Day 2 – Letter to Dr. Nakhai

One down, fifty-one to go.

I decided to send the first letter to a woman who has been on my mind a lot lately because it’s been too long since I’ve seen her and I’ve been missing her like crazy. My college English professor, advisor, mentor, and friend–Dr. Mandana Nakhai.

Last May, I found out she was being honored for her long career as she prepared to take a short sabbatical. Upon her return, she would be diving into her next adventure as inaugural Thomas Green Chair Distinguished Professor of English and Dean of the Fellows Program. I wrote a little something in her honor. It certainly doesn’t express my deep admiration and respect of this incredible woman, but it’s something.

Enjoy.

I met Dr. Nakhai one cold day in February in the middle of Schoenfeld Gym. I was more than 1,500 miles from home and she was, by far, the most poised and elegant woman I’d ever met. She was dressed in a flawlessly tailored wine-colored suit, complete with a jewel-toned scarf, matching stiletto heels, and delicate gold brooch. She stood maybe 5-feet tall (even in heels), yet her regal presence filled every inch of that crowded room. 

From that very first moment, I was in awe of her. 

I’d spent weeks practicing a formal introduction. I wanted to make a good impression visiting the colleges on my short list. But Dr. Nakhai didn’t need the introduction. As soon as I said my name, she smiled and squeezed my hand and told me how much she’d enjoyed reading the portfolio I’d submitted. She fixed those warm brown eyes on mine and for the next ten minutes she made me feel like the most important person in the world.

Being a student in Dr. Nakhai’s classes always meant that you were going to spend the semester experiencing a healthy mix of excitement and fear. Her love of literature and writing is infectious, and the deep discussions of the significance of the canary in A Jury of Her Peers or the archetypal images in Huckleberry Finn set my mind ablaze. I’d find myself re-reading passages and scribbling notes in the margins of all my books as I eagerly awaited the next class session.

Until, inevitably, the semester would catch up with me, and I’d have one of those weeks where I spent too much time hanging out with friends in the Quad or playing video games and I’d sit in class silently praying that she wouldn’t call on me until I had a chance to at least skim through the assigned reading or maybe piggyback off someone else’s answers to cover the fact that I was ridiculously ill-prepared.

Some weeks I wasn’t the only culprit, but there’s no fooling Mandana Nakhai. Not even five minutes into class and she would notice that the pauses were too lengthy and the answers too vague and her voice would ratchet up an octave as she attempted to jar the room full of rapt undergraduates from our panic-stricken stupor. 

“Claaaaaaas! Are you awake?! Are you alive?! Did you just eat lunch?! Open your Harbraaaace!”

I visited Dr. Nakhai’s office hours like it was my job—sometimes with questions, sometimes carrying the umpteenth draft of a paper I wanted to get more feedback on, sometimes to nag her about spending far too many hours in her office trying like hell to cultivate the young minds in her care. 

But mostly, I just wanted more time. 

I loved the melodic lilt of her voice, the way her accent rolled words exotically off her tongue. I loved circling back on interrupted class discussions and hearing her thoughts on everything from feminist theory and fashion to politics and pop culture. I loved listening to her stories, how she once sewed her sleeping nanny’s nightgown to the bedsheets as a joke and how she felt the day she moved across the ocean to her new home. 

I even loved it when she called me on my bullshit, and insisted I own up to my mistakes.

If she is guilty of anything in this life, it’s that she cares too much and gives everything she has without asking for a whole lot in return.

It’s not uncommon to catch her in her office at odd hours, and I made a habit of knocking on her door or dialing her extension from the nearest callbox whenever I saw her office light burning far too late in the evening. I learned that first summer I spent on campus that popsicles are one of the more effective ways to lure her out for a short break and a breath of fresh air. Somehow she can’t seem to ignore the pleas of a persistent college student standing outside her window hollering at her to “Hurry please and get out here before these things melt!”

Dr. Nakhai made education her life and invested the last 31 years at Concordia because she loves learning and she loves students (even the troublemakers like me). She knows that knowledge is one of the greatest gifts we can give, both to ourselves and to others. And even if she always seems to set the bar so high that you’ll be running and jumping and stretching yourself farther than you ever dreamed you could to reach it, you can be sure she’ll be standing there in the front row cheering the loudest when you finally catch hold and pull yourself up.

She’s made of silk and fire and diamonds and steel. And she’s got the sort of quiet strength and unyielding tenacity that can move mountains, if she truly believes they’re worth moving.

I’m a better scholar because she is my teacher, and I’m a better person because she is my friend. I wouldn’t be where I am—I wouldn’t be here at all—without her.

And wherever this new adventure leads, I have no doubts that it will be absolutely fabulous.

Elf on the Shelf 2013 – Day 17

Cosette must have noticed that we’ve been a little behind the ball with Christmas this year. I mean, we just got the tree up, we don’t have any lights on the house yet (save for the giant light up giraffe we have sitting on our front porch), we haven’t attempted to take a photo or make any Christmas cards yet, and the last of the gifts we bought online haven’t even arrived to be wrapped yet. I guess she figured we could use a reminder to make sure Cadence got her letter written to Santa.

Thanks, Cosette. We’re sure glad you’re looking out for us!

IMGP3699

IMGP3700

IMGP3703

IMGP3705

And tonight, after dinner, a shower, and a nail-painting session, Cadence dictated and signed her letter to jolly ol’ Saint Nick, and made sure to give it to Cosette before she went to bed. We know Cadence’s letter is in very good hands.

cadence

Dear Allergies, You Suck.

Dear Allergies,

You suck.

There I said it. No more beating around the bush. I’ve spent the last couple weeks trying to be nice, giving you the benefit of the doubt. You know, the whole, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” routine.

My parents raised a polite girl, but even I’ve got my limits.

See, here’s the thing. I’m an outdoor girl. Always have been. I’d much rather be hanging outside, enjoying the sun and the wind on my face than stuck indoors any day of the week. Yet here I am, holed up in my living room, afraid to step out the front door if I haven’t taken my daily Zyrtec, and even then I’m still sometimes overcome by a sudden violent sneezing fit, like today, when I nearly blew my left eyeball right out of my skull.

No joke people. It still feels a little bigger than my right one.

Plus, I’m a big fan of breathing, especially breathing through my nose. Yet you have effectively closed my sinuses up so tight that I’m not even sure there’s enough room in my head for my brain anymore.

Told you I wasn’t kidding about that eye.

I’ve taken to doing a saltwater nasal rinse at least three times a day and sleeping with a Breathe Right strip on my nose. (Somebody cue “Sexy and I Know It”. It’s my new theme song).

My 2-year-old thinks it’s hilarious when I start sneezing and can’t stop. She follows me around the house fake sneezing and laughing and requesting her own Kleenex to mock blow her nose while I blow give gallons of mucus out of mine. Let me tell you, it’s real fun when we’re outside and she makes fun of me in public. I’m sure the neighbors are starting to think we’re doing some sort of mother-daughter slapstick comedy routine.

But here’s the thing, I can’t hide away the house, not when the sun is shining and the world is so alive and beautiful right outside my door. We’ve got peonies that will be blooming soon…

And some teeny tiny grapes growing on our vines, which I am ridiculously excited about…

White and purple lilacs blooming in every part of the yard and perfuming the air…

And the beautiful purplish blue carpet of Aubrieta flowers growing at the base of the large tree in our front yard.

So, dear allergies, I just wanted to take a moment to tell you, politely, to go fuck yourself. You might think you’re winning the battle, but believe me, I will win the war.

Sincerely,

Lori Romano

Dear Mom

Anyone who knows me knows that I am adopted. It’s no secret. In fact, I bear the title of adoptee proudly, like a badge of honor. It’s just part of who I am.

Recently, I had two very exciting things happen, both adoption-related, so I thought I’d take a moment to share them because, well, I figure if I’m excited, my family and friends and followers might be too. 🙂

First, I was accepted as a volunteer for an amazing non-profit organization called Red Thread Sessions. Red Thread Sessions connect adopting families with professional photographers who donate their time and talent to help preserve the new families’ first memories. There are so many wonderful organizations out there where professional photographers can donate their time and talent, but the Red Thread Sessions spoke to immediately, and it was such an honor to be accepted as a volunteer. I’m in the process now of booking my very first session, and I can’t wait!

If you’d like to read more about the Red Thread Sessions, or find a volunteer in your area, click on the photo below.

Second, I was notified that a “letter” I wrote back in the summer of 1998 at the Mari Sandoz Young Writer’s Workshop in Chadron, Nebraska was being published in the special 20th Anniversary Edition of Fine Lines Literary Journal. The piece, titled Dear Mom, was originally published back in 1999, shortly after I started college, and was included in the special 20th Anniversary Edition as one of the “best of the best” from the past 20 years of Fine Lines publications.

Fine Lines is an amazing publication that welcomes submissions from writers of all ages and experience. The quarterly journals are always a great read, and has helped countless students and adults hone their writing skills and present their work to a large audience of avid readers. Please click the photo below to visit the website and learn more.

I have to say, Dear Mom is probably still one of the best things I have ever written. At least, it’s one of the only pieces that has every prompted people to send me fanmail, so that must count for something.

The best part, though, is that in October of 2002, I finally got a chance to send my letter to the person it was intended for. And what happened after is nothing short of amazing. But that, my friends, is another story.

Thanks to my mentors David Martin, Roy Scheele, Karen Shoemaker, Bill Clemente, and Susan Vastine for welcoming me to the Mari Sandoz workshop back in 1998, unleashing my voice and my creativity, and for always encouraging me to keep writing…keep writing…keep writing…

And now, I thought I’d share the letter that changed my life.

Thanks for reading.

Dear Mom,

We met one day in August: August 19, 1980 to be exact. I don’t remember you. Newborns don’t usually have much of a memory. I sometimes wish I could have seen your face, just once. I wish I could have burned it into my memory.

It seems so strange that you’re my mother, the woman who gave birth to me, yet I know so little about you. I’ve thought about you a lot over the years, and I can only wonder if you ever think of me. I wonder if, sometimes late at night, you wonder what happened to me, where I’ve ended up, how I’ve turned out.

Did you hold me when I was born? I know that most times the birthmothers choose or are told not to hold the babies they are giving up for adoption, in case they would become attached and change their minds. I always liked to think that you held me in your arms, just once, before they took me away.

I can’t help but wondering just how you ended up pregnant with me anyway. I’ve always assumed that I was a mistake. Was it your decision to give me up for adoption? The only reason I ask is because sometimes young girls are tricked or forced into giving up their babies, but if you decided on your own, I understand.

You have to be the bravest person I have never met, to carry and bear a child at the tender age of fifteen. Those nine months must have been hell! I can imagine how people must have stopped and stared, how your peers must have talked behind your back and pointed and snickered. You were so strong to decide to go through with it, no matter what the cost. You gave up your life to give me mine.

I wonder if I kept you up nights, kicking and moving around. I wonder if you ever put your hands on your growing belly, longing to hold me, or if you would talk to me aloud when you were alone. I’ll bet I made you cry yourself to sleep a lot of nights. You endured all the loneliness, all the fear, all the pain, and in the end you still found it in your heart to give me away. How can I begin to tell you just how special that makes me feel?

Ever since that October day when I first learned of my adoption, I haven’t stopped thinking about you. I wonder what your life is like now, if you have a family to love. I wonder if my creativity and my love of nature and adventure were inherited from you. And I wonder if you’re the one I got these crazy eyes from—my exotic, chameleon eyes that are too green to be blue, too blue to be green and to grey to really be either.

I sit sometimes and study myself in the mirror, hoping to memorize my face so that I might recognize you if I ever bump into you on the street. It seems so strange to me that you are out there, somewhere, living a life all your own. You might be my next-door neighbor. You might be off in a foreign country somewhere.

What if I’ve already met her? I sometimes wonder. I love to watch people, and I think that part of the reason is that, deep down I think that if I ever saw you I would recognize you. I know it’s stupid—just some crazy, childish dream—but I keep imagining that I run into you and look into your eyes and, at that moment, I just know, as if there was a bond that could somehow span our twenty-two years of separation.

I always say that I can “read” people. My impressions of people are rarely ever wrong, and I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I am always searching…searching for a familiar smile, for someone else with these witchy eyes. I’m not even really conscious of it anymore—I’ve been doing it for so long. I know that there is really not much of a chance of finding you on the street, but I just can’t stop looking. I’m so afraid that I’m going to blink and miss you.

I do feel close to you, even though we’ve never really met, perhaps because I talk to you so much. When I’m happy or sad, when my heart is breaking with pain or bursting with joy, I find myself telling you about it, as if you were sitting right there beside me. I’ve started other letters to you over the years, wishing that I knew where to send them. Instead, I’ve crumpled them and shoved them into the bottom of my trashcan, afraid that someone might find them and not understand.

People ask me all the time if I plan to find you someday. I really don’t know how to answer them. I would like to know your name and see you, and I really would love to talk to you. I’m just so scared! What if you don’t want to see me? What if you’re disappointed in me? Will you think I’m stupid?

How can I have such a need to be with someone I can’t even remember? It’s like part of me is missing, as if the finishing piece of my life puzzle is locked somewhere within your heart. I walk around with this hole in me and it aches, a constant, dull throbbing that wakes me in the middle of the night when I realize my pillow is wet with tears. It’s an ache that makes my heart skip a beat whenever someone mentions my adoption.

We’ve missed out on so much of each other’s lives! Little things like Christmas morning, birthdays, the Tooth Fairy. You weren’t there for my first steps, my first words, my first love. You never got to tell me about Santa Claus, or explain to me just how things work between girls and boys. We’ve never been on a family vacation. We’ve never even been shopping together!

I wonder sometimes how different my life would be, had you not decided to give me up. I wonder where we would be living, if we would be happy. I wonder if you and I would have a close mother/daughter relationship. I wonder if I would have lots of brothers and sisters. I’ve always dreamed of having a big family. I wonder if you would understand me in a way that no one else has ever been able to.

These past years, I’ve been dreaming of the day you and I would finally meet. The scene plays over and over in my mind. I change little things each time, hoping to make it perfect. Do I call you by your first name, or would it be too presumptuous to call you Mom? Do I try to hug you, or would a handshake be sufficient? Do I try to stay in touch with you, or would you rather put the past behind you and forget about me completely?

I’m probably digging up a lot of things that are best left buried and I am sorry, but please try to understand that I would not be doing this unless I had a good reason. Just once I would like to see you and talk to you and have you actually sitting there, listening and talking aback to me. Just once I would like to hear your story—how you met my father and how I came to be. Just once I would like to know the truth about my heritage and be able to speak of my ancestors with knowledge and pride. I want to know my birthday story—what happened that day, what time I was born, what it was like for you. But most of all, I would like to hear someone say, “Wow! She is just like her mother!” Just once I wish I could hear someone say that and know they were talking about me.

I know this probably comes as a huge shock to you. You’ve probably spent the last twenty-two years trying to put all of this behind you, but please, please understand that I wouldn’t be doing this, writing this letter, unless I had to. If you never want to see me again or don’t want to be part of my life, I promise I will understand. Please, just give me this once chance. Give me one day so that I won’t have to wonder anymore, so I can put all of this behind me and try to get on with my life. Please, just think about it.

I sit here, writing an impossible letter, yet somehow I find myself still clinging to the dream that it will all turn out perfect. I can only pray that you will understand what I’m trying to say and just how much of my heart I’ve poured out onto these pages. What I really hope is that I can somehow find the courage to drop this into a mailbox and start piecing together the parts of my life that have been missing for so long.

I love you, Mom. I just wanted you to know that.

We All Make Mistakes

So, I recently challenged myself to do some more letter writing (click HERE to refresh your memory if you need to). And so far, I’ve kept up with my Letter-a-Week challenge. Why, I just wrote one tonight, in fact, to a complete stranger.

But let’s back up for a little more information…

About a month-and-a-half ago Steven and I started noticing that our mailbox was leaning a bit. Every day it just seemed to get worse. Then, after the big snowstorm on Cadence’s birthday, the little bit of leaning became a lot of leaning. Like a 45-degree angle sort of leaning.

Upon closer inspection, we saw that the wood post was completely rotted, and that the cement the former owners used to anchor it into the ground was all split and broken. The only way to fix it was to replace it, but the ground was frozen beneath the snow, which meant we would have to wait for warmer weather. So, we bought some wood shims, thinking it just might be enough to hold the mailbox in place until we could replace it.

And it lasted right up until Tuesday. Then, the storm and winds came through and blew the mailbox right over.

So, this afternoon while Cadence napped, Steven and I headed outside to get to work. On the curb, right in front of our mailbox was a huge pile of garbage. Apparently, one of the parents that parks in front of our house to pick up their kids from the nearby elementary school decided that it looked like the perfect spot to clean out the car.

Irritated, I headed inside to grab some gloves and a plastic bag to clean up the mess. I told Steven I wished I knew which parent it was, because I would just sit on the porch tomorrow and give the garbage back. But then, I spied something in the mess that gave me an even better idea. Oh happy day!

So folks, this week, I’m sending a letter to a girl named Shannon, who should really be more careful not to litter.

It reads…

Dear Shannon,

I just wanted to take a moment to return a few items that you left in front of my house by mistake. Since there is no public trash can in front of my mailbox, and since we both know that littering is a crime, I can’t imagine that you meant to leave this big pile of trash behind on purpose.

These days, you just can’t be too careful. Leaving things like doctor’s appointment cards and a letter from your bank that has your old address, new address, and bank account number on it lying on a city street can get you robbed, your identity stolen, or worse, which is why I’m sure you didn’t mean to leave it there. It all must have just fallen out of your car by mistake.

So, I am sending the stuff back to you that you really should be shredding before you throw it in the trash. Your trash. At your house, where the nice sanitation workers will come pick it up and dispose of it properly.

As for the rest of it–the Burger King containers, the half-empty packets of ketchup and ranch dressing, the dental pics, the empty packs of Kool and Newport cigarettes, the half-dozen crumpled receipts–I threw all of those in the trash for you. After all, we all make mistakes.

But next time? Next time, I’ll just box it all up and send it to you so you can throw it in the trash yourself.

Thanks!

Lori