Frontline Mom

The Lessons Mr. Kat Taught Me

April 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

My feline friend Mr. Kat crossed the Rainbow Bridge Friday night, after a relatively short – and noble – fight with cancer. He died relatively peacefully at our sides, on his favorite spot on the bed at the age of 12, battered by rounds of chemo and with one missing eye which had been removed in a last ditch attempt to somehow preserve his remaining quality of life.

Our family did everything we could do to diagnose his condition, find the right treatment and ultimately keep him out of pain. After all, he was our “first baby” who we found – when he was less than four weeks old – on vacation in the most remote place in Brazil. When we found him we nursed him with goat milk through a straw to save him from the brink of newborn kitten death and invited him into our home even though at first I was allergic to cats.

Over the next twelve years he served as the center of our household, bringing us many laughs, snuggles, antics, adventures, and cat hugs not only to our immediate family but to all of our friends and neighbors. He moved houses several times and even countries which brought him more adventures and frequent flier miles than most people.

More than anything Mr. Kat was a friend who taught me some key life lessons that I think can be applicable to many, even if you are not a “Cat Person.” Ironically, when I first found Mr. Kat I wasn’t a cat person either.

1) Make the most of your chances

Mr. Kat was dealt a raw hand to start. He was left for garbage at the foot of a bar before he was weaned from his Mother. Luckily, we stumbled upon him on vacation on New Year’s Day in 2001, snuck him into our hotel, nursed him back to health and brought him into our family. Mr. Kat, in fact, spent three weeks traveling with us on vacation as we toured the remotest places of Northeast Brasil. Once his condition stabilized on vacation with us, he discovered fish, papaya, and other great foods which quickly helped him get stronger. We brought him to the beach, protected him from the occasional monkey that threatened him and wrapped him up every day in a towel to give him the milk he so needed to get stronger and stronger.

After this tough start, Mr. Kat did not look back. He integrated quickly into our home in the Southeast of Brazil and became friends with everyone who met him. With the help of our friends, we adopted another cat (Midnight) who stayed at his side until the very end. Even a fall from the fifth floor from our apartment building did not stop Mr. Kat. Luckily, our housekeeper was caring and persistent enough to know that something was wrong when the usually friendly Mr. Kat did not greet her at the door. She found him curled up at the bottom of the building, and in the makings of a small town movie, she sprinted to our trusted Vet to save his life.

Luckily, Mr. Kat emerged from this traumatic fall with only a broken jaw. He went on to move with us to Chicago, live in three different homes and easily made friends everywhere he went.

2) Stick close to those who love you

As Mr. Kat was recuperating from his fall and Midnight was dealing with a bout of pneumonia, they had a litter together. I never imagined how quickly this could or would happen especially with two super young and sick cats! I learned my lesson which is why I now passionately support the Spay and Neuter movement and several great organizations committed to helping unwanted pets find homes.

Mr. Kat loved his cat family, taking care of his cat children and Midnight, always snuggling them tight in a cat pile. He was affectionate around my children – even though he didn’t really get who they were when they first came home as newborns. Mr. Kat quickly set the tone – that this home welcomes all – and he quickly became the friend of most who came to visit.

3) Take the time to enjoy what makes you the happiest

Mr. Kat, unlike many people, knew what happiness meant to him. He appreciated a snuggle, a cat nap at the window no matter whether it was rainy or shining outside and exploring. He loved his “Cat Condo” (my Husband ordered it on the Internet…think about a place in Palm Beach for Cats, only in the backyard!) He also was a fan of late night TV and relished a snuggle together with our kids or us in our respective beds. He loved to play games, cherished cat nip and of course the occasionally-served tuna fish.

This week my daughter read to her class for the first time from a book she wrote. On one page she said, “My cat, Mr. Kat, is sick. He has one eye and he needs medicine. I love my cat. He makes me happy.” I welled up as she read that.

Two days later Mr. Kat passed. He passed away after giving “carinho” (kisses and hugs) to Midnight and his children. He died giving his last breath to Daniel and I. He will be missed and always will be loved.

The Gift of Family Gifting Through the Generations

February 18, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

This past week at work, a colleague shared a story of how her Grandmother recently gave her on her thirtieth birthday a piece of jewelry from her own Grandmother stored in a special box from her Great-Grandmother. My colleague was very proud that her Grandmother, now in her late eighties, had chosen to wait until this very birthday to pass along the string of pearls and the pretty box, two items her Grandmother had cherished for much of a lifetime.

My own Grandmother gave me a ring when I thirteen that had been given to her by her own Grandmother. It was a special ring for her and she gave it to me as a I graduated from grade school and was about to set off on my high school adventure. Just like my friend’s Grandma, who encouraged her to keep special care of the pearls and the box, my Grandmother asked me to store it in a safe place.

Ring given to me at age 13 by my Grandmother

Of course, these warnings seemed a bit unnecessary as nothing but pride crossed my mind upon receiving this special gift from my Grandmother. I knew I had been entrusted with something special, and it was my honor and obligation to keep it safe.

Recently I showed my own five year daughter my ring and told her the story of how I received it from my Grandmother. I told her someday that ring might be hers, and she said that would be neat to receive a special gift one day from me, perhaps even my Grandma’s ring.

With every gift or memento passed down through the generations, stories are shared, memories are prolonged and traditions are passed. Every time I see the ring I remember my Grandmother and the pride and pleasure I had when I received her special gift.

What special gift have you received that was passed down through the generations? What have you yourself passed down?

A Story of Courage – Gabby Giffords

February 5, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

I recently watched a multiple tissue program on 20/20 profiling Gabby Giffords and her new book A Story of Courage authored with her husband astronaut Mark Kelly. Roughly one year ago a tragedy struck that stunned the nation and hit me particularly hard. On January 8, 2011 the democratic congresswoman was critically injured while speaking at a Town Hall outside a supermarket by a gun-wielding twenty three year old, Jared Loughner. In total six people died and thirteen were wounded. Among the victims was a nine year old girl, Granddaughter of former Cubs manager Dallas Green, who had poignantly enough been born on 9/11.

Since then Representative Gabrielle Gifford’s year of recovery has become a tale of endurance and resiliency that’s inspired the nation. The 20/20 episode featured tear-inducing interviews with Gabby and her husband and footage of Gabby tenaciously going through rehab and relearning how to speak and walk. I enjoyed learning about the role music was playing in her recovery and was inspired by the support her family and medical team provided – showing what great support network is all about. I can’t imagine the journey Gabby is going through but I feel connected to her and inspired by her. We both are Fulbright Scholars and I am inspired by her political leadership, charm and commitment to public service. And being married to an astronaut is pretty much the stuff of Fairy Tales! One of Mark Kelly’s tributes to his wife was inviting Bono to sing “Beautiful Day” at a concert while a proud Mark Kelly beamed in on video from outer space.

Exactly one year later, Gabby Giffords returned to the same venue in her hometown, but this time it was to commemorate those who were lost and to demonstrate, along with everyone present, bravery and strength in the face of tragedy and adversity. More recently, I was saddened to hear that Gabby resigned for her seat in Congress. In a rare moment of unanimous applause by Congress Gabby submitted her resignation letter to a crying John Boehner.

Some might consider it defeat, but this past year has really been Gabby’s comeback. She has vowed to get better and return to Congress but in my book, she has returned. She’s a profile in courage and an inspiration from here to the stars.

Who are your living heroes?

The End of the Space Shuttle: T-Minus Imagination for Children?

September 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

There’s nothing like rockets and space voyages to capture the imagination of children. Sadly, those voyages will become rarer in the near future. In July we witnessed the end of the Space Shuttle program at NASA. Officially introduced by Richard Nixon in 1972, the space fleet’s maiden trip to space didn’t happen until 1981. Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour were the five shuttles created for manned flights to space. The program came to the end with the last flight of Atlantis this summer.

One of my most vivid high school memories is of a late January morning in 1986. During an exam, our principal interrupted class to tell us about the first space shuttle disaster: the Challenger had exploded and disintegrated little over a minute after its takeoff. I remember being stunned, ready to watch television for hours on end. The shuttle – and the astronauts – – had before seemed invinceable to me. Less than two decades later, in 2003, I would relive that moment upon learning that the Columbia shuttle had exploded before landing. These tragedies reminded the world and I how many courageous people over decades put their own lives at risk to explore the next frontier.

Over the years the launch of the Shuttle seemed to become a bit of “business as usual.” Covered more as as second story than the lead one, it seems like space travel was something Americans had come to expect. Now, with the cancellation of the space program, it is hard to know what to expect next.

I am sad to see the end of the Shuttle program. Without it, what will keep children’s imaginations alive? Growing up I always wanted to be an astronomer, and when I was a bit older, an astronaut. One of my best vacations as an adult was exploring the Kennedy Space Center with my husband, who as young boy had also dreamed of space travel.

It bothers me to know that I am not sure when my own children will see another live space takeoff. Such viewings let you know, with your own two eyes, whether you’re five or forty-five, that it’s possible to leave this earth and come back. That’s an amazing concept.

I am proud to say the Space Program, with all of its success, and its tragedies, played an important part in my childhood development. It fueled my imagination, gave me great topics of conversation and inspired me to learn more. The program may technically be over, but it lives on in my memories in so many ways.

What are your memories of the Space Shuttle Program?

Baseball, a Season of Memories for Any Parent

September 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Each year, baseball season offers a ton of opportunities to create lasting memories of childhood, and that’s something that any Cubs or White Sox fan can agree on. Taking my kids to a game provides the perfect circumstances for a true bonding experience. As the 2011 season falls fast into its last stretch, it’s the perfect moment to open up room in the family’s busy schedule to get in some quality game-watching time, whether it’s your team that’s playing or not.

Many people associate taking the kids to the game as Dad’s work. In my family, while Dad is always a part of the fun, it is me who in the ringleader.

As an avid baseball fan today I remember very keenly those countless times I went with my family to watch the Yankees play. Of course in the seventies it seemed like the Yankees could only win – so I had little understanding of how my new favorite team, the Cubs, hasn’t won the title in one hundred years.

This year I will admit with the Cubs having the poorest of records, and our big move away from Wrigley, we encountered some insurmountable hurdles to our personal attendance stats, but next year is already here.

Here is my advice for enjoying the game with the little ones – and for creating a season of memories.

1) Expect it to only be partly about the game. It is the game, but also the cotton candy, the hot dogs, the 7th inning stretch – and the souveneers. If you are lucky you’ll see the best plays, but more likely than not you’ll miss a few because you are out buying hot dogs or taking your child for a pit stop. However annoying it might be to “miss” the game, remember, it is the overall experience that counts for the memories anyway!

2) Take the opportunity to introduce the children to the game and its heritage. Each time, point out a new position, the name of a player, or a baseball rule. The kids won’t absorb everything, but little by little, they begin to understand and appreciate the game for all its many nuances.

3) Enjoy the atmosphere. Most kids I know revel in the cheering and taunting that goes on throughout the game. Maybe it’s the loud singing in unison that fixes the experience so indelibly in the mind, but probably that’s only a part of it. Just remember though – sometimes the noise and crowd can be overwhelming to kids. When you sense this, squeeze them tight to ensure they feel safe. Of course, don’t forget to sing along and teach your child the lyrics as well.

When are you next taking your family out to the ballgame?

Remembering September 11th

September 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

September 11, 2011. Ten years later. Like so many I will never forget the day my world changed – the senseless loss of so many lives, the fear that ensued and the long term implications of an event that though it occurred a decade ago, in many ways seems like yesterday.

Since September 11th, I have moved back from living overseas with my husband, had two wonderful children, now four and 18 months, moved up in my career, bought my first home and all in all had a wonderful decade. Yet, like so many I never forget what happened on that dark day. The past few weeks I have read so many stories about children, parents, spouses, coworkers and others who lost their friends and loved ones..and how they have rebuilt their lives. Though ten years have passed, I still found myself tearing up and having at times to put down the newspaper or walk away from the computer. Their stories of strength and courage, while encouraging and enlightening, reminded me of what shouldn’t have to have been.

While watching TV the other night where CNN was airing footage of 9/11, my four year asked me “Mommy, why is New York City smoking up?” I honestly was speechless, not really knowing what to say, though saddened that I would need to explain this to her, just as my own Mom needed to tell me about other national tragedies she remembered like the assassination of JFK.

Like so many others, I remember where I was the moment the tragedy unfolded – and the emotions that transpired when the reality of what had happened set in. The morning of September 11th I arrived in Chicago O’Hare from Brazil (where I lived at the time) en route to Canada for a business trip. After a layover in the business lounge, I boarded my plane, jet lagged but otherwise just fine. Within moments of settling in on the plane, the men next to me started talking up how a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. I thought it was at first a small plane crash but soon the captain came on the speaker saying that it was unlikely we were going to take off and that we would need to deplane since our flight was going to be cancelled.

Then, the news hit – a second plane had hit the towers. A native New Yorker, who had spent many proud moments showing visitors to NYC the Towers, I could not even begin to imagine the tragedy unfolding but instinct had begun to set in. I started feeling the worse; a frequent traveler, I know they don’t shut airports down for an isolated, albeit tragic, accident. This was something larger – and my survival instinct kicked in. Get out of the airport, I thought, this can not be good! Could O’Hare be next? Are planes going to crash into Chicago? A mix of adrenaline and fear fueled to me take action.

As fast as I could, I retrieved my bags, took the L train downtown and checked into a hotel, with an insatiable desire to take in as much news as possible. There, from my hotel, I stayed, experiencing every emotion – fear, anger, sympathy, concern, helplessness. I finally got ahold of my husband in Brazil, who cried when he heard my voice. I also reached out to friends and family making sure they were out of harms way.

I was saddened to quickly learn that a former colleague was on the first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center and relieved to find out that a college friend had escaped from Tower Two with minutes to spare. Another friend, who at the time worked along the Hudson River, told me about how he knew something horrible was about to happen when he saw a plane ominously flying low down the Hudson – “that for sure isn’t right..he told he coworker.” Another friend ran miles covered in soot before she realized she was safe. My mother, a schoolteacher the Bronx, worked to ensure the children, some of whom lost relatives in the tragedy, were safe. My brother, a nurse, stood by, like all first responders, to ensure that care could be provided to those in need.

Safe in a Chicago hotel, I was one of the lucky one, I’d have to say. Yet still, the emotions that September 11th unleashed for me – have lingered for the past decade. I remain inspired by the tenacity of the first responders, many of whom lost their lives, grateful to the people over Shanksville that fought back- “let’s roll”, saddened by my personal loss, angry by our national loss and fearful that terrorism will likely strike again. Most importantly though, I will never forget.

9/11/01 – “We Remember.” “I remember.”