Grandpa Went Viral!

Last year, Vinny interviewed Great Grandpa for a school history project. Now, Steve Harvey can say he interviewed him, too. 🙂

Grandpa tells me he has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. We’ll enjoy the time we have with him, hoping that peel keeps grip just a bit longer.



In Her Smile

“In her smile, you will see an example of God’s grace,” my favorite priest and spiritual director pointed out, eight years ago, when we asked to have Franki baptized. I remember being so excited, my hands shook when I pulled her from her infant carrier, held her up so family in the pews behind us could see her in her white, silk and lace gown.


She smiles at me now, standing in front of the full length mirror on the back of my bedroom door. I’m again struck by the reality of her: she is my daughter, my baby girl. Franki slips her arm into the sheer sleeve, pink and purple fingernails press through delicate lace cuff. She rocks on her hot pink socked feet, fights the urge to twirl. Kneeling beside her,  I slowly zip the back closure, smooth the ancient ivory fabric, reach my arms around her, pick up the ribbons at her sides, and draw them behind her, securing a perfect little bow.

It fits perfectly. I exhale; nostalgic wishes come true.

“So, can my daughter wear this, too? If I have one someday?” she asks, now twirling.

“Absolutely!” I tell her. I’m reminded of my own First Holy Communion, and I tell her about how we celebrated with a big family dinner. I refused to eat because I feared spilling marinara from the mostaccioli on my dress. The same dress my daughter tries on now. The same dress my mother, her sisters, and my sisters wore for their First Holy Communions. The gown survived three generations, nearly fifty years.  


Franki’s eyes widen with anticipation as I reach above her with another piece of sheer fabric, trimmed in lace and anchored with an embroidered cross. I pin the veil behind her ears.  Franki folds her hands in front of her, as if in prayer. I tell her about Grandma Mac (my father’s mother) and how she loved to tell the story about her veil, how it dug into her scalp. It hurt terribly and distracted her from enjoying the sacramental experience. Sixty years later, she’d say, and she could still feel the pain in her skull. “You would have loved Grandma’s stories,” I tell Franki.


As she twirls in front of the mirror,  I consider how my own childhood memories are connected to the ones I’m making with her. How, for so very long, I believed I wasn’t destined to have a daughter of my own to share these experiences with.

When we found out we were pregnant with her, our sixth child, it came as a greater shock than facing those two pink lines at nineteen. We were recovering from a job layoff and the financial turmoil that resulted. Our youngest was barely two; I was finally feeling alive again after enduring a postpartum depression that nearly ended our marriage. It’d been two months since my nine year old brother passed away tragically and I was navigating a spiritual life crisis. Another baby? We were done. We had no room in our house, our car, or our wallet. With four sons and a step daughter, we were exhausted. We actively tried to prevent another pregnancy.

“You just had perfect chemistry,” the doctor had said, when I showed him my calendars and ovulation notes and…how could this be? We’d successfully used Natural Family Planning before. This should not be. Or, maybe it’s just meant to be. I was nearly twenty weeks when the ultrasound tech squirted goo on my belly and rolled her wand across it, pausing on an image of the baby’s spread legs long enough to type above it: GIRL.

img_20180404_1918161332302654.jpgWhile I recognize all of my children as gifts from God, share a special bond with each of them, and love them equally, Franki’s arrival was different. I appreciated it more; I was made greatly aware, by the timing and circumstance of her pregnancy, that even though I don’t always understand, God is in control. For many years I’d prayed for her and wanted a baby girl so desperately. Rather than when I wanted her, she arrived when I needed her.

In moments like this, sharing family heirlooms and stories between mother and daughter, I am overwhelmed with gratitude and awe. Now, as Franki makes kissy lips at her reflection in the mirror now, I giggle. She turns to me and beams her wide grin, open gaps where baby teeth once stood.  Tugging at the ribbon behind her she asks, “Can I go back outside now?”

I help her out of her dress, peck her cheek. “I thank God for you, mi bella principessa, “ I whisper, as I’ve done thousands of times since the day she was born.

“I know. Love you, too,” she rushes for the door, looks over her shoulder, smiling.

And it’s just like the priest said, when she smiles, I witness God’s grace.


Aldi, my grocery budget thanks you.

When you are feeding a family of eight, and half are bottomless pits (aka teenage athletes), the dollar has to stretch pretty far. The grocery budget has always been my greatest financial struggle. We buy a cow, a pig, and several chickens, but it’s the other stuff that drains the bank every week: pantry items, lunch box items, breads, 10-15 pounds of fresh produce, 4 gallons of milk, 90 plus eggs. We rarely eat out; most meals are homemade. I limit purchasing processed, pre-packaged foods. Needless to say, the bill adds up pretty quick.

Even with all the times I grocery shopped with my mother, who managed to keep her family of eighteen fed and clothed without going broke, I struggle to balance the budget with my family.  I remember her binder of clipped coupons, piles of grocery ads, price comps, and bulk-wholesale-store membership cards. I adapted none of that.  However, I once was a cashier and front end manager at WalMart, and then I had the “inside scoop” on deals. Our budget thrived on sales and price matching.

When I quit retail and returned to college, the budget grew tighter, but I didn’t grow any more creative in ways to save money. We were spending over a thousand dollars a month on food, toiletries, and paper goods.

Then, Mom introduced me to Aldi, a new store in town (now, nearly a decade later, there are seven Omaha area locations and counting).  My budget has been ever so thankful. We can purchase all of our pantry/food staple items for about $150 per week. Avoiding Walmart and shopping primarily at Aldi, we have cut the grocery budget  in half.

Not to mention, the aisles are cleaner, smaller, and less overwhelming. The store is also smaller, less crowded, and offers a little bit of everything (including alcohol, eh-hem). I have a special place in my vehicle that holds the precious Aldi Quarter (for a cart, no pushers or corrals here), and we keep a collection of a dozen or so reusable bags (no wasteful plastic bags here, you have to bring your own).

Aldi offers some name brand products, but for the most part, they have their own brands. It’s good stuff! We’ve never deterred from store brands, but Adli brands are truly comparable to name brands, some even better. I can even find my gluten free, antibiotic and hormone free, and organic foods. And, Aldi doesn’t use certified synthetic colors, added MSG, and partially hydrogenated oils in any of their exclusive brand food products.

Since we live in a small town outside of Omaha, I drive about 25 minutes to Aldi every week. I recently heard a rumor they are opening a store in Fremont, which is closer to where I work. Soon, I’ll save money AND gas shopping at Aldi. My budget couldn’t be happier.

Apologies if this post reads more like an infomercial. i just love this store!

I’ll Recover

Shaking and short of breath, I plunge the ear probe in and click the small button, waiting for the beep. One hundred and four. Shoot. That’s not good. I’d already taken ibuprofen and slept most of the day. I struggle to choke back two more fever reducers, my throat stinging, the pills like shards of glass. The kids will be home from school soon. My husband will be home from work, too. Maybe I’ll feel better by then.

Brandon arrives minutes before the kids. I am not better. I flash my cell phone light at the back of my throat; it’s now coated in white mucus. Shoot. Not good. Experiencing two bouts of Rheumatic Fever —and the heart murmur and arthritis that ensued — I knew I needed antibiotics fast.

“I think we need to go in,” I tell Brandon  as he unloads the empty gladware from his lunch pail. He’d suggested it earlier that morning. I refused, certain it was just a bug.  He gives me a knowing a nod before heading to the bathroom to change out of his work gear and shower. The kids come home and immediately start their homework. They are unusually quiet, aware and cautious of my zombie-like state and slow movements.

At the doctor’s office, my temp reaches one hundred and five. My heart is racing and my breaths are short. I let Brandon do most of the talking. I shiver, trying count my breaths under the mask they made me wear.  The doctor diagnoses influenza and strep, tells me to clear my calendar and plan to rest for the remainder of the week. Today is Monday. He arms me with antibiotics, fever reducers, and steroids. My husband asks more questions. I shiver.

Brandon quarantines me to our bedroom. He waits on me, delivers my broths and water, asks, “What can I bring you? What do you need?” He separates me from our half dozen, promises to cover for me. I’m too cold, too tired, too sore to care. He sleeps on the coach, desperate not to contract the virus. In the morning, he checks on me again, “What do you need?”

There’s homework help for the kids, a wrestling banquet on Wednesday. I signed up to bake brownies and make pasta salad. We need groceries. Laundry isn’t finished; there’s no clean towels. Vinny has a powerpoint and a test he’ll need help with. Wednesday is late start and dress-down day, but make sure they still follow dress code.  I have two new emails from Jerry’s teacher regarding final grades. I’ve lined up my sub at school, it’s a short week. The quarter ends this week. I do not have time to be sick or quarantined. I am worried.

“We’re men,” my husband says, dragging our three older sons into the support plan. “The kids are old enough to do most of this stuff themselves, Shannon. Rest. Take care of yourself so you don’t end up worse. We’ve got everything under control. We’re grown men, you know. We’re capable.”

Brandon helps Rocco with math. Franki reads to Bobby. Jerry and Brandon go to the store and run laundry. Vinny bakes brownies like I showed him last summer. Bobby makes dinner and all kids clean the kitchen. When Bobby remembers something forgotten at the store, Jerry runs him into town. Bobby helps Brandon with the pasta salad. The house is still and quiet by nine-thirty. I am in and out of sleep.

By Wednesday afternoon, I crawl out of my bedroom cave and face daylight. My throat still tingles, but my muscles now allow me to move. My fever is gone. I wander to the kitchen; the counters are clear and everything seems as it should be. Lunches were packed, none forgotten. There are a few piles of folded clothes on the dining room table and a basket of towels. I pluck a few and fold them. They’ve survived without me. They handled everything in my absence. For three days, they’ve made it without my help. It’s true. They’re older now and can do much of this on their own if I let them. They made it okay without me. They didn’t need me.

Brandon comes home from work just as I’m finishing the towels. He is surprised I’m up.

“Feeling better? Don’t overdo it,” he reminds me. Outside, the school bus screeches to a halt. The younger kids parade through the door, dropping coats and kicking off shoes as they pass.

“Are you contagious?” Franki asks.

“I don’t think so, “ I tell her. “I’ve had medicine for nearly forty eight hours now.” She hugs me, clings a bit and tells me about her Pinkalicious UNO cards she received as a reward in reading class. Rocco stays near, going on and on about his favorite parts in his current book, Superfudge.  Brandon starts dinner for the little kids while Bobby changes for the awards banquet.

I refill my water mug and climb back into my bed. I decide to rest more, couldn’t hurt. They’re surviving fine while I recover. They’ve got this. They don’t need me. I pull the covers up to my chin.

I’ll recover.

Just Call Grandma

“What? When are they doing it?” My heart sank the moment my husband told me she’d need another IV. In the past forty hours, our three-year-old daughter already endured countless pokes digging in those tiny veins of hers. They never get it on the first try. Never. She needed the inpatient hospital care for treatment of her pneumonia.

I waited for a reply, my grip growing tighter on the telephone receiver.

“They have to do it now, she needs the next dose of antibiotics at five,” he said it quiet and hesitant. He knew this mother’s wrath when her children hurt and she’s powerless to help them. I looked at the nightstand clock. 4:45 pm and I was about thirty minutes from the hospital. The world blurred as tears threatened and I told him in the harshest tone, “I never should have left. I knew better. She needs me and I can’t be there and this is your fault. Yours.” Before he could reply, I hung up the phone.

In a panicked rush, I grabbed the few things I’d already gathered earlier and hollered at my other four children to load up. Silently and obediently, they piled into our van and buckled belts, As I backed out of the drive, I pressed ‘send’ on my cell phone and waited for my mother’s calm hello.

“You have to calm me down,” I told her. “I didn’t want to leave, he made me leave. He said I had other kids who needed their mother, too. He said I’d go crazy spending every minute of the day in that hospital room. He said I needed to shower and sleep and see the other kids.  He made me leave and now she needs me and I’m not there. When she’s on that table, it’s me she screams for. Me! Mommy hold me, I want Mommy! It’s me she screams for and I’m not going to be there for her.” I suck in a deep breath, trying to control my meltdown. My mind taunted me with images of the previous day’s events. The last two traumatic experiences in that procedure room, my daughter’s big blue eyes, terrified and aching. Her pout, as she desperately begged them to stop poking and digging. Her heart wrenching pleas, “No more pokes, it hurts, no more. I wanna go home. No more.”

My mom cradled me through the cell phone, “When you get to the hospital, Franki will just be getting back to her room. You will be there to shower her with kisses and snuggle with her. You can’t do that when they place the IV. She’ll need you more afterwards,” Mom says the words calm and steady, as if she’s breathing deeply with me. “Brandon isn’t going to let anything happen to her. He can hold her hand and be there for the IV, she’ll be okay. And when she’s done, you’ll be there with her brothers. It’ll be a great distraction from whatever happens with the IV.”

“But I’m her mother,” I sobbed into the phone, “And I’m not there with her now. I shouldn’t have left.”

“I get it. I know we feel the need to be there, to answer when our daughters cry for help, you want to be there for every struggle. But, Shannon, you are there for her now, caring for her brothers and going to her now. I wish I was there, with you, not four hours away. Instead, I’m here with you on the phone and do what I can from here. What you can do for her now is calm down, and then snuggle with her just after the IV is in. We do what we can.” I considered her words. She was calming me down. Even though she couldn’t be here physically, holding me, she calmed me over the phone with her words. 

My mother was right. When we were up in the room, my daughter reached up for me from her place on her daddy’s lap, wrapped her arms around my neck, and buried her face into my chest. Seconds later, and aware of the four brothers now crowding her room, she mustered what little energy she had, and climbed out of my embrace to tackle her brothers. My husband filled me in on how easily this third IV went in. One try. The nurse successfully hit the vein on the first try. Our daughter actually told her good job and offered a hi-five. I let out a sigh of relief and smile apologetically at my husband.

Several days later, after the medicine did its job and Franki’s pneumonia cleared, we returned home. I snuggled with my daughter and yet I felt a new and overwhelmingly closeness to my mom. She understood me. She’s been in that moment where a mother helplessly nurses a very sick child back to health. She’s been in that moment where you need to be in a hospital caring for one child, but facing guilt for not caring for the other children at home. She’s experienced it, she gets it. 

Over three hours away, my mother still manages to hold my hand while I cry my way through life’s challenging moments. She feels my need for help and remains by my side. Even when she can’t be here, physically here, she’s wholeheartedly by my side. She gets it. Because when a daughter calls out for help, a mom has this intense need to answer.


Waiting For Grandma

At least twenty football games, nearly forty wrestling meets, over a dozen track meets during my son’s past three years of high school and my parents have yet to make it to a single event. Maybe it’s the four hour drive and the hectic fall and winter schedules. Maybe it’s because my parents were never athletes. Or maybe it’s because they have fourteen other children to contend with, four of which are still in high school and have their own events, and an additional dozen grandkids who also compete for their attention. Maybe, this is my fault.

It isn’t a secret to our older sons: they recognize their own pudgy little baby faces in our wedding photo. We got pregnant not once, but twice, before getting married, barely twenty one years old. I don’t hide it, but rather, I flaunt it as a warning: wait to have babies. Get your education first, see the world, live a little, find yourself, do all the things I didn’t and then start your family. Because this family gig is hard.

My parent’s screamed the same warning to me, not so long ago, when I entered the teen dating scene. They were sixteen and eighteen when they had my older brother. By the time Mom turned thirty, she’d had eleven children. By the time Dad turned forty five, they’d had sixteen. Mom loved being pregnant and they enjoyed every new personality that came with each new baby.

Friends, family, and strangers would ask my parents, “Are you done?”
“Never say never,” they’d reply.
As the third oldest, I knew where babies came from. I loved being a part of a large family, Someone was always there for me, and someone always needed me. I’d heard the stories about beating the odds and avoiding statistics. Mom and Dad maintained their marriage, they never accepted welfare, they worked hard and budgeted —he labored with a high school diploma, she tended bar or waited tables with a GED. They always moved up, always improved. Those teen pregnancy stories don’t usually have the same happily ever after as my parents’. I knew this and I heard their warning.

That didn’t stop me from getting pregnant straight out of highschool, barely nineteen. If anything, the exposure to babies helped me. I already knew how to change a diaper, make a bottle, support a newborn neck, transition to solids and potty train a toddler. While I’d like to believe we’re also the exception, my husband and I warn our children just as I was warned: unplanned pregnancy is hard. Teen marriage is hard. Security with minimum wage and minimum education is hard. And, just like my parents, I expect better for my children. I want them to wait to have babies.

I made my mom a grandma before her fortieth birthday. Because I was young when I had my first child, my parents’ role as grandparents is unique. “You made me a new grandma,” Mom had said, when she announced her fourteenth pregnancy, “but I’m not finished being a new mom.”

We passed the maternity box back and forth for several years, my first three babies arriving about the same times as my last three siblings. While Mom acknowledges being pregnant together allowed us a unique bonding experience, she also admits that its a struggle to separate Grandma time from Mom time. Because Mom and Dad had young kids at home, with their own hectic schedules to keep, they weren’t always available to babysit or have sleepovers or spend any time just being grandparents. Making my parents grandparents so far from retirement also made free time limited and a greater struggle for balance.

I’ll email this season’s track schedule to my parents and hope they can make a meet. And when they can’t, I’ll use it as a warning to my kids: the longer you wait to have babies, the better grandparents we’ll be. If you want us at your kids’ football games and holiday concerts, if you want sleepovers and weekend getaways, you need to wait to have babies. If you want us to be the grandparents you didn’t have growing up, then wait to have babies. And then, I’ll remember, I didn’t listen either.

What Have I Done?

February 20, 2001

 Metal carts roll across the wood floor, instruments clink against each other, rubber gloves snap at sterile flesh. My legs spread in the air, safely settle in the stirrups that have suddenly attached to my hospital bed. Ok, now you push.

I bear down, pressing my upper body into my lower body. Somehow the pain feels like a relief, the pressure feels good against the jolting pains of back labor. I do it again, eager and ready to push my baby out. No, no. Don’t push yet. Wait for the contraction. Work with the contraction. It comes again, and this time I ride the wave. I welcome the tightening grip and hammer down with it, gruIMG_20180310_161248.jpgnting with the force of a new and intoxicating power. The head is right there. One more push, Shannon. You’re right there. I hear my Mom’s enthusiasm, the nurse’s encouragement, the doctor’s determination. I bear down once more, drawing on every ounce of energy I have left. The pressure explodes; I feel my weight lifted immediately, my legs tingle under anesthesia and exhaustion. I can see the activity beneath my ribs. The once solid tight ball is now a mushy blob of abdominal flesh. A gurgle, a suctioning, a gasp for air. A newborn cries out for his mother.

It’s a boy.

I have a son.

And, just like I saw on television, that moment comes. The adrenaline rush causes a high I’ve never felt before. I have a son. I feel no pain. No fear. Nothing but overwhelming love for that screaming naked baby being weighed and examined. Nothing but intense gratitude for the people in blue scrubs crowding my room, for my mother, now gushing with pride. I feel closer to her, equal somehow. I am a mother.

I am a mother. What have I done?

February 20, 2018

Nineteen. I was nineteen, only two years older than he is now, when I saw the pink lines,  serpent eyes threatening the future of the naive day dreamerIMG_20180310_160233.jpg I once was. Those two pink lines that meant I’d be dropping out of college, surviving by the mercy of my parent’s support, a single mother with no intentions of pursuing support from the father. I wonder now, when I look at my seventeen year old son, his boy-skin almost shedded and a young man emerged, so many opportunities ahead of him and life experiences, if this is how my parents felt, seeing me way back when, with pride and awe as I prepared for my future. How I must have broken their hearts and dreams when I announced my unplanned pregnancy.

Twenty. I was barely twenty when I moved in with his father, said “I do” in front of the judge, welcomed another son.

Twenty two. I was twenty two when we bought a house, struggled to make ends meet, welcomed a third son.

Twenty four. I was twenty four when we welcomed a daughter, born of another mother and 5 years old.

Twenty six. I was twenty six when we welcomed a fourth son,  after an unplanned pregnancy ended in miscarriage.

Twenty eight. I was twenty eight when we welcomed another daughter, our baby girl.

In nine years we welcomed six kids. And now, our firstborn is seventeen years old. Next year, he will graduate high school and flee the nest, along with his sister. The year after that, his brother will leave. And then his other brothers. And finally, his baby sister. Over the next nine years, they all will leave.  

My household is contracting, shrinking under the labor of these half dozen emerging into the adult world. And like a mother always laboring, I will wait for the contraction. Work with the contraction, ride the wave. I will welcome the tightening grip and hammer down with it, grunting with the force of a new and intoxicating power. I will draw on every ounce of energy I have left until the pressure explodes, the weight is lifted.

A gurgle, a suctioning, a gasp for air.

A mother cries out for her children.

They are gone.

I am their mother. What have I done?