Anniversaries can bring pain – if you let them

Today marks one year since my mother died.

I didn’t think I’d be able to write the words “my mother died.” So I’m making progress.

I’m not a big fan of anniversaries. I’m not married, so I don’t have that one. Work anniversaries are fun only if you’re not working so hard that you miss them. And I missed the last one.

So the anniversaries of deaths may not be the kind of thing you want to remember. They bring the pain of loss, the pain of facing your own mortality, the pain of more goodbyes to come.

But then I remembered, and am thankful for Jane Austen’s words – from Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth discussing a letter: “You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”

What wise words! What a joyful philosophy. It will be hard, but I will try it because to spend too much time in a painful past makes is so much harder to have a joyous future. I know from experience.

So today, i will think of my mother. I will try to remember all the times we talked about the serious and the light.

And I shall remember only the times that she laughed, bold uncontrollable laughter that would bring tears to her eyes.

Yes, that is how I will remember her today.

Every day is a beginning – even if it is slower

We went into the garage to climb into the truck and run some errands. Usually, he hops up into the driver’s seat and climbs over to his own, riding shotgun like a guy.

But today, he stood and looked up at me, a single paw raised like a first-grader’s hand when he thinks he knows the answer to a question.

I picked him up and placed him on my seat, and he briskly moved to his window.

Hours later, after we’d returned home, he stood on the seat and waited for me to take him down from the seat to the floor. He darted into the house like his old self, accepted a treat, then went to his favorite spot for a nap.

He’s napping a lot more these days.

Desi is 13.

And I’m feeling forlorn. I get all the uplifting quotes on Twitter about living in the moment, not looking for pain before it comes. I like the Will Smith video about how he lived in fear of skydiving only to have no fear as he later fell through the air.  Messed up two days of his life trembling at the thought of something, but having no fear at the moment he fell through the air.

I am looking at Desi and remembering the first day he came home, tiny little 10-pound runt of a litter. The employee of the last-chance rescue mission where he was said if we didn’t take him, he’d be put down. I didn’t think used-car salesman; I thought loving savior.

I remember telling that employee that our other dog, Lucy, was in the car and didn’t get along with any dogs – and that they had to meet. And even though the dogs were not to be allowed to leave the Detroit Zoo, where this huge animal adoption fair was taking place 13 years ago, she sneaked him out to our car to meet Lucy, a brilliant and beautiful Keeshond who was used to getting all the attention from my daughter and me.

And I remember Desi climbing into the car and sitting next to Lucy like that had always been his spot, and Lucy accepting him like that had always been his spot.

So regal. So assured of his place and our future love.

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Detroit’s literacy problem: One who persisted

In February seven years ago, I wrote about a young woman who graduated from a Detroit high school without being able to read. As I see new stories about high school graduates who are functionally illiterate, it is clear the problem with adult literacy in Detroit – and other cities across the country – continues. It is why I work so hard to find ways for adults, especially parents, to learn to read. Parent literacy is an early childhood education issue.

Originally published 2/5/10 in the Detroit Free Press

Detroit teen graduated high school without being able to read

Amiya Olden, 22, graduated from Denby High School unable to read. She enrolled in literacy classes and now can read her diploma.
REGINA H. BOONE/Detroit Free Press

Amiya Olden remembers well the day she graduated from Denby High. She handed her diploma to her mother, Karen Olden, who read it to her.

“Then when someone asked me to read it, I could remember the things that she read, and I knew what I had to say,” recalled Amiya Olden, now 22.

Amiya could not read her own diploma.

But don’t feel sorry for her. Two summers ago, she took charge of her life when she walked into ProLiteracy Detroit in Midtown and signed up to improve her reading. Nineteen months ago, she was reading at a second-grade level; now she reads at a fifth-grade level. And she has no intention of stopping. It’s the first time Amiya Olden has loved learning.

“Back in elementary and middle school, in class, I would just be sitting there,” she said. “I’d just close the book or put it under the desk. I wouldn’t even try. I didn’t have a lot of confidence and a lot of motivation, someone to tell me: ‘You can!’ ”

She said she didn’t want to bother her mother, who encouraged her to keep trying but had no idea how bad her reading was. So she suffered alone.

After years of being promoted without understanding her classes, she learned to cope, to hide the problem.

And, every year, she got promoted.

Amiya Olden could have been a poster child for a reading crisis that affects nearly 2 million Michigan residents older than 16: They read below a sixth-grade level, sometimes way below, which makes it difficult to function, to find jobs and to improve their lives. A study released last year by the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth found that a stunning one out of three working-age Michigan adults don’t have the reading skills to get a family-sustaining job, that an estimated 44% read below a sixth-grade level and that 60% of students entering community colleges require remedial classes before they can start post-secondary work.

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