Wednesday, March 8, 2017


A recent family gathering at Casa de Rodriguez
(Mom in white turtleneck behind Dad)

The story of my mother, Jennie Ryan, is surrounded by family.  She is the fifth out of seven children, born to Ignacio and Juana Gonzalez, my Grandpa and Grandma.  She grew up on a farm and some of her earliest memories involve feeding lambs from a baby bottle with her twin sisters, Emily and Molly.

What I don't know about my mother, what she never talks about, is what it was like learning English in the immersion of school, speaking a foreign language under the pressure of learning how to read and write.  I don't really know how they made it through the winters when my grandfather, a farm worker, was not working so much.  I don't know how it  was for her to grow up in a small town that was predominantly white during a time when racism was not called racism --it was just the way things were.

The reason I don't know much about these things is that my Mom doesn't like to "dwell on negative things"--even when it pertains to her own personal history.  What she loves to tell us is stories of being our small town's Tomato Queen, riding like a princess on an elephant through the main streets. Stories of meeting our father, Jack, who blew into Tracy like her knight on a white horse, swept her off her feet and married her in the Catholic Church that we were all baptized in.

Mom dwells on beauty.  She loves finding the good, is optimistic to a fault, and believes in counting her blessings.  Her life has not been easy, but you would never know this by talking to her.

Four Generations Scarlett

The power of my Mother is the strong belief in goodness.  She believes in the power of love, the power of forgiveness, the purpose in living a life for God, and the underlying truth that the only thing we can control about life is the way we react to it.

Today my mother turns 80.

I just typed that--and I can't believe it.  I think of my mother as perpetually 45, sweeping the floor, curling her hair, listening to classical music, making breakfast, watering her garden, going to Mass, lighting the candles on the table, reading the latest Michener.  All of these memories kind of blend together to create one large memory of her being there for me, woven into my life in ways that are completely beautiful.

Because, at her very core, my Mom is beautiful.

Auntie Molly, Auntie Emmy, Mom

Happy Birthday, Mom!  You make 80 look like 45 -- which I know can't be right, because I'm 53, right?  Or am I fifty four?  What am I, Mom?  Tell me!

Happy Birthday!

Monday, March 6, 2017


My favorite picture of me and Lauren
Thank you to Hannah Joy Photography

Lauren Caroline is our son David's third child, a daughter that  moves with speed and energy that makes me wish to be young again.

This past summer I went to see them before the fall semester began.  Cathy and David's kids picked me up, but only one wanted to get in the selfie I wanted to take with all of us - Lauren.

While Lili and Callen hid in the back seat, Lauren was still the effervescent grandchild I remembered her to to be.  We planned out what we would do while we were there and did it all --on the first day.  We jump-roped, played clapping games, drew pictures, and went shopping.  The rest of the visit I just tried to keep up with her, and basked in the beauty of her seven-year-old excitement. 

I have always loved Lauren for being the baby of her family.  She grew up well-protected and learned confidence from her two older siblings.  She also learned how to wear their hand-me-downs, play with their toys once they were finished with them, and wait her turn for every new thing.  The baby of the family usually is the most patient, out of default rather than choice.  

 Lauren is trusting, hopeful, and filled with gigantic expectations of life.  Since she is the baby of the family, all of the love trickles down to her and she is consequently very loving herself.  

Today, Lauren turns eight.  

I still remember the day she was born – at home in a hot tub (my daughter in law had all her babies in the tub).  David and Lennae had two small girls already and I openly wondered about the addition of that third child.  Most young mothers can tell you that the third child is officially juggling .  I worried that the kids (David and Lennae) might be overwhelmed… with so much work.  There was little I could offer to help –we were living in South Africa.

We were living in Johannesburg when Lauren was born; she changed everything.  We had said goodbye to our family and moved halfway across the world.  I wasn’t sure how to process the birth of one of our granddaughters from such a distance.  Getting the pictures via email filled me with admiration, love and emptiness.  As much as we wanted to be there--to at least hold her-- it was not possible.

David and Lilli hold Lauren, only two days old.  

By the time we moved back Lauren was four years old and she barely knew us.  Grateful for her parents, who built toward us, we began the business of reconnecting.  Only one problem – we lived in Cali and the kids lived in Kansas.  We visited Kansas and spent good, purposeful time “giving the kids their rest” and selfishly kidnapping the girls to take them to fun places that we could remember later  as shared experiences.  Whenever we are together, Lauren wants to listen to my stories – she tells me some of her own.  She loves play of any kind and always invites me to be part of her world – a sparkling, glittery wonderland. 

One of Lauren's selfies, taken in 2015

As I type this, Mario is there with her.  He gets to play in her supercharged universe as I shirk homework to celebrate Lauren in words.   Happy Birthday, Lauren.  As you do grow up, may you take all of this family love with you and bless the world as you have blessed our lives.  You are the sparkles in the air, young lady.