When I was a little girl, our family spent most weekends “down in the country.” This was, and still is, how my parents referred to the area where they grew up in Southern Maryland. Though we lived just ten minutes outside of Washington, DC, my parents always thought of St. Mary’s County as home. I came to feel the same way after spending so much of my childhood there. In fact, even as an adult, the dreams in which I am “at home” often take place at my grandparents’ house. My mother tells me that at the end of each weekend, I would cling to my grandfather’s legs and beg him not to let my parents take me back with them. While my parents are THE BEST, all I wanted was to be with my grandparents.
As I got older, I spent many, many weekends and extended summer stays with Granddad and Gram, as I always referred to my grandmother. Much of that time was spent crabbing, fishing, or “helping” Granddad with his tobacco crop.
Last night, we had the opportunity to have dinner with our now married daughter and her husband at their new home. This is Rebecca and Anthony’s first Christmas living together and the first time they decorated their own Christmas tree. I stood for several minutes and looked at the ornaments from their combined childhoods and thought about all the years we’ve collected ornaments for our girls. It felt odd to see Rebecca’s ornaments on a tree other than our family tree, but it was a beautiful, comforting feeling to know that a big part of her childhood hangs on the tree in her new home. We are still tethered together by tradition even when miles apart.
Life goes on, just as the Beatles song tells us. No matter what happens in the world, people continue to live their lives as best they can, and they should.
For the mental and emotional stability of everyone, we need to remain optimistic and live our lives as normally as possible.
I recently read the delightful book, Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce. The fictional novel, set during WWII told of dances and nights out with friends and girls painting their legs to look like they were wearing stockings. Of course, it also depicted the air raids over London and the devastation of war, but what struck me was the reminder that even during war, life goes on. People fall in love and get married. Babies are born. Lives are lived.
Today, I am channeling happy thoughts and cherished memories. We’ve just finished moving my mother-in-law in across the street, and having her so close has brought back so many memories of my childhood and my own children’s childhood.
I recently read an article which pointed out that “For decades, the importance of grandparents in kids’ lives flew under the radar.” The article goes on to list the many benefits:
Kids often turn to their grandparents for advice when they are facing adverse events;
relationships between children and their grandparents increased the likelihood that kids will become engaged in their communities;
and being around grandparents actually makes less sedentary and has a positive affect on their BMI.
I write this just a day before we begin the sacred Triduum–those three days before Easter Sunday when Christ suffered His passion and death. I can’t believe that this will be the first Easter in my entire life that I will not be with my parents and brothers and all of our extended family. Our fifty-some person guest list has been dwindled to just six–Ken and me, our three girls, and Ken’s mother across the street from us.
I’ve been crying a lot this week. I feel a bit lost. I don’t know what I would do without my Bible studies (which we continue online), daily Mass, the encouraging messages I am receiving through various email lists and YouTube channels, and the Zoom party my girlfriends and I had last night.
I miss my mom and dad. I miss hugging and sitting with my friends. I miss going to Mass with an excruciating longing.
They say every good thing must come to an end, but is that really true? I’ve been thinking about that as Morgan and I approach the end of our trip to Greece. With all the pictures, videos, and—best yet—the memories, does our trip truly come to and end? And even if the trip itself does end, isn’t the entire trip actually more of a beginning?
Why is the sunset considered the end of the day and not the beginning of the night? Why is the end of a relationship not the beginning of a new start? Why does everyone see graduation as the end of something so momentous when life has only just begun?
I remember, when I graduated from high school all those years ago, we were told that we were not celebrating our graduation but our commencement—not marking the end of something but the beginning of something even better. We were starting over, becoming who we were meant to be, discovering ourselves in a new way and in a new place. My oldest daughter always says that nobody should peak in high school because life doesn’t really begin until you leave home and discover who you are. Perhaps this is why we should celebrate not the ending but the beginning, the chance to truly grow into the person God designed us to be.
This is what my daughters and I celebrated after their graduations. I can honestly say that those trips with my daughters were new beginnings that opened new worlds for us both literally and figuratively. We visited new places, experienced new cultures, tried new foods, and spoke new languages. Our worlds expanded in the most concrete ways. However, our worlds as mother and daughters expended just as much, perhaps even more.
Over the course of the past 10 days, Morgan and I, like each of her sisters and I in the past, visited new places in our relationship. We weren’t just mother and daughter. We experienced Greece as traveling companions and as friends. We developed a new culture, a new way of life, a new understanding of who each other is. We learned things together. We found new foods we want to make at home and new drinks we both enjoy. We learned a new language, not the language spoken by a particular civilization but the language spoken between a mother and an adult daughter.
I’ve been impressed with my daughter’s maturity, her take-charge attitude, and her willingness to try new things, including cliff jumping into the Mediterranean! I’m convinced there is nothing she can’t do, and it makes me feel like an accomplished mom of a confident and competent adult. It’s a gift to see her in a new light–an adult ready to take on the world.
It’s always difficult when something ends. As human beings, we sometimes find it challenging to accept change, to embrace something new, to say goodbye to those things to which we are accustom. But I’ve learned that from endings come beginnings. Though it saddens me to think that my baby will soon be living over five hours away, it excites me to see what she will do, accomplish, become. I’m so proud of the person she is growing into and look forward to seeing her embrace her new circumstances, new challenges, new life.
This trip isn’t the end of our time together any more than her graduation was an ending. Like the sunset, it’s merely a transition into something new, something wonderful, something to look forward to. I spent eighteen years getting to know my precious child. I hope to have twice that many years to get to know this wonderful adult.
Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miraclesare all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vineswas awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracleshas outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is a finalist for the RWA Golden Quill Contest and the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction.
Over the past two days, I was back home attending the funeral of a beloved cousin. The prayer service on Monday evening and the funeral Mass on Tuesday were beautiful and brought many happy memories to mind as we bid goodbye to one of the brightest lights in our family.
Father Early’s Homily really struck a chord with me. He likened life to a class in school. He said that, ideally, when we go to class, we work to achieve As; however, Father told us that we should work hard to achieve all Fs in the class of life.
Though you won’t read this until Wednesday, January 16, I’m writing it on Tuesday, January 15, 2019. January 15, 2018 feels like yesterday, and I find it hard to believe an entire 365 days have passed already. On this day, one year ago, our family sat in a church and said goodbye to one of the most beloved human beings I have ever known. Even writing that, I have to squint to see through my tears. Some wounds take a long time to heal. Some never do.
The Italian novelist, Umberto Eco, once said,
“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by the little scraps of wisdom.”
If that is the truth, and I believe it is, then my father-in-law taught us a great many things. He taught us to work hard. He taught us to love life. He taught us to never give up. He taught us to believe in ourselves. He taught us that family always comes first. He taught us to never be too proud to do a job yourself, no matter how dirty. He taught us that God can be found in the most unlikely of places. Most of all, he taught us to laugh–at the world, at our problems, at ourselves.
I grew up hearing people on television make fun of, avoid, and speak ill about their in-laws, and it was never anything I understood. My father and his father-in-law were the best of friends. My father still weeps when he talks about what a wonderful man my grandfather was, what a wonderful friend. I saw their bond and wondered if they were unique or if Hollywood just thought it was funny to act like all in-laws were the kin of satan.
When I became engaged, friends warned me about the power struggle between daughters-in-law and mothers /fathers-in-law. I prayed that I would get along with Ken’s family, that we would love each other no matter what, that we would see past pettiness and be able to enjoy good times together. I hoped for a kind of friendship with Ken’s family–perhaps something like what my father and grandfather had.
What I got was a real, true second set of parents, and not the kind who ground you or tell you what you do wrong or expect you to do everything the way they want it done. I got the kinds of parents I already had. They are kind and loving, fun to be around, and people I genuinely love to spend time with. At the center of the family, for so many years, was Ken’s father, David.
He was never “David” to me. He was always, “Dad.” Almost as much a father to me as my own dad, and that’s saying a lot. I could call on Dad for just about anything, and I did.
When another driver ran a red light and totaled my car, and Ken didn’t have a cell phone (because none of us did back then), I called Dad.
When our oldest daughter was flown to shock trauma after being hit in the head with a baseball bat, and the entire county police force was trying to track down Ken, I called Dad.
Whenever something broke, and Ken was out of town, I called Dad. Or when I needed more firewood. Or when a snowstorm hit, or I needed help hauling some treasure home from the auction.
Dad came to pick us up when Hurricane Isabel hit, and our town was so flooded, we had to leave in a rowboat.
Dad came to help set up and decorate for every celebration, however big or small.
Dad built much of the furniture in our first house and the original kitchen in the house we live in now.
Dad “stopped by to bring the girls some doughnuts.” Mind you, he lived 45 minutes away, but he “stopped by” just the same.
Dad became the rock I leaned on when Ken was traveling. He held me when I cried for my grandmother after she passed. He sat next to me in the hospital when the doctor gave Rebecca 11 stitches.
Dad once walked across the field hockey field, minutes before the last game of the season was the begin, just to give Morgan a Hershey Bar and a hug.
Dad once convinced the girls to eat dog food because it “tastes like candy.”
Dad once won “big” at the casino, spent all of his winnings to buy ice cream sundae ingredients, and invited all the grandkids over to celebrate his win.
Dad must have owned fifteen Coast Guard Academy t-shirts and hats, that he wore EVERYWHERE, just so he could tell people that his grandson was there.
One Easter, dad showed up with PVC pipes formed into “guns” and taught all the kids how to shoot marshmallows at everyone.
And now, a full twelve months after we told him goodbye, I still feel like he’s going to walk in the door any minute with a box of doughnuts, a handful of candy bars, or a homemade cheese danish.
Dad was never a man of great means, but he gave all he had to anyone who needed it. Proverbs 13:22 tells us that “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” It’s not referring to gold or silver or a fancy house or an estate or trust fund. A true inheritance is a lasting legacy–the knowledge that you were loved, the understanding of how to love others, and the wisdom it takes to live a truly good and fruitful life. Ken’s father left us all a mountain of wealth. Like author, Ruth E. Renkel said, “Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance.”
We love you Dad, and we miss you. Every single day.
Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miraclesare all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vineswas awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracleshas outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promiseis a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018.
Amy’s next novel, The Devil’s Fortune, will be released in March of 2019.
Though the entire world always seems to ignore the month of November and move right into December, November is the month of giving thanks. I’d like to take just a few minutes to share some things for which I am eternally grateful (in no particular order).
My husband and children
My Friends, near and far
Those who serve
My you all have many things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. God bless you, and God bless our land.
Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miraclesare all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vineswas awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracleshas outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores.
Another school year is upon us. Two of my girls have already begun classes, one in her second of law school and the other in her second year of college as an elementary education major and Spanish minor. The house is quiet again, on most days, as Morgan is back on the field hockey field or out pounding the pavement, looking for a job. This was the first summer since she was eleven years old that she didn’t work, and she’s missing her spending money; but she spent the entire summer traveling, so she can’t complain!
As I sit here in the quiet house and work on my next novel, I can’t help but think ahead to next year when all three girls will be off on their own for the first time. While looking ahead, I’m also forced to look back. For over twenty-two years, Ken and I have had, as our top priority, the task of raising children. It hasn’t always been easy, and it hasn’t always been fun, but it has been worth all of the effort, all of the tears, and all of the pain. Why? Because while there has been effort, tears, and pain, there has been so much more fun, laughter, and joy. Still, there are several things I wish I had done differently. Perhaps, my mistakes can be someone else’s gain. So, here you go. These are the things I wish I had done differently as a parent:
7. I wish I read to my girls later. My girls all learned to read at very early ages. Quite early on, they stopped needing me to read to them at night. For several years, this was okay because when one stopped reading to me, another was holding up a book and blinking her sleepy eyes while pleading for one more story. But then one day, I turned around I realized it had been years since I had cuddled up in bed with one of my girls and read to or with them. It ended way too soon, and I regret not finding ways to stretch it out. Rebecca may not know this, but the time she came to me in a panic that she had to read an entire novel before the start of 9th grade and hadn’t left enough time to do it, was one of the best times of my life as a mother. Ironically, the book was Rebecca, after which she was named, but she found, as she read, that she was having a hard time following it and knew she couldn’t finish in time. For the next three nights, I stretched out on her bed and read aloud as she packed her book bag, brushed her hair, or straightened her room before climbing into the bed with me to listen to the strange and mysterious tale of Mr. DeWinter and his wife, Rebecca. Alas, that, too, was over too soon.
6. I wish I had played with them more. With three girls in the house, there was almost always somebody to play with. Only Rebecca got the chance to have mommy or daddy all to herself for a few years, but even then, I wanted her to be independent, so I didn’t make it a habit to actually play with her as much as I should have. I helped her set up her Barbie house, and I helped her clean up when she was done, but I don’t really remember actually sitting down and playing with her once she was past the toddler stage. Sure, we’ve always had family game night, including Mexican Train Dominoes matches that sometimes last half the night, but that’s not the same as good, old one-on-one play time. How many important life lessons did I miss out on teaching because I wanted her to learn to be self-reliant? How much did I miss by insisting the girls play with each other while I worked or cleaned house? Couldn’t those things have waited? Yes, they could have. Future grandchildren, watch out.
5. I wish I had insisted that the girls make their beds every morning. Seriously. I can’t leave my room in the morning unless the bed is made. Why didn’t I instill this same habit in my girls? In his book, The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg asserts that making your bed each morning becomes a keystone habit, one that results in making other good decisions made throughout the day. He says that it gives you a sense of taking charge which leads to “a greater sense of well-being and stronger skills” such as sticking to a budget. Author, Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project), even contends that making your bed can actually make you a happier person! Now, two of the three have finally gotten into the habit of making their beds every morning, and they say it really does make a difference in how they keep their room and how they feel about themselves.
4. I wish I had told my girls what we expect instead of what we hope. I wish we had told them,
We expect you to be a leader and not follow others down the wrong path.
We expect you to follow our rules and the law and not drink, smoke, or do drugs.
We expect you to abstain from sex because you’re not ready, you’re not married, and you’re not equipped to handle the consequences (not to mention the teachings of the Church).
We expect you to study hard and get good grades.
There’s such a difference between telling a child, “this is what we expect you to do and how we expect you to behave” and saying, “you shouldn’t do this, but if you do, do it safely.” That’s certainly part of the conversation but shouldn’t be the focus. It’s about creating expectations and teaching them that it’s not only okay to stand their ground but will be better for them in the long run.
3. I wish I had told them that they don’t have to always be on the top of the heap. I should have told them to try their best, work their hardest, and reach for the stars but not at the expense of their self-worth, sanity or integrity. I wish I had told them that it’s okay to fail as long as you try harder next time. It’s okay to fall down as long as you get up. It’s okay to be number two or three or even five as long as you did honest work and truly gave it your all. It’s not about how you finish but how you got there that counts.
2. I wish I had shown them the real world. Yes, we traveled–a lot. Yes, they saw amazing sights and had unforgettable experiences in places all over the world. But we never served at a soup kitchen. We never visited a homeless shelter. We took many loads of clothes and goods to St. Vincent de Paul, but we didn’t give enough of our time as volunteers. When Rebecca was a Junior Girl Scout, she earned her Bronze Award by collecting back packs and school supplies and handing them out to underprivileged children through SVDP. She still talks about the little boy who cried as he hugged his back pack as if it was a bag full of gold and precious jewels. Morgan talks about the man with the broken bike of which she and a SVDP volunteer helped fix the tire. When the man left, Morgan learned that he was homeless, and the bike was his only possession. But we never did anything with that knowledge. We never even tried. Thank Heaven for the school mission team. Trips to the Kentucky mountains and upstate New York were the closest my girls ever got to seeing how those in need actually live. I wish we had made sure that the girls did more to help others. I pray they still can and do.
1. I wish I had paid more attention to my girls when they talked. I’m always distracted, always thinking about what I should be doing, always trying to complete several tasks at once. When I was little girl, I used to love to visit my Great-Aunt Grace. She would pour me a glass of lemonade and offer me grapes or cherries or cookies, and we would sit in her formal living room and talk. That’s it. We’d just talk. Looking back, I’m surprised that I liked going there at all. The television was never on. There were no other kids to play with. There were no toys. There was just Aunt Grace, lemonade, maybe a cookie, and the chance to sit and talk. And I cherished those little moments more than she ever knew because Aunt Grace made me feel special. She didn’t want someone to watch TV with her, help her do chores, or eat her baked goods. She didn’t need a little kid interrupting her day as she gardened or dusted. But no matter what she was doing, she always, always stopped, made us a treat, and sat down to talk, to hear about my life, to ask me questions about my school or my friends, to pay attention to me and let me know that she cared. Nothing else was more important for those ten or fifteen minutes. It was all about sitting with me and listening to me as I talked. And it was wonderful. If only I can make myself remember, as a busy adult, how that felt as a grateful child.
I’m sure there are many other things I would do differently if I had it to do over again. Thankfully, my girls turned out all right–so far! Hopefully, someday I will have grandchildren and a second chance to get it all right. For now, I just pray they know that I tried, I sometimes failed, but I always loved them whether I remembered to tell them that or not.
The second book in Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Promise, is now available in stores and online.
Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miraclesare all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vineswas awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracleshas outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, can be found online and in stores.