The Final Flight of Peter Pan

Much like the hero of J.M. Barrie’s beloved children’s tale “Peter Pan”, he flew into my life and I was forever changed.

As if one first name wasn’t significant enough to describe him, John David Keith boasted three. Even in his late teens, he was already a mountain of a man – larger than life and imposing of stature, but beneath all of the muscle and tough exterior lay the little known soul of a poet. In true Peter Pan fashion, he chose me as his Wendy. Every experience with him was an adventure, and danger seemed to lurk at every turn. I was hopelessly drawn into his world – enamored by its exciting divergence from the quiet, controlled and steady life I’d been leading with my feet firmly planted on the ground.

I floated above the clouds with him for years, until time and circumstance slowly wore away at what we had. I found myself growing weary of the relentless tug-of-war between my family and his world, the constant vying of attention from a never-ending cycle of mermaids, and the perpetual presence of his ever-true band of Lost Boys keeping him hopelessly tethered to Neverland. As I traded the soft pink floral paper that covered the walls of my childhood bedroom for the solid concrete walls of a college dorm, I knew I faced a new kind of future. It was time to put away childish dreams. Fearing he might actually be the boy who never grew up, I made the difficult decision to return to a quiet, controlled, steady life. Rather than rage against my choice – prepared to do battle to the death – out of love, he flew silently up and out of my life.

I’ve thought of him often over the years – like a shadow trapped in a dresser drawer. As I went on to happily wed and work, I dreamed he did the same. As I filled the rooms of my home with the sweet laughter of children, I prayed he was experiencing the same kind of joy. I never forgot the name he and I had once chosen for what we dreamed would be our first son – Joshua Skye – and found it somewhat prophetic that I would never give birth to the boy I yearned for. On that fateful night in 1989, with just a handful of words – I had completely changed the course of my destiny.

On October 14, 2008, I learned the sad truth about John’s destiny. He had not married a pretty little wife, was not living in a sweet little house encircled by a white picket fence, and the halls of his home did not ring with the laughter of children. He had found happiness working as a PGA golf professional at golf clubs throughout the Southeast – able to channel that athletic prowess I remembered so well from our high school football field into a career he truly loved. Unfortunately, after falling down inexplicably on the golf course several times and a laundry list of other strange mishaps, John David Keith was eventually diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, ALS is a devastatingly progressive and degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal column. Over time, the brain’s ability to initiate and control muscle function deteriorates to the point of complete paralysis. There is no known cure. Over the course of the last three years, John has lost the ability to walk, can no longer speak, and finds himself struggling to breathe without the aid of a machine. The once strong and muscular physique of an athlete has been slowly transformed into a frail skeletal frame. As his condition worsens, the bills for caregivers, medical supplies, and doctor visits continue to mount. As if watching the rapid decline of her beloved only son isn’t difficult enough, the financial burden has become overwhelming for John’s widowed mother, Renee – his stalwart, brave, and ever-present Tinkerbell.

Shortly after learning his fate, John reached out to me to let me know. My heart was broken in places I didn’t think even existed any longer. The tears didn’t stop flowing for two straight days even though we had not communicated or laid eyes on one another for two decades. That’s what love is. My poor, sweet husband has been patient and understanding, because well… that’s what love is, too. While he could still communicate – John told me to cherish what I have and to never take the simple things for granted – all of the things he could no longer do or have. It’s a painful and poignant lesson to learn.

In just a handful of hours, I will see John for the first time in 22 years. I’ve been told to prepare myself, and do my best not to cry. The setting will be a charity golf tournament in Cumming, Georgia at one of John’s former places of employ, Polo Golf & Country Club on August 29. There – surrounded by friends, family, and well-wishers – John will commemorate his 44th birthday, a day he never believed he’d see. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share in this bittersweet celebration of a very special young man and his mom.

Knowing what I know now, I find a tragic irony in the way I have always compared John to Peter Pan. In his final stages of this horrible disease – at the tender age of just 44 – it’s true that he will never have the chance to grow up. He will never utter the words “I do”, he will never hold his newborn baby in his arms, he will never grow old with someone he loves. When all is said and done, he will simply fly on to that second star to the right and straight on ‘til morning. And – like Wendy – I will never stop searching the stars for the slightest sign of him.

“To die would be an awfully big adventure.” ~ Peter Pan

For more information about ALS, visit The ALS Association online at http://www.alsa.org. To make a donation to the John David Keith Medical Relief Fund, please visit http://johndavidkeithmedicalrelieffund.chipin.com/john-david-keith-medical-relief-fund, drop by any RBC Bank location in the Atlanta area with a check made payable to the “John David Keith Medical Relief Fund”, or mail your check to:

The John David Keith Medical Relief Fund

c/o Harmony Kiser

6230 Lenbrook Court

Cumming, GA 30040

To stay up-to-date on upcoming fundraising events, please visit http://www.facebook.com/johndavidkeith

Cite:  Barrie, J. M. Peter and Wendy. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911. Print.

I’m Not Gonna Lie… I Have NO Idea What I’m Doing

It's Not Easy Being a Zombie Mom From Hell When All Eyes Are On You. Of Course, The Only Eyes That Really Matter Are Those of Your Children. Photo Credits: Photogen.com

I can remember poring over the dog-eared pages of parenting magazines and baby books as an expectant mother – sometimes even scribbling chicken scratch in the margins. I can recall making lists of concerns to take with us during trips to the pediatrician to make certain no sniffle, no sneeze and no funny shaped freckle was ever overlooked. Before either daughter even arrived, their rooms were lovingly painted and decorated in anticipation of the happy childhoods they would experience both inside and outside of those four walls. Once they were here, I carefully planned every meal to make sure their nutritional needs were being met and plotted every outfit to make sure they coordinated perfectly like the happy children whose faces are plastered on the cover of a magazine. Back then, I would take the time to learn, explore and experience. Back then, that is, before I became the Zombie Mom from Hell.

I’m not really sure when it happened or why – but at some point I stopped doing all of those things. Sure, I still lay out their clothes on occasion and every once in a while, I cook something that might be considered “good” for them – but somewhere along the way, that ubercharged gusto to achieve Super Mom-dom died. It’s not that I love my children any less – on the contrary, my love for them grows with each passing day. They are and will always be the moon and the stars to me. But sometime between goodnight stories and training bras, I figured out that I have NO idea what I am doing. Rather than pick up a book to discover the secrets and get back on track, I forge ahead on an uncertain path – moaning and groaning like the walking dead. I stopped being careful and started being careless, tossing out swear words like earthworms to my innocent baby birds. I throw insensitive remarks about hygiene at my oldest daughter – a sweet and sensitive pre-teen, and hit my youngest where it hurts by denying her hugs when she misbehaves. All the while, from the outside looking in – I HATE what I’ve become and like a twenty-something with a horrible hangover, vow to never do it again. That is, until I do it again.

To be fair – I never set out to be perfect, and I’m really not all bad. I still faithfully run carpools, pack lunches, shop for groceries, help with homework, and dutifully play the role of room mom in my daughters’ classes – all while running a successful freelance copywriting business. . I walk them to the bus stop in the morning and I’m there to greet them at the end of the day, afterschool snack at the ready inside our cozy home.  I will always find time to snuggle with them on the couch, hands in a bucket of popcorn and a movie on the big screen TV. We host Wii Challenges when we’re at home and head out on regular adventures when we’re out on the town. Most importantly, I always kiss them goodnight and the sun never goes down on a day when they haven’t heard their mom say “I love you” at least once.

I guess this is just my ugly, aching midlife crisis. The desire to be a good mom is still there, but – like any respectable zombie – the life has been unexpectedly leeched from me. How on Earth do I guide when I haven’t the slightest clue where I’m going? Heading at warp-speed toward the teenage years with two girls in tow, it’s in everyone’s best interest that I claw my way out of the grave and get back to the business of actively living my life. The magic elixir is not to be found in the bottom of a bottle of Riesling (believe me, I’ve looked) and merely casting a wish into the universe won’t make it come true – I have to dig a little deeper and remember that I’m not alone.  I know there are other women out there in this big wide world who feel exactly the same way that I do. C’mon girls, we’ve got this! So we’ve said and done things that our children may use to determine how NOT to raise their own kids one day and we may serve as the subject of a colorful cocktail party story or two when our babies are all grown up – no use crying over spilt milk. It’s what we do from this day forward that really counts. We’ve got to find a way to be there for our kids – mind, body AND spirit. They may not be helpless babies anymore, but they still need us. It’s time to shed the guilt and the gray zombie shell – and jump back into our families with both feet. After that, we just have to feel our way…

 

Published in: on February 16, 2011 at 5:16 pm  Comments (7)  
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Lump In My Throat

I have been blessed.  (Some days – although few and far between –  I feel I may have been cursed.)  God, in his infinite wisdom, has granted me the blessing of being mom to two little girls.  My heart has ached for them since before they ever breathed their first breath.  I fretted about the number of fingers and toes they would have, whether they would be healthy, whether they could possibly love me as much as I love them.  Once you give birth to a baby, they start pulling away a little bit more every day.  Blink your eyes and they’re crawling, blink again and they’re walking.  It’s true what they say – “They grow up so fast!”  On one hand, you want to freeze time – hold them in that perfect place forever.  On the other hand, you can’t wait to see what they’ll do next.  Your love just grows right along with them.  The one constant – the one thing that never changes is you never stop fretting.

My mother-in-law gave me a book the Christmas before I gave birth to my first daughter – Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”.  If you’ve never read it, it’s brilliant – but one particular quote stood out to me on the subject of children. 

Gibran wrote:

 Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let our bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

 

I try VERY HARD to remember these words.  I know now that my mother-in-law believed them with all her heart, even though she is no longer here for me to discuss them with – and I miss her desperately.  Her death, at the tender age of just 59, had a profound effect on me.  Beyond the loss of such an amazing force in my life, my husband’s life and the lives of my children – I had to come to terms with my own mortality, with the finite nature of our existence here on Earth and the limited amount of time I have to watch over my children.  I don’t want to miss a thing!

 

And yet…  there is so much I wish to shield them from.  As my oldest enters into the early awkward phase of her youth, my once divine little bow-head now more resembles a virtual stranger to me.  Practically overnight, she changed.  My daughter, who I once knew every inch of – every single fat roll on her chubby baby body – every single tickle spot on her sweet smelling skin — is growing up, up and away.  This past December, she asked me to chop off her long, beautiful locks – she wanted to donate them to Locks of Love, so another child – who had cancer and had lost their hair, would have hair.  Her gorgeous smile was suddenly transformed by the appearance of adult teeth too large for her little face.  And, as of just a few days ago, her lovely hazel eyes are now hidden behind a pair of thick rimmed glasses she proudly chose herself.  She’s in the gifted classes at school and sobs if she doesn’t make honor roll.  She uses big words and tells terrible jokes.  Her head is always in the clouds, if her nose isn’t stuck inside a book.  Who is this kid?

 

She’s my baby.  She’s also the kid I wouldn’t give the time of day to when I was not much older than she is now.  I am dying inside at the thought of another child not being able to see what an amazing creature she is – or, God forbid, hurting her in some way – ANY way.  My sister –once a sweet, cherubic child – bent and nearly broke under the weight of the ugliness spewed from the mouths of other children in her school.  She battled bulimia for years as a result.  I don’t wish to see my baby crushed that way.  It’s a lie, you know – words CAN harm you every bit as badly as sticks and stones.

 

Thankfully, somewhere along the way, my goofy sweet first-born was given a confidence level that I could never attain.  I was shy and silent at eight-years-old, and still struggle as an adult.  She is completely secure in her own skin, and man does that kid love to TALK!  I hope that never changes.  There’s a part of me that wants to warn her, that wants to tell her about all the bad things that COULD happen.  That’s where the lump in my throat comes in.  I never really understood where that term “lump in your throat” came from.  Now I know – it’s all the words you want to say, but know you shouldn’t – trapped like a knot just below your mouth and slightly above your adam’s apple.  They are words dying to come out, but wise enough to stay inside.   These words often dissolve into silent prayer – a simple wish for their happiness.  That’s how I try to send my “living arrows” forth – with a quick hug and a kiss, an “I love you” and a silent prayer.  As I drop my little girls off to school every morning, I kiss them goodbye and watch them as they are swallowed up inside the double doors of their institution of learning.  Every morning, I drive away with that damn lump in my throat.  I’m afraid it’s here to stay.

Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 5:33 am  Comments (3)  
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The Holidays Crept Up Like a Thief In the Night

I only recently began to love the sound of Christmas Carols again.  But, first, let’s begin this story at the beginning…

I was born into a world of retail.  My father came up swiftly through the ranks of a large department store chain in the Northeast.  He scraped and clawed his way to the top, and once he got there – he didn’t want to come down.  By the time I was three, he was wooed by a hot chain of men’s clothing stores to come onboard as their VP – this move brought us from the snowy hills of Ohio to the red clay of Georgia.  The man had to eat, sleep and breathe retail in order to survive in this cutthroat world – which meant his family sometimes watched from the sidelines.  He travelled to distant shores to make sure the clothing line was being manufactured properly, and worked seven days a week at times to keep a firm grasp on his title and to grow his company’s business.  It wouldn’t be long before he realized, if he was going to be working this hard, he should own his own company.  In partnership with my mother, my dad opened a chain of women’s clothing stores.  With Dad at the helm and Mom right beside him, the company thrived and survived for twenty years – it was as much a needy sibling as it was our family business.  This, of course, meant that now Mom had to eat, sleep and breathe retail, as well.  Every single conversation around the dinner table – if we managed a family meal – was about this customer, or that order.  There was no such thing as church on Sunday – retail is open seven days a week.  I learned most of what I know about religion from epic films about the Bible shown on TV – but I could tell you the make-up and care of just about any fabric on the market.  By the time I hit high school, I was working in one of the family stores – not an easy task for a shy and uncertain young teen.  I quickly learned to treat the sales floor as a stage, and in time, became a fairly good shopgirl.  When I went off to college, I got a job at the big department store in town – retail, after all, was what I knew.  Summers and winter breaks at home meant work in the family biz.  I began to loathe it, and no time did I hate more than the holiday rush.  From Black Friday right on through January (when all the holiday returns came back), I despised the press of humanity, the gaudy Christmas sweaters and the cheesy Christmas carols playing in a continuous loop from the speakers overhead.  Still, I did it.  For more than 15 years, I muddled my way through the holidays in retail.  Sure, I loved the food that the holidays bring, and I loved the giving and receiving of gifts in my own home.  But those were a handful of days in an endless siege stretching from November to January – hardly enough to brighten these darks days.  People can be cruel and rude – even while wearing a smiling snowman on their chest and humming “Silent Night”.  I tried to escape – I entered the world of advertising, marketing and public relations just outside of college, but after a few years – Daddy came along with his own needs for marketing his company and I was sucked back in.  My second daughter (and my husband’s desire to have a parent home with our girls) was my saving grace.

After nearly two decades, I was free.  In the beginning, I would shy away from malls.  Too many bad memories.  I recalled some of my favorite things about the holidays from my childhood and tried to repackage them for my young family.  I took pride in my decorations – something I hadn’t done in years – it had been too much like “merchandising” the store for the holidays.  I worked my way up from instrumental Christmas Carols to the traditional songs of my youth – I even began to sing along.  And when I went shopping, I made a point to be as sweet as possible to the folks behind the counter.  My husband set me free in another way – we started going to church.  He was raised Catholic, and to miss a Sunday at church was a rare thing when he was growing up.  We met in the middle, between nothing and the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and found the United Methodist Church.  Suddenly, I was learning – along with my little girls – the TRUE meaning of Christmas.  I began to feel joy – joy like I hadn’t felt since I was a child.

And yet… life happens.  The wave of holiday parties, the push to get Christmas cards out on time, searching for just the right gift, the utter exhaustion that only the holidays can bring – and you suddenly find yourself just four short days before Christmas.  How did it get here?  Even with all the signs that pointed to the fact that the holidays are upon us, they still crept up like a thief in the night.  Just five years outside of the retail world, and I find myself becoming somewhat jaded.  The older I get – and the older my girls get – time seems to pick up speed.  The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas – which once seemed to drag on into eternity within the four walls of my parents’ shop, now flies by like a rocket to the moon.  I have to slow things down – remember to take the time to read from our many Christmas books, sit with my girls and enjoy the Christmas movies from my own childhood, dance around the living room to the timeless tunes of Bing Crosby and Burl Ives, bake Christmas cookies, go to church and give back to those in need.  I can’t allow the holidays to become something I cherished as a child, to something I loathed as a teen and young adult, to something I loved as a young mother, to something I now virtually ignore.  When I try to see the holidays through my children’s eyes – that’s when I’m doing the best job as a mom.  When I try to recall the true meaning of Christmas – that’s when I’m doing the best job as a person.  There are so many people out there who truly struggle this time of year – they simply cannot see their blessings or they’ve lost more blessings than they can bear.  My heart goes out to each and every one of them.  I have to remember to see my blessings and count them daily (no matter the time of year).

I have just four short days to get into the Christmas Spirit.  All the cards and packages have been mailed, just a few more packages to wrap, the girls are out of school.  Time to get started on the merry-making.  I have to change my point of view – these tasks leading up to the Big Day are not a chore, I’m making memories.  I shape the way my girls view the holidays and how they will spend the holidays with their families one day.  That’s a big deal!  Even though the holidays snuck up on me, there’s still time.  This could be the best Christmas yet!  After all, Ebenezer Scrooge turned his entire life around in just one night.

May you, too, find peace and joy in the next four days.  I wish you and yours a very Happy Holiday Season!

Note:  Mom and Dad also escaped retail, in time.  Mom went back to her true love – nursing (where she still works most holidays) and Dad became a professional Santa Claus.  If that doesn’t say Christmas Spirit, I don’t know what does!

by Kasie Bolling

Published in: on December 21, 2008 at 3:45 pm  Leave a Comment