That’s The Thanks I Get

First and foremost, I apologize for the delay; my silence was the product of a heavy work schedule, not lack of commitment. So, the plan, as it stands now, is to forget about my hiatus and jump right back into the groove.

As some of you may know, the Thank You Project’s URL was inspired by Wilco’s track “The Thanks I Get,” which is a song about love, loss and everything in between.

While the song doesn’t quite capture the founding sentiment of the Thank You Project, it does pay homage to a band that I am deeply grateful for (and it helped fill the naming void since “thethankyouproject.wordpress.com” was taken. But that’s neither here nor there).

Anyway, for years and years, Wilco has been (and continues to be) the single most influential source of artistic inspiration in my life. So, when I crunched the numbers and came to the conclusion that I am just too broke to attend this year’s Solid Sound – a three-day music festival that Wilco curates – I was a little disappointed. In spite of the sting that accompanies a very adult realization that making rent is more important than attending a music festival, I managed to forget about it… until I saw a contest. I wrote a story, sent it along and, against all odds, won. If you’d like to see my submission or any of the other “honorable mentions,” jump on over to the Solid Sound website.

Thank you, Wilco (and Mountain Hardwear!) I can’t tell you how grateful I am, but I’m sure you’ll be able to see it written all over my face in just a few weeks.

Oh, The Places We’ll Go: A Thank You Letter To Kick Off The New Year

As many of you probably don’t know, this week marks 2013’s National Letter Writing Week. Is it nerdy? Yes. Is it nerdy enough to keep me from writing about it? (Obviously) no.

So, this week, I will take a cue from the holiday at hand and write a letter to one of my very closest friends. Before I dive in, I’d like to reference a Thought Catalog piece that I read a while back. Chelsea Fagan, a regular essayist for the website, writes an incredibly astute Thank You Letter to Real Friends that struck a chord with me. It felt like she had her finger on my pulse as I read about the hardships of finding friends as an adult and the obstacles presented to anyone trying to navigate the social cues of a post-collegiate world (a shock to the system for any recent grad making the transition from college to cubicle).

She so accurately describes the way that young adults settle for acquaintances over true friends, whether out of fear, loneliness or convenience. She writes that we, as a collective breed of young professionals new to this habitat, settle for “people who are nice enough, but with whom we wouldn’t share a secret. With whom we wouldn’t cry. With whom we wouldn’t laugh until our stomachs ached.”

This dear friend of mine… well, it will suffice to say that she is not one of those people. This friend and I have cried enough tears to fill a milk carton. We have laughed so hard that our lungs ached for air and our eyes welled in protest. We have embarrassed ourselves in front of each other, we have supported each other, we have consoled each other and we have needed each other. I was lucky enough to happen upon her in a brand new city at a brand new job in a brand new stage of my life, and I am forever grateful. My letter will be short (mostly because my intro was so long,) but I hope it serves its purpose.

Lola,

In an effort to avoid mincing words, I want to start out with a basic fact: this past year has not been an easy one for you. In fact, it’s been a pretty awful one. But in spite of it all, you’ve maintained such an admirably positive attitude and an ever-open mind. You never complain, you never wallow – and I still don’t know how you do it.

The evolution of our friendship was a strange one, but it somehow panned out perfectly. And even though we’re hurtling closer to full-fledged adulthood, I am so grateful that I still have a friend that can enjoy too much wine the little things with me.

So, my hope for you is that 2013 is better. Much better. I hope it is filled with more happiness, more excitement and more adventures (Chicago-based adventures, perhaps?) I hope it brings you even more love and even more comfort. Even though time is such a scary thing, I think it’s on our side this year.

And since I’m afraid that I won’t be as eloquent as our beloved Thought Catalog writers, I conclude with this excerpt from another writer:

“Sometimes we don’t thank our friends enough — for being there, for loving us, for being able to exist in the sidelines because of distance or schedules but come back into our lives with full force when the opportunity arrives. Our real friends, whose love and humor can lie dormant for stretches but doesn’t simply die, often go unappreciated. We owe them so much, and they are such a huge part of who we are, but we can often forget that as we construct our own lives. And we’ll surely make new friends as we grow — and are done stumbling into adulthood and everything that comes with it — but they won’t be a replacement, and we shouldn’t forget that. We owe it to ourselves to thank the people who have been there for us, and who remind us that we’ll always be worth more than just a handshake and an empty ‘we should grab a coffee soon.'”

You have helped me stumble into adulthood, and you have given me a brand new perspective on the future. Thank you so, so much. 

To My Dear Friends…

Happy New Year, everyone!

As you may have guessed, one of my many resolutions for 2013 involves the continuation (and improvement) of the Thank You Project. But first, I have to take a moment to thank you.

If your upbringing was anything like mine, you have been conditioned to understand the weight that a handwritten thank you note carries. Perhaps now more so than ever, the laborious task of etching out your thoughts (as opposed to recording them through the ever-impersonal computer) is deeply meaningful and symbolic.

So, as a result, I’ve written a thank you note for each and every one of you. The hard copy is a little bit crooked thanks to my scanner (and, regrettably, my penmanship). To make things a bit easier, I’ve typed it out below, as well. I hope it helps you understand not only by handwriting, but also how deeply I appreciate your support, your readership and your feedback.

Each of you is hugely integral to the success of this project, and I am forever grateful for you.

To my dear Friends, 

Thank you so, so much for your support and encouragement in 2012. Without your continued readership and feedback, the Thank You Project would have been abandoned long ago. 

After only eleven posts and more than 2,130 views, I couldn’t be more excited for a New Year filled with gratitude. 

In the New Year, I am resolving to shed my fears surrounding the Thank You Project and work to deliver new, engaging content for you to read (and maybe even share!) Thanks to your loyal readership, I am now prepared to stop worrying and start doing. 

So, in an effort to recognize each of you, I have some “thank yous” to run through. To my behind-the-scenes editors who support me non-stop — thank you. To all of the people who have called, e-mailed, texted or commented with kind words of encouragement — thank you. To those of you who submitted or inspired content — thank you. And to all of my silent readers out there — thank you. I am so deeply grateful for each and every one of you. 

With love and gratitude, 

Molly

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To The Helpers

After a month-long hiatus from the Thank You Project, I’m back with a short, but important, post.

Much like many of you, I have been battling with my sadness over the heart-wrenching loss that the families of Newtown, Connecticut endured this past Friday, and will continue to endure from this day forward. I don’t necessarily know how to write about it in a way that will do it any justice, so I will leave it at this: I am so deeply saddened for the families who are coping with this unimaginable loss, and I am so deeply saddened for the community that has been forced to say goodbye to so many wonderful people. My thoughts haven’t left you since I heard the news.

I have borrowed a quote that a friend posted, which can be attributed to a man who has already lent some wisdom to this blog. Today, Mister Rogers’ wisdom offers this poignant perspective on tragedy:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

Today, and always, I am grateful for the helpers. They are brave, they are selfless and, above all else, they are so very loved.

Thank you for reading. 

The Ripple Effect: Thank You Card Edition

Do you remember Mr. Rogers?

I remember him, his beautiful days in the neighborhood and, perhaps most vividly, his grandpa sweaters. I also remember an old quote of his, and it’s stuck with me for as long as I can remember:

“Sometimes, all it takes is one kind word to nourish another person. Think of
the ripple effect that can be created when we nourish someone. One kind
empathetic word has a wonderful way of turning into many.”

I think this sentiment struck me because it rings so true, particularly as I watch my brothers and sisters raise their children. As parents, they all work so tirelessly to ensure that their children are growing up to be kind, polite individuals (and they are doing so beautifully), but Mr. Rogers does such a beautiful job of summing it up simply: Be kind. Be aware of the power of words. Be good.

Children, in all of their earnestness and innocence, learn by example; thanks to this fact of life, my 11 nieces and nephews have  learned how to express their gratitude with a beautiful note, a kind word and a big hug. They have each absorbed this attentiveness to gratitude over time, but it never ceases to amaze me.

Just this past week, I received messages from two of my aunts about the thank you notes that my sister Jennifer’s children had sent to certain family members after our annual softball tournament, the Schreiber Slugfest. (Sidenote: I did not warn Jennifer or her husband, Jeff, about this post so… SURPRISE! Your children are awesome!) Anyway, my Aunts were kind enough to a.) tell me about these notes, as I was unable to travel back to the Midwest for Slugfest this year and b.) scan some of the cards for the blog.

The thank-you notes are such a refreshing reminder that even just a few kind words can make a meaningful impact. So, many thanks to Jennifer and Jeff for raising such wonderful children, many thanks to my two Aunts M and T for making the effort to reach out and forward along the handwritten cards and, as always, thank you for reading!

The Music That Makes Us

On a cold, snowy Sunday morning of my Midwestern youth, my eldest sister invited me to join her in a weekend tradition. Eager to be included, I climbed into her bed without asking questions as she fidgeted with her radio dial. After navigating through the static, she landed on 93.1, Chicago’s WXRT. As I settled in to listen, she explained that every Sunday she had “Breakfast with the Beatles.”

This program was not my first exposure to the Fab Four, but it was an important one. This radio show, which still airs today, does more than spin Beatles tracks; it broadcasts interviews with experts, stories about the relationships between the musicians and examines the context of the releases. This program helped me understand that there is more to music than just the songs. The components of making records, from concept to production, require incredible attention to detail and complete understanding of the musical goal. It was the first time, I think, that I truly understood music to be a form of art.

Now, I’ve mentioned the impact my family has had upon my pursuit of spreading the attitude of gratitude, but in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I think I owe them a few more words. Without the guidance of my siblings, my parents and my friends, I would never have become the type of listener I am today. After sharing this experience with my sister, I started to understand certain things about the music, but I also started to understand certain things about her. Her two cats, for example, were not haphazardly named Max and Eleanor; instead, they were named after the Beatles’ famed lyrical characters, Maxwell Edison and Eleanor Rigby. (My sister’s newest feline friend has been aptly dubbed Lovely Rita). Thanks in part to this experience and others like it, I began to realize the power that music has to shape the people it touches.

Following that Sunday, I continued listening to the program. As I accumulated my own Beatles records and started to form my own opinions about the band and their work, I realized that she had entrusted me with something special. She had offered me a glimpse into a world of music that had enchanted her and, in turn, had enchanted me. In a way, she infected me with the awareness that music can do more than lift your spirits; it can, quite literally, change the way you view others and, perhaps more importantly, the way you view yourself. Admittedly, this realization sounds more exaggerated in print than it was in action. Perhaps another example will convey my point with more subtlety.

As his children were listening to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Ace of Base, my father was busy blasting Motown and R&B in our living room. Every weekend, he would slip a CD into the stereo, turn the volume knob to 48 and hide behind his newspapers. Whenever I walked past him, all I could see was his foot keeping time with the music and his coffee quaking as the vibrations gave a pulse to the room. Whether it was Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder or Luther Vandross, he would never stop tapping that foot. While he never really spoke about his love for Motown, he never needed to; those snapping fingers and flopping feet were enough. Now, after years of this tradition, all of his children have a deep-rooted love for the Temptations and Michael Jackson. By mere example, my father managed to teach his children about the infectiousness of the Motown beat and the magic of a James Jamerson bassline.

Now, these episodes color pieces of my musical education, but they are only part of the foundation upon which I am continuing to build my knowledge.  While most of my current education is spent in conversation with my like-minded brother, reading blogs and following the work of my favorite music critics, I have not forgotten the impact of these initial teachers. Of course, I love the challenge of discovering new music and promising bands, but nothing compares to a conversation with someone who truly loves and understands music. This kind of dialogue offers a certain insight that is impossible to duplicate.

Maybe it still seems a little clichéd, but, in the light of the Thanksgiving spirit, I hope my readers forgive me: I am incredibly thankful to all of the people who have conditioned me to be an open-minded listener with a critical ear and a bottomless love for music. So thank you, Dad, Jennifer and Nicholas, and, as always thank you for reading!

 *Note: I wrote this piece two years ago for my weekly music column in The Villanovan, and every single sentiment still rings true. It’s amazing how quickly time passes!

An Ode To A Devastated Staten Island

As mentioned in my previous post, I have many, many friends who have been directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Some have lost cars, some have lost power and some have lost possessions. What I failed to mention, however, was that one of those friends was on Staten Island, one of the most hard-hit areas on the East Coast. My dear friend, whom I call “Grams,” both out of affection and humor, was pummeled by the storm. Yet, in spite of the destruction that her hometown sustained, she considers herself to be one of the “lucky” ones.

When her power was restored this morning, Grams sent me an e-mail. With her permission, I have posted it below for you to read. It is long. It is heartbreaking. It is beautiful. I urge you to read it in its entirety, but if you don’t, I’ve excerpted a particularly poignant section:

I’m equal parts grateful and heartbroken. I know you have this blog on which you write about being grateful. And I’m certainly grateful for people. But I’m also grateful for the most basic things–clean water, a warm meal, a shelter that can protect you from the elements (or at least be at a comfortable temperature). I could probably write pages about the beauty of a hot cup of coffee or a hot shower. But I am also grateful for the intangible things that can’t quite be explained–the sense of a home, the spirit of a community, empathy for your fellow (wo)man.

I’m not sure Staten Island will be able to give these intangibles to all of its surviving victims, but we are definitely doing our best to provide essentials as well as empathy and comfort to as many as possible. And I will continue to take jokes about the stereotypes of Staten Island and about how we are ignored as a borough. Garrulous, gaudy, less-cultured, less-educated, less-wealthy, less-worth it. I think we’ve got enough character and heart on this island to not worry about what others think of us.  But I hope we get enough assistance for my community to return in full force and for me to make new memories in some of the places on this island that I love the most.

As you can see, Grams is a special person.

Her full letter is pasted below, and it contains graphic descriptions of the ruins that replaced her hometown. When I read it, I was stunned; there is such an overwhelming sense of gratefulness, accompanied by a heartbreaking heaviness. I would like to extend a special thanks to Grams for being brave enough to write it, and, as always, a special thanks to you for reading.

Oh my god, Molls. This has been the longest week of my life. I feel like I’ve lived an entire life in the past week. I’m completely disoriented. And honestly, I was only mildly inconvenienced compared to what other people have been through. I lost power Monday at 2:30pm… got it back at 5 until about 7 then was without power for 73 hours. But I have a home, I have my car, all of my immediate family members were safe. At the height of the surge (8-12pm Monday), I laid in my bed in the dark, feeling my house shake, scared to look out the windows at the trees swaying and falling. Before this, I had seen pictures of disaster and I had felt sympathy. I had felt emotional looking at pictures and hearing stories about Katrina. But it’s a completely separate experience to see with your own eyes the places that you know intimately be completely and utterly destroyed. To see your community demoralized. To walk down a few blocks and see the sharp line from where devastation ends and where the spared land begins. To know that this was only a Category 1 storm!! And what if it had been as bad as Katrina? To know that in spite of the terror I’ve seen, there are other places in far worse circumstances. 

I know that people don’t really understand Staten Island. It’s about 14 miles by 7 miles. It’s sort of big. Physically, it’s bigger than Manhattan. And we have about half a million people living here. I live in Tottenville–the southern-most part of the borough. By the beach there is even a little South Pole (a literal pole that says southern most tip of New York State!). I moved to Tottenville in 1999. Tottenville is a little town in Staten Island…less than 2 square miles big. There were no chain stores located in the area at that time (we have since gotten a Burger King and a McDonalds and Subway and Target, and you-name-it! It’s really built up in the past few years) But it’s a tiny little town. I walked to school. As a kid, if I saw a person walking down the street, I knew who that person was. On Yetman Avenue–where a 13-year-old girl and her father were found dead because the storm surge literally collapsed their house and sent them flying down another block (They didn’t evacuate because when they did evacuate during last year’s Hurricane Irene, their belongings were stolen from their house)–is the same street where I went to school 4th through 8th grade, went to CCD, where I played basketball, where I first kissed a boy… This destroyed area along the shore is my usual running route!! I like to be right by the water so I get a view and a little breeze. I’ve been terrified to go by there not knowing whether I will find a body or someone’s home appliance or sewage. But when I went to high school, I went to a school on the other side of the Island…near South Beach, near the Verrazano Bridge. The South Beach boardwalk where I had many a high school track practice is also where two young boys—2 years old and 4 years old—in their mother’s SUV were swept away by the storm surge as she had tried to escape. There are several different locations extremely hard hit and far away from each other. It’s weird because you go through devastation to relative normalcy to devastation. And even though Tottenville is where my house is, my friends and family are spread out across Staten Island and I have emotional ties to almost every neighborhood here. 

My stupid friend Mary lives in Zone A mandatory evacuation zone in Midland Beach (more towards the center of the island, on the East Shore). I texted on Monday morning asking her if she really wanted to stay, then wished her luck. That night, she took to Twitter saying bottom of my house is flooded, Mom and I are trapped, fire a block away, we have no way out if it spreads, please call 911. I didn’t see this tweet until the morning after. My heart dropped. I couldn’t breathe. And for most of the day, I had no idea what had happened to her. And then, finally, a Twitter confirmation of safety that evening. Luckily, the fire didn’t spread and she had a second story to go to when her first floor got flooded. Their cars are ruined. But honestly, they are still waiting for bodies to wash ashore and be identified. A lot of these are from these mandatory evacuation zones so I have this conflicted feeling of anger for their decisions to stay and sadness over the decimation of my community. I’m not sure it will ever be the same. Restaurants and houses no longer standing. Boats and sand and garbage in the streets. The train I take everyday is out of service indefinitely. Places that I know that give context to my memories simply ceased to exist in an instant, streets that I’ve run on and walked on millions of times are unrecognizable. 

When I woke up the morning after (Tuesday), I looked outside of my house to see that two trees had fallen where I normally park my car. (But anticipating this, I had pulled into my driveway). I thought, oh I’m relieved. Walking around the immediately adjoining blocks, we found trees fallen clear across all of the roads that would lead us anywhere. I went back inside. We were told to stay out of the way so they could start cleanup.  The first day and a half without power is almost relaxing (aside from panicking about Mary). I read Saul Bellow’s Letters–a book I started reading back at Villanova and never got to finish. We even had a radio. We would hear stories about how Manhattan had no power. Manhattan and Brooklyn would get power back in 2-3 days…These bridges and roadways are re-opening… the Jersey Shore is ruined…. But what about Staten Island? 

The hardest part was not getting any information about what had happened to areas that are a 5-minute walk from my house! Not knowing when we would get power back. And then finally, I would get some 3G and I would look up Staten Island information and I was stunned with how much had happened and how much I didn’t know. But nothing on the radio about us! I mean, people on Staten Island have a lot of anxiety about being the “forgotten” borough and I sort of brush it aside like it doesn’t matter. I joke about it. I take it in stride. But this was a moment when it did matter. This was a harsh reality. A couple of days later, the media began paying more attention to us and giving us the resources we needed. I’m grateful. But they’re still holding the marathon which people are flipping out about because they are still pulling bodies from the beach just a couple of miles from where the start is located (right before the Verrazano Bridge)! People are still sitting in their homes without food, without heat, without information. To not have those emergency personnel working to restore people’s lives is insane! I understand wanting to show that the city can move forward, that we need to return to normal—but we are not there yet. And my dad is running it, my friend JP is running it, I’m a part of the running community and I know what goes into a marathon and I still think it’s absurd. And none of the anger should be directed at the runners! It’s not their fault. But whoever organizes this event is—point blank—taking resources from people who need them the most. 

As time passed in the dark in my house and we watched the temperature dip closer to freezing, we grew worried. Our one resource was that we had clean water, but that would be gone if the water froze. Not to mention how cold it was in my house! My neighbor had knocked on the door earlier saying he had to leave because his grandchildren were too cold and they couldn’t stay as it got down to the 40s at night. I ate Halloween candy for the trick-or-treaters that didn’t come and drank water and ate chips and pretzels and bread. Every hour that went on, I had an hour that I was hopeful, that I knew it would be soon that the power would go back on and then the next I would be depressed, hearing that it might be another 10 days. And then saying to myself, I am lucky I have a home… that I have some food and water. 

My parents and I kept saying the world is divided now into 3 parts–the destroyed, the inconvenienced and the oblivious. On Thursday, my dad walked down to the FEMA truck distributing water and food to people in Tottenville but didn’t dare take anything. He biked down to the destroyed areas. Emergency personnel asked him to show ID, where was he coming from, why was he here? He replied, I live right by here, I just wanted to know what is happening. The emergency guy said,“I’m sorry. It’s best that you go home. We’re worried about looters.“ LOOTERS! taking from people who no longer have a house, whose belongings are strewn across the streets. The worst kinds of people in the world. Thursday at 8PM, the lights turned on. My parents and I sat still, scared to scare it away. We walked outside the front of our house and rejoiced and saw our neighbors outside their houses yelling too. Another surreal moment. How do we be happy for ourselves and not let ourselves become the part of the world that is oblivious?

They just said the SI Ferry is returned. Okay, If I can get gas to drive myself to the ferry, when I arrive in downtown Manhattan–how will I get up to 68th Street to go to school? I’m sure it will work itself out by Tuesday. I hope. But the SI Train is gone indefinitely. 

I’m equal parts grateful and heartbroken. I know you have this blog on which you write about being grateful. And I’m certainly grateful for people. But I’m also grateful for the most basic things–clean water, a warm meal, a shelter that can protect you from the elements (or at least be at a comfortable temperature). I could probably write pages about the beauty of a hot cup of coffee or a hot shower. But I am also grateful for the intangible things that can’t quite be explained–the sense of a home, the spirit of a community, empathy for your fellow (wo)man. 

I’m not sure Staten Island will be able to give these intangibles to all of its surviving victims, but we are definitely doing our best to provide essentials as well as empathy and comfort to as many as possible. And I will continue to take jokes about the stereotypes of Staten Island and about how we are ignored as a borough. Garrulous, gaudy, less-cultured, less-educated, less-wealthy, less-worth it. I think we’ve got enough character and heart on this island to not worry about what others think of us.  But I hope we get enough assistance for my community to return in full force and for me to make new memories in some of the places on this island that I love the most. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45755883/ns/msnbc-the_last_word/#49652895) 

I’m still in shock. Last I heard, 19 dead from Staten Island and I’m expecting that number to rise.

 

A Somber Salute to The Givers

My wise father always has always said that there are two types of people in this world: there are givers, and there are takers. In light of the tremendous storm that has shaken the core of our country, as well as the stability of our fellow citizens of the world in the Caribbean and in Canada, I would like to dedicate today’s post to the men and women serving as emergency responders throughout the east coast. They are, without a doubt, givers.

The images that have inundated our media channels, our Twitter accounts and our newsfeeds are astounding. For me, the horror and surrealism encapsulated is eerily reminiscent of the images that stemmed from the horrific events of September 11, 2001. As a seventh grade student hungry for news, and as a girl whose father was working in the heart of Manhattan that day, I vividly remember the fear and, perhaps most intensely, the images.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram had not yet been invented. iPhones were unheard of. And, at age 13, I did not own a cell phone. In spite of these defining differences that separate yesterday’s storm from that unspeakable day, the photographs served as my primary source of information, just as they did yesterday.

I remember finding an issue of TIME Magazine on my sister’s coffee table in the suburbs of Chicago, days, weeks or months after the attacks took place (my memories from that time period seem to be suspended in a hazy fog that distorts time and, to a certain extent, my emotional memory). This particular issue was dedicated to a series of photographs taken on and after September 11, and it included the prominently used image of the Falling Man; an image that haunts me to this day.

But surrounding this image, the issue also offered innumerable images of heroism and hope. It painted a picture of human connection, selfless support and a collective dedication to recovery. The images proved our resiliency, just as much as they proved the factuality of the tragedy. The common thread that bound these ineffably touching photographs were, and still are, the men and women who are frozen in time as caregivers, rescuers and consolers. They are the people who encouraged (and allowed) us to rise together as a nation to mourn those we lost, support the families who needed reinforcements and welcome home those who had survived.

People still say it: those folks were heroes. Well, they still are heroes, and they remain so on a daily basis. So I write this post today in an effort to thank our service members, our firefighters, our paramedics, our doctors, our nurses, our police officers and our volunteers. You make our world better and you make our nation stronger. And, as always, thank you for reading.

I Got It From My Mama

To my mother on my birthday,

Thank you for everything. (How’s that for getting right to the point, Nick?)

As I reflect on my 24 years of life, I realize that I owe all of my successes to you. You have prepared me for failure, and you have celebrated my achievements. You have taught me how to cry, and you have taught me how to laugh. You have taught me how to console, and you have taught me how to be consoled. You have equipped me with the tools to cope with loss, and you have taught me how to accept change. You have brought me back to reality, and you have supported my ambition.

You, Mama, have taught me everything I know, and you have supported everything I’ve done. Thank you.

And thank you for being such a wonderful mother to each and every one of your eight children (yes, ladies and gentleman; my mother and father produced one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, EIGHT children. That is the real reason they call my father “the Count”). Each of your children, and each of your childrens’ children, recognize and appreciate your inhuman ability to be available for your offspring at all times.

Thank you for always being such a wonderful wife to our father, and such a wonderful friend to the people in your life. You have taught me by example, and your example has been truly remarkable. Through your own actions, you have taught me to think of others before myself; you have shown me the value in love; you have helped me understand the power of a hand-written card; you, Mama, have made me the independent person I am today. You are the strongest person I know, and I thank you for the times that you’ve helped me when it was you that needed help.

For those of you have not met my mother, she is a saint. She is the glue that keeps our (very large) family together. She is the pillar upon which her friends and family lean when the tide turns and the skies grow dark.

So, today, on my 24th birthday, I thank you, Mama. You’re an incredible woman, and I hope that I become more like you with each year that passes. And, as always, thank you for reading!