Stephanie Baffone

We can no longer ignore that there is a host of reality television stars who are educating our kids.

I don’t like it and I’d prefer to bury my head in the sand like an ostrich. That tact however, will leave me starved for air and my nieces and nephews without the benefit of a moral and cultural counterpoint to the “GTL” (gym, tan, laundry) lifestyle.

I’m an aunt to forty nieces and nephews all by relation and many of them they love the “Jersey Shore.” Their facination with these pop-culture nitwits finds me reaching for my rosary beads. It’s gonna be a cold day in hell before I sit back and let these morally devoid characters corrupt my little darlings. So, what’s an auntie to do?

Here’s what I came up with. Read more

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Tuesday Tips

This tip is for Dads- buy your daughter(s) flowers.

When I was six years old, our door bell rang. It was February 14, 1973 and my twin sister and I were first-graders.

Just off the school bus, Gee and I were in our room peeling off our parochial school uniform jumpers when my Mom stood at the doorway and said, “Did you hear the door bell? You girls might want to go see who’s at the door.”

Our home was perched on Nectar Lane, a cul-de-sac in an early 1970′s suburban subdivision in bucolic Chester County, Pennsylvania. Growing up a knock at the door or chime of the doorbell was a quotidian occurrence.  We didn’t lock our doors, the kids played outside long after the sunset and in the winters we ice-skated on the two neighborhood ponds.  When the door bell, rang, Gee and I figured it was either Doree, Dayna or Lori, our childhood friends, sporting rosy cheeks with ice-skates slung over their shoulders anxious to ask, “Can the twins come out to play?”

My Mom rarely displayed a sense of urgency, so when she suggested we go see who was at the door, Gee and I ran around the hallway corner, pulling sweaters over our heads. To this day, I’ll never forget what greeted us when we got to the end of the hallway and made the sharp right passed the iron railing toward the front door.

There with two long white boxes with bright pink ribbons tied around them, stood my Dad. Leaning on the top box, he signed a piece of paper and offered a hearty, proud thanks to a delivery boy bundled up in a black peacoat standing outside on our front stoop.

I remember being slightly confused. The whole scene felt foreign but the grin on my Dad’s face spoke of a seminal event.

He slammed the door shut, turned and handed us the two foot packages. “For you girls. Happy Valentine’s Day!”

The four of us walked into the living room and there on our wool, orange serpentine couch, Gee and I tore open the boxes. Inside on a cushion of baby pink crepe paper were a dozen delicate pink roses. The buds barely peaked open. Resting on top of the bouquets were small, furry grey squirls with red bows tied around their necks and a sign that read, “Be mine.”

It’s one of the first times in my life I ever remember feeling like I mattered.

“For us, Daddy?” we asked. My Mom responded because my Dad was too teary to talk. “Daddy wanted to be the first man to send you girls flowers.”

Gee and I kept those squirrels and the pink bows from the long white boxes tied around our canopy beds well into our teenage years. I’ve been a lucky girl to have been blessed with many a flower delivery over the years but every time I’ve answered the door to a delivery man, I am reminded that my Daddy was the first.

When is a time when you felt like you mattered?

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Last week, when I flew home from my trip to Florida to visit my Dad, I gazed out the window of the plane as we made our descent into Philadelphia.

The Price Was Right!

There was a time when I was petrified to fly. Before my own days “on the couch” I had some ridiculous belief that my fate would be sealed on a large metal flying object during a trip I won on The Price Is Right. Straight out of the DSM-IV, I suffered from a phobia. (In 1991, I was a contestant on the show and won the showcase showdown which included three trips-one to Rome, one to Tokyo and a third to Maui). Read more

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Happy Sunday, Everyone!

This week’s Sacred Sunday I am encoring a piece I wrote last year about my Dad in honor of his birthday. It’s Part I of what I’m calling The Daddy Diaries.

Spit shined, dusted off and anxious to take center stage again, please give a warm, Sacred Sunday welcome to, “Don’t Look With Your Dawba.”

Enjoy!

“Don’t Look With Yaw Dawba”


Two weekends ago The Bird and I flew to Florida to see my Dad for his 95th birthday.

During our time in the sunshine state, we did all the sorts of “geezer” things you’d normally do with a 95 year old, including playing a tense game of Bingo at the Country Club.

BINGO

Let me say this about Bingo-it’s seductive. The swagger with which it carries itself, in tandem with the promise of providing a fun-filled evening, could probably cause even the likes of a Mother Theresa to buckle at the knees. DO NOT fall for this trickery. Bingo is a sporting event that in a hot second can turn ugly. I’ll give Bingo points for brains-shacking up in innocuous locations, preying on the vulnerable in church halls, cruise ships and the occasional country club. (Ok, not exactly the vulnerable, I’ll admit).

Six years ago, on an early March evening, three weeks after my mother passed away, my father asked me if I wanted to go with him to Bingo.

Prior to my mother’s death, on visits down to Florida to see my parents, it was customary for all of us to go to the club to play Bingo on Thursday nights. The thought of going back to a familiar place without my mother made my stomach twist and my eyes swim in tears. Not wanting to alarm my Dad with the intensity of my sorrow though, I smiled and said, “Sure, Daddy.”

STUGs

That evening, as my Dad pulled open the door to the club and we climbed the stairs to the main dining room, I swallowed hard. The smell of the dinner buffet laid out against the far wall sucker-punched me. The odor waiving off the warming trays was reminiscent of the odor of the rehab center my Mom stayed in after she recovered from brain surgery three months earlier. I nearly threw up.

My blind sighted run-in with this olfactory foe is called a STUG-a term coined by Dr. Therese Rando, psychologist, thanatologist and grief expert as a subsequent, temporary, upsurge of grief. Dr. Rando further defines STUGs as “brief periods of intense grief which occur when a catalyst reminds one of the absence of the loved one or resurrects memories of the death, the loved one, or feelings about the loss.”

Refocusing my attention on my Dad quelled my nausea as we gathered our Bingo packets, daubers and other Bingo accouterments.

The truth is at the time, he was lost and so was I.
“B-5….0-65…I -19…” the Bingo announcer called out. With a New England bravado that would make even a Tom Brady cower in the corner, this woman’s affect was more like a schoolmarm than a rabble-rousing cruise ship director. (Where’s Julie from The Love Boat when you need her?)

The schoolmarm

About half way into the evening, she took a break from calling numbers, passed the microphone on to her partner and began to walk her beat. Wandering from table to table, she policed the strategies of those stupid enough to come out to play.

When people are grieving the simple task of focusing on nine different Bingo cards simultaneously, can feel like the equivalent of solving the quadratic equation. My head scratches synchronized with the number calling, clued her in I was having trouble.

As she meandered around the room, she spotted me.

“Honey,” she hollered across the room in her thick Boston accent, “Don’t look with yaw dawbuh.”

My face flushed and I coiled my head and neck into my sweater as far as I could without compromising my ability to breathe. I was the youngest person in the room by at least three decades. I felt like a kindergartner who couldn’t even recognize something as elementary as her primary colors.

But when the banquet manager entered the dining room from behind the swinging double doors of the kitchen, what happened next paled in comparison to my unsolicited lesson in how to play Bingo.

My Dad waved down the manager as if he was stranded on the side of the road fatally injured. The quiet hush in the room was pierced by my father. “Gosh damn it-it’s freezing in here. Turn on the heat or something. Good, gosh damn it. It’s always so damn cold in here.”

“SSSSShhhhhh!”
The crowd shouted as if to say, “Have you no respect for the game?” To an outside observer, it might appear my father had not been schooled properly on the etiquette of Bingo but the truth is he’s indulgent. Ever heard of the book When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple?

The road of embarrassment

The embarrassment didn’t stop there. As the evening drew on my Dad shouted, “Slow down!” whenever he struggled to keep up, to which the crowd replied in unanimity, “SSHHHHH.”

Note: If you haven’t ever been to a serious game of Bingo here’s a head’s up: They generally don’t play straight Bingo. They play things called The Wedding Cake, Five Around and B’s and O’s and quite frankly it takes a trained eye to keep track of 9 cards at a time in goofy patterns.

The combination of being singled out by the cranky Bingo volunteer, my Dad’s outbursts and the odor off of the buffet had me eyeing the exits.

The embers of a grief stricken meltdown burned just above the surface-a meltdown not for public consumption.

Many of those in attendance that evening knew full well my mother’s body was barely cold. In the past I knew the crowd could be unforgiving, but that night, I was either particularly sensitive from deeply mourning the death of my mother or the crowd was particularly insensitive. In retrospect it was probably a little of both.

My husband to the rescue

The game finally ended and when we returned safely home, I found a spot to crawl into and I called The Bird. Wrapped inside primal sobs, I said something I’m sure was incoherent that went something like:

“That…*sniff*…*sniff*…*sniff*…was HORRIBLE *sniff*…*sob*…*hyperventilate*…His wife just died and *sniff*…those …(blow nose)…people were meaaan!”

Bingo that night traumatized me but those early months following my mother’s death just about anything could bring on a nuclear, emotional meltdown.

Even though that March evening, Bingo was brutal, I managed to move through those first weeks of mourning and this past visit to my Dad’s, I didn’t allow my former Bingo encounter to shackle me to the house.

This time there seemed to be a palpable shift in the mood of the room. The crowd’s overall tone was markedly less adversarial to which I attributed the canning of the caustic Boston Bingo volunteer and the therapeutic value of time passing.

While I could take or leave Bingo-being the youngin’ that I am, I went that night in early March almost seven years ago not only for my Dad but also for my Mom who would not have wanted my Dad to go alone.

And in the middle of “B-14….0-75″ a few weeks ago, sacredness surrounded us. Being with The Bird, my brother and my Dad felt holy.

Footprints on our souls

Moments like this leave footprints on our souls if we take the time to recognize them.  Ron Rolheiser, a Roman Catholic priest and member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate and president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas, speaks eloquently about seeing the eternal in the ordinary in his book, The Shattered Lantern.

For me, this was a reminder that with a simple shift in perspective sacredness comes into focus. Rather than ruminate on how my heart shrivels up in pain whenever we enter the club, especially to play Bingo, I revel in the hallowness of this time between me and my Daddy.

Suggested Reading: The Shattered Lantern by Ron Rolheiser

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My Daddy

When I groaned at turning the ripe old age of thirty-five, my Mom, Doris, (God rest her soul *making the sign of the cross*) said to me, “Honey, birthdays are a good thing. Just consider the alternative.”

On September 23rd my Dad will celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday and like my Mom said, it sure beats the alternative, no matter how old you get.

In deference to my Italian female predilection toward melodrama, this birthday is without question, cause for both celebration and concern. Read more

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