up in the chaos of bottles, dirty diapers and sleeplessness during the midnight feedings when the other nine grandbabies had their time with me in the rocking chair. I know I cradled and adored them as they all slept in my arms.

Yet I wish my lullaby playlist would have had a few more selections.
I wish I wouldn’t have been so concerned about the kitchen sink full of dishes or the laundry billowing over to the floor.
I just wish I had believed when others told me that time with them as babies escapes as quickly as the spoken words from our mouth.

May the memo get passed around to enjoy the moments, however big or small, of every day with them.
Savor the little things with them.
Capture their world in a time capsule and bury it in your heart.
RSVP as their favorite invited guest to a child’s tea party.
Remembering it doesn’t take much to make them smile.
Another trip to the park; a walk to the ice cream store.
It won’t cost you anything but being present in their life.

Because one day, a day closer than imagined.
One day where swings and slides will no longer interest them.
One day on the other side of the park, where a new field of their life awaits them to discover.
kizzie walking with sisters USE THISA day you’ll bid Rock-A-BYE BYE the Years.

A “CHIPS AND POP” KIND OF DAD By Lori A Alicea

Daddy’s are one of a kind.  Not a cookie cutter in the bunch.  Their personalities outnumber the thirty-one flavors at the ice cream parlor.  Dads come in all sizes and shapes.  Dads get up every morning to jobs that are as night and day from the other.  In my family alone we have a control room operator, mill guy, custodian, truck driver, dentist and a funeral director; all million dollar hard workers, dedicated at providing the best care for their families.

Daddies are the centerpiece of the home.  The table set isn’t complete without their presence centered in the hearts of their children.  The impact they have follows through the generations.  The hand-print they leave doesn’t involve money or lavished gifts.  Their legacy will be written in memories broken down in moments, small pockets of time spent for no other reason than “just because.”

A few months ago at their papa’s 60th birthday party, the grandchildren were asked to recall their fondest memory spent with their grandfather.  Having ten grandchildren with eight that could talk and two babies unable, all gave vivid memories framed in the “little things”.  Our seven year old Ethan said it best, “What I love about my papa is that he comes to my games and buys me chips and pop at the Dollar General.”

granchildren at birthday party

While there is nothing wrong about being that hero in your child’s eyes, they really just want you to be that “chips and pop” kind of dad, making memories with them framed in the “little things”.

I can’t imagine any child not treasuring the time their dad spent helping them conquer the two-wheeler without those training wheels.  Dad passing on his confidence in them that the world is their stage; they can do anything; they can do this!

Father's Day Picture 2 Kyle helping Ethan Ride a Bike

Boys sure watch their daddy’s with eyes following them everywhere.  They want to be like daddy morning, noon and night.  It’s these moments that write the pages and chapters of a “father – son” best seller.

Father's Day 3 Ethan Shaving

Daughters are smitten with their daddies also.  Daddies are their only boyfriend before that man one day sweeps her off her feet.  Until then, little girls love simple time with their daddy; like time spent together on her rope swing, a swing daddy made especially for her and moments for them.

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Daughters love to tag along, having daddy all to herself.  Hand in hand she follows daddy’s footsteps, trusting his lead along the way.  These walks around the block will follow her the days of her life, never tiring a stolen moment with dad.

ayva and daddy walking

Blossoming into a princess, daddy is her prince charming when he serves his “lady in waiting” in the glamour she delights in.  A precious few minutes together, to be remembered a lifetime by daddy’s little girl.

Father's Day Picture 1 Nathan painting Brystols Nails

Memories don’t cost anything but time and your heart.  Memories are dividing up your collection of rods and walking to the pond with your grandchildren a few streets a way to see what fish are biting.

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Memories are made with your eyes beholding the child God gave to a daddy.

daddy child love

Memories that children remember will not revolve around daddy’s money or the lavish, but the moments he framed in the “little things”; their hero dressed as a “chips and pop” kind of dad.

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Daddy’s, your little girls will only be little for a short period of time.  They are Cinderella’s wanting you to teach them to dance for her ball. One day you’ll blink and realize she’s all grown up.  The days pass by so quickly.

Frame a moment with her and teach your Cinderella to dance.

Below is an impromptu moment between a papa and his granddaughter,

Their Cinderella Moment Together.

Video Courtesy of Debbie Hritz
Song:  CINDERELLA, By Steven Curtis Chapman