41310t       It has been a month since Mom died and nine and a half since we lost Dad. While each of us four children are doing our part in moving forward in such a way that would make them proud, one of my jobs, by default, is preserving their material legacy.

For example, Dad’s cufflinks were divvied amongst the men, put aside for each of the five grandsons and converted into jewelry for us ladies. As for his other belongings, thankfully he was not a pack rat so each piece of paper or newspaper clipping Dad saved has meaning. He left behind original copies of his dissertations for his Master’s degree and his PhD as well as all of his published articles.

Mom’s belongings are a little more challenging to sort. Mom was always recognized for how well she put herself together each day. Her hair, nails and makeup were always perfect. The shoes matched the bag, and each outfit was adorned with the right touch of jewelry. She loved wearing pins. My sister and I sat in her closet one day and just giggled at how exhausted we would be if we even tried to look as polished as Mom. As was pointed out by Fr. Camilo at Mom’s funeral, she was not motivated by vanity. Rather, Mom simply wanted to present her best self to the world. Dad did the same.

Mom’s jewelry has been parceled out and there is not a drawer or a closet in her home that we have not sifted through. I’ve made at least a thousand decisions as to what we can give away and what we should keep. I’ve filled my Suburban several times already with her “collections.” I’ve even repurposed a closet in our home to safely house the Waterford, Lenox, Christmas plates, silver, several sets of gorgeous dishes and serving pieces galore. As each of the ten grandchildren move into a new home, he or she will be gifted with one of these “collections” chosen specifically for him or her by virtue of which trait was inherited from Nanny or Pop-Pop, I already know that which will be bequeathed to our daughters. Danielle’s gift will represent how she is the guardian of the next generation and Nicole’s will reflect her crystal clear focus. It is too soon to tell for the others.

Those who have cared for someone terminally ill will agree that the physical aspect of death is ugly and painful to witness. You push away the pain, though, for you know that your pain does not come close to matching the pain of your loved one. When the patient is your parent, your roles become reversed leaving the child confused and in the end, untethered.

While I am not one who normally looks to the past, the many items I’ve cataloged and sorted these past few weeks bring back beautiful memories which help to erase more recent images and to keep me grounded. I bathe in these remembrances to keep my heart soaked in warmth rather than succumb to the cold bitterness that could easily overtake me.

I will cherish my job as keeper of the possessions, taking joy each time things are passed on to the next generation and the stories behind them get told. There is meaning to everything that is stored away. Well, except maybe the pins.


Mom’s Eulogy

(Our mother, Martha Polemeni, passed away on February 4th. Her immeasurable grace and courage is matched only by the hole in my heart.)Martha Ann Polemeni

As of 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, I became matriarch of the family that Mom and Dad built. My brother Mark has already teased me as to how this fact terrifies him, but the truth is that no one is more daunted than I.

Mom was the classiest person that many of us will ever know. There was never a hair out of place and every one of her gorgeous outfits was perfectly appointed with a great necklace or a stunning pin. Her appearance was overshadowed only by her rare brand of kindness that enveloped you in warmth whenever you were in her presence. Mom was a hostess extraordinaire. Whether you were at a party for 100 or a party for one, you were treated like royalty when in their home. She was wonderfully generous and owned an uncanny knack for always finding the right gift. Mom was also brilliant, but she never used her intellect to show off.

Mom showed us children how to build a marriage of deep love and mutual respect. I am sure they argued at times, but we kids never heard a cross word between them. Dad often told people that when they were first married, he and Mom decided that she would make all of the little decisions and he would make all of the big ones. Towards the end of his life he still marveled how not one big decision had come up in almost fifty years. Mom stood by every decision she made and her commitment to see every decision through is legendary. This was never more evident than when Dad was diagnosed with a blood disorder two and a half years into mom’s ordeal. She called me the next day to tell me that she had every intention to outlive Dad, as burying her would be too hard for him. It didn’t matter that her doctor had given her 24-36 months to live. She survived for 63.

If you were fortunate enough to be her friend, you knew that you had found a listener who would always be there for you without judgment. You knew that she would never betray you in any way. Even in her last days she was more concerned with her friends’ travails than she was in her own. During one conversation with a dear friend Mom apologized for not getting to the phone at times as she knew her friend worried when she could not reach her. What she did not share was that she was completely bedridden and unable to so much as lift a spoon, never mind put a phone to her ear.

The most fortunate of us, though, are her family. She loved us all unconditionally. When asked how many children she had, she would answer that she had seven – four by birth and three by marriage. Mom believed in every one of us and would always celebrate our gifts rather than nitpick our faults. She trusted us kids to make good decisions and when we didn’t she helped us brush ourselves off and keep moving forward. When she worried about us she did it quietly as to not add to our burden. Mom was the biggest fan of her nieces and nephews and loved them unconditionally as well.

As for you ten grandchildren sitting in front me, Nanny thought that each of you was perfect. You made her heart sing every time you laughed and each time you cried her heart broke a little. Over these past five years Nanny’s milestones to reach always involved one of you – a graduation, a Communion, a Confirmation or a school play. The reason she fought so hard these last few months, as I just learned from her friends, was to live to see Danielle graduate St. Andrews.

If I had to pick the one legacy that I hold most dear, it would be her unshakable faith. Mom had a very special relationship with the Virgin Mary, as she prayed often to Mary to intercede and ask for God’s help on her behalf. Though she fought so hard to live, Mom had no fear of dying, so certain was she of the existence of eternal salvation.

They say that the bond between mother and child is never broken and I now have proof. Around 4 pm on Sunday my sister and I were with Mom as she used every single ounce of her strength and her will to raise her left hand skyward. Her eyes were open and she was staring right past us into the distance. There was obviously someone there and she was desperately trying to communicate to us who she saw. Finally she mouthed one word – Mother. A few minutes later, Mom’s eyes closed for the last time.

Though it is hard right now for me to imagine gaining my balance in a world without my mother, I will carry in my heart the hope that just as my grandmother did for her, my Mom will be the first to greet me when it is my turn to enter eternity.

Please stand as we celebrate the promise of resurrection for Mom and for all of us during this Mass of Christian Burial.

Dad …

art973674.widea(Our dad, Dr. Anthony J. Polemeni, died on May 22nd.  He was 79.   I’ve tried to find solace in the fact that he led an incredible life filled with love and adventures and that his passing is part of the natural order of things.  This worked for a few days but now I just feel lost.   He was a great man and a great dad.  Below is the eulogy I gave on Tuesday at his funeral Mass.)

I have been told numerous times that I am very much like my Dad, so I found it ironic that words, of all things, were hard to come by in writing this eulogy.  I’ll start, then, with the facts.

Dad left his home in Brooklyn days before his fourteenth birthday to attend St. Anthony’s in Smithtown.  He graduated high school at 16, took his vows as a Franciscan teaching brother at 18, and graduated summa cum laude from St. Francis College at 19.  Soon after he began the first of his many careers, this one as a teacher.  At 27 he left this vocation only to enter into another two years later – the vocation of marriage with Martha, the one love of his life.   Together they raised the four of us and in turn we gave them their ten beloved grandchildren.  Dad’s career path took him through the ranks of the New York City education system, then into international business and then back into education, where he ended his career with thirteen blissful years at Touro College. His professional accolades are many and the brilliance of his intellect was never questioned.

I believe, though, that he would not want you to remember him for these hard facts, but rather for the messages he tried to convey in the way he lived his life.

First, he would want you to remember that he led with his heart wide-open, giving every person he met the same amount of respect regardless of his or her rank in life.  If he knew your name then he probably knew your life story.  He had a gift for learning people’s long held secrets for it was clear that he would never judge you but instead he would hold your secrets in his heart until which time he would need to recall them so that he could help you.    My family and I knew that Dad had helped some people over the years to overcome obstacles in order to earn their degrees.   We’ve come to learn that the number of those he helped in a variety of situations is countless.    He never spoke about it.

Second, Dad would want all of us to continue to seek the truth and speak the truth.    He would want us to look beyond the nonsense that surrounds us much of the time and get down to the business of what is important.  I know he worked hard to never waste someone’s time.  He also pointed out, whenever he could, the dangers of a society gone soft, since personal responsibility meant everything to him.  For example, Danielle was two or three years old and Dad walked in our house just at the moment that she and her best friend were screaming over a toy.  While we moms were patiently trying to tell them to share, Dad calmly walked over, looked at the girls and told the aggressor to go find something else with which to play.  Problem solved. He then turned to us and told us that he appreciated what our generation was trying to achieve with the sharing thing but really, how would we like it if someone did that to us?   Or the time that he beat Matt at checkers and Matthew got upset.  When I called Dad on it, he simply responded that Matthew will learn to get better and then one day he will win.  It didn’t matter that Matt was five.  I’ve since applied this common sense approach to every thing I do.

Third, he would hope that you would love and cherish your family as much as he did his.  We know that he talked about us all of the time – and we’re sorry – but what I need his grandchildren to know is that when he spoke about you, it wasn’t for the purpose of bragging.   Your Pop-Pop, this man who loved you so, was simply shouting out to the world as often as he could that he was the most blessed man alive.   Pop-Pop understood that if you lead your life in a certain way then you will raise children who do the same and they will raise children as magnificent as all of you. He would want you to remember that it all started with how much he adored and respected Nanny.  As brilliant as he was, he always made sure we knew she was smarter.    And braver.  And that his life was not worth living without her.

All of who he was, though, stemmed from the final piece he would want me to share with you.  His faith.   His faith in God was unshakable.    He prayed every day for the people in his life, that God would shine his goodness upon them and keep them safe.    His rosary beads were always near, in the hope that Mary would help intercede for him.  Towards the end when it was too tiring to read he would pray, talking to the people who had gone before him in hopes that they would hear him and that they would be there to greet him when it was his time.

Being the quintessential Renaissance man who embraced all of humanity, regardless of color or creed, his greatest lesson for me is this – There is one God, some of us simply approach Him differently.   As we join together now in Dad’s Mass of Christian Burial, please honor him with your prayers for a peaceful entrance into eternity.




I attended my 30th high school reunion a few weeks ago. We old friends just fell into conversation as if we had seen each other yesterday. Nametags did help, but for the most part, we recognized each other right away. Our high school was unique in that it was so diverse, and that diversity was accepted and celebrated through our friendships. In fact, it is a model that many of us discussed trying to recreate for our own children in where we send them to high school. What we had at Montclair High School was magical and we all knew it.

I marveled later at how we all reached back while staying in the present. We shared stories of our children and our parents and the classmates we’ve lost. I now know the family life of every one with whom I spoke but I have no idea what anyone does for a living, nor in how big a house he or she lives. While we spoke of our lives it was clear that we were connecting with our teenage past, a time before any of us had reason to walk through the world guarded by adult wounds. I felt as if these old friends knew me better than anyone else, for the joy and laughter in that room was so pure. Together, we were safe.

That Saturday evening proved to be five hours of fabulous, a respite from the often
stark reality of the present. Earlier that day our beloved Uncle Frank passed away unexpectedly. Family and friends gathered together for three days to mourn our loss. We think of this time in terms of a wake and a funeral, but in truth, is it not really a reunion of a different sort? Membership in our clan means being able to follow eight conversations at the same time. This man we buried was the one quiet listener who always remembered your successes and travails. There are eleven of us cousins; the eldest eight being born within five years. We’ve always been close so very few of the mourners were strangers to me.

We adult cousins still do our best to keep in close contact. These relationships were cemented by the value that our mothers put on creating celebrations throughout our lives filled with tradition. Tradition serves such a wonderful purpose of adding certainty in an uncertain world. My siblings and I work very hard to find the time for our children to spend together. There are ten of them ranging from 6 years old to 20. The traditions we are creating are slightly different from the ones of our childhoods, but they ring true for the ten children who embrace them.

Two people very close to me may soon join Uncle Frank in eternity. The enormity of these present and future losses enveloped me last week. How could the people who make up so many of my happy memories not exist in the future memories of my children? Then again, maybe the memories already created are enough.

Thanksgiving Day is the most celebrated day of reunions that we have in this country. As I look around the table tomorrow, I will do my best to bathe in the warmth of those who are there and not worry about the time their absence will be permanent. I pray that all of you have your own beautiful day of reunions. Happy Thanksgiving!

The Piano Goes Quiet…

Today I decided to stop trying to force a smile or a laugh. Instead I let the tears flow until there were no more. Danielle returned a week ago to Scotland for her junior year. Classes won’t start until next week, but she needed to get back to the life she created there and to all of her friends who make that life happy and whole. Nicole, gone three weeks, has already spread her quiet, but fierce, spirit to all corners of her university.

The biggest reminder that they are gone resides in the piano, the ebony timelessness of which graces our living room, right in the middle of our house. We bought the piano last year, a fruition of a dream to hear the children play on an instrument capable of creating such rich resonance.

Each daughter loves the piano in a way that is as different as one is from the other. Danielle will sit at the piano and play a variety of tunes, some from printed music, others by ear. Her style is casual and light. Late at night I might catch her tapping the keys quietly and singing along. Nicole plays with an intensity that matches her personality. We hear one or two pieces at a time, never more. Most are classical. She will play one measure over and over again until it is perfect. Slowly the melody builds until one day it echoes through the house, a song given wings.

Once I dried my tears I decided that enough was enough. I miss the girls terribly, but it was time to go forward. The first thing I did was sit at the piano, readying the music for today’s lessons. After all, our sons play, too.

Boy Mom…

Boy Mom…

This past Friday night I had a test run with Brian and our two sons, now age 12 and 14. Nicole is away at school and Danielle returns to St. Andrews in two days. Within a minute of being alone in the car with these three males, a loud explosion, followed swiftly by a noxious odor and raucous laughter, rocked me. My new adventure as a “boy mom” had officially begun.

While I adore our sons, the reality is that I have spent the past twenty years considering myself a “girl mom” who just happened to have two sons. This model has worked beautifully. I know how to parent our daughters 100% of the time and I’m pretty good with the boys 90% of the time.

You see, I never followed the cliché that “boys will be boys.” I demand that our sons put academics before sports and that their manners are impeccable. They both know how to cook well enough that my future daughters-in-law won’t hate me. This sanctimonious attitude has paid off…until now.

It seems there is a point in a boy’s development where all maternal influence flies out the window. My sister-in-law and I went to the NY State Fair a few hours ahead of the others this past Saturday. This meant that four boys, including a 5 and a 7 year old, and two dads were left unsupervised at the hotel. Within one hour our youngest son was stuck between the interconnecting hotel room doors. Luckily the hotel manager was there to get help, as she was visiting the rooms anyway to lodge a complaint about the noise.

I heard about the entire incident before these clowns arrived at the Fair, so I was able to work myself into an epic frenzy. Each of the males had an excuse. One was putting oil in the car and another was taking a shower. The youngest two told me that they had already been playing this game with the doors so it was OK. My 14-year old was indignant that I would assume he would show even a modicum of common sense as he was technically not in charge.

The bottom line for us moms is that we are not wired to anticipate every antic of which a boy is capable. The irony of the situation is that these boys will grow up to be fine men like their fathers, despite the antics. So, for now, I will buckle up and try to enjoy this new, wild ride.

Ice-Cream Sandwich…

Today I watched a little boy sitting cross-legged at the edge of the ocean, trying to consume an ice-cream sandwich before the waves did.

I haven’t written a blog in exactly six months.  These past months have been anything but uneventful, yet I could not find the spirit to write.

Another very close friend passed away in March.  She had been fighting for five years and she did such a good job at it that she had all of us fooled into believing that she would beat her disease.  I recently remember that after her only child was born, she told me that dying young would be OK as long as she made it until her daughter turned twenty-one.  Karen died a month shy of that goal.

Her death rattled me for I had just lost one of the few people who knew me in my entirety.  Karen and I worked hard and played hard in the early days of my career.  She stayed close while we were in London and gave me the confidence to start a new career in network marketing.  It was she who made sure that I never lost touch with our professional friends.  Most of all, she always took an interest in our children and stayed in touch with my parents.

In the months that followed I became quiet, at least in my heart.  It was here that I found the woman I had been for most of my life, the one I knew best before the chaos of the past few years began.   In this quiet place I’ve been able to enjoy my children and my husband anew, to rediscover old hobbies and to find a new purpose for taking my businesses forward.

When a friend asked me two weeks ago to please start writing again, I listened, but I still didn’t know where to start.

I watched that little boy on the beach as he calmly took the last bite of his ice cream.  Within seconds, a wave blew across his shoulders and over the hand that had just held his ice cream.

The chaos of the ocean wasn’t the important thing.  It was the sweet pleasure of that ice cream.   He may never remember these five minutes of his young life but I will never forget.


We’ve Been Spoiled…

I decided to read the boys’ interim reports just before running out to our 13-year old’s basketball game. My focus was on the comments about the youngest, our sixth-grader. “Distracted.” “Distracting.” “Distracts.” Do you sense a theme?

Dear friends of ours were kind enough to listen to my fury both during and after
the game. I recognize that my reaction was a tad severe but here is my defense.
The other three kids saved any impulsive behavior for home, choosing to behave
like angels in class. OK, that might be a stretch. The girls were angelic in class
and the 13-year old sits in the back and stays off the radar. Either approach
delivers the same result.

Our youngest seems to be a man of many words in class, a trait he inherits
honestly from me. He is also the largest sixth grader in our district, so the
chance of him ever going unnoticed in the classroom is extremely slim. Last
week he somehow got his shoelace stuck under one of the legs of his desk.
Instead of inconspicuously moving his foot, he decided to lift the entire desk off
of the floor. Did I mention that he sits in the front of the room? At least Brian
thought it was funny.

To be fair, the teachers also notice that he has a heart of gold and he will never
utter a mean word about anyone.  Good for him. While those traits are
lovely, I still have no idea how I will survive reading his report cards for the
next six years. You see, all of our children have been raised knowing that their
reputation, until they leave for college, has as much to do with them as with ME.

After almost twenty years of carrying on about such topics, you would think the
youngest would have my mantras tattooed on his brain. “The only time I expect
you to go to the principal’s office is if you are getting an award” is one of my
favorites. There is also the soon to be famous, “You may be equal to me in the
eyes of God but never in this house.” For medical emergencies, the nurses have
been told over the years to call me if one of my darlings has “vomited twice or is
bleeding to death.” I once told a wonderful teacher that if the youngest were to
misbehave in class please do not call me until he sits in the principal’s office long enough to be terrified that I am entering the building. The poor man retired the next year.

Is our youngest bored in some of his classes? Maybe. Do I care? No. Is it
a matter of allowing maturity and some semblance of common sense kick in?
Probably. I still don’t care. I gently broached the subject of his attention span in
class to him two weeks ago by announcing that all electronic devices were banned
until further notice. After a full week of this he now gets the point. Or, at least
until the next report card comes home.

Danielle’s Room….

We moved to Northern Westchester nine years ago when Danielle was ten years old.   At the time, she shared my childhood penchant for all things purple.  As the eldest, she got the biggest bedroom in the corner.  Her sister, two years younger, got the bedroom next door that is half the size.

Danielle’s room was beautiful.  Deep purple walls complemented the lighter violet carpeting.   Her furniture is antique white and I made sure that the hand painted jewelry box and dainty lighting matched perfectly.   The curtains were sheer white with lovely flowers. In fact, it looked quite similar to my room growing up.

After a few years, Danielle’s carpet became ragged and she begged us to change the color to orange and I obliged.  (Brian, bless him, has always been happy to stay out of any decorating discussion.  He likes to be surprised.)  Next came the bright yellow walls.   There is only one word that may be used to describe that room.  Hideous.  Simply hideous.  I kept the door closed and pretended the room didn’t exist.

The final blow came this past summer when Danielle announced that she would like to give her room to her 11-year old brother since she was now at college.   At this point, he occupied the much smaller room next door. What!?  This was entirely my fault.  I allowed her to break the code of all of us parents with last names that end in a vowel.  That bedroom should have stayed purple until we sold the house or died.  It would have become a shrine to the eldest child, just as mine was!   I had failed.

Never one to let the disasters of life keep me down, I flew into action.  Within a few weeks, both rooms were completely redecorated. The youngest now has a gorgeous room in hues of blue with all new dark wood furniture.  Danielle picked a very pretty, very bright, green for her walls and I decorated around it.  The finishing touches were two bright floral pink and green area rugs.  So lovey! So Lilly!

Danielle arrived home for Christmas break and I could tell immediately that she did not share my ardor for the new room.  Along the way I forgot that she wasn’t ten any more.     She teased me a bit about the room, but she never complained.  In fact, I heard Danielle tell her aunts that she recognizes that she is now a guest when she comes home and that she was happy that I loved the room, especially the rugs.

Last week I asked Danielle to sit with me at the computer.   I found a black and white area rug, duvet cover, pillow shams and window treatment that I thought she might like.  We cleaned out her closet and rearranged her dresser.  She will go back to Scotland tomorrow secure in the knowledge that a room she loves awaits her arrival back home at the end of May.

Of course we are raising Danielle and her siblings to grow into strong, independent adults.    Yet, no matter where life takes them, they will never be considered guests when they visit. They are our children, and this will always be their home.

Happily, the green and pink rugs are now in our bedroom.  As for Brian, though he probably noticed, he hasn’t said a word.


Snow day….

Was I the only one surprised by the phone call at 5:18 am telling me that the boys would be home today due to inclement weather?  I watched the news last night but neither Anderson nor Greta had the courtesy to fill me in on the bad weather coming our way.  My first reaction was disbelief, followed by despair.  I wanted to call the local authorities and offer to drive every school bus myself to get them to school.   It was quite dramatic.

Look, I am not against having the occasional snow day nor am I averse to surprise changes in my schedule.   It is just that snow days and teen-agers are not a good mix.    When they are stuck in the house all day with me it is unpleasant for everyone involved.

Gone are the days when a nice mug of hot chocolate made you the best mom in the world. This afternoon I made the boys homemade strawberry sorbet.  I was told it was a bit tart.  Really?   Next time I will be sure to add some kale.

I’m bored! I’m hungry! He hit me! I’m hungry! He is such a baby!  I’m hungry!  Now he’s crying! I’m hungry! I don’t want to play that game – why can’t we have two Xboxes? When’s dinner? We’re hungry!   The boys were so busy complaining that they did not notice me lying on the floor, gasping for breath as they sucked all of the good air out of the room.

Adding to this nonsense was our second daughter’s refusal to go to school late and my husband’s uncanny ability to always be away when there is a snow day. We cleaned off her car and I had her do a test drive to make sure that she could handle the snow covered road.  She was fine but I was a mess.

Sigh.  Do those of you with big kids remember snow days past when you bundled up the little guys and threw them outside until every single inch of them was frozen?  Then they would take a nice hot bath to thaw out and they would look so cute with their ruddy faces?  I don’t either, but I know they happened because I have pictures.

There is some light at the end of the snow day tunnel for the parent of teen-agers.   Since all activities were cancelled, we were able to enjoy a lovely homemade dinner without rushing, followed by a spirited game of Trivial Pursuit.   It was one of those nights where the kids and I laughed until we cried.

It just goes to show that one can enjoy her children at any age if she is willing to meet them where you are.

Here’s hoping your snow day ended on a high note, too.