Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mom, I Need to Tell You Something!

When your 22-year-old daughter utters those seven little words, you know life is about to change. Well, in June, we learned that our youngest baby was unexpectedly expecting. The expression "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans" hit home. I honestly did not see this one coming.

From the start, our brave daughter, Alyssa, and her sweetheart, Brian, have been resolute in their commitment to one another and to bringing this new little life into the world. Not the order of events that any of us anticipated or preferred, but, my husband, Scott, and I, immediately pledged our unconditional love and support to both of them. Understandably, as worried parents, we have taken turns on the emotional rollercoaster -- what I call our "holy shit" moments -- but we know that everything will be alright.

    At the end of September, with the help of pink  
M&Ms, Alyssa and Brian revealed it's a girl!
Being a mother has truly been one of the greatest blessings in my life. And if anyone was meant to be a mom, it is my daughter. She has always been maternal -- always taking care of the kids younger than her no matter how young she was herself. And as she got older, she became a "kid magnet." I recall a little girl approaching Alyssa and climbing right into her lap while we waited to go into a movie in Greenville, South Carolina, during a weekend visit to tour Furman University. The little girl's dad was shocked, but Alyssa was her warm, sweet self. And senior year of high school, her varsity lacrosse teammates dubbed her "team mom." A constant inspiration to me, Alyssa's patience, kindness and loving spirit have always drawn people to her.

Sadly, many people go through their lives without finding the love of their life. And many couples who desperately want a child are often unable to become parents. None of us knows what joy or sorrow life will bring our way. I'm glad Alyssa and Brian have found one another. Their love and respect for each other is unmistakable. Embracing and nurturing love shows their wisdom, and cherishing this new life makes Alyssa and Brian angels on this Earth.

So by year's end, Scott and I -- former empty nesters -- will have feathered the "west wing" of the nest for our new family additions. We can't wait to meet our sweet, little girl's precious, little girl -- Lucy Savannah Chittenden -- due to arrive February 15, 2015.

Life is a gift. And a new life is cause for celebration.







Wednesday, February 13, 2013

In Memory of Gator: The Best Friend A Girl (or Guy) Could Ever Have


One Saturday afternoon in May 1999, my husband, Scott, informed me that he and our son were "going to look at a puppy." Since no one goes to "look at a puppy," I knew that meant we were getting one. What I didn’t know, however, was that our lives would be forever changed and that I was about to fall head over heels in love with a great big "lion king."

I don’t remember Gator as ever really being a puppy. At three months old, he was already a monster … with gigantic paws and a tail that was more of a weapon. Every time you said hello, you’d hear the "thump, thump, thump" of his tail on the floor ... or the wall ... or the furniture. And you could always count on Gator for the following:
  • the same enthusiastic welcome (no matter if you were gone for four minutes or four days),
  • the presentation of a "gift" upon your arrival (a shoe, a newspaper, or whatever was available), 
  • and always being underfoot … figuratively and literally. 
I can’t count the number of times I almost fell over him, but where you were, he had to be. And he could will you to do things – we called it his "Jedi Mind Trick." He loved apples and he knew they were in the basket on top of the fridge. He’d look at the fridge, then at you, then the fridge, then you and so on until he "moved" you to action. A cored apple was his idea of heaven. Actually, any kind of food was his idea of heaven. I called him an "Italian Labrador Retriever."

He did have some "Marley" moments – setting off the glass break detector multiple times by knocking things off the counter in search of food. When he stood up on his hind legs, he was about six feet tall and he would slide himself down the counter to reach whatever he could – loaves of bread, bags of apples, boxes of cereal, tins of brownies. He ate chocolate (and lots of it) on several occasions – from an entire batch of brownies to five chocolate Easter bunnies and even a William & Sonoma Bundt cake mix that Scott had tucked under the Christmas tree for me one year. Perhaps because of his size, he seemed to be immune.

I have to confess that I really wanted a lap dog, but a yellow lab was Scott’s "dream dog," and since Scott had the girl and kids of his dreams, how could I deprive him? And even though he didn’t sit in your lap, Gator captured more hearts than any dog I ever knew. Even people who weren’t dog lovers fell in love with Gator. He was larger than life with a gregarious spirit and a gentle soul. I will never forget his compassion when, after the loss of my mother, he literally didn’t leave my side for days. He even lay outside the shower waiting for me. And he was ever the protector. Like a sentry, he would wander from room to room to make sure all was well and then he would position himself in between rooms to keep an eye on everyone who was home.

We were lucky to enjoy nearly 14 years with Gator. He would have turned 14 (98 in dog years) on February 24. It wasn't until the last year that he slowed down. His hearing and eyesight had diminished and we even had to wake him up sometimes when we came home. But he never lost his appetite or his wag until the very end. We will love you forever Gator. Thump, thump, thump.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Most Important Lesson I Ever Learned


I think of my mother every day, especially on her birthday. Today would have been my mother's 78th birthday and she's on my mind and in my heart. We could drive each other crazy, but her love was unconditional. She taught me so much and I share this column as a tribute to her.

The following tribute originally appeared in the
Orlando Sentinel as a Saturday Special on July 10, 2000. I miss you, mama, and I love you more than life itself.

The most important lesson I ever learned is one that I am learning right now. My mother’s sudden and unexpected death on June 22, 2000, turned my world upside down. My mother was the heart and soul of our family, and all of our hearts were broken that day. But she taught me so much during her life, and in death she is teaching me still.

Throughout my 40 years, there were many times I wondered how my mother could be content with her life. She was a stay-at-home mom who never worked outside the home after she married my father 44 years ago. And her favorite “exotic destination” was the lushly-landscaped swimming pool in her very own backyard. How could that be rewarding enough? I spent 20 years juggling a demanding career and a family and trying to manage the stress that went with life in the fast lane. But she always knew what I have only recently realized — making a difference in the life of a child is far more noble and rewarding than any career could ever be.

My parents have often been asked for their “secret formula” for raising kids. They raised four of us. Today each of us is personally fulfilled and professionally successful in our own rights … a surgeon, a public relations professional, a successful salesman and an engineer “whiz kid.” And not one of us has ever been in trouble with the law! No small feat for any parents! Of course there were some trials and tribulations along the way, including a new baby in 1973 when my mother was 40 (way before it was fashionable to be 40 and pregnant). But risks, plans or finances weren’t a consideration for my parents — family was the most important thing. And though I know there were times along the way when our parents probably didn’t like us very much, there was never a time that any one of us ever doubted that we were truly, unconditionally loved. And our parents always made sure that we knew how very proud they were of each and every one of us. There was no big secret — they just filled our lives with love and laughter and everything else took care of itself.

The last book that my mother read was one that I shared with her, “Tuesdays with Morrie.” A passage from that book is so profound … “As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on — in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here. Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

My mother’s death has changed the way I will live the rest of my life. I will no longer let the little things bother me, my family will never come second again, and I will not put things off until tomorrow.

And so, while my mother, Phyllis Portoghese, did not lead a corporation or travel the world, she touched the lives of so many. And as her children and our children continue to touch the lives of others, her memory and her purpose lives on. That is her legacy. That is the most important lesson I will ever learn.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Perfect Day

I’ve often wondered what a “perfect day” would be like. Well, Monday, June 28, 2010 was such a day for me. During our family vacation to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands we took a day-long excursion aboard the “Bad Kitty," a 49-foot power catamaran. The excursion included four stops throughout the British Virgin Islands. Together we climbed the rock formations at The Baths in Virgin Gorda, enjoyed a Caribbean lunch at the Cooper Island Beach Club, experienced the best ever snorkeling at the Indians in Norman Island and discovered the “Nilla Killa” at the famous Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke.

During our second honeymoon trip to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands in February 2009 to commemorate our 25th anniversary, my husband, Scott, and I took a day trip to St. John. Most of St. John is a national park and this lush island was a welcome relief from touristy, fast-paced island of St. Thomas. So we decided to use St. John as “home base” for our 2010 family vacation to celebrate our daughter’s graduation from high school. Over the years, we hadn’t been able to take many great family vacations and we wanted to create some lasting memories with and for our kids, now 21 (Phil) and 18 (Alyssa).

Through stjohncondos.com, we rented a beautiful two-bedroom, three-bath villa at the Westin Resort. Our hilltop condominium offered us the best of both worlds—the benefits and amenities of a resort with the convenience of a full kitchen, a washer and dryer, and a small pool just outside our doorstep complete with a gas grill and a panoramic view of Great Cruz Bay. The first two days were spent relaxing and exploring the island by day followed by “happy hour” at our pool while grilling steaks, shrimp, potatoes and corn. We “beach hopped” from Hawksnest Bay to Trunk Bay (our favorite) to Cinnamon Bay and explored the offerings of local merchants and the shops and restaurants at Mongoose Junction. We also braved some wild mountain roads and ventured all the way to Coral Bay to lunch at Skinny Legs, self-proclaimed as a “pretty ok bar and grill.”

Then came our perfect day. After “doorstep service” (we were picked up by dinghy on the Westin’s beachfront), our first stop was The Baths, which has truly become one of my favorite places on this earth. We swam to shore to explore this natural wonder with its giant boulders, pools of water and multiple beaches. One stop along our excursion was more beautiful then the next. Lunch at the picturesque and nearly uninhabited Cooper Island was delicious. Snorkeling in clear, azure 30-foot waters at the Indians was amazing. While they offered Rum Punch and introduced “Painkillers” aboard the Bad Kitty, we got to experience the original Nilla Killa at the famous Soggy Dollar Bar. Since you can only get to Jost Van Dyke by boat and there are no docks, you have to swim to shore … so soggy money is acceptable. [We recreated the tasty Nilla Killa at home as follows: 1 oz. vanilla rum, 4 oz. pineapple juice, 2 oz. orange juice, 1 oz. cream of coconut, shake well, pour over ice and top with a splash of grenadine and freshly grated nutmeg—it goes down really easy!]

All of these experiences combined almost created the perfect day, but what made it truly perfect was the appreciation we received from our kids. When we returned to the Westin, they treated us to cocktails at the resort’s luxurious quarter-acre pool and then they informed us they were treating us to dinner. They shopped at the Starfish Market and then grilled up a feast of steak, shrimp and ahi tuna kabobs for us—and they even cleaned the dishes.

There were many “thank yous” and many hugs that evening—but the pleasure was truly ours. I will remember forever how wonderful it was to spend a day in the warm sunshine and cool Caribbean waters with the three loves of my life. It was undoubtedly a perfect day.

View photos of our trip to the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and my perfect day.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Most Important Lesson I Ever Learned


Tuesday, June 22 marks the 10th anniversary of the death of my mother. I see your reflection in the mirror and in the eyes of my children. I also see you in the rainbows -- from the first double rainbow I ever saw in my life exactly a week after your death to the end of the rainbow that touched down in the street outside the restaurant where your youngest son's rehearsal dinner was being held a year after your death. You've found ways to let me know it will be okay. I've only had one dream about you ... and it was so real. We hugged and you asked "Can you see me?" "Yes, and I can feel you, too," I replied. I hope to dream of you again. I miss you and think of you every day.

The Most Important Lesson I Ever Learned
(Originally published in the Orlando Sentinel, July 10, 2000)

The most important lesson I ever learned is one that I am learning right now. My mother’s sudden and unexpected death on June 22, 2000, turned my world upside down. My mother was the heart and soul of our family, and all of our hearts were broken that day. But she taught me so much during her life, and in death she is teaching me still.

Throughout my 40 years, there were many times I wondered how my mother could be content with her life. She was a stay-at-home mom who never worked outside the home after she married my father 44 years ago. And her favorite “exotic destination” was the lushly-landscaped swimming pool in her very own backyard. How could that be rewarding enough? I spent 20 years juggling a demanding career and a family and trying to manage the stress that went with life in the fast lane. But she always knew what I have only recently realized — making a difference in the life of a child is far more noble and rewarding than any career could ever be.

My parents have often been asked for their “secret formula” for raising kids. They raised four of us. Today each of us is personally fulfilled and professionally successful in our own rights … a surgeon, a public relations professional, a successful salesman and an engineer “whiz kid.” And not one of us has ever been in trouble with the law! No small feat for any parents! Of course there were some trials and tribulations along the way, including a new baby in 1973 when my mother was 40 (way before it was fashionable to be 40 and pregnant). But risks, plans or finances weren’t a consideration for my parents — family was the most important thing. And though I know there were times along the way when our parents probably didn’t like us very much, there was never a time that any one of us ever doubted that we were truly, unconditionally loved. And our parents always made sure that we knew how very proud they were of each and every one of us. There was no big secret — they just filled our lives with love and laughter and everything else took care of itself.

The last book that my mother read was one that I shared with her, “Tuesdays with Morrie.” A passage from that book is so profound … “As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on — in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here. Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

My mother’s death has changed the way I will live the rest of my life. I will no longer let the little things bother me, my family will never come second again, and I will not put things off until tomorrow.

And so, while my mother, Phyllis Portoghese, did not lead a corporation or travel the world, she touched the lives of so many. And as her children and our children continue to touch the lives of others, her memory and her purpose lives on. That is her legacy. That is the most important lesson I will ever learn.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Letter to my Daughter -- High School Graduation



Dear Alyssa:

I can’t believe you have graduated from high school! I remember the day you were born like it was just yesterday. It was absolutely one of the happiest days of my life.

I wanted a little girl SO much. One of these days I’ll tell you about the book How to Choose the Sex of Your Child, but that will have to wait. Suffice it to say, I dreamt about having a daughter … and I even picked out your name years before I was ever pregnant with your big brother, Phil! Alyssa Milano, a cute little girl on Who’s the Boss in the mid- to late- ’80s was the inspiration. I wanted a cute, little Italian name for a cute, little Italian girl … and that’s exactly what we got!

But all throughout the pregnancy, I was convinced that I was having another boy. We found out that I was having a boy during the seventh month of my pregnancy with Phil, but Daddy wouldn’t let me find out the second time around. “You got to do it your way the first time,” he said, “now we do it the old-fashioned way.” In hindsight, however, I think the nurse (who knew I wanted to know) tried to tell me during your sonogram. You were gulping amniotic fluid (which is normal) and the nurse said, “It must be a girl, look at that mouth moving!” To cover herself, she added, “I shouldn’t say that, my son never stops talking.” When you were born on April 2, 1992 at 11:13 p.m., I yelled, “It’s a girl!” You were … and remain … the girl of my dreams.

Now your 18 and I’m so proud of the young woman you have become. You are kind, generous and multi-talented. You are one of those rare people who have equal strength in both the creative and analytical parts of their mind. You are a talented artist—you sing, create paintings, photo collages, and t-shirts—and your baking is truly a fine art. Your greatest academic strength, ironically, is in math. When you were about four, you would set up a “store” on our back porch and put price tags on items and we would “shop” in the store. You would revel in taking the monopoly money from us and making change. Some things never change—you still love money and shopping!

Every parent loves their child, but I think you are one of the most remarkable young women in the world. You are beautiful inside and out. For someone so young, you have so much compassion and wisdom. For your senior autobiography, I had to pick three adjectives to describe you. I chose thoughtful, talented and spiritual. I know that no matter where life’s path takes you, you will succeed … and you will be cherished.

I love you more than life itself ... I love you more ... not possible!

Mom