One of my essays has just been published in the December issue of The MOON Magazine. Here's the link:
Aloha! I'm Wendy Kennar. I'm the mother of a five-year-old son and a wife living in Los Angeles. I was a public school teacher for twelve years until a chronic medical condition made it necessary to leave my teaching career.
I've always been described as "quiet" - really, I'm just biting my tongue. I've got lots to say, and lots of thoughts to share, I just prefer to write them. That's the purpose of this blog. Each week, I post a personal essay offering my observations and thoughts.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Feel free to comment and share my blog with others!
Through the years, my writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, United Teacher, GreenPrints, L.A. Parent, The Barefoot Review, Beyond the Diaper Bag, Lessons From My Parents, Write for Light, and DivineCaroline.com. I am also a weekly contributor at MomsLA.com.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
I am not a pie person. Given a choice for a sweet dessert, I will always select the chocolatey, fudgy option. And I certainly wouldn’t say I’m a “foodie.” Yet pies and foods are an important part of the way I show affection to my loved ones.
I never made a conscious decision about the nicknames or terms of endearment I would use when referring to my son and husband. However, over time certain names have made it to my daily rotation, and I’ve realized that many of them are food-related.
My son, Ryan, is my only child and thus receives Mommy’s full attention and affection. Objectively, he is a good boy -- he does not climb over the booths at a local restaurant, doesn’t run and scream down the hall in a museum, has never attempted to draw on our walls or eat the dirt from our houseplants. He is a curious child, an avid reader; he is musical and playful. He is my “angel pie” and my “sweet pea.”
Ryan is also known in our home by two rather unconventional nicknames. One is “tushie pop;” a name I don’t know how I invented or why. I just know that my son’s bottom is soft, and a baby’s bare bottom, when clean and poop-free, is a sweet place to kiss.
Ryan’s other nickname is “farfalle.” Technically, farfalle are bow-shaped pasta noodles. Yet, when talking with my mom about my son’s latest adventures, I often begin the conversation with “Farfalle just ...”
My husband, on the other hand, is another story. I rarely call him “Paul.” Paul is the name anyone can use: his parents, his boss, his customers. In our home, my husband is “honey pie” as in “Honey pie, did you reschedule your dentist appointment?” Early in our relationship, we never had a conversation about nicknames; they just happened to evolve.
It’s interesting to stop and consider the ways we show and express love and affection to those closest to us. Often times, there is no logic or set reasoning to explain a certain nickname or special good-night ritual. But, as with love, logic doesn’t always factor into the equation. Love just is.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
(My brother - 12 years old, my sister - 3 months old, and me - 3 years old)
Technically I know I am a middle child. I just feel like an only child. To this day, I tend to behave like the stereotypical middle child. I try not to be the one who makes waves, who adds to a difficult situation, however small it may be. For instance, I am usually quick to oblige and agree to the restaurant where my husband wants to eat.
As a child, I was the peace-keeper, the diplomat, the one who tried to smooth things over. When asked about hamburgers, my brother would mention one fast food restaurant, my sister would mention another with equal urgency, and I would bite my tongue and defer to my mom, claiming that I would be happy with either one. Truth is, I wasn’t always happy with any of them.
I never felt as strong or assertive as my two siblings. My brother was older, and in my eyes, wiser and cooler. He was in high school while I was in elementary school. His life was eons away from mine. He couldn’t understand my desire to do extra homework; he was always trying to get out of his homework. I couldn’t understand his excitement at summer vacation; I would miss school too much.
Somehow, the connection my older brother and younger sister shared skipped right over me. They were so alike; even their walk -- the way their feet protruded at a certain angle. I didn’t fit in. My brother had a temper than frightened me; I remember him punching walls. My sister had an anger I didn’t understand-- how could this sweet, little girl bite me or hit me?
I have been told that I’m not always adept at handling conflict. I agree. I can handle unpleasant situations for only so long, until, like a pot of water that isn’t being watched carefully, I boil over. And then it’s done.
That is how my relationship with my siblings unraveled. My brother expressed nothing but displeasure at my wedding. I remember his refusal to pose for a picture, his verbal disapproval of our choice of chapel and cake-and-champagne reception. My big brother wasn’t there with support and love. At my wedding, he was more like a work acquaintance -- in attendance because he had been invited and felt obligated to attend.
My sister and I took wildly different paths after high school. From where I sit, her road was easier: a well-paying job, an apartment, a car. She married, had two children, moved to the suburbs, bought a mini-van, began driving to baseball practices and weekly birthday parties.
Our decisions were different, but to her, my differences were wrong. I chose to wait on motherhood, instead concentrating on my teaching career and saving money with my husband to build the “nest” we coveted for when our “egg” arrived.
There were arguments, there were tears, there was finger-pointing and blame, and then there was nothing.
This rift with my siblings scares me. In moments of weakness, I fear I must have done something to drive away these two people. And what if I do it again, but this time, to my husband? I question myself, wondering what is wrong with me. In moments of strength, I can say that nothing is wrong with me. I am me. And there is nothing wrong with my sister and brother. They are who they are.
My son is growing up an only child, and without the close relationship with his cousins I had dearly hoped for. They are merely faces on the wall in dated pictures.
But unlike my son, I do have beautiful memories of my siblings. I remember my sister and I walking around in our pink cardigan sweaters, the closest replicas we had so that we could pretend to be “Pink Ladies” from the movie Grease. I remember us playing store, making our own credit card for an establishment we named, “The Odd Box.” I remember my brother keeping me safe during the night, when I was convinced clowns were coming in from around the edges of my window and were going to get me. I don’t remember him ever teasing me about those clowns, instead he’d let me wake him up, and climb into bed next to him. My protector.
Maybe some sibling relationships only work when you’re all living together, and you’re forced to make it work. Maybe as three stubborn adults, it’s easier to let things go and to not work as hard to keep it together. I have no nice, neat explanation for the why’s or the how’s.
I only have these words that sum up how I feel:
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
- W. S. Merwin
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
“Have a great day.”
“Thanks, you too.”
“Have a good one.”
They are pleasantries, exchanged with co-workers, acquaintances, strangers you happen to make eye-contact with while waiting in line. Do they mean anything? Do they put good vibes out in the universe? Do they buoy us up, make us happier?
Of course, it’s much more pleasant to the ear to hear “Have a great day” than “Have a lousy day.” But, why do we feel compelled to say it, and then reciprocate it?
Has too much cynicism invaded my soul that I’m even questioning this innocuous greeting? I don’t think so. I just think a lot, wonder a lot, question a lot. I think it’s harmless, a genial habit; I just wonder if that exchange has any long-reaching effects.
People are becoming increasingly alienated from each other. We drive around in our own little bubbles. We walk around with ear buds protruding from our ears, talking to or listening to something that others can’t hear. Outside of the car, we’re still within our own personal bubble. There are fewer human connections being made; yet, we’re wishing people a good day. People we don’t know.
Do we mean it? Do we just say it because we think it’s the right thing to do? Or, is there a larger purpose?
I can’t change the world. Change, as in end all senseless killing, make sure all children are safe, well-fed, housed, and loved. I can make changes, though. Small changes.
Maybe it’s like putting together a two-thousand piece puzzle. You dump all the pieces out of the box, and it can be overwhelming. Where do we start? Well, the border; start with the pieces with flat sides. Maybe your puzzle has a red and white hot air balloon. Move on to the balloon. You complete the puzzle little by little, piece by piece. And maybe that’s how human kindness spreads.
I take my cafe mocha from the harried barista, offer a “thank you,” and wish her a good day. Maybe she pauses a minute, maybe the beginnings of a smile escape from the corners of her mouth. Maybe later she’ll notice someone in line that looks despondent, maybe she’ll linger when she hands over the cappuccino, make eye contact, and wish that patron a nice day.
Maybe that’s how it starts.
If not, then there was no harm done. I’ve tried. And like I always told my students, all you can do is try your best.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
Dear Readers: One of my essays has recently been published in a new anthology.
Ka-Pow! is an anthology of superhero stories. It's available as an e-book on Amazon. Here's the link for more information:
Ka-Pow! is an anthology of superhero stories. It's available as an e-book on Amazon. Here's the link for more information:
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
My high school picture
Twenty years ago, I began my senior year of high school. Twenty years seem to have sped by on fast-forward. This passage of time has definitely inspired some self-reflection, about who I was then, and who I am now.
Then, I was relatively quiet, serious, and hard-working. Now, I am pleased to report nothing has changed. My values and most of my personality traits seem to have remained in-tact.
Then, I was “Wendy Fraser,” straight-A student. I was tired of being known solely for my grades. Because when you’ve consistently earned grades like those, for years, there’s nowhere to go but down. I didn’t want to make that fall. I had expectations to live up to. Exhausting expectations. I felt there was more to me than letter grades, but I also felt that most people didn’t look beyond my transcripts to learn about the rest of me.
Now, I am “Wendy Kennar,” a former teacher who understands that some children will achieve scholastic success in various ways (not all academic). I am a wife, mother, teacher. And I hope those closest to me, do not define me in narrow terms but can appreciate me as a whole package.
Then, my brown hair hung down to my waist. It was my attempt to hide myself and distract from the acne that plagued my face. Back then, I was certain that whenever anyone saw me, they saw my pimples. Not my slightly crooked bottom, middle teeth. Not the moles on the left side of my neck. Just my blemishes.
Now, my acne has cleared up and whatever scars or blemishes remain are not all that defines me. Now, my brown hair doesn’t hang below my shoulders. My shorter hair is easier to manage, and I don’t feel the same need to hide.
Then, I owned colorful pants: red, green, paisley. And I had socks to match. Now, my pants consist of jeans (shades of blue or black), and my socks are generally black (with an occasional gray, brown, or navy thrown into the mix).
Then, I occasionally wore shirts that conveyed messages. I didn’t advertise stores, but I did sport a t-shirt depicting the Hubble Space Telescope and a plea for others to help “Save the Earth.” The shirts in my closet were primarily dark-hued, with lots of turquoise and teal thrown into the mix. Now, I still occasionally wear shirts that convey messages (advertising the California Science Center and space shuttle Endeavour). Now, my closet houses shirts in a variety of hues, including pinks and purples that I didn’t wear as frequently in high school.
Then, I adorned myself with a multitude of jewelry each day. I wore rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, a watch, and an anklet. Around my neck, I wore a silver chain with a multitude of crystals and gemstones -- goldstone, amethyst, turquoise. They were beautiful stones, and I wanted to decorate myself with beautiful objects. Now, I continue my life-long interest in jewelry. Bracelets, earrings, an anklet, a watch, and rings on eight of my fingers. Now, my necklace changes with each day’s outfit.
Looking in the mirror and looking at my high school picture, there’s no doubt I’m looking at the same face. I’m delighted to find I’m recognizable. The girl I was then has helped me become the woman I am now. I look in the mirror and can smile with pride. I have much to be thankful for, much to be proud of.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
It was almost a year and a half, between the time I was hospitalized and the time I received a diagnosis. My doctor, a world-renowned rheumatologist, arranged an early morning appointment so I could still make it to work on time. I took that as a good sign. I didn’t think a doctor would deliver terrible news first thing in the morning, knowing full well that in less than an hour, I’d be expected to teach fourth grade.
It was the first time we had been invited into a doctor’s office. All my other appointments always took place in an exam room. This time, I sat in a chair, fully dressed, and held Paul’s hand. We looked around and noticed the pictures of the doctor’s grandchildren. We whispered comments of admiration for the many framed awards, declarations, certificates, and diplomas hanging on the walls. We noticed the shelves of books -- books written by my doctor.
Finally, we were in the hands of an expert. Someone who knew what he was doing, and I trusted he would be able to help me.
Dr. W. told me the official name for my condition: Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. UCTD. He told me it was a rare condition and explained it as an autoimmune disease with over-lapping symptoms of lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and myositis. I didn’t have any of those diseases, but symptoms of each, which made my condition more difficult to diagnosis and to treat. He jokingly said I could call it “The Kennar.” It was rare, so I may as well put my own name on it.
At the time, I joked that I was always “daring to be different,” and apparently, my illness was no exception. Now I realize that when it comes to medical issues, rare isn’t always a good thing. People don’t know what I have. They haven’t heard of it. It isn’t named after a famous baseball player, it doesn’t have its own awareness month or ribbon, and it doesn’t have its own walk for the cure.
A few years after the fact, and I realize how naive I was at the time. I received a diagnosis and assumed I’d learn to live with the condition. I’d make a few adjustments, take some medication, and get better. I thought, and actually told others, that my condition was something along the lines of asthma (which I’ve lived with since childhood)or diabetes; it would be there and I would have to find ways to manage it. The possibilities leading up to the diagnosis were so much worse: cancer, leukemia, multiple sclerosis. I would handle this.
Little did I know that living with and managing my disease would result in me leaving my teaching career. At the time, I really didn’t think my life would change. But it has, and continues to change.
I was diagnosed almost two years ago. And yet, this whole medical condition (notice how I shy away from using the word “disease”) still feels so new. I still don’t feel like I know how to live with a chronic medical condition.
It’s not just my body that has to change, it’s my mind. I have to keep changing the way I think about myself, the way I tend to push myself too hard. For as much as I have tried to deny it, I am not completely the same person I was before the diagnosis. Not necessarily “worse,” just not the same. And, I’m finally realizing, I won’t ever be the same.