Caitríona Palmer – On the power of mother-daughter love


Caitríona Palmer on the power of mother-daughter love at all odds

Of my three children, my eldest, Liam, reminds me the most of my mother. I see flashes of her in his pewter eyes, in the splatter of honeyed freckles across his nose, and in the sweet way he sometimes furrows his eleven year-old brow. He has my mother’s gentle manner too, her unassuming way. It marvels me, this biological reflection, how I can sometimes reach out towards him and almost touch her.

This familial likeness between grandmother and grandson comforts me, for my mother – who I shall call Sarah, although that is not her real name – is rarely present in my life. She and I parted ways forty-eight hours after my birth in a Dublin hospital in April 1972, victims of Ireland’s then shameful intolerance towards the unmarried mother and her child. That day bereft, and traumatized, her breasts still leaking with milk, Sarah left the hospital and tried to rebuild her life.  I, bundled up in blankets in the arms of a stranger, was taken by taxi to a baby home. Within six weeks I had a brand new adoptive family, and a sanitized new name.

I grew up happy and content, fiercely loved by my parents and two older siblings. But in 1999, when I was twenty-seven years old, haunted by an internal dissonance that I could not shake, I decided I needed to know who my birth mother was. We were reunited that Christmas and developed a close attachment. But despite our happiness, there was a catch. In the intervening decades, Sarah had told no-one – not even the man she married or the children they raised – about the baby she’d had in 1972. Terrified that her husband would leave her, that her children would shun her, she asked that I cooperate in hiding my existence temporarily from her family and friends, that we have an affair.

That was sixteen years ago. Since then Sarah and I have met secretly once or twice a year, usually in the oak paneled bar of a north Dublin hotel. She never tells me what lie she promulgated to slip away from her husband and family, and I never ask. We prefer to sit in secluded corners where we are less likely to be seen. Sometimes I meet her alone, other times I bring my kids. We chat and catch up for a couple of hours before embracing and walking away.

It amazes me that I spend, on average, just three or four hours a year with the woman who gave me life and yet, despite these odds, we have built up a powerful bond. In Sarah’s presence I hardly notice our surroundings, so intent am I in drinking her in. Even now, I can close my eyes and recall the velvety softness of her cheek and the freckled outline of her hands. I know her ticks and mannerisms, like the odd noise that she makes at the back of her throat when she’s nervous or embarrassed, and the way she sometimes absentmindedly twists the rings on her left hand. If we were not constrained by the rules of the affair I would know too what gifts to spoil her with for this coming Mother’s Day: her favorite perfume, her preferred wine, a gift certificate to the restaurant in Dublin that she loves so much. I also know, because I once asked, that were she faced again with the same terrible choice that she had in April 1972, that this time she would not give me away.

Skulking in the shadows with my birth mother has taught me many things about myself; that it can be exhausting – and at times demeaning – to love someone who is not quite able to love you in the same way back. I am constantly astonished by the reserves of resilience that lie deep beneath. But it has also taught me that despite nearly three decades apart – and another sixteen years of being kept in the dark – that it is hard to keep a mother and daughter apart. Despite the pain of being kept a secret, and of having to be a child on her terms, I still love Sarah with all my heart.

Continue reading

American Airlines – Flight 3950

Catherine Rampell
May 7, 2016 at 9:19 AM
Washington Post

On Thursday evening, a 40-year-old man — with dark, curly hair, olive skin and an exotic foreign accent — boarded a plane. It was a regional jet making a short, uneventful hop from Philadelphia to nearby Syracuse.

Or so dozens of unsuspecting passengers thought.

The curly-haired man tried to keep to himself, intently if inscrutably scribbling on a notepad he’d brought aboard. His seatmate, a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag, looked him over. He was wearing navy Diesel jeans and a red Lacoste sweater – a look he would later describe as “simple elegance” – but something about him didn’t seem right to her.

She decided to try out some small talk.

Is Syracuse home? She asked.

No, he replied curtly.

He similarly deflected further questions. He appeared laser-focused — perhaps too laser-focused — on the task at hand, those strange scribblings.

Rebuffed, the woman began reading her book. Or pretending to read, anyway. Shortly after boarding had finished, she flagged down a flight attendant and handed that crew-member a note of her own.

Then the passengers waited, and waited, and waited for the flight to take off. After they’d sat on the tarmac for about half an hour, the flight attendant approached the female passenger again and asked if she now felt okay to fly, or if she was “too sick.”

I’m OK to fly, the woman responded.

She must not have sounded convincing, though; American Airlines flight 3950 remained grounded.

Then, for unknown reasons, the plane turned around and headed back to the gate. The woman was soon escorted off the plane. On the intercom a crew member announced that there was paperwork to fill out, or fuel to refill, or some other flimsy excuse; the curly-haired passenger could not later recall exactly what it was.

The wait continued.

Finally the pilot came by, and approached the real culprit behind the delay: that darkly-complected foreign man. He was now escorted off the plane, too, and taken to meet some sort of agent, though he wasn’t entirely sure of the agent’s affiliation, he would later say.

What do know about your seatmate? The agent asked the foreign-sounding man.

Well, she acted a bit funny, he replied, but she didn’t seem visibly ill. Maybe, he thought, they wanted his help in piecing together what was wrong with her.

And then the big reveal: The woman wasn’t really sick at all! Instead this quick-thinking traveler had Seen Something, and so she had Said Something.

That Something she’d seen had been her seatmate’s cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn’t recognize. Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering, possibly the details of a plot to destroy the dozens of innocent lives aboard American Airlines Flight 3950. She may have felt it her duty to alert the authorities just to be safe. The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.

The curly-haired man laughed.

He laughed because those scribbles weren’t Arabic, or some other terrorist code. They were math.

Yes, math. A differential equation, to be exact.

Had the crew or security members perhaps quickly googled this good-natured, bespectacled passenger before waylaying everyone for several hours, they might have learned that he — Guido Menzio — is a young but decorated Ivy League economist. And that he’s best known for his relatively technical work on search theory, which helped earn him a tenured associate professorship at the University of Pennsylvania as well as stints at Princeton and Stanford’s Hoover Institution.


Guido Menzio, an economics professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

They might even have discovered that last year he was awarded the prestigious Carlo Alberto Medal, given to the best Italian economist under 40. That’s right: He’s Italian, not Middle Eastern, or whatever heritage usually gets ethnically profiled on flights these days.

Menzio had been on the first leg of a connecting flight to Ontario, where he would give a talk at Queen’s University on a working paper he co-authored about menu costs and price dispersion. His nosy neighbor had spied him trying to work out some properties of the model of price-setting he was about to present. Perhaps she couldn’t differentiate between differential equations and Arabic.

Menzio showed the authorities his calculations and was allowed to return to his seat, he told me by email. He said the pilot seemed embarrassed. Soon after, the flight finally took off, more than two hours after its scheduled departure time for what would be just a 41-minute trip in the air, according to flight-tracking data.

The woman never reboarded to the flight.

Casey Norton, a spokesman for American Airlines (whose regional partner Air Wisconsin operated the flight), said the woman had indeed initially told the crew she was sick, but when she deplaned she disclosed that the reason she was feeling ill was her concern about the behavior of her seatmate. At that time, she requested to be rebooked on another flight. The crew then called for security personnel, who interviewed Menzio and determined him not to be a “credible threat.” Norton did not know whether the woman was ever notified that Menzio had been cleared. (He said he was not allowed to give out her name for privacy reasons, and since Menzio did not know it either, I have not been able to contact the woman for comment.)

Whenever there are conflicts between passengers, Norton said, “we try to work with them peacefully to resolve it,” whether that means changing seat assignments or switching someone to take a different flight. When asked how often customers raise similar suspicions about fellow passengers that turn out to be unfounded, he said it happens “from time to time” but declined to provide details about frequency.

Menzio for his part says he was “treated respectfully throughout,” though he remains baffled and frustrated by a “broken system that does not collect information efficiently.” He is troubled by the ignorance of his fellow passenger, as well as “A security protocol that is too rigid–in the sense that once the whistle is blown everything stops without checks–and relies on the input of people who may be completely clueless. ”


Came home yesterday afternoon, went to lay down
Outside of spending time with my brother to get something to eat
Spent the rest of the evening in bed
Woke at 2
But, couldn’t stand to get out of bed 

What the redwoods of California will do for a soul bruised up
What a timely getaway will do
Driving the night and needing a full beam
Made my mind so small


Listening to you speak your Heart out
About all the things I said and shouldn’t have
Laying down in a so so Hotel
Pulling you so close
Enough for only you and I to hear


I say I am sorry
Asking for forgiveness
And, how I can wait till the morning
to see if you will give it


JB: The meaning of forgiveness
JB: People make mistakes

Went to Church, It is Sunday Morning
The pastor made the Altar Call
Something about the Lord
Is ready to forgive

Forgiveness came a day early for me
I didn’t have to hear it
I just had to feel you yield your Soul & Spirit


JB: The meaning of forgiveness
JB: People make mistakes, doesn’t mean you have to give in
JB: Life is worth living again

Took a long drive in the California Redwoods
Wished we made it to Oregon
But, came home
And, held it all in
Wish I could stay here forever


Listening to ….

Justin Bieber – Life Is Worth Living (PURPOSE : The Movement)

The Gift of No

One of the most pivotal conversations between Dad and I occurred a lifetime ago.

The entire family was at the airport to wish my brother and I safe journey to the U.S.

Our sparse luggage were checked-in and we had time on our side.  And, so we leisurely waited at the airport.

This was before 9-11 and so the boundaries between travelers and well wishers were not nearly so well manicured.

As a young person it is so easy to get caught up in the spontaneous moments that bombards a young mind.  The feelings come rapidly and they slide away just as mysteriously.

Sometimes it is the first kiss, at other times it is the first drink, and in between so many other first experiences and tastes.

At that very moment, it was my first smoke.  And, so I asked Dad if I could have a couple of cigarettes.  He looked back at me, and asked whether I wanted to start smoking.

Life has its many turns and quirks.  And, though it is natural to argue otherwise, the Nos are sometimes the most affirmative Yeses in our shared journey to a well lived life.



A sad christmas

I was visiting with friends this Christmas as I heard the news about the young Nigerian man who tried to bomb a plane.

Through all the tragedy I found comfort in a song I discovered earlier that week.

The song was written by Leslie Satcher and a bit of the background is detailed below:

It begins in Pittsburgh on election night 2006. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), losing to Democrat Robert P. Casey Jr. by a wide margin, gathered his wife and six children around a hotel ballroom microphone and conceded.

The little girl at his side, Sarah Maria Santorum, then 8, wept. She squeezed her eyes and wiped her tears. She buried her face in her father’s arm, pulled away and cried some more — all on live, national television.

As blogs parsed and parodied the image — some gleefully made fun of it, others questioned the wisdom of putting a distraught child in front of the camera — Satcher went to church.

Her pastor held up the Bible:

For these times in which we live, you are going to need this book’ he said.

Satcher scribbled the words into the back of her book.

Courtesy of elyrics, the first stanza is pasted below:

Martina McBride – For These Times

In these times in which we live
Where the worst of what we live
Is laid out for all the world on the front page
And the sound of someone’s heartbreak
Is a soundbite at the news break
With a close shot of the tears rollin’ down their face
Blessed be the child who turns a loving eye
And stops to pray
For these times in which we live

For the next few days, I searched for peace within the reality of evil.

As I spoke to my parents after church on Sunday I started to recognize a thread of hope.

Heaven knows how parents struggle for teachable moments with their children.

Embedded in this story is that of a parent, a father, who shared private moments with God.

And, he recognized God’s voice and urging to get his house in order.

Rather than to lay asleep and hope for the best, he did not and could not find sleep until he approached the US and British consulate about a parent’s worst fears.

I thank God that the shedding of innocent blood shall not be one of the many sins counted against him and especially us (at those horrific hours).

And, for the son I join him in thanking God for all of our many un-answered prayers.