Category Archives: family

Marriage Magic.

Today, our nephew Brian Scannell is getting married to Brittany. I love them both. Brittany is best friends with Colleen Foran, the daughter of one of my best friends, Beth Foran, who is the grandmother of my grandniece Emma. So I already feel related to Brittany.

This morning, I stare at their carefully selected wedding card and seek inspiring words that describe the beauty of marriage. I pick up Something Like Magic: On Remembering How to Be Alive by Brian Andreas, a  poetry collection given to me by my friend MaryAnn. Reading the poems makes me fall in love all over again.

I read Andreas’ descriptions  – whoosh! There it is – that love thing. Each poem adds warmth and gratefulness, but not one says it all. I carefully transcribe “Heart Lessons” on the card:

I will carry you with me

to the end of my days

remembering all the

moments you taught me

to trust my one heart

to be alive



Bethy’s Bar Bonanza

Loyola Family Photo

Loyola Chicago Law Graduation May 2014

Bethy takes the llinois Bar Exam next week in Chicago, and Katie  thought up “Bethy’s Bar Bonanza” as a way for us to show Beth our love and support. Katie assigned each of us rotating days to write a message or share a quote  for our aspiring attorney. Katie labeled 30 envelopes: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, etc. and she collected thoughts from Brendan in LA and Brigid, Bobby, and herself in Seattle. She filled the designated west coast envelopes and mailed them to me along with an Excel spread sheet of dates assigned to each family member. (Yes, she’s a born teacher.) Tim, Kevin, and I filled our respective envelopes in Valpo.

On July 1, I texted Bethy in the basement (I know, it’s ridiculous)  to say there was an envelope for her on the kitchen counter. She replied, “What is it? It sounds scary.” I didn’t respond. On July 2, I put the Day 2 envelope on the counter and sent Bethy the same text.  On Day 8, I placed my home-made card in the arms of a Care Bear, Bethy’s favorite childhood stuffed animal. Sunshine Bear along with encouraging notes about discipline, social justice, unconditional love, and classic family memories help light a path toward Bethy’s sense of empowerment. Quotes from Nietzsche (Bethy hears the music of law), Thomas Buckner (once the battle with focus is won, everything is easy), J.K. Rowling (overcoming evil), David Sadaris (humor is key), and Donatello (a favorite Power Ranger from toddler days), along with others pepper Bethy with inspiration.  Tim’s favorite photos of Bethy as a child accompany his personal words of encouragement while Bobby  provides YouTube video links for study breaks.

One week to go – and we know Bethy will pass. Then she can change the world.

Mother’s Day with Men

Nancy CA                         Mother’s Day with Men 2014  

This year, Tim, Kevin, and I visited Brendan in LA for Mother’s Day. We hadn’t seen Brendan since Christmas, and I couldn’t wait to get there. Memories of Brendan’s birth entered my mind. As Tim and I sweated out labor pains on June 20, 1990, the nurses asked me if I wanted the baby to be a boy or a girl. After loving Katie and Bethy, I responded with great serenity, “It doesn’t matter. I’ll be so happy with a healthy child.” Three hours later, holding Brendan’s precious 8 pound, 12 ounce body, I wept, “I have a son.” Later, we were blessed with Brigid and Kevin, and the house was always full of a mix of genders. That was not the case on May 12th as I spent the day with Tim, Brendan, and Kevin: 

Strolling down Venice Beach, CA, on a gorgeous, sunny day with my fair-skinned red-headed sons and translucent- skinned husband, I am loving life. How did I get so lucky to have these children?. “Brendan, I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday.” “Really.” I get a rush of emotion and briefly look away to collect myself. When I turn back to the boys, they have moved down the beach front. I catch up with Brendan, and I stop to admire the artists’ work at the outdoor booths. “Aren’t these earrings pretty?” I look up. Wait. Where’d you go? I spot him up on the left and hustle up to him. I say, “Smells like pot.” “Yah.” Street performers flip flop across the walkway. I say, “The acrobats are amazing.” “Yah.”I ask, “Did you see that guy spin on his rear-end to ‘All the Single Ladies?'” “Yah.” We pass a store, and I suggest, “Want to look at these shoes?” “I already did.” People of all sizes, races, ages, and styles dazzle me. I nudge Brendan, “Did you see that guy dressed like a super hero?” Yah”. Vendors sell everything from incense to rocks to skateboards to jewelry to pipes to Italian ice. “Want to try the dark chocolate cherries?” “Nah.” Looking at embroidered scarves, I state, “I have to go to the bathroom.” “You always have to go to the bathroom.” We pass a bookstore. “This is a cool book of quotes from famous filmmakers. Would you like it, Brendan?” “Sure. I can leave it out on my dresser and look at it once in awhile.” Are you kidding me? I meander further along the open air storefronts and become enthralled with a shirtless, young man’s explanation of the power of various agate stones, and I call Kevin over. “Should I get this one for Bethy? The guy says the stone enhances communication skills, and maybe Bethy would like it as a new lawyer?” Kevin looks at me like I’m nuts. I buy it anyway. I see that the back of his neck is turning a pale pink. “Did you put on sunscreen, Kevin?” “I’m good.” Through clenched teeth, I command, “Put on sunscreen NOW!” It sure is Mother’s Day. I linger over a display of beaded headbands while Kevin lathers up. I pull out my phone and text Katie, Bethy, and Brigid, “Next time, you have to come with us!”  The girls would think the rocks are cool. “Did you see where your dad went?”

Easter Skype 2014

Easter Skype photo 2014

Easter Skype 2014

Katie, our oldest daughter, leans into the camera with her wild curly auburn hair pulled back and her bright blue eyes beaming through the monitor. Her husband Bobby has grown a beard, and my husband Tim teases, “Don’t they shave for Easter mass in Seattle?” Brendan’s face pops on to an adjacent screen, his bright red hair, translucent complexion, and huge blue eyes take command of the camera, similar to his LA life dreams. Brigid pops on the screen! “Happy Easter, Mom!” Do not weep. Do not cry with joy. I squelch my desire to jump through the computer to hug the west coast children. Brigid also studies in Seattle and has goals to change the world. Suddenly, Bethy, hair flopping in a high blonde ponytail, appears with a huge grin. She looks radiant, relaxed as she lay on her stomach on her bed and rests on her elbows. “Happy Easter, Mom, how was grandma’s?” Kevin asks, “Which one?” “Both.” “Both are good.” We report on the health of the pillars of each family – Tim and I are well aware of the prominent role our mothers have played in establishing the traditions and roots of the extended families. Our fathers passed away years ago, and “the grandma’s” are central to all things Neylon and Scannell-related.

All eight beaming, faces appear at the bottom of the screen –Brendan, clear-eyed, witty, and funny expertly taking his turn speaking to the electronic device; next, Brigid, natural, blue-eyed and gorgeous, patiently listening and absorbing, a true undergrad scholar; center Katie, a modern day, lean Maureen O’Hara and her gentle, loving husband Bobby; a strange box, out of place, labeled “Nancy”; and to the far right, Bethy, our graduating Loyola Chicago law student, boisterous, energetic, and ready to fight for those on the cusp of society.

Tim and Kevin, our youngest, flank me on either side. I marvel at the Irish faces, each unique and fiercely independent. Christmas Eve to Easter, so long since we’ve all been “together.” Tim and I rarely skype – for me, it opens the raw wound of distance. But today, it’s different. Today, I take what I can get, and I want to soak up every second of the wonders the kids have grown to be.

“Grandma Neylon is good. She was going to brunch with Aunt Eileen’s family,” why is there so little to talk about? Why are we struggling for conversation? “Grandma Scannell’s was really fun.” I list off the aunts, uncles and cousins who were there and who was not. The faces nod and smile from the laptops. I  am providing an attendance report, but I don’t mind – just keep the conversation going, so I can continue to see them – all together all at once. “Tommy hurt his knee.” “Billy has gotten so tall,” says Kevin. The expressions go blank. Someone says, “Oh, Maggie has a boyfriend.” The features shift with that news – all smiles. One says, “I heard about that at Christmas. He was new then.”

The conversation gets more stilted, and I ask Kevin to switch seats with me. Maybe if Kevin is in front of the screen, they will stay on longer. Katie says, “Kevin, how was the art show?” “It was fun.” I say, “His exhibit was great.” Brigid reminisces about her Indiana high school drawings, and I ask if she ever draws anymore. I do not know. I do not know what she does besides study, attend class, and see friends. What does she do between classes? What is her morning routine? Does she still have crazy sleep habits? Does she still eat semi-dark chocolate chips right out of the bag?

“Kevin, go get some of your artwork, so we can see it,” Katie encourages. She’s a lifesaver – that will keep them online. I describe the pieces, and Kevin brings one canvas up from the basement. I hold it to the camera, and they all say things like “cool,” “great colors,” “wow.” I prod Kevin to go get another painting.

“I like your tie, Kevin,” Katie compliments. Kevin has adopted his own personal style. At seventeen, he is long and lean, and he wears his strawberry blonde hair straight up – like somebody famous that I don’t know. The older kids are completely at peace with themselves, and like them, Kevin is defining his identity according to his own tastes, hopes, and dreams.

The conversation fizzles, but everyone is too kind to end it. Bethy frees us from the confines of the computer, “Well, I have some work to do.” I feel the chair shift behind me. It’s over. They are packing up. We don’t make promises to skype more often. We don’t set a date when we will all log on. Instead, we honestly say, “I love you, Happy Easter.”