It’s National Bosses Day! Did you Thank Your Boss Today?

BY: Cherry Maggorie – “The Freak of Nurture”

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Chapter 14: Being a Boss at the Border of Crazy

During the summer of 2009, I found myself sitting in the lobby of one of the most famous buildings in NYC, possibly the world.   I look up and see decades of famous faces staring back at me. It is truly humbling to even walk into this building as a tourist, let alone a potential future employee.

On top of that, I’m almost seven months pregnant and utterly exhausted.  On my way here, I walked through the city in the pouring rain, and my dress, shoes, and legs were soaked.  My hair was a frizzy mess, and my belly was aching. Adding insult to injury, I nearly slipped on the marble floor of the lobby.   What the fuck? Can it get any worse?

After making my way through security, I headed up to the office of the President of one of the company’s Television networks.   This is my final interview for a VP of Marketing position. It was an opportunity I always dreamed of but never, ever thought I’d get the chance to fulfill.

It felt like everything was working against me, starting with the fact that I didn’t have TV experience.  What was working for me, was that the executive that recommended me for the job was bullish on my hire. Conversely, the President I was meeting with, was NOT.  Not to mention, they would have to hire me seven months pregnant and then I’d be going on maternity leave shortly after I started the job. Remember, it’s 2009 and about 10 years before the #metoo movement, and I’m thinking that hiring a pregnant woman was not the top of anyone’s list.

Thankfully, I had a solid history of performance with the leader who recommended me for this position from our work together at Time Inc.  She was now the COO of the network, leading the marketing and sales division. She was a legend in the business and successfully made the transition from publishing to TV.   She wants me to partner with her to elevate the marketing capabilities of the network to become a revenue-driving division. She, like me, believes that ideas and creativity, when executed well, lead to increased investment by marketing partners.  

But here I stand, all 5’3” of me with my pregnant body as wide as I am tall, looking up at photo after photo of entertainment and cultural legends.  My inner self-saboteur starts to invade my mind with so many questions…What right do I have to be here? Do I really belong? Am I good enough?

After about 10 minutes (I was early, he was precisely on time), the President calls me in.  My heart jumps into my throat, and I suddenly lost my breath.  I struggle to stand and have to scoot to the end of the couch to pull myself into a standing position.  His assistant offers me water, and I follow slowly behind her, waddling into his office. As he stands up to greet me, I am just completely overwhelmed.

His long legs push his chair back from his desk, and he slowly climbs to his full height.  He is 6’5” with a full head of silver hair and piercing turquoise blue eyes. He is striking in every single way.  His energy is kingly; a super-alpha, with a gentle intelligence that is utterly disarming and counterintuitive to his stature.  I am mesmerized.

I reach out to shake his hand with the firmest, strongest handshake I could muster, as I introduce myself.  He makes eye contact and holds onto my hand as his eyes penetrate my soul. I felt like he was scanning me to figure out my intentions and if I was an honest person.

Before being named President of this network, he was a journalist for many years.  His credentials were incredible. I had done my research, and I was already intimidated walking into the meeting.  Now with his immense energy filling the room, I know I am in for one of the toughest interviews of my life.

The interview started off with the usual pleasantries.  He was warm and welcoming; a pleasant surprise considering my first impression.  He begins the style of questioning that undoubtedly led to his success as a journalist; starting off gently as he builds toward the tougher questions.  

Throughout the interview, we talked about my strengths and vision for the role and where my challenges would lie.  I asked him a ton of questions about his expectations, hopes for the team and the kind of leader he wanted.

After about an hour of deep philosophical conversation, and some good belly laughs, we get to his final question.  He looks very seriously at me and says, “This is the question I always leave until the end, but it is the most important.  This is the question that will tell me the most about who you are. Are you ready?” I gulp and respond, “Yes, of course!” And then he pops the question, “What is the one thing in your life that is both your biggest regret and your greatest success?”

Well, of course, I am in sheer panic as my armpits begin to sweat profusely and my face turns red! This is a trap question!  No matter what I tell him, it has to be the truth because this man could see through the bullshit in an instant. This is a question that will reveal the worst of me which was the catalyst to the best of me.  I feel like I’m sitting there naked. Completely exposed.

The first thing that pops into my head is my most embarrassing, my most shameful truth…but I know this is my biggest regret that propelled my career.  It is the truth that I never openly shared. It’s the truth that drove me to work harder, smarter and effort more than anyone else; it’s what prompted me to become a workaholic.

I muster all my courage and bravely, for the first time in my career, share my secret…

I respond, “Well, that is a really tough question because answering honestly might be the reason I lose this job.  However, I have to take the chance because this is my truth. My biggest regret is that I didn’t graduate from college.  I went for two and a half years, but never got a degree. Due to personal difficulties, I quit school and decided to go to work full time.  I’ve always been a hard worker, I started working when I was 13 while I attended school. While I was a smart student, I didn’t thrive in the lecture style of college, and I was a terrible test taker.  I realize now that I learned differently than other people. When I entered the workforce without a degree, I decided to work hard, work smart, to be the best at anything I put my mind to and to be an open-minded and intuitive leader. To look at someone’s capabilities and attitude versus their college credentials.   It is my one regret that has been the biggest catalyst for my success. It is the reason I am here with you today.”

He watched me intently and showed literally no outward emotion or response to what I was saying.  After a long pause, he said “Thank you for being honest with me. You did take a great risk sharing that with me.  But your risk will pay off…because I didn’t graduate college either. I, like you, have always worked hard, grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, a complete rebel and tough guy until I found what I loved to do.  No one worked harder than me. I had street smarts with strong emotional intelligence. I had a unique ability to connect with people, and that is why I am sitting in front of YOU today.”

Well, needless to say, I was stunned.  My anxiety turned to joy, and I knew at this moment we connected on an entirely different level.  We found a kindred spirit who thrived through life’s many trials and tribulations. We both succeeded despite the odds against us.  It was the thing that ultimately landed me the job. While he is not, I am still at the company for over nine years.

How ironic…with all the odds against me, the tipping point was my honest answer to his toughest question.  This was the moment that taught me the most significant lesson about leadership and humanity.

This moment is branded in my mind, as it is the one time in my life that my greatest weakness became my strength.  I met a leader with the guts and wherewithal to see my true self, and my character shine through and that inspired him to give me a shot.  It proved that more than any college degree, authenticity, hard work, emotional intelligence, and just sheer honesty pays off. I was lucky.  Very, very lucky to have encountered such a leader.

After 22 years in this industry, I have met all types of leaders.  Leaders that frightened me, that challenged me, that inspired me, that taught me, that abused my work ethic, that gave me a chance, that believed in me even when I didn’t.   

Today is National Bosses Day.  So I decided to share this story with you all in hopes that you realize the immense responsibility a leader takes on.  They are a teacher, a parent at times, accountable to the business, sometimes even to the stock market. Their duties, decision-making, and exposure can be an incredible pressure cooker.  People and companies are relying upon them.

I’ve also learned that not everyone gets into business to lead.  People fall in love with a job or a career and eventually grow into leadership positions.  Leading is an entirely separate job; a distinct responsibility. Leading has the most significant impact on the bottom-line of any company and on the lives of employees.  Like children depend on their parents, people depend on leaders to successfully manage their businesses so they have jobs when they wake each day.

I have had the privilege to be in the position of “leader” from my second year in this industry.  And for a long time, I was not great at it. My “workaholism” and drive to grow was a pain in the ass to my direct reports and to my managers. Luckily, I’ve had many leaders who helped me find my way.  I’ve experienced training that gave me tools to thrive as an individual and as a manager.

And I’ve encountered wonderful, brave people who were willing to take a chance and tell me what they honestly thought about me as a leader and manager.  And I listened and learned…and now I see the fruits of my labor. There is a long roster of former direct reports which are CEO’s, Executive or Senior Vice President of major corporations, entrepreneurs, and artists, who now lead their own teams bravely, with heart and humanity.  

I was told once by a very talented employee, that there was a rumor about me she wanted to share, that I had a reputation.  My immediate thought was OH SHIT…this can’t be good (could I be more of a fatalist?).  I braced myself.  She said, “Word on the street is that you breed leaders.”  (Insert sigh of relief followed by shock and awe).

What better pay-off than to be partially credited for someone’s success. To be told that through your leadership, you’ve moved others to lead.  That you are an influential part of the story of someone’s life. What a gift. What an honor.

To pay it forward, I am making it my business to thank every leader I had the privilege to work for and alongside…to dedicate this blog to be my public THANK YOU note on National Bosses Day.  To share my heartfelt thanks to the managers, leaders and my direct reports that have made an enormous impact on my life, who left an indelible mark on my career. I am humbly and eternally grateful for your investment in me.  You know who you are!!!

I also wanted to take this opportunity to share a few leadership lessons that my current and former leaders imparted on me throughout my 22-year career, in hopes of inspiring all of you!

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  • Leaders Don’t Need Titles.  Leading is not about the job or title you have but how you interact with people, take accountability, support others and drive business results.  Be the shepherd.
  • Insecurity is the bane of leadership. Yet it is pervasive in most companies, because humans lead companies.  People have years of experiences that cause their insecurity to surface at work.  For instance, while not graduating college fuelled my success, it also caused me to tax my team often pushing their limits, along with my own.  My insecurity drove me to be envious of other people’s successes. It was my weakness and my poison. Extract that poison from your life. Kill your inner saboteur and change your internal narrative. It will free you!
  • Lead Humanly.  Regardless of experience or credentials, what matters most in leadership is honesty, integrity, kindness, passion for what you do, support of others, empathy, guiding, caring and humility.
  • Bring YOU to work.  You are not one person at work and one person in the office.  Certainly, there are attributes you dial up or down based on your work environment, but when you bring the attributes that make you a good person in life to work, you will win people’s trust.  Be authentically and uniquely YOU!
  • Friendships are born at work. Let’s face it, we spend more time with our colleagues than our family and friends.  We share marriages, divorces, children, loss, health issues and so much more. Most of my best friendships were formed during the course of my career, and for that, I am very grateful.  My friends and colleagues are my witnesses, confidants, leaders, and co-conspirators. But be careful how and when you cross the line from friendly to friends. Not every person you work with wants to know about your life or party with you like its 1999.
  • Be kind to EVERYONE.  From the security guard, you pass every day, to the people who clean your office to the executive assistant of the President to your peers.  Build the tribe of people who challenge you, those you admire and those that make you laugh. They are the people who make offices run and companies succeed.  And you never know when they might be your boss or help you in a time of need.
  • Leading can be EXHAUSTING.  It is not for the weary.  You have to worry about your work, AND your teams work and their career path.  Know when to take a break and remember, no one is too powerful or important to ask for help.  Leaning on your team and sharing your vulnerability can be the difference between being seen as a leader or a boss.
  • Trust your team. Empower them. Your main job is to ask questions NOT to have the answers all the time.
  • Encourage failure.  Give them the rope to take chances but be the net to catch them and lift them up.  Support risk taking and teach them how to fail forward.
  • Never stop being a student. Approach your career with the same open mind and curiosity as you did school. Know that your team will teach YOU as much as you teach them.
  • Observe Leaders. You can learn what TO DO and what NOT TO DO from other styles of leadership. See their impact. Read their body language.  Learn how they impact the vector of a meeting and the energy of their employees. Listen to what is being said about them from peers and their team.
  • Assume Best Intentions.  Don’t take things so personally.  Never, ever forget you are dealing with human beings with complex emotions that face personal challenges that could impact their performance.
  • Use your Influence.  You can make a difference.  Sponsor young people. Mentor them.  The return on your investment will be tenfold.
  • Challenge the Status Quo.  You have the chance to impact culture, foster creativity and incite change.  Know your power and use it for good.
  • Invest in Training. For your team and yourself.  Never stop learning how to be better. One of the best examples was two years ago, I got an executive coach which included a 360 feedback survey. I learned more in six months than in the past six years.
  • Be Curious.  A Harvard study found that CQ (Curiosity Quotient) matched with EQ (Emotional Quotient) was more important in business and leadership than IQ.  
  • Bravely Ask Questions.  Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know the answer. Showing your vulnerability will give your team permission to do the same.  I can’t tell you how many meetings I walked out of and someone asked me to explain what the presenter was talking about. And I’m thinking to myself, why didn’t you ask in the meeting????  People fear looking silly or uninformed, and that goes back to insecurity.
  • You are Being WATCHED!  I mean it! But not in some stalker way…what I mean is that everything you do or say, and what you DON’T say is being observed.  Know that body language and tone matter to people, it actually matters more than what you say!
  • Invite Feedback.  Often! Ask people what they think of your leadership style.  Ask them to share their thoughts on your strengths and areas for improvement.  Ask your team what they need from you to succeed. Take constructive criticism and let it make you better.  If someone dares to share what they think, they intend to help you, not hurt you.
  • Know and Own Your Legacy.  And it has nothing to do with the sale you made or the business you won or the promotion you got.  All that will be forgotten a year from now. Your legacy lies with the people you affected, the lives you changed, the people you helped, the professionals you inspired to achieve their best self.  They are your legacy.
  • Say THANK YOU…to your team for their efforts, to the leaders who have inspired you or taught you something. To your parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, children, colleagues, even the guy you buy coffee from every morning…to anyone who has ever spent the time listening to you or offering sage advice or taking care of something you needed.  Leaders are all around us, and they should know how much they mean to you!

And DON’T be like me and wait for National Bosses Day to do it!

Xoxo

Cherry


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Cherry Maggiore is the proud single mom of her 9-year-old super-sassy daughter (aka Miss Sassy Pants or MSP) and 15-year-old pug baby (Tiki Barber); in addition to being an award-winning senior marketing executive at NBCUniversal.

Beside her side hustle as the Freak of Nurture, she also started a home design company after being inspired by renovating and designing her 1880’s home in NJ.

This insanely curious and passionate “multi-potentialite” can be found dancing the Argentinan tango, swing and Hustle every Saturday, cooking her family an Italian Sunday dinner, singing and air drumming at concerts or searching for her next adventure.

Gag Me with a (pink) Spoon!

BY: Jennifer Angarano-Ricci – “Ms. Happy, Alive & Built to Survive”

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Welcome to October- Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  But did you know that it’s also the awareness month for: Chiropractic Health, Dental Hygiene Month, Disability Employment, Domestic Violence, Halloween Safety, Health Literacy, Liver Awareness, Medical Librarians, Medical Ultrasound, Patient-Centered Care, Pharmacists, Physical Therapy, SIDS, Pregnancy and Infant Loss, “Talk About Your Medicines”, Down Syndrome, Fire Prevention, National Bullying Prevention, ADHD- And SO many others? I didn’t!  I knew about October being Pregnancy and infant loss, because my husband and I, unfortunately, carry the burden of that loss, and I knew about Breast Cancer Awareness because as soon as October 1st comes around, everything’s PINK!  Some even call it Pinktober…  so, what does all this pink mean?

Going pink for October and Breast Cancer Awareness can mean a number of things- mainly, that by wearing pink, you support breast cancer patients and survivors.  Also- and this is the important one to remember- by buying special edition pink items from companies, that those companies will donate a portion of your purchase towards breast cancer research, or funding mammograms and treatments.  PLEASE make sure when you buy something that’s suddenly pink in October that it says on the product that a portion of the sales will go to a breast cancer foundation, and if so, HOW much. Believe it or not- there are some places that just go pink for the uptake in sales…and that’s NOT cool.

Anyway- let’s get back to pink stuff.  Why IS stuff pink, anyway? The answer is:  In 1991, the Susan G. Komen Breast Foundation began handing out pink ribbons for participants in the New York City race for breast cancer survivors, and it just took off from there.  Nowadays- EVERYTHING’S pink- bracelets, shirts, pens, cups, scarves, sneakers- you name it- but how do breast cancer patients and survivors feel about all that pink?  

Well, as a breast cancer survivor, I have to honestly say that I have a love/hate relationship with the pink stuff.  As long as the company that’s advertising “pink” in October says that a portion of sales will be donated towards breast cancer research or some type of funding, I’m okay with it.  A pink ribbon on a box of cookies? Who cares. A pair of sneakers with a pink stripe on them? Go for it. Wearing pink shirts, tutus, bows, etc. to one of the many breast cancer walks?  You go, girl! But- a scarf with pink ribbons all over it? Meh. A pink and white t-shirt that reads “Save Second Base”- clever, but…NO. Anything pink that says anything to the tune of, “I kicked cancer’s ass”- Not so sure about that.  For me, I like certain things on the subtle side. I did, in fact, kick cancer’s ass, but I don’t want to wear a shirt proclaiming it- because I’m so much more than that one thing. I don’t want to wear pink ribbons all over me, because, as I mentioned above, there’s more to me than breast cancer, so I don’t want that to be my main identity.  And I’m not the only one. At least one of my “Pink Sisters” hates the whole “Pink” thing. She says, “I think it’s great that women find support in support groups and fundraisers and all of the pink things, but none of it was for me. I’m still very uncomfortable with it.”

Another Pink Sister says, “I don’t mind all the pink.  To me, it represents a focal point to remind women to take care of themselves and get their mammogram.  I only give to ACS or any foundation that includes money for research. Putting a pink ribbon on a beer bottle is ridiculous to me.  And I want to know how much of that purchase price is actually going to a research organization.”

For some of us, the attention to awareness is comforting, and supportive- and that is wonderful- but for some others, it’s uncomfortable.  And you know what? It’s okay either way.

Pink is pretty, but go behind the pink and get to the real thing- the awareness.  Breast Cancer affects 1 in 8 women, think about that. That’s A LOT of people. Make sure that the females in your lives are taking care of their general health, and their breast health.  Give to reputable organizations that take your money and put the bulk of it towards research and funding. Buy that pink shirt- but make sure you know where the money is going. Another Pink Sister gave this example, “[Company to be unnamed] has a pink fleece.  It costs $5 more than the non-pink. Only $4 of that extra cost goes to breast cancer. Why not all $5?” Support your friends going through this horrible disease, and let people support you if you’re going through it (maybe by buying each other pink bras? Hahahahaha).  

I leave you with my favorite example of using pink for breast cancer:

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Jennifer Angarano Ricci is a wife, mother & creative soul-searcher.  She is a musician, artist, and baker, and runs her home business Baked By Jen, in addition to running her local community theater group.  She loves to sing, create and help others, and tries to connect all three passions whenever possible.

Everything in its right place – the freezer section.

BY: Julie Slater – “The Lotus Flower”

For the past six months, I’ve had an issue with my right shoulder. Kind of came out of nowhere and I had tried a few things (doctors, chiropractor), but nothing worked. I made an appointment with an Orthopedist for an X-ray. His office was close to home, so I decided to walk. As I drifted down the street, I put my earbuds in and started zoning out a bit while listening to a mantra of a song – “Everything in its right place” by Radiohead.

I was totally in the moment and deep in thought. Very Zen-like. Feeling like my life WAS falling together – in its right place. Decisions I have made, although super scary, have felt spot on. Life was feeling and lookin’ good. I was even – dare I say –a little proud of myself.

Oh, silly prideful me.

This, of course, is exactly when I apparently missed a bump in the sidewalk and my body went flailing into the air and then SPLAT! onto the ground. Now, the fall itself probably wasn’t so bad (sure, a couple of scrapes), but THE SHOULDER. Oh my, terrible pain.

I composed myself and hobbled off to the doctor. Got some band-aids. And wondered what it all meant.

The X-rays came back fine. But I was diagnosed with “frozen shoulder.” Apparently, your shoulder can get inflamed, sometimes for no apparent reason. You stop using it as much because it hurts. Not using it makes it “freeze” up.

That’s all fine and good, but let’s back up a little, doc. What’s the bigger picture here? Why did I have that spill while in the zone of tranquility?? WHAT ABOUT EVERYTHING IN ITS RIGHT PLACE??!

Then it hit me. Is everything EVER in its right place – all at the same time? How can it be – when things are constantly moving and flowing? Nothing is permanent, dear Buddha.  And one thing is for sure, if we don’t keep moving – we freeze up.

This is one of the reasons I have started taking some chances. I’ve gone against the safe route and left a job that brought in some regular income to dedicate myself to a line of work that is anything but regular – voice work (commercials, audiobooks, etc.). I’ve made a clear intention that this will be my new life and darn it, I’m doing it.

But fear does try and rear his ugly head on occasion. In fact, I think I hear him knocking on my front door right now. Shhh. I’ve dimmed the lights and am keeping quiet, so he doesn’t think I’m home.

I’ve also decided to build my dream life from the inside out. And with that comes gratitude. I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal for more than two years now.

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I write down 10 things I’m grateful for (almost) daily. Some days my gratitude for “being alive” is as strong as my thankfulness for “coffee.”

Meditation has also been key. It gives me a few minutes to sit in my thoughts – whether they are super empowering ideas or just reaffirming ones about not being consumed by troubling thoughts.

It’s interesting how much the “unknown” can frighten us. Shake us to the core. There’s some part of us that wants to know exactly what is going to happen next. But how boring would that be?

I’m not going through this alone either. I’ve started a Leap-ers Club. Let’s call it, um, hmmmmm…The No Net Society?? (I like it.) The first rule in the NNS: (1) Yes, you can talk about it! (2) You must leap, no net.

My friend, Jaime, recently became a member. She just left LA with her fiancé and moved to Atlanta. She also bought a fixer-upper there that she is afraid is an insane money pit.

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We check in with each other to support one another’s leap. It’s our very own leap-ers support group. (The coffee at the meetings is delicious.)

She texted me that she found out her worst fears came true and the house she bought needs all new plumbing (amongst other things). I told her to take a deep breath and repeat after me:

“Oh, hi there, terrible problem. Welcome aboard. I’ve been waiting for you.”

And then I told her, “You got this!” And she certainly does. We handle what we need to handle. And we hurdle what we need to hurdle. It’s in our nature to keep moving. Stretching. Being.

One day I was anxiously staring into my own dark abyss of the unknown and she wrote back:

“Don’t ya feel, kinda more alive?”

And she’s right. Being stagnant is for suckas!

We have no idea how many days we have left on this earth and we certainly need to make the best of them. I get up every morning and get to feel what it’s like to go after a dream. And I get to stand in my belief that it’s all going to work out. Even if everything isn’t in its right place all the time – and some parts are frozen – everything is exactly where it needs to be.

Namaste.


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Julie Slater, aka THE LOTUS FLOWER, looooves music. Besides being a musician, you may have heard her DJing on top stations: 92.3 K-Rock in NYC as well as 100.3 The Sound & Alt 98.7 in Los Angeles. She also curated & hosted a new music/indie show called Out on a Limb on 88.5 FM in LA.

When she’s not at concerts, you can usually find her in the kitchen. And she has a slight obsession with deep, dark cabernets & a well-made Old Fashioned. Cheers!

How I Found Acceptance in Midst of Change

BY: Liv Mazz – “The Lone Teen”

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Change. A topic that has always frightened me, yet is inevitable in our world. As a thirteen-year-old, I’ve had my fair share of changes in my life. Early on, it was attempting to take care of my sick mother at eight, then adjusting to a new life without my mother. For a while, things finally began to calm down, but recently, 3 major life changes have occurred in my life. At the same time.
The new girlfriend, the new job and my brother moving out.
A few months ago I had the conversation with my dad, which I knew was coming, but wasn’t too eager about. The new girlfriend chat. At first, I was so excited and wanted to know all about her. I was happy to think of bringing this new person into my life. After seeing her and my dad together a few times, I began to realize a lot more emotion than I had anticipated was to come. The vision I had in mind was to immediately be okay with this and that would be that. But unfortunately, my fairy tale has yet to come true. I went into this situation not thinking of my own feelings, but just of my dad’s. I didn’t think about things like seeing her with my dad could glorify the fact that my mom isn’t here anymore. Things like a new person in my dad’s life = less time to spend with me.
Time-consuming changes brings me to the next adjustment, my dad’s new job. He used to work locally, but he recently started a new project prop mastering a TV show, shooting in Brooklyn. One thing I know from past experiences is working in the film business takes up a lot of time out of someone’s day. When I was younger, my dad did the same thing for a living, and he left before I woke up and came home when I was asleep. When my mom got sick, he decided to no longer work in the city to be closer to his family. Now that the circumstances are different, it only makes sense for him to go back to his old profession. But getting so used to having him there with me, then suddenly switching to seeing him 40 minutes per night is strange.
Not only is it different that my dad isn’t around very often, but the fact that my brother, Julian, is off at college is unbelievable. He has always been the person I go to with everything. I would run into his room before bed, and he’d just openly listen to every one of my problems. Even though he’s only in New York, I don’t have that same outlet that I used to when he was across the hall. I used to joke that after Julian leaves, the family will be in trouble. But now that it’s happening, it doesn’t seem so far from reality. I mean think about it. A father and an adolescent girl living by themselves. Things can get tense. Fights can occur. A lot.
I feel the reason this is all so hard is because my dad’s life is completely changing. My brother’s life is completely changing. Yet mine is staying completely still.
So how does a thirteen-year-old deal with all these changes at once? In lots of ways. I feel this is when I’m most separated from my peers. There are some ways I deal with these issues just like any other teenager deals with their problems – hang out with friends, watch movies, etc. Then again there are some ways I cope that I would guess most teens don’t relate to. If something’s bothering me so much that I just can’t brush off, I write poems. I personally don’t know many teens who keep poetry books in their drawers, like myself.  If things get too crazy for me to handle at home, sometimes I find myself running to my Aunt’s house for an escape.
Sometimes, when I’m struggling so much, I can’t help but think to myself,
“Can’t it all just disappear? All the change that’s happened in the past five years? Can’t things just go back to the way they used to be?”  Then I think of the wise words I once received from my aunt, my role model and fellow Daily Feels blogger, Cherry Maggiore aka “The Freak of Nurture” – “This will be both the best of you and the worst of you.”
These words mean so much because yes, it’s true I had to grow up faster than I should have, but then I think of how blessed I am that I’ll be able to handle all sorts of difficult situations, because of my current situation. It’ll only make me stronger and wiser in the years to come and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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Liv Mazz, aka The Lone Teen, is a suburban 13-year-old living with her father, brother and Havanese puppy. She is an eighth grader who enjoys spending time with friends in downtown Westfield NJ.

When not hanging out with her friends, you can find her dancing up a storm at her longtime dance school, running lines to audition for her next show or singing a ballad on stage. Liv also loves to spend time with her giant Italian family by enjoying a Sunday dinner and great conversation. She cannot wait to begin sharing her story as a not-so-average teen and is super excited to be a brand new addition to The Daily Feels.

The Wisdom of Laughter

BY: Nancy Fraioli – “Queen of Ageless Wisdom”

This is what I know about laughter…it makes us feel good! I also agree with Lord Byron, “Always laugh when you can, it is a cheap medicine!” I am not in the medical field; I can only relate to you all that I’ve read about “laughter” and how our bodies, minds, souls, depend on the rewards of deep laughter.

From a medical perspective, laughter is a stress reducer; it triggers the release of the endorphins, (the body’s natural feel-good chemicals). Our endorphins give us a sense of well being and can temporarily relieve pain. Laughter strengthens our immune system, boosts our moods to good, diminishes pain and protects us from the damaging effects of stress. Yes, laughter does lighten our heavy load(s).

Laughter has many social benefits as well. It strengthens relationships and attracts us to others. Laughter can enhance teamwork, promote group bonding and help defuse conflict. Like orange and lemon zest add flavor to a favorite dish, laughter increases and enhances enjoyment in our lives. Did you know that if you laugh, ten or fifteen minutes a day, you can burn about forty calories! Hey, not a lot but every little bit helps! So, we can safely say, laughter can lighten anyone’s load! While I agree that laughter is a great muscle relaxer, I take exception to an article I read that laughter can prevent heart disease! Here’s where I take another path! I want to share with you some “real life stories” that I’ve lived through and about the beautiful laughter that I experienced for thirty-three years. What better place than The Daily Feels to reveal ‘the feels’ of laughter!

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” Victor Hugo

I married a man that had the gift to make people, of all ages, laugh on a scale like none other! He loved being with his older brothers, sisters and my family. They were his go-to audience as well as The Knights of Columbus and golfing friends. He told more stories and always ended on a high note…..feel good laughter. He was blessed with the gift of laughter and humor and shared it with everyone!

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On October 1, 1987, Larry, myself and Larry’s sister and husband traveled to Italy to visit the country with Pirrello Tours and after the tour, go on to visit Larry’s oldest sister and family. The fiasco began at JFK and just continued. I relate all of these happenings to you via my written memories (notes)! I’ll just share our entrance to Milan’s airport and the Pirello group tour waiting for us! Waiting..waiting..! We seemed to be always last! Anyway, after we ‘finally’ got our luggage, we proceeded to look for the “YELLOW BUS” as we were told to do! We looked until we were weary-eyed! No yellow bus! Can you imagine how the people on the yellow bus must have felt? Waiting!? Already, we were forty-five minutes late! Suddenly, throughout the Milan airport comes an announcement; FRAIOLI, over and over again! We looked at each other and continued our hunt for the yellow bus! Finally, a big blue bus pulls up; the driver looks at us with anger and his three right fingers bunched upward said, “Sei FRAIOLI?” I gave Larry a little pinch and whispered, they’re not happy! He looked at the three of us and said, ”don’t say a word!” So, when Larry got on the bus, he asked all the tour people, “we were told to look for a yellow bus, now does this look like an “F…..ing yellow bus” to you? NO, it’s a blue bus with a yellow sign!” Give me a break!!! Well, all hell broke loose! We found our laughing fun friends quickly and all went well! Our entrance into Italy!

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One Fall Saturday, Larry and I were going to go visit his older sister and family up in New Britain, Connecticut. Our daughter, Paula, had been invited to a party so didn’t come with us. It was one of those gorgeous New England Fall days. Mary, his sister, always had coffee waiting for us. Now, you have to picture my brother-in-law….from Italy, very strict about how women should dress and act! Mary, his wife was a very pretty woman, always dressed picture perfect! Even when she cooked, canned or worked in the garden! When Larry came to town, his sister always invited the Italian relatives to visit; they loved my husband! He entertained them with his jokes, stories in Italian! While I was with Mary, in her basement kitchen, showing me how many tomatoes they had canned, Larry was with all the friends, holding court in the upstairs kitchen. When I walked in, he was sitting on a stool, in the middle of the room, telling ‘the group’ Italian stories and they were laughing uproariously and loving it! Since I couldn’t understand their dialect, I was at a loss! Oh yes, they knew that my Italian roots were Southern! You see, they were from North Italy, close to Rome and they frowned upon the Calabrian accent. But it was the laughter that united us! They were all very kind and appreciative that my husband was genuinely interested in each and every one of them. They too loved to laugh! Laughter is a language everyone understands and is infectious.

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When we returned to Harrison, our town, we had to pick up our daughter Paula. She said she felt sick and we just looked at each other. She really was sick and we got home just in time for the ‘bathroom’ visits! We bedded her down and in an instant, I became very ill! Larry was beside himself! He said you could not have caught anything from Paula this fast!!! Maybe sympathy pains? Anyway, I passed out and hit the floor. He’s banging on my chest to revive me and telling me not to get on the bed! He was worried I’d mess it up! Now, he was frightened and told me he was calling the Harrison Police. He thought we should go to the hospital, meanwhile, he’s running around hiding all my purses, for fear we might be robbed! In his hour of panic, his humor was trying to save him!

The madness pursued! We, three piled in the back of the police car. The car felt like it was 200 degrees and they had the heat on the highest position, making us feel far worse than we were. Thank God I thought to take two large towels in case we needed them! We did and the cops went zooming faster. I think we took all of North street on two wheels. The curves did not help! The Harrison cops could not wait to drop us off! My thought was: they were afraid we had a communicable disease! A ride from hell! Dump us, they did!

The next scene was even better! Two Dr.’s met us and the one with the corkscrew white frizzy hair asked my husband…so what’s wrong with her? Oh no, I thought…wrong question! Yup, Larry’s response, “If I knew that, we wouldn’t be here?” I asked Larry to take Paula home; take care of her. I’ll be fine. I stayed there for four days. They couldn’t figure it out. But in the quiet of my mind, I went over that day’s events. We had clams, sauce, and pasta! I deduced that I may have had a tainted clam! Till this day I’m not a fan of clams! When Larry retold this story, many times I may add, he embellished it, added expletives and received accolades galore! It was scary but Larry made it sound like a page out of the Ralph Kramden storybook.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my dear Ohio cousins, Chuck, and Buck who also adored Larry. As a trio, they were unbeatable with their antics! They, too, had the gift of making people laugh. Buck was more humorous, very very dry-witted; as dry as the last leaf of Autumn! Chuck was more like Larry, a brilliant storyteller! When these three got together, it was like going to a Laugh-in concert! Our Ohio reunions were always at Buck’s farm and they were humdingers! I’ll never forget one of Buck’s comments….after we had all filled ourselves with good food, drink, and merriment we wanted to pitch in and help clean up! I asked Buck where I could put the garbage? He, nonchalantly said, …let the ants drag it out in the morning.

“We are all here for a spell, get all the good laughs you can.” Will Rogers

Chuck visited us in Harrison many, many times. He was a paid fireman in Ohio but he had a lot of time off and worked other jobs. One of which was delivering busses and vehicles for Superior Coach! On one visit, Chuck had to deliver a white bus and he stayed overnight. This particular bus was going to the Middle East. On another visit, since he had a late start and asked us not to wait up, we left the door unlocked, (the days when we could safely do so), and I’ll see you at breakfast. At breakfast, we chatted and Chuck wanted to know if I had a makeup kit and could he use it? Of course, but by now I was wondering why?? I mean he didn’t use makeup!! Well, I want to apply it to Larry’s face and take him for a ride in the vehicle I have in your driveway! Oh oh! We ran out to the driveway.  Yup, I couldn’t believe it!!! A hearse!!! His idea was to parade Larry thru town! Not one neighbor called!? Weren’t they wondering?

My daughter just reminded me of the best story of all! The night we were invited to our friends home, the Accocello’s, to jar hot peppers with other friends, the Gaudelli’s, the Marino’s and us. When we arrived our hosts explained to us how this was all going to work. As the jar is passed, add the peppers, oil, condiments, and cap! We had to wear plastic gloves for a couple of reasons: sanitary and burning the hands! The peppers were HOT! After a while, we ladies got tired so we went upstairs to prepare a midnight feast!

Food, wine, beer, and coffee! The guys joined us. We all sat down to this lovely table; Larry was missing! In one minute he flew up the stairs and grabbed the back of my shirt, yanked me and said, “let’s go…now!” I was in shock! Why?

The guys just looked at each other, then to me and said, Larry didn’t wear the gloves and he was just in the bathroom! He’s burning!!! Do you need a detailed picture? We got home in minutes; flew through two red lights! When we got home he told me the area and how he was on fire! I thought, perhaps, cool compresses!! Forget about that! I had him lay on our living room rug, on a white sheet with a cool towel. I called up the Accocello’s and Paul Marino got on the phone. Nancy, you have to get a tall glass of milk and dunk the burning part into the milk!!!! Larry was suffering but I was hysterical, actually doubling over with laughter! So, Paul, I said,” you mean like a donut?” He melted to the floor with laughter!! Well, we tried that! It took a long time for relief to set in. Finally, I just had to ask, why in God’s name did you not wear the gloves??? He hated the gloves! You are unbelievable! Dunkin’ donuts took on a new meaning!

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There is an arsenal of teenage stories as well as neighborhood stories. He and his neighbor friends grew up together and in and out of each other’s homes. The “Strawberry Patch Kids”… The Saturday night movie episode; where you plop your feet on a rail which prevents you from falling flat on your face, well, it happened. The guys and their heavy feet loosened the rail. When Nini, the skinniest girl, took her seat and placed her feet on the rail, it was so loose it fell out, clanged to the floor! The guys scattered to the exits. (That’s how they got in)!

Walter’s hot dog story; their high school was across from Walter’s and the students were not allowed to leave the school grounds. The skinniest kid got elected to get pushed thru the bathroom window to buy hot dogs! Guess who? Larry!

The exception I took at the beginning of the story, that laughter prevents heart disease; I think Larry was born with it. Maybe his laughter kept him afloat for his fifty-six years! Larry, Chuck, Buck, Bob, Peter, and Paul; they all left the party too early. But, they were their own party! If you knew Larry or of him, you may have your own ‘Larry story!’

Larry died instantly. He spent his last day on earth doing his two favorite things; golfing and laughing! I’d like to think that God was there waiting to fetch him and said, “I’m not the …. yellow bus” but I’ve got a few golf courses up there! In memory of Larry, whether you knew him or not, keep laughing, it’s the best medicine there is and it makes you feel good!

A year later, Larry was honored with a luncheon at the Hartsdale Golf Course. My cousin Bobby, the gentleman who played golf with Larry on his last day, escorted me. When we arrived, Bobby explained that this is an informal luncheon, so you pick the place where we should sit! I did. A lovely spot overlooking the course. Midway through lunch, I asked Bobby “where was Larry when he passed?” Bobby looked at me and said, “where you’re sitting!” Yes, Larry had the last laugh!


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Nancy Fraioli is a retired Benefits Asst. from Town/Village of Harrison, NY. She’s alive and well, residing in Sarasota with her daughter and family and enjoying the Floridian lifestyle daily.

Her passions are writing, reading books of philosophy, children’s stories and poetry. Her deep love is living, learning and sharing how faith, meditation, and music guide her daily life. And she loves to lunch with the ladies!

 

Why Is It Great To Live In Harrison?

BY: Janis Gaudelli (with special guests)

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Today, Harrison residents of all ages celebrate the 41st “It’s Great to Live in Harrison Day”.  This annual celebration is one of my most vivid memories of growing up in Harrison.  My friends and I would watch the parade in front of The Family Discount Center, and I would anxiously wait for the HHS Band and Majorettes to strut down Halstead Avenue—to me, they were the highlight of the parade!  My friends and I would then make our way up to the station park where the “Great to Live in Harrison” festivities came to life.  Walking up the Harrison Avenue hill, you could smell the delicious foods prepared in the park by Harrison community members: pizza fritta, meatballs, teriyaki chicken skewers, candy apples, and more, just wafting through the air.  The noise level added to the excitement as laughter, screams and joyous conversations echoed throughout the park.  Kids were everywhere, eating, getting their faces painted, square-dancing & spraying their friends with silly-string.  Fun was had by all and the fondest memories were made.

When my teenage years hit, this born-and-raised Harrisonite became bored with what Harrison had to offer.  I was 16 years old, and I began to get the itch. I wanted to (and did) break loose and explore other places, so my friends and I escaped to the surrounding towns of Port Chester, Rye, New Rochelle, and White Plains to seek out fun and adventure.  That’s when I began to wonder, “What exactly is so GREAT about living in Harrison?”

Once I got to college, Harrison became just a place that “I grew up in” and I was finally jumping ship.  After graduating, I moved out to Scottsdale, Arizona.  I lived there for three years before I felt an indescribable pull to return to Harrison. 

A little over a year after being back in Harrison, I once again got the itch to leave, and I moved to New York City.  You want to talk about fun and adventure?  NYC is the breeding ground for all that and more.  After living in NYC for eight years, I’d had my fix of fun and landed an opportunity to move to Los Angeles.  I had always wanted to see what it was like on the left coast, so I jumped at the chance. I fell in love with those snowless winters and the SoCal approach to work-life balance.  I honestly thought I would never leave, but 7 years later that familiar gravitational pull took over me again. This time, though, I was pregnant and waiting to deliver a boy into the world, so I began to seriously consider how and where I wanted to raise him.  Living in all the places that I had, I realized how important and rare east coast values truly are.  That was my motivation behind leaving Los Angeles and moving back to Harrison.  Here’s the thing: all three times I have returned to Harrison, it welcomed me back with open arms.  That’s when you know you’ve returned home.

My son is now 7 years old and a student at Harrison Avenue School.  Now that I’m a parent, raising a child here, I have a developed a new lens on this town, and I see why people would want to live here.  I now know why my parents raised four kids in Harrison.  It’s because Harrison is so much more than just a town in Westchester.  That’s what I was overlooking, really.  I was moving away from a ‘place,’ one that didn’t serve a restless soul like mine.  But what pulled me back time and time again, were the people.  It’s the people who inhabit this town that make it great to live in Harrison.  My blog today is made up of some of those people, true Harrisonites who were born and raised here, and some who never left.  I asked them to be a part of this blog, to celebrate the town we grew up in together on “It’s Great to Live in Harrison” day.  Each person was asked a simple question, “what’s your fondest memory of growing up in Harrison?” and here’s what they had to share:

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Janis Gaudelli is The Founder of The Daily Feels.  She started this passion project to reveal the magic behind storytelling, and how truth-based narratives bring people together in the most heart-warming of ways.  Fascinated by soul, depth, intellect, raw truths and rebellion with a cause. Often captivated by the awe of nature: star gazing, moon manifesting, sunset chasing, waves crashing, crickets singing. Fiercely curious about the inner-workings of the human psyche… she professionally studies human behavior for a living.  Forever proud and grateful for being a mom to the force that fuels her life: her 7-year-old son, and greatest professor, Kellan.

FOLLOW JANIS AND THE DAILY FEELS TRIBE @:  FACEBOOK & INSTAGRAM

 

 

Reveal the Feels: “What Advice Would You Give To Your 16-year-old Self?

 

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REVEAL THE FEELS” is a video-series where some of our bloggers unveil their filter-less thoughts & opinions on a specific topic. This week’s topic is: “What Advice Would You Give To Your 16-year-old Self?”.  Check out what Julie, JB, and Janis reveal.

*special thanks to JB McCann (The Phoenix) for her incredible editing skills ❤

Raising a Boy in the #MeToo Era

BY: Janis Gaudelli – “Champion of Truths, Unicorns & AWE-tism”

It was around this time last year, when we heard the reckoning call of women around the world rising-up and bravely confessing to being sexually assaulted by men in power.  It began with three women who first exposed Harvey Weinstein, and then millions followed suit with their own experiences. That is when the world became woke to the #MeToo movement.

Since then, we have seen the matter of sexual harassment and assault enter the public consciousness.  We have experienced corporations putting new policies and training in place.  We have witnessed the fall of industry giants.  We bore witness to women everywhere coming together at marches, raising their voices in revolt, and stepping into their divine power.

But where does this revolutionary call to action leave men?  Many of you might be thinking, “Who cares, they’re fine,” but I have to disagree.  I study human behavior for a living, and what I am observing is a gender that has lost its way, left compass-less in this new age of masculinity.  Men are confused, to say the least, what with all the mixed messages about what this new era expects of them.  Let me be clear, I am not defending the appalling acts of harassment made by countless men in our culture.  I don’t subscribe to the “boys will be boys” mentality either, however, if we’re wanting change, we need to pay closer attention and start thinking about how we choose to raise this next generation of men.

I am not here to dissect a movement or to speak to the gender wars or the ongoing social issues that plague us.  I am here because I am raising a boy, and since the #MeToo movement emerged, people have asked me THE question.  The question many parents of boys have possibly pondered (I know I have): “How do you navigate raising a boy in the #MeToo era?”

Here’s my short answer:

“Kellan has a huge advantage because his world is predominantly powered by women. Let’s start with the fact that his mom is someone who decided to forego the man and have a child on her own.  So, even before he was the size of a pea, his future was intentionally female-led.  He grew in the uterus of a strong, independent woman.  He was birthed in an operating room surrounded by a lineage of female warriors (my mom, my sister, and my niece). Ever since then, the dominant figures in his life are the fiercest dames I know.  Kellan understands, respects, and loves women.  However, I am aware that he needs masculine models to grow into a well-rounded version of himself.  I am extremely selective when it comes to the men Kellan watches, observes & learns from.  I make sure those men are extraordinary examples of good human beings.  I look to see how these men view women, love women, and raise women.  I know that these men are truly the ideal models to craft Kellan’s masculine qualities and, therefore, I have no doubt that Kellan is going to grow up to be a good man.  And yet, I would be lying if I didn’t think about the type of world this good man will be navigating through one day.

And that’s where I leave it.  Because future thinking does no one any good– especially this anxious chick.  I can’t predict the future, and I have no control over what’s to come.  The only thing I can control is continuing to raise an extraordinary human with a solid set of values.

That response usually satisfies inquiring minds and the conversation moves along… at least, until this past week. As we all watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh give their testimonies, a curious friend of mine called me and passionately posed a scenario: “What if 20 years from now, a woman accuses Kellan of sexual harassment.  What do you do?  Do you believe her because she’s a woman?  This could happen, Jan.”

Honestly, I had never thought of that scenario because I never would have thought I needed to.  I am not one who gets caught up in the ‘what ifs’ because, again, we have no control whatsoever over what will happen in the future.  But her scenario kept on replaying in my head, and then it made its way into my journal, and then became the subject matter of this blog.  I started to think about how and what I am doing to prepare my son for a world that is so very different than the one I grew up in.  I gave some serious thought to the values I am instilling in Kellan and how I want to raise him to live in a world where he’s part of the solution, not the problem.  We raise our kids by telling them what not to do, and I believe that could actually be part of the problem.  I thought about how I can challenge that approach by transforming it into what to do.  How can I teach Kellan about who he should be and how he should act, and what it means to be a good human?

So there I was, rejiggering my parenting style and creating a TO-DO list, amending how I guide, instruct, and express this new approach to Kellan.  Abolishing the “what NOT to do” and communicate “what TO do” to be proud of the person he’s becoming.  I always try to lead with the good.

Here’s a first go of the “To-Do List” I have made for Kellan:

  • Feel all the feels, be vulnerable, and emote. There is great strength and dignity in expressing how you feel.  Be compassionate towards yourself and others.  Embrace your full humanity.
  • Ask for help. Life gets heavy, sometimes unbearably so.  Seek out the assistance you need to lighten the load.  Destroy the stigma.
  • Respect yourself and others. Understand boundaries.  Be mindful of your words.  “No” is an answer.
  • Sharpen your communication skills. Be crystal clear when speaking with others so nothing is misinterpreted. When the conversation is really important, pick up the phone or set a face-to-face meetup.
  • Be courteous. Be aware of those who need extra help – the elderly, those with special needs/disabilities, pregnant women, etc.  Hold open doors, give up your seat for those in need.  Be of assistance. Ask how you can help?
  • Do YOU. Be the Shepherd.  Stand up for all that you believe in, even if you’re the only one standing.  Make your own decisions.  Have your own opinion.  Become informed and be heard.
  • Surround yourself with great examples of good humans. Choose your friends wisely because your friends represent you…all your actions, all your thoughts and all the things you aspire to be.  Make sure they inspire and encourage you to be your best self.
  • Keep your mind and heart open. Form relationships with people of all races, sexualities, genders, etc. based on respect and mutual admiration.  Believe in the equality and autonomy of all.  Lead with love, you’ll never lose.

As life happens, and as Kellan grows, I will add to and update this list.  But for now, we focus and practice what I documented out.  I say “we” because I know raising a child means living as an example and knowing we promote what we permit.  This is my to-do list as well.  I will live it matter-of-factly and because of that, so will Kellan.

I know we are living in turbulent times, divided by social issues, race, gender, etc., but I believe the result of all this will breed the next generation of good human beings.  From where I stand, the future looks bright.


janisbiopicJanis Gaudelli is The Founder of The Daily Feels.  She started this passion project to reveal the magic behind storytelling, and how truth-based narratives bring people together in the most heart-warming of ways.  Fascinated by soul, depth, intellect, raw truths and rebellion with a cause. Often captivated by the awe of nature: star gazing, moon manifesting, sunset chasing, waves crashing, crickets singing. Fiercely curious about the inner-workings of the human psyche… she professionally studies human behavior for a living.  Forever proud and grateful for being a mom to the force that fuels her life: her 7-year-old son, and greatest professor, Kellan.

FOLLOW JANIS AND THE DAILY FEELS TRIBE @:  FACEBOOK & INSTAGRAM

Meeting The Tall Boy

BY: Debbie Arace – “Ray of Sunshine, Hope & Laughter”

I’ve learned that humor and faith are two essentials in my life.  They are the adhesive that keeps me from shattering into a million pieces.  I’d like to share some of the humorous situations that have occurred in my life since I met and fell in love with my husband of almost 44 years.

I married into a genuine Italian family and got more then I bargained for.  I got Archie and Edith Bunker Italian-Style, and Mamas Family from the “Carol Burnett Show” all rolled up as In-laws.  Here is how it all began:

Meeting The Tall Boy

I should have known from my first meeting and dinner with my boyfriend’s family that I was about to embark on a journey of pure hysteria.  At 16, I really had no idea what I was in for.

I’ll start at the beginning.  On October 8, 1970, I had planned to attend a Battle of the Bands at my high school.  My ex-boyfriends’ band was going to be performing there.  The plan was that we were going to get back together that night.  At least that was our plan.  Little did I know that God had other plans for me.  I watched as my ex-set up his drums, and I reminisced about all the times he would sing to me.  Our song was “Something” by the Beatles.  He would always gaze into my eyes, and get lost there whenever he sang it to me.  It made me feel special, and it pissed the band leader off.  I was a distraction he didn’t want in his band.  That band leader wound up leaving the band and starting a different one, which was also going to be performing at the Battle of the Bands that night.  In the course of my daydreaming, I casually looked up and saw this tall boy walking through the doorway.  I turned to two girls that were standing near me, and I said:  “See that boy over there, I’m gonna marry him”.  They looked at me like I was crazy and I too thought I was crazy.  I didn’t even know this tall boy.  Why would I say I was going to marry someone I didn’t know?  I walked over to my girlfriend and pointed out my future husband.  I told her I was going to marry him.  She responded by saying:  “Who Augie”?  I said:  “You know him?  Introduce me to him”!   She told me he was the keyboard player in her boyfriends’ band.  Her boyfriend just happened to be the band leader that left my exes band.  When my girlfriend told him that I wanted to meet Augie he got really mad.  He did not want me captivating another band member and jeopardizing another band.  Little did he know that I was going to be a strong structure in his life for the next few years.  Let’s just say I was not one of his favorite people.  Sadly that band leader wound up committing suicide 6 years later.  I doubt I had anything to do with that.

Augie and I met that night.  We hit it off immediately.  He was corny in a charming way.  We spoke for a while, we even had a conversation about God, which made me like him even more.  He asked for my number and said he’d call.  I drove home with my ex after the Battle of the Bands was over.  He sensed that there was a spark brewing between Augie and I.  I told him that I didn’t think he and I would be getting back together because I had just met the boy I was going to marry.  I know I hurt him, which made me feel terrible but it was out of my control.  I just knew I was going to spend my life with this talł guy. That’s when I began my roller coaster ride of a lifetime, where humor and faith would take up permanent residency.

Augie called the next day and told me he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.  A month later he asked me to go steady by giving me a napkin filled with nuts.  I looked quizzically at both him and the napkin.  He said:   “I’m nuts about you.  Will you go steady with me”?  Corny, yet endearing.  Of course, I said yes.  A couple of days later he gave me another napkin.  This time the napkin held a beautiful gold cross and chain.  He told me he wanted me to always remember that God had brought us together.  He put the necklace with the cross around my neck.  I cherished and wore it daily.  This guy was a definite keeper.  As our relationship moved on, Augie thought it might be time to introduce me to his family.  I was nervous, but he reassured me that it would be fine.  Based on the fact that our phone conversations were always being interrupted by his mom yelling at him to get off the phone with me, I felt certain that she didn’t like the idea that her son was dating me.  My instinct was right.

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Meeting the Fam

When an American girl of Italian descent (third generation American), dates an American born Italian boy whose parents are straight off the boat from Italy, worlds collide.  Lives will be changed.  The evil eye will be given.  I think it’s safe to say that like the band leader, my boyfriends’ mother was not particularly fond of me. She hadn’t even met me yet but apparently, I didn’t meet her criteria.  A.  I wasn’t a real Italian.  B.  My parents were divorced.  C.  Her son was too distracted by me.  D.  I wasn’t a real Italian.  I could add more but you get the gist of it.  I was doomed.  The day came around when I was going to meet his family.  I was petrified.  I called my grandmother and told her I was going to meet my boyfriends’ parents.  She gave me some advice and told me to call her when I got home.  She wanted to know how it went.

I arrived at his home and was greeted by the most delicious aroma of food coming from his apartment.  The perfect icebreaker.  I’d compliment his mother’s food.  A great way to win her over. As I entered the apartment, there she stood.   Four foot nothing with the strength of a lioness protecting her cub.  She gave me the once-over of disapproval but was very hospitable.  My necklace caught her eye.  She looked at it and gave me a dirty look (I found out years later that her dear son had borrowed it from her jewelry box without permission.  It was sent to her from a relative in Italy.).  Before she could say anything, his dad entered the room.  He was very friendly and cautiously welcoming.  Their names were Catherine and Vito.  Out of respect, I called them by their surname.  Mr. & Mrs. Arace.  Respect, that’s a good way of showing I’m not a bad person. Complimenting her cooking skills and being respectful was not enough to win his mom over. This was not going to be an easy sell for me.

Whatever she was baking in the oven I’m sure was going to taste amazing, so I made it a point in showing interest in learning how to cook like she did (That cooking like her, never happened).  We started dinner with antipasto followed by pasta, then gravy meat, salad, potatoes, peas, roast beef, and chicken.  A casual, typical Sunday Italian feast…  everything was beyond delicious.  There was one thing left to be served.  It was the food that had greeted me at the door with its delicious aroma.  Augie told me it was one of his moms’ specialties.  I couldn’t wait to taste it and compliment her on it.  Out of the oven and onto the table it came.  I stared down at it in horror.  There were heads with eyes staring up at me from the table.  What the heck was going on?!  I tried to keep my composure, as both my boyfriend and his father began eating the eyeballs and the brains of this creature.  What was it?  Who was it?  Who were these people I was dining with?  His mother began to put one of the heads onto my plate.  I said I was full.  She gave me the evil eye.  I told her I had no room for another bite of her delicious food.  I didn’t know what was worse, her giving me the evil eye or the dead eyes staring up at me from the plate.  I wanted out of this house.  As I watched my boyfriend chewing on the brains I knew I would never kiss him again.  I told him I forgot I had to go help my grandmother.  I helped clean up then I excused myself and left.  Aug walked me halfway home, and I told him I needed to call my grandmother so he could go back home now.  He left without a kiss and I stopped into the local luncheonette to call my grandmother.  I  walked into the phone booth, shut the door, called my grandmother and immediately began to cry.  My sobbing made her think that his parents didn’t like me.   I told her they seemed nice.  I said I felt as though his mom thought I wasn’t good enough for him. But that wasn’t why I was upset.  I then proceeded to tell her that this boy I was going to marry and his parents were cannibals.  They ate the heads of people.  She became hysterical laughing and assured me they were not.  Those were not the heads of people.  They were calf heads.  (Gah boots sell)  an Italian delicacy.  She eased my mind a little, but I was sure thát I could never kiss my boyfriend again.  That didn’t last long.  One look at him and I forgot all about the heads.

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Meeting Mama Non (Nash)

The love of my life couldn’t wait for me to meet his grandmother.  He adored her, and she him.  She alternated living with her children.  It was his families turn to have her stay with them, so he brought me to meet her.  He was really taking me to his house to make out with me in private, but he said it was to meet Mama Non.  He said she spoke no English.  All I had to do was nod and answer yes to anything she said.  That’s easy enough.  No problem.  We walked into his apartment and there in the little hallway sat Mama Non.  She had a rosary in one hand, and a large butcher knife in the other.  I guess she figured that either way she was protected.  He introduced me to her, and I proceeded to answer her questions with smiles and very happy yes’.  She looked at me with a big grin, raised her eyeballs in approval, grabbed his crotch, gave me a wink, and motioned us away from her. I thought that was odd.  What I didn’t know, was that she had a very playful demeanor when it came to my boyfriend.  I asked him what she said to me.  He said, she asked me if I had sex with him, I said yes.  She asked if it was good, I said yes and she asked if I was pleased with his package and I had kept shaking my head and saying yes, yes, yes.  He set me up.  I wanted to kill him.  No, I had not had sex with him.  He was lucky I wanted to kiss him after the cannibal situation.  I had no idea what kind of package he had, but I was quite sure that if I got my hands on Mama Nons’ knife, he wouldn’t have one for long.  From that moment on, anytime we would cut class to go to his house, and Mama Non was there she’d give me a wink and a smile then smack him in the crotch.  She knew her grandson, and she knew that I loved him.

One of the funniest stories I ever heard about Mama Non was when she first came from Italy.  My husbands family was full of colorful characters.  One Sunday evening after dinner, some of the cast of characters were sitting in the living room getting ready to watch the western show, “Bonanza”, or as they referred to it “Bownanz”.  Mama Non was new to the concept of television. When she saw the horses, she was fascinated by how they were able to fit in this small box.  At some point during the show, one of the men sitting on the couch passed some deadly gas near Mama Non.  She thought it was the horses.  She believed those horses were alive and well, and living in the TV.  Smellavision ahead of its time.  Ha, ha.  I grew to love Mama Non.  She was quite a character herself.

Marrying into the Family

Augie and I dated for 4 years before getting married.  He broke up with me twice during that time.  He was young and had a wandering eye. Let’s face it, he was a guy doing what guys do.  Did it hurt?  More than you know.  Did it affect me?  How could it not?  Could I forgive him”? Yes.  Could I forget?  Never.  In my hurt, I got even which is something that haunts me to this day.  I hated myself for betraying myself just to get even.  Faith in God became my refuge. I knew God brought us together, so I relied on Him to keep us together.  We got through the trauma of the breakups, and he proposed to me.  We set the wedding date for  April 5, 1975.  We booked the Riviera Country Club in New Rochelle, planned our bridal party (22 in total) and I picked out my dress.  We were on our way.  His mom wasn’t as happy as we were.  She still had her doubts about me.  She thought I’d either destroy or divorce her son.  I was a product of divorce, so divorce was not part of my marriage vocabulary.  As our wedding date grew closer, I began to have doubts.  What if we weren’t meant to be together?  Maybe we weren’t good for each other.  I got scared.  I didn’t want to end up in a bad relationship.  I certainly did not want to bring children into this world, and have them possibly experience the trauma of divorce.  Maybe I should back out.  I prayed to God and expressed my deepest fears to Him.  I asked for a sign to let me know that we would be okáy.  Shortly after that, I suspected I might be pregnant. Could this be the sign that we’d be okay (Religious people will say no, God doesn’t condone premarital relations.  I knew in my heart, that the moment I became intimate with Augie, there would never be another man in my life.  I would never feel for another, what I felt for him.  That commitment, as far as I was concerned, was my bond before God).?  We went to the hospital to confirm that I was pregnant.  Back then they called it the rabbit test.  I took the test.  The rabbit died.  I was indeed pregnant. Now what?  I did not want to start off this marriage by being pregnant.  What about his mother?  Oh dear God, this was not a good sign.  I looked to the young man I loved for guidance, and he said let’s go for pizza.  We’re about to have a baby, and he wants pizza!  He probably thought it was gonna be his last meal.  When his mother found out, she was going to kill us both.  How in the world were we going to tell her?  We decided to make it a family affair.  We called his cousin Gerry, who called in the big guns: Tisabelle.  Aunt Isabelle was the head matriarch of la Familia.  If anyone could save us from death, it was her.  Aug, cousin Gerry, and I met at Tisabelles house to plan the strategic move.  Tisabelle was going to invite Catherine and Vito over for dinner, and shock the crap out of them in a very unsuspicious way.  The day came for Aunt Isabelle to make her move.  I don’t remember exactly, but I think it went something like this:

Isabelle:  “Caterina, I tinka maybe Augie and Dehbie shoulda gotta married now. I no tinka they shoulda wait tilla April”.

Caterina:  “No,  I no evens wanna dem to getta married then.  Why you wanna dem a getta married now.  Whatsa wrongs witha you”.

Isabelle:  I no know, maybe shesa preganin”.

Caterina:  Whya me.  Why she makea the prega”?

First of all, I no makea the prega by myself.  Her son had a lot to do with it.  Somehow it was all my fault.

You get the gist of it.  Things we’re not gonna go well at all.  And they didn’t!

Two things I must tell you: First, I write the broken Italian as I hear it.  Second, if you want to know more about how we got past my pregnancy, my sidekick Augie and his fun parents Caterina and Veeduch, as I lovingly call them, you are going to have to continue checking in to The Daily Feels.

Stay tuned for more of my soap opera life and find out why I need humor and faith to survive.

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debbie

Married 44 years to my hubby, whose purpose in life is to prevent me from getting through the “Pearly Gates”.  Mother of two, Nanna of four loving granddaughters and retired secretary aka administrative assistant.  I went to the University of Hard Knocks where I received my Doctorate.  My thesis is titled:  ‘How To Survive Life’s Trials Without Killing Yourself or Someone Else’.  I live by the belief that when life throws you a curve, learn from it rather than use it against yourself.  Faith and humor are my survival kit.  Appreciate the simple things for they are the true treasures of life.

Overcoming Fears to Evolve and Become An Advocate

BY: Padraic Maroney – “The Neurotic Urban Millennial”

Middle school was a defining time for me. On top of the normal, everyday hormonal things that we deal with during this formative time, my family was in flux. My father’s restaurant had closed, my older brother spent a year in South America as part of an exchange program, and I began to help take care of my younger siblings, while my mother was at work.

Something much more tragic and defining happened in the Fall of 1994. I was in seventh grade at the time. When I woke up, my parents told me the news that our cousin had passed away due to complications from HIV/AIDS. My parents had called and let the school know, wanting me to talk with the guidance counselor.

By 1994, AIDS became the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 25-44. There was a lot of people who didn’t understand the disease — leading to stigmatization — and was considered a death sentence. In 1994, Pedro Zamora helped to shine a light on the disease by appearing on “The Real World: San Francisco”. Up until that point, there was all kinds of false information. Growing up in the late 80s, some people thought that you could catch HIV by using a public water fountain or restroom.

It was a weird morning going through my routine. People who I never talked to had heard the news and were coming up to offer condolences or just to cure their curiosity. Living in a small town in upstate New York, it was the closest any of them had gotten to the disease and, as kids are known to do, they were curious. That morning also changed something in me.

Billy, my dad’s cousin, was always a welcome sight at family gatherings. He had two sons younger than me, but close enough in age that my brother and I would play with them at all the gatherings. We would force Billy to do his impression of Donald Duck, which was so good that he had won contests for it. He was married but got divorced when he came out later in life.

In the years since his passing, I have spoken at length with my two aunts who were with Bill during his illness. Their stories detailed not only his suffering while he was sick, but also the lasting impact that it has had on them. The thing is, watching someone suffering while they die, due to complications related to AIDS, haunt that person’s family and friends long after they are done suffering. Their family and friends are literally left to watch this person slowly fade away until they have no fight left in them.

Here’s the thing, diseases are abstract and hard to fully realize until they hit home. Maybe it was because I was on the cusp of starting to date, that it struck me so hard. But Bill’s passing hit me hard and instilled a fear in me. I feared getting infected and what might happen afterward.

To be honest, I was a late bloomer because I always had the fear in the back of my mind. Nothing is 100% safe and there is always a risk. While most teenagers might worry about avoiding an unplanned pregnancy and having to try to find a maternity-sized prom dress, I was worried about what would happen if I became infected with HIV and how that would affect my family. I didn’t want to put them through that again. They had suffered through the disease once and I didn’t want to be responsible for doing that again.

I did everything I could to be responsible. Getting tested regularly, using protection, eventually getting a prescription for PrEP when it became available, and always talking to the person before anything went too far. It’s awkward coming out and asking, “Do you have AIDS?”, and I know that it probably scared some people off. Granted, I was young and didn’t know all the specifics about how infections worked, especially how much harder it was for a man to get infected by a woman than vice versa.

Despite all my fears, as I graduated from college and moved out into the world I began to meet people who were living with HIV. They were positive, at different statuses ranging from undetectable to AIDS. Knowing these people helped to put a new face on the disease. It wasn’t just people dying. These were otherwise healthy people living life.

I’ll admit that I was apprehensive and did exactly what I never wanted to do. At first, I was hesitant and tentative and would treat these friends and acquaintances like zoo animals. Looking, staring, but never getting too close. It was wrong and I’m not proud of myself for it. But I was a work in progress and had to overcome years of ingrained fear.

We’ve come along way since those days, but there’s a long road still to go. PrEP is a drug that helps to prevent infection, when taken regularly. However, a recent article stated that 25% of men between the age of 18-34 have never even been tested. People talk about their status more openly. People know what undetectable means now. But it’s not enough. Currently, in Philadelphia, where I live, residents are infected at a rate at five times the national average, with over 30,000 people currently living in the region with HIV.

As I have grown up, I’ve seen my views evolve. As they have evolved, I’ve worked through those early childhood fears to become an advocate to help fight the stigma of those living with HIV and raise money for those living with HIV and AIDS.

In fact, I am walking in the Philadelphia AIDS Walk this year, as I do every few years, in memory of Bill. I walk to raise money to help find a cure for this disease. I walk to help provide services that can improve the lives of those diagnosed with HIV, educate others from possibly contracting it, and stop the stigma that those with the disease deal with.

If you would like to donate towards my fundraising goal for this year’s walk, visit my page here: http://www.aidswalkphilly.org/profile/detail/215913


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Padraic Maroney hails from upstate New York, suffering from middle child syndrome. His writing career began after moving to the Philadelphia suburbs while in high school. He wrote for The Bucks County Courier Times’ Reality section, written by local teenagers, and has the distinction of writing a weekly gossip column for a college newspaper at a school he didn’t even attend! His love of pop culture led him to intern at Teen People, where he met Janis Gaudelli, and realized he could turn being a millennial into a career. Since then he’s alternated between writing and marketing, but always focused on Millennials and everything they bring to the table. Padraic is a lover of shenanigans, 80s music, and the movie “Scream.”

You can follow his additional adventures on Instagram: @padraicjacob