Tag Archives: Aging

Letter to #2 as he leaves for college

Happy Birthday Son:

It’s hard to believe you’re celebrating your birthday away from us. Your birth was the most calming and beautiful I experienced. When people saw you they said out loud “he’s perfect”. From day one I embraced you as my sidekick. You’ve proven you are unique and strong enough to follow your own path. You’ve stayed the same and yet changed so much. That little boy who talked to me about heaven and said: “My heaven will be inside” is now literally jumping out of the house to kayak and climb mountains. Trust me, I didn’t see that coming.

That little boy who was so angry at the day care for not allowing him to be in the “big boy room” with his brother and was subsequently pegged as “angry” is still fighting when he feels there is an injustice. That young man who told me “Mom you have to do something” when he saw the need to help his friends is now making every effort to help others, when and where he is needed. That young man who was defeated during his first year in High School by careless words said by careless adults graduated with a close to 4.0 average (was it 3.93?) and got exactly where he was meant to be.

You know when Jake left I wrote him a letter focusing on the philosophies I wanted him to embrace in life. I don’t need to write those things to you. Seems to me we routinely talk about them. I’ve had the best time sharing and exploring your beliefs and thoughts; because you listened to mine as well and made me feel that you valued the time we shared. Watching how you’ve grown over the years and how your initial observations matured and cemented into your core beliefs has been remarkable for me. I’ve watched a man mature in word and deed

Still, because I’m the mom, I must impart a few thoughts.

Make mistakes – but for goodness’ sake learn from them. There is no failure if there is learning and growth—PERIOD.

You’ll continue to grow and your opinions will change and grow as well. Your strength will be in your ability to awaken people to the benefits of your thoughts. You cannot force them. You CAN inspire them.

Stress is the best and worst thing you can experience. It is good when it motivates you and bad when it rules you. Figure out a way to manage it that works for you. Breathe, walk, listen to music, MAKE LISTS to help you manage your tasks and remember WE can and will carry ANYTHING you might find too heavy to on your own.

You WILL land where you are supposed to land. Making an adjustment in course is what we do to keep the wind moving us forward. Don’t ever think you are failing if you are moving forward. We believe in you, we trust you and we will help you. You are NEVER alone.

Guard your heart. You have a special tenderness and vulnerability that others may exploit in a way that hurts you. Be thoughtful and brave in all things but especially in matters of the heart. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Love is best recognized during the hard times as opposed to the good times.

Nothing you can buy will be as cool as something you can experience and feel. Put your effort toward experiences and capture them with your photography talents. “The business of life is making memories.” Think the “Fun Fund”.

Despite what everyone says – “You can come home”. Home is a place in your heart where you know you are emotionally safe. You were given a great gift that not everyone has; the gift of unbridled love and support by your family. You have and will continue to meet men and women who have struggled to feel the support you have as your foundation. Don’t take that for granted. Build on it in a way that helps you reach higher and stronger every day. You will never be alone when your family is with you…and we will always be with you.

I love you. Your dad and I are SO proud of who you are and are thrilled with your strength to be you. Go out and make a difference with your words and deeds in a way that when you leave a place, people will know “Sammy was here.”

Have a great year my son.






I will try to do better

I’m disappointed in myself today.

Yesterday I was up at Bethesda with Benjamin. We went to have lunch at the Cheesecake Factory as a treat. I put money in the meter, we went inside and had a lovely lunch. After we pulled away and were heading home Ben said to me:

“I’m sad we didn’t give that man who was homeless any money.”

“What man?” I asked.

“The man, who was there at the meter.”

“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t see him.”

But then it struck me. I HAD seen him. I had seen a man sitting on a pile of stuff but didn’t take the time to really look at him and see him as a real someone; someone in need. I think I did realize he was homeless but I didn’t process it properly and realize I could do something.

I don’t know why, since I’m usually quite attuned to that sort of thing. Maybe it was because of the doctor’s appointment I’d had with my son, or because I’d scraped the car in the parking garage on the way out of the hospital, or because I have been so tired given all the running around or

…..really…WHO CARES WHY…I DIDN’T LOOK AT HIM and I didn’t SEE him.

But my son did.

I think that makes me feel worse in some ways. He saw a man who needed us and his mom didn’t do anything to help him.

I hope today that if I see someone in need I really do SEE him or her and don’t just think about myself.

Thank you son, for opening my eyes and reminding me to look and to see and to realize it is not just about me.

Today I will try to do better.

A letter to my oldest son

My oldest left today for college. One of the boys has a raging fever so I stayed home. Pretty tough to do that but I packed him a surprise box. Sharing the letter I put in there.

You know me…blah, blah…but when I write things I feel like I’m getting them out of me. So read if you care to and drive on if you don’t. This pretty much sums up how I see life…

My dear son:
Today you begin to step away from us. As your dad and I fade into the background of your life I want to tell you what a privilege it’s been to have you as our son. You’ve brought such joy to us in so many ways. Your spirit, your dedication, your integrity; all of that adds up to a future of such potential and such promise for you. A few things I want to impart in black and white because I think they are incredibly important for you to remember:
• People are basically good. That doesn’t mean all of them are but most of them are good. A leader’s strength, I think, is being able to find the goodness and bring it out to shine. If you can do that even when it’s hard you will find the best of what people have to offer.
• There is no finish line in life. Have goals but don’t think of them as the “be all” of what you do. Along the way toward succeeding you have to enjoy the experiences you have, as it will become a part of that success. If you are constantly pushing for the next ending, you’ll end up missing some pretty fantastic beginnings and durings.
• You have lived a life of privilege. That doesn’t mean you have been coddled or that you haven’t done your share when it comes to helping. It means you’ve never had to worry about whether you will be fed, cared for and supported. That is an incredible gift. To honor that gift I ask that you remember to be charitable in word and deed. The only time you should look down at someone is when you are extending a hand to help him or her up. You are young, strong and smart. You can change someone’s life with quiet support. Be someone’s hero. The world certainly needs more of those.
• Keep yourself open to new things but don’t be flippant about the fragility of life and limb. Take care of your body and test its limits. Take chances but I don’t ever want you to risk your health for a dare or a fool hearty adventure. People do exciting things all the time. When you want to do something outside of your experience base – go for it. But research it, find someone who KNOWS how to do it and then learn, practice and step forward with confidence. The best way to arm yourself for success is through knowledge.
• Respect women. This is a big one for me and there will be times that you’ll find women who don’t respect themselves. It is rare that you can change someone with love, so choose wisely as to whom you give your heart. If you find that “love” is causing you to compromise your other values; then examine it closely. Love is when your values align and you can see yourself working hard for the rest of your life to stay with that person. Falling in love is easy. You can fall in love with anyone. Find someone worthy of your love and then put in the work that defines a loving relationship. If someone is worth that effort over and over again, then you are on the right track.
• Never forget son, that YOU are loved for who you are right now. With all your goodness and all of your foibles, you are loved. Rest assured that you are not alone in any challenge you undertake. Our family is strong and regardless of the back and forth squabbles we have at times, we are all here for you as you need support. Don’t give up on the big stuff and don’t sweat the small stuff. Nobody’s shooting at you so it’s going to be okay.
You have been ready for this since you were 2 years old son. Even that young you were ready to run out into the rain and do what needed to be done. Of all my sons, you enjoy the exhilaration of life and living. It makes me happy to see that in you. Run in the rain, dance in the rain, look up to the sky in the rain and laugh as the drops splash against your cheeks. You can withstand any storm. Enjoy the sound of the thunder and when the lightning flashes, let the smile on your face reflect in the light. You will do extraordinary things.
Your dad and I will be there at every turn possible to embrace your successes, support your learning when you make mistakes and provide you a soft place to land when you need it. Home is more than a word, a house, a state or an address. It’s a place in your heart that makes you feel safe and secure.
You got this son and if you need us for anything; we got you too.

“Grow Away”

About 10 years ago I was walking home with the boys from the swimming pool in our neighborhood. Jake was almost five, Sammy was three, Benjamin was a year old and Danny was hanging around in my belly. Jake and I fell to the back of the walk and just as we were heading from the street to the house Jake noticed a baby bird lying in the gutter. It was obviously dead. Jake stood there holding my hand for a bit looking down at the crumpled bird.

“What happened?” Jake asked me.

“I don’t know hon. Maybe it fell from that tree and died.” I responded, squinting and looking up at the tree near us.

“Why didn’t his momma save him?” Jake asked.

“I’m sure she tried honey. I’m sure she did her best to keep him safe but sometimes things happen that we can’t control.” He still stood there staring.

“Come on, let’s go into the house.” I whispered.

“Mom,” Jake said, “I just want to stay here with him for a minute.”

“Okay hon. I’ll be inside.”

I went to the door and looked back at that little boy staring at the baby bird.

That little boy is almost 15 now. He left yesterday for a three day education camp at William and Mary College. I dropped him off for his trip and couldn’t stop myself from yelling to him as he gathered his bags to walk into the school:

“Make good choices; don’t do drugs; call me every night! Oh, oh, have fun!”

He rolled his eyes and smiled, swinging his suit bag over his shoulder. As he walked toward the school I kept mouthing advice trying my best to send it to him via “momma-kenisis”.

Is it just natural that I think about the worst possible things that can happen while he’s away? It takes everything I have to not sit and fret about him the entire time he’s gone. It was raining when they left on the bus. My imagination was reeling. I worried about them getting into an accident. I worried that a bus tire would blow, and in my mind I could “see” the bus careening to the side of the highway, making all sorts of violent stops and starts and ending as a smouldering ball of twisted metal. I worried he would try to be a hero and not just get himself out of danger if the bus was on fire.

Why do I do this to myself?

Despite my anxiety, I didn’t call him. Not calling him has taken about everything I have. I did let his brother text him way past phone text curfew. I debriefed Sam after every text, wanting to hear all the “boring” details about what was happening in that world I couldn’t see.

I guess all mothers go through this.

I really think, as a mom my primary focus should be teaching my children how to “grow away”. Giving them the tools they need to be successful without me; whether that’s ordering their own food when they’re three, doing their own laundry when they’re ten, or learning to think, really think about what’s important versus trivial crap like the latest electronic gadget, or “must have” sneakers.

Jake called me first thing this morning. He asked me the question he asks me first thing in the morning almost every day:

“What’re you making for supper tonight?”

I smiled into the phone and said “Cheeseburgers and french fries.”

“Stop it…” he moaned.

The fact that he wouldn’t be home for cheeseburgers and french fries was too much for him to bear.

“I’ll save you one for tomorrow.” I said.

“Thanks mom.” Jake replied. “I love you.” he added.

I hung up the phone knowing that my little bird missed his nest.

My little bird is growing into a very, very fine young man and this momma won’t stop worrying until he’s back home and safe in his bed.

I know as hard as it is;

it’s my job to teach him to fly.

It’s my job to help him leave the nest, spread his wings and take

those first few jumps.

I know it’s my job to be here for him; to steady him when he


It’s my job to make sure if he falls,

he has a soft place to land.


When the boys ask me why I rest my hand on their father’s leg when he’s driving, I think about all the miles my family would travel in the car on summer vacations.  I remember looking to the front and she’d be sitting there with her hand resting on daddy’s leg.  They didn’t speak too much but occasionally they’d look at each other and smile.  When I touch my husband’s leg, or reach over and hold his hand in the car I tell the boys:

My momma taught me that. 

When I come down in the evening in my PJs and the boys come rushing over to sit by me, Sam will raise his head and say:

 “Ohhh….you have on that perfume don’t you?”

 I think about hugging my mom over the years; burying my head into her neck and smelling her perfume.  I remember it warmed me and made me feel safe and loved.  So when the boys snuggle down next to me taking in long breaths of whatever perfumed lotion I’ve slathered on, I think:

My momma taught me that.

When I give a stranger a couple of dollars  I remember watching my mom reach into her pocket book and pull out money at the grocery store.  She’d help the person in front of us if they were a little short.  I’d walk away from the register holding her hand, looking up at that beautiful face, and feeling so proud.   Charity is one of the things she taught me.

When I start to put together a meal, I think about all the meals that she made in our kitchen.  Meals weren’t just something you ate, meals were an event.  Meals were cornbread and pinto beans, collard greens with ham hocks and sausage gravy and biscuits.  Saturday dinner was a steak, always a steak, sometimes in the kitchen or sometimes in the dining room where you “dressed” for dinner and ate by candlelight.  The kitchen table was a place of ritual and family, sometimes heated discussions and always good food.  When people ask me where I learned to cook I tell them:

My momma taught me that.

When I stand on the porch and wave goodbye to family and visitors pulling down the driveway and I take a moment to say a little prayer for their safe journey, I remember all the times I left my home on May Avenue, watching momma wave to me as I pulled away.  I know how important that last wave is and I think:

My momma taught me that. 

Even as mom started her slow journey from us, even when she didn’t always know who I was or where she was, even then she’d hug me and tell me she loved me.  That was her nature. 

I wonder if I would want to live the last years of my life as my momma did.  I can’t help but think about how much comfort and joy she brought us by being there for us to visit, to touch and hug.  We’d sit and share a cup of coffee, maybe watch a cooking show or take trip out to the garden.  Sometimes we were strangers, sometimes we were her daughters but always her gentle nature recognized us as friends. 

She gave so much and continued to ask for so little.  I’d want to do that for my boys as well.  She allowed us to let her go slowly and when it came time to say goodbye, we did.  My sister was there when she left us.  As gently as my momma lived, she died.   

Many years ago, right after my grandmother died, I found my mom in her bedroom writing down her thoughts.

Through her tears she said:

“You can read this when I’m done.”

She wrote pages about the things her momma did that made her world so full of love.  

If you wonder why I thought it important to write these things down now,

through my tears I can only tell you:

My momma taught me that.

                                                            Janice Irene Austin (Barrett)

                                               October 17, 1923 to November 7, 2009

                                             Every good thing I am; is rooted in you!


Dear God

Just a quick note to tell you it looks like my mom will be there pretty soon.  You’ll recognize her.  She’ll be the one in the high heels, wearing an apron over her Sunday dress.  If you wouldn’t mind getting  a couple of things together for her; we’d really appreciate it.

She’ll need a kitchen.  It doesn’t need to be anything fancy.  Just a stove and an oven and maybe some cast iron skillets.  Please make sure there are some pinto beans in the pantry and the fixings for corn bread, and biscuits.  I’m sure Daddy can’t wait to taste those again.  She’ll be frying chicken too, so maybe some Crisco and buttermilk.  If a few angels happen to stop by unexpectedly, don’t worry.  There’s always enough for one or two more folks to join us at dinner.

It would be terrific if you could have a front porch with a couple of rockers out.  She sure does love the morning, sitting and rocking with a good, hot, cup of coffee.  You won’t need to give her any vegetables if you have a garden area for her.  She’s really good at growing things and her tomatoes; well let’s just say you won’t be going to the Farmer’s Market anymore.  Oh, and her flowers; her roses smell prettier than any I’ve smelled in the world.  She’ll cut you some, I’m sure, and wrap up the bottom in wet paper towels, and tin foil so they won’t wilt on the way home.

She’d love a window too if you don’t mind; one that looks out on the Blue Ridge Mountains.  She loves her memories of those mountains, and I so appreciate you letting her keep them right up to the end. 

Please tell her not to worry about us down here.  She’s given us everything we need to be happy and healthy.   She’s a strong woman and she has taught us how to be strong for our children; no matter what hardships befall our families.

So I don’t know exactly when it will be, but I know it will be soon.  Thanks for taking her slowly.  It’s been a lot easier to see her move there piece by piece, but we all realize it’s time for her to come back to the whole she once was.  It feels kind of nice to know she’ll be up there healthy, doing the things she loves with the people she loves.  I promise God, heaven will be a little bit better because she’s there. 


The loving family of Janice Austin.

ps: Please tell her to let the phone ring once when she gets there.  We just want to know she made it home safe. 

Parenting Tip for the Day:  Teach your children to respect the oldest in your family.  Someday that family member they are respecting will be you.