A Titanium Foot and a Long-Stemmed Rose: Lessons in the Art of Gratitude

Robin Meloy Goldsby encounters Eleanor Roosevelt, gets a new foot, and sings a rousing chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.”
The ball drops. Champagne flows. Regrets (I’ve had a few) are counted, and triumphs noted. Glasses clink, lips meet, smiles stretch the faces of children and drunks and musicians. We ring in the new, send in the clowns, bring on the dancers, bend the rules, launch the rockets, and catapult from one year to the next.

Mr. G. (my dear husband) says that end of year retrospectives—The Best of  the Best of 2012!—make him want to cry. The sad moments are sad, the happy ones are also sad, because they’re not really all that happy. I get what he’s saying. If you examine the highlights and lowlights of a year they turn into a reality show version of what actually counts. What counts isn’t what happens in a year. What counts is what you learn.

I learned a lot in 2012, lessons I wish I had learned a little sooner. Here are three that come to mind:

1. In June of 2012 watched my nineteen-year old son receive his German Abitur (an academic high school diploma that makes my American high school degree seem like a summer camp certificate). I sat with my husband, my parents (who were in town for the festivities), and my daughter. I listened to the music—featuring a faculty choir that sang a heart-wrenching version of “Shenandoah”—and smiled as two decades of parenthood flashed through my memory—a flickering diorama of music lessons, math and physics homework, Harry Potter marathons, fights (in two languages!) about computer games, philosophical discussions (of which he was capable at age five), flights back and forth to the USA, and drives—a million of them—to the school from which he was now graduating. After his name had been called, he received his diploma and a long-stemmed red rose, did a hip-hop victory-walk down a runway, found me in the audience, and bent over and handed me the rose. I never knew I was capable of projectile crying until that moment.

“Nineteen years of raising Curtis and you get a rose,” said Mr. G. “Well done. You deserve that.”

Lesson learned: a little bit of gratitude from your adult-child means way more than the thunderous applause of strangers. Way more.

2. After a three-month siege following foot surgery (a brand new titanium joint that will forever protect my right foot from the perils of pedaling a grand piano while wearing high heels), I found out what it’s like to be confined to a small bedroom, lose my ability to drive, and have my daily exercise limited to crutch-assisted trips to the bathroom. Thinking I would enjoy lolling about in bed and eating cinnamon toast prepared for me by my doting husband, I discovered that watching endless hours of PBS documentaries on Netflix—a fine activity when one has options to do other things—has certain disadvantages, most of which involve ibuprofen-induced nightmares about Bill Moyers. I was thrilled when my surgeon (a skilled craftsman with the personality of a desk) told me I had graduated to a Frankenstein boot and could begin moving around a bit. The Frankenstein boot had a three-inch platform on it and threw my weight back onto my heel. It also threw my back out. I could walk very slowly, but I looked like Quasimodo.  I couldn’t go to work. Even though the boot was black, Quasimodo in a black lace dress has never been a good look for a cocktail pianist. Not that I could play—the fingers were fine, but operating a sustain pedal with the left foot is best left to contortionists.

Still, at least I was moving. At least I didn’t have to go up and down four flights of steps on my butt. At least I could undress myself and take a shower without having my daughter monitoring me to make sure I didn’t slip and take a dive while conditioning my hair. Things were looking up.

That’s when the stomach virus hit me. It was one of those “pass the bucket” bugs—the kind that normally lasts twenty-four hours—but, because I was still recovering, it slapped me in the gut and flung me back to bed for another two weeks. And that’s when I began to feel like an old person. Enough. I hobbled to the dining room table and declared 2012 my Year of Health (an announcement that caused members of my family to laugh uncontrollably for about ten minutes). I put myself on a take-no-prisoners nutrition program, removed myself from negative influences,  bailed on a couple of “friendships” that were draining my energy, and eliminated stressful work situations that weren’t either artistically satisfying or financially clever.  I snapped back, stronger than ever.  Okay, maybe not stronger, but smarter.

Lesson learned: Feeling old is a drag. Be good to yourself, keep moving, and take care of your feet.

3.  In July of 2012, Julia G., age sixteen, took off on her long-awaited Summer Adventure, all of it paid for by an expatriate essay competition she had won in 2009 (when she was twelve) and a scholarship she received to attend the Eleanor Roosevelt Girls’ Leadership Worldwide Academy in Hyde Park, New York. (Note to parents of teenage girls: Check out this program—it’s wonderful!)

Julia had an ambitious plan. Before arriving at her dormitory at Vassar, Julia would spend a week in Louisville for a music workshop at the Jamey Aebersold School of Jazz at the University of Louisville. In between the Jazz Guys and Eleanor Roosevelt, Julia would hang out with her grandmother in Kentucky and her maternal grandparents in Western Pennsylvania. Following her graduation from Eleanor’s she would head to Manhattan to visit friends before heading back to Pennsylvania for more time with her grandparents. She’d fly back in Germany in time to start the eleventh grade. I was exhausted just looking at her itinerary.

My job, as chief travel coordinator for Julia G’s Summer Adventure was to put her on a flight at Düsseldorf Airport, then beg and bribe various family members and friends to transport her from one American location to another—a complicated operation that involved arranging planes, trains, and caravans; vegan picnics, sandwiches in the back seats of moving vehicles, meals in shopping mall food courts, tea at the Plaza and cocktails at the Waldorf; plush guest rooms, a Vassar dormitory without air-conditioning, and an inflatable mattress on the floor of a stylish Manhattan living room.

Her grandparents, her aunts, her uncles—all of them pitched in, spending hours behind the wheel to get her where she needed to go, on time and in style. Aunt Gail transported her from Louisville to Reynoldsburg, Ohio; Aunt Randita drove her from Ohio to Pittsburgh. My parents got her from Western Pennsylvania to Vassar. Our friends Carole and Emilio Delgado rented a car and drove from Manhattan to Hyde Park to attend her Eleanor Roosevelt graduation as ersatz parents (Carole, a big ER fan, was exactly the right person for this job, mainly because she had the perfect outfit). Carole and Emilio hosted Julia in Manhattan for a week she will never ever forget. My dear friend and fellow Piano Girl Robin Spielberg took the train from Baltimore, and hid behind a potted palm next to the “Eloise” portrait at the Plaza with her daughter Valerie, just so they could jump out and surprise Julia. She hadn’t seen them for five years. You can just imagine the fun they had at the tea party.

I’m astonished by what Julia learned this summer. Eleanor Roosevelt’s team of enthusiastic counselors, in between trips to the United Nations and sessions about the value of volunteering, taught Julia to “act like a lady and speak up.” Jamey Aebersold’s music workshop taught her about jazz theory and performance, and that “anyone can improvise,” especially a sixteen year old girl. But mainly, what Julia learned this summer is this: If she makes the effort to show up and do her part, she’ll have an eager support team waiting to transport her from one destination to another. If it takes a village, she has one of global proportions. If it takes a chariot, she has a golden coach with a band of willing drivers. If it takes love, she’s holding the winning ticket in the friends and family lottery.

Lesson learned: The kindness of strangers means a lot in this world, but when you want to get your daughter from a Starbuck’s in Düsseldorf to Peacock Alley in Manhattan (via Atlanta, Kentucky, Ohio, Poughkeepsie, and Pennsylvania)—and back again— you call the people on your A-List. Friends and family make one heck of a hauling squad—even if they’re an ocean away.

The New Year’s Eve glitter has clumped on the dance floor and the corpses of spent fireworks still litter the town square. Resolutions (not my own) own the month of January. I’m writing new music, launching my kids into adulthood, taking very good care of myself, and watching to see what 2013 will teach me.  Slow down, hold on, let go, be grateful. That’s what I know for now, but these are last year’s lessons. I’m hoping 2013 will be the Year of Continuing Education.

***

Robin Meloy Goldsby is the author of Piano Girl and Waltz of the Asparagus People.

Julia G, rowing in Central Park. Photo by Carole Delgado.

JuliaNYC_2012

  • Melissa Horsmann

    Lovely Robin, Your creative writings always make me smile, chuckle, ponder and sometimes even have a big lump in my throat. Thanks for the exercise. xxx

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Thanks, Mel! There should be a club for the mothers of teenagers. We could be charter members, at least for the next few years . . .

  • Jo Ann Dioguardi

    As always, it is a pleasure to read about the goings-on in your life, Robin, especially since you express yourself with such inimitable style! But how is it that I am only now aware of your website? No matter, because I have subscribed to your newsletter so that from here on in, I’ll be “in the know” on all things Goldsby. 🙂 With all of the lessons you learned in 2012, I’ve no doubt that 2013 will offer you more opportunities for growth. And I, for one, am pleased that you intend to share your journey with others through your writing. xoxo

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Hi JA, and thanks for the encouraging words! Here’s to Chatham gals around the world . . . wishing you the best for 2013.

  • Holli Ross

    I just love the adventures of the G family! Having endured reconstructive knee surgery 2 yrs ago I can completely relate to your hilarious though unfortunate titanium joint account. And with only a 15 yr old, 5′ 9″ daughter, I’m praying for similar luck to yours! You are generous to share your stories and with such love. It’s a gift to read them. Thank you Robin. Love, Holli

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Thanks, Holli! Hey, check out the ERGLW thing for your daughter. It is a life changing program for 15 and 16 year old girls. Highly recommended! I wish they had one for the 50 + crowd. Glad your knee is okay. Titanium is the new black.

  • I love your lesson 1 and lesson 3 ! couldn’t agree more about people on our A-list and the value of love and gratitude from a loved one vs. an ovation from strangers. You inspire me Robin! I have to work on my next blogpost….Love and happiness to you and family. Uma

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Thanks, Uma, and welcome back to Germany. Looking forward to reading about your trip to India! So start writing . . . .

  • Randy Rawsthorne Snakelady

    You amaze me with your writing talent. I still procrastinate and sweat when I have to send a short letter to a ten years old girl. Love you and miss you. Kisses to Julia, Curtis, John, and you.
    Randita

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Hey there, Seestor—It’s okay that you get nervous about writing, because I get really nervous about handling reptiles. I hear there are big plans for Randita’s Grill! Can’t wait to hear all about it. Love you, too! R

  • Andrea Hall

    And again, I have laughed out loud and cried a few tears at your wonderful reminiscence of 2012. Love your writing. Hugs, Andrea

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Thank you, Andrea! Much love to you there on the other side of the world. We miss you.

  • Elva

    Robin,

    Very enjoyable reading. I felt that kind of heartache whenever my children graduated as well. I am starting all over again with a 4 and 2 year old, but every moment is even more precious. It is a delight to read your adventures, even though some of them were quite painful. Here it to your good health in 2013. Your writing will help you stay healthy, as well.
    I’m proud to be an old friend.
    Elva

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Thanks, Elva! Hard to imagine you’ve started over after all these years—but if anything will keep you young, it’s a couple of little children running around. Enjoy them and enjoy your new life. You deserve every second of happiness. xo RMG

  • So great to read your writing again, Robin! (‘Personality of a desk’ — that one made me bark). You have such a fabulous esprit, my dear, and are so multi-talented it should be illegal — and what a gorgeous family (speaking of illegal — that girl in shorts! WHEW. I wish the young men of Manhattan good luck). Hope the foot is healing, and have decided to take your Rx for getting better to heart (even though I’m not sick. Well, you know what I mean!)
    love,
    Kristin

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      The girl in shorts is scary. But she’s 5’10” and STRONG. Thanks for your kind words. I am your biggest fan. NOTE: Anyone reading this—check out Kristin McCloy’s books. She is a great writer!

  • Beautifully written, my dear. So eloquent and yet simply stated. Loved reading this. If only Midge had a computer… 🙂

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Next time you send Midge a package let me know—we’ll print out a copy and get her up to date.

  • Robin, the piece about your foot…I did NOT take care of myself after a terrible knee injury at 12…and lost my leg to cancer as a result many years later. It’s the greatest piece of wisdom to keep moving and eat right and look after yourself. It’s the only body you get this time around. That said, after joining a gym in August and not slacking off–it’s NEVER too late!

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Oh my, Kat, what a terrible thing to have happen. But I am happy to hear you are on the plan and taking care of yourself. Keep going strong. You can do it. xoxo RMG

  • Bob and Ann Rawsthorne

    We loved your essay on 2012. Your writing never surprises us because we know it will always be great. Getting to be a part of your year attending Curtis’s graduation and having Julia visit us made 2012 very special for us. We love you.

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Thanks, Mom and Dad! You’re the best. LOVE YOU, too!!

  • Bob and Ann Rawsthorne

    Great essay on your life in 2012. Your writing never surprises us because it is always so good. The lessons you learned in 2012 should apply to all of us because time goes by too quickly. We need to appreciate our lives and continue to learn and grow. Our part in 2012 with your family at Curtis’s graduation and having Julia visit made our year special in many ways. Love, Mom and Dad

  • I loved reading this!

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Thanks, Amy!

  • Bill Dobbins

    Great writing, Robins, as always. You have a gift for saying a lot with a few words and for handily maneuvering between laugh-out-loud funny and full-stop serious. Keep going with all you do through the New Year!

    • Thanks so much, Bill! Happy New Year to you and that wonderful family of yours. And big hugs to Daralene! Hope to see you both in Germany sometime soon.

      • Robin Meloy Goldsby

        Hi Bill—the previous comment came from me, not John. We’re still working out the kinks with the web site!

  • Sharon Reamer

    Year of Health! May 2013 bring you more of it. What a lovely summary.

    • Thanks, Sharon! Here’s the Year of Health, 2013. Cheers—

  • What a beautiful essay! An inspiration to get in touch with my own feelings of gratitude and reflect on the lessons learned last year. Thank you, Robin.
    Oh, and I love your new website!

    • Robin Meloy Goldsby

      Thanks, Karolina! My first comment—very exciting!