Sunday, March 29, 2009

In My Blog World I Shall Remain Childless

I love my kids, I really do. And they are all good kids, they really are. But sometimes these good kids that I love drive me to the point of insanity. I have been told by some of my children in no uncertain terms not to even mention them on my blog! I mistakenly thought I had this little world to myself but apparently not. They sneaked in here and are now setting parameters for me (my world is getting smaller!). So this will be the last time I refer to them without written permission. It seems okay to mention the grandkids – so far that is, but that may be banned soon too.
From what I can gather on other blogs, there are quite a few mothers and grandmothers encountering this same strange (extremely strange to me) situation. Many mothers and grandmothers that are not allowed to mention their own children and/or grandchildren by name or post pictures of them. One blogger who has me in hysterics all the time posted a picture of the back of everyone so as not to reveal identities! I know a few lucky bloggers whose blogs are still safe and secret from their children. Now, as far as protesting children, I can see not wanting any personal information put out in blog land, but I really do not think I am guilty of that. I don’t mention last names, I don’t give out hometowns, I don’t blog about daily life with them, and with the exception of a very few posts, I don’t mention the kids much at all, other than maybe cute things they may have done as little ones. I did post one story specifically about one of my daughters (she's fine with it, by the way), and one other story that will now be replaced with this! But for the most part I try to keep my stories about them non-specific, and other than this post about this specific (odd) request, I do not post derogatory stories about my children, and I don’t consider this derogatory, I consider it factual.
I won’t identify the vocal protester by name but he/she knows who it is! And I won’t mention the instigator by name either – you know who you are, thank you very much! Couldn’t you have at least waited until after my ‘rant and rave’ post, my post about my grown children being somewhat unreasonable? Oh, wait, this post will suffice.

Oh, and that reminds me, for those of my children now reading this blog, well, fair is fair. Stop reading! (I’m not talking about the one who reads and comments). This is hard not mentioning names! (Oh, and the one that does read and comment, you better make sure you don’t refer to your siblings in any comments! Maybe I should make up pseudo names for you kids, and the one who’s reading and commenting all the time, you can be Commenter! What shall I call the others? Protester? Instigator? Okay-By-Me? I’m-Fine-With-It?)
Okay, kids, I promise not to write about you in my blog world if you promise not to read in my blog world.

Maybe I should just start a picture blog much like my husband’s one, or maybe I’ll team up with him. But who knows, maybe pictures will be banned by this family too! Ugh!
Okay, I’m off to do my motherly duty in the real world and delete most of my family stories from my computer to ensure they don’t make it to the blog world. Darn! They were good too!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Is My Life Really All That Melancholy?

I was reading over the posts in my blog, and I think if you didn’t know me you would get the mistaken idea that my life is all sadness and sickness and death. It’s not really. I guess it’s just that a lot of the major milestones in my life have been sad situations and a lot of them have been due to sickness and death.
But really, my joys do outweigh my sorrows. But as with most people, it is the difficult upheavals in my life that have borne my greatest weaknesses and my greatest strengths. And these tough times have brought out my strength of character or lack thereof. Some of the stories written here on this blog are some of the trials I’ve gone through which have made me realize the depth of my need to rely on God and the support of others. And while these critical events in my life are certainly significant, they definitely are not the whole of my life.

I think for a little while at least, I’m going to try and concentrate on only the joyful phases of my life. And that being said, of course, two of the biggest joys in my life right now are my two grandchildren, four-year-old Jayden and two-year-old Mia. And it is here in these sweet little stories that a major source of the happiness in my life lies:

* Our grandson Jayden had a hard time saying ‘Grandma’ and ‘Grandpa’ when he first started talking, and it came out ‘Umma’ and ‘Paw’, and so we were labeled. When our granddaughter Mia came along, she accepted Paw as Grandpa’s name when she began talking, and that name has stuck, and for awhile she was okay with Umma for me, then she started calling me Grandma except when Jayden was around, and only then would she refer to me as Umma (which I thought was very smart for a tiny toddler!). Now I’m just Grandma to her and when she hears Jayden call me Umma, she just looks incredulously at me and says to me, “Umma, Umma” while shaking her head no with this little smile on her face, as if to say “Grandma, what are we going to do with him?”

* On another day Mia was saying to me, “Grandma, get my ducks for me” and Jayden happened to be in earshot, he walks over to me, rolls his eyes, lets out a big sigh, looks at Mia, points to me and corrects Mia by saying very indignantly, “Her name is Umma.”

* One day when Jayden was about two he was looking at me and he said, “Umma, you have old eyes, but the rest of you is still good”!

* Another day we were talking about people growing old and Jayden said to me, “Umma, please don’t get old, stay new!”

* My son Erik was letting Mia jump on the couch and after awhile he said to her that it was enough now, but Mia wanted to continue jumping, Erik again said no, and then Mia said to him, “Stick in the mud.” No one knows where she got that phrase from. I think she’s an old soul.

* Jayden and I were looking on another blog and we spotted a beautiful picture of Jesus knocking on a door. In the picture there was also a lake and grass in the background, and there was a big water jug in the foreground at Jesus’ Feet. Jayden pointed out the lake to me and told me to look at the beautiful ocean, then he told me to look at the beautiful green grass, then he pointed to the jug and he said, “And see here, Umma, this jar has the beautiful Holy Water in it.”

* Jayden asked me to get him a bowl of cereal, I told him as soon as I was finished working on the computer I’d do it, I guess I was taking too long, because he climbed up on my lap, took my face in his hands, and said very seriously, “Umma, do you want to make me starve or what?”

* I came into the dining room yesterday and saw Jayden sitting at the computer, wearing my eye glasses, pretending to type on the keyboard, and he said in a girlie voice, “Look at me, I’m Umma.”

* Jayden asked me to read him a book, I told him that we would have to turn off the TV though, otherwise he’d just be distracted and I didn’t want to read the same page over and over again. He said to me, “Yeah, turn it off because I don’t want you to be distracted with Judge Judy when she comes on.”

* One day when I picked Jayden up from school I asked him if he had been a good boy and he said, “Well, I was only a little bit bad, but I was a lot good.”

* The other day I was watching both Jayden and Mia. Usually Jayden has a very hard time sharing his toys with Mia and he will usually take something away from Mia and hurt her feelings, and she ends up in tears, we’ve been working on this and for the past few weeks Jayden has been very good to Mia. Yesterday it was Mia that wouldn’t share with Jayden and she squeezed his hand to get the toys from him, he let her have the toys and he didn’t do anything back to her, he just came to me in tears. I told him I was proud of his self-control and apparently he was proud of himself too because when my sister-in-law Susie walked in the door he had to announce to her “This time it wasn’t me who was the bad one, it was Mia!” And he kept reminding me that I had to tell his mother and Mia’s mother what happened when they came home!

* Today while getting ready for school Jayden wanted us to play with his little super hero figures, I told him we didn’t have much time but that I would set the timer on the microwave and we could only play for that amount of time, as soon as the timer went off we would have to leave for school. He agreed, but when the timer went off he started whining, and he said, “How come the timer takes so long when I am in time-out but it goes too fast when we are playing?”

* Mia picked up one of Jayden’s toys, it was a little green character, she asked me what it was and I said, “I’m not sure, I think maybe he’s The Green Goblin” and she said, “I think maybe he’s Tinker Bell.”

* My husband and I were away on vacation for a week, when we got back I asked Jayden if he missed us and he held up all ten fingers and said, “I missed you this many days.” I said, “But we were only gone seven days”, and he said, “I know, but I missed you ten days worth.”

* The day before my Dad passed away Jayden said to me, “Pop-Pop is going to Heaven.” I had been talking to him about it as my Dad was on hospice care, so I said to him that was right, soon Pop-Pop would go to Heaven, and he said to me that Pop-Pop was going to Heaven tomorrow. I asked him where he heard that and he said to me, “Mom-Mom told me and Far-Far too.” Mom-Mom is what my Mom was called by the kids and she had passed away over a year before, and Far-Far is what my husband’s Dad was called by the kids (it’s Swedish for grandfather), and he had passed away before Jayden was born.

I have so many of these moments that are so precious to me, these special little gifts from my grandchildren that amuse, amaze, inspire, and uplift me. And there are so many more joyful times spent with family and friends that I cherish. So is my life really all that melancholy?
No! It is not. To some it might not be an exciting life, it might not be thrilling or electrifying, but what others might find boring and mundane, I find stirring and fortifying. And I think that my life is amazingly wonderful, it is more than gratifying, and despite some bumps in the road, my life for the most part is exceptionally happy. And that is something I resolve to focus on. Truly, it is a Blessed, joyful life I lead.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Intense Grief

An acquaintance relayed to me tonight some devastating news that she had gotten. She wrote to me that she had lost a loved one in such a tragic way, and reading her words, and reading her pain hurt my heart, I can only imagine how she must feel in her own heart. She is not someone I know well, and I don’t want to intrude on her life or her grief. And not knowing her well, I wouldn’t really know how to support her in such a time of tragedy. I can only offer her my prayers and the same advice I would give to one of my own. Some of it is advice that I have been very fortunate to gain from others, some of it is just what I have found myself doing as I muddled through trying times and it has helped me.

While living through these dark days, embrace the grief and the sorrow for a little while, fall to pieces once in awhile, get angry, and remember that it’s okay to feel deeply sorry for yourself every now and then. Also, remember that you have no choice over the actions of others, but you can choose to live through this and move on.
Be gentle with yourself, and remember to ask for help. Don’t withdraw too long, but do withdraw for a little while, go inside yourself, it’s a nice place to be, for sometimes in solitude we find solace and we find we’re closest to God. Find support anywhere you can. Find peace. Express your feelings. Write. Work on your guilt. Forgive yourself. Forgive your loved one for leaving. Honor yourself, and your lost loved one, and God by living a life full of love and joy. Thrive. Know that it’s okay to be happy, know that it’s okay to laugh. Surround yourself with friends and family when you are ready to let them in. Immerse yourself in love. And remember that devastation can be transition. Losing a loved one brings unbearable anguish, but the Power of God brings us from that place of darkness and confusion to a place of light and understanding.
And always remember that God Prevails.

If anyone is reading this, please send up a prayer for my new friend and her family in their time of intense grief.

Happy Birthday, Mom

~ Mom, there is so much I could say about you, much too much to write here. Instead I am going to print the words to two songs. The first one is a reminder to me of the beginning of my life with you. And the second one is a reminder to me of the end of your life with us. ~

This first song is an Irish lullaby. I’ve seen a couple versions of this song, but I’m going to use the words my mother sang to me. My Mom told me my name came from this song, in it there are two names she liked – Eileen and Colleen - and my Mom decided on Eileen for me.
My Mom would sit in a rocker in our living room and I would climb up into her lap and say to her, “Sing me Irish, Mommy.” And my Mom would sing me ‘Irish’.

I - is for the Irish in your tiny heart, my dear
R - means right and when you’re right, you have no wrong to fear
E - is for Eileen, your mother’s name I mean, and
L - is for the lakes where I first met my own Colleen
A - is for the Angels who are watching over you
N - means never frown, just keep smiling through and through, and
D - is for your Daddy’s lessons, which I hope will be a Blessing
and that’s how I spell Ireland.

The second song actually reminds me of both my Mom and Dad at the end of my Mom’s life. Mom had Alzheimer’s Disease and she was lost to all of us, and it was especially hard on my Dad. They had a strong marriage, they adored each other, and throughout their relationship my Dad was always able to make any situation right for my Mom, that is until this sickness took over her mind and took control of their lives. After this insidious disease reared it’s ugly head, nothing was ever the same for either one of them again. My Mom spent her last years searching for something that would continuously elude her. One day in the last year of her life my Mom kept saying the word ‘dream’ over and over again to my son Erik. Erik asked her if she had dreams and she said yes. He asked her what it was that she dreams about and she said to him, “I dream that a nice man comes and takes me back to my life.” As hard as my Dad tried, he could not take my Mom back to her life. My Dad spent the last years of my Mom’s life searching for his girl, searching for some little sign of recognition from her, searching for some way to get into her world, or to bring her back into his world, back to their life together, but it was not to be.

~ Somewhere Only We Know ~

I walked across, an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand
I felt the earth, beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made me complete

Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on
So tell me when, you're gonna let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin.

I came across, a fallen elm tree,
I felt the branches; are they looking at me?
Is this the place, we used to love?
Is this the place that I've been dreaming of?

Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I'm getting old and I need something to rely on
So, tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I'm getting tired and I need somewhere to begin
So if you have a minute why don't we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything.
So why don't we go, so why don't we go
Somewhere only we know.
by Keane

~ I’m glad you finally found some peace, Mom.
And I’m thankful that you and Dad are reunited.
Everything about you two feels so right again. ~

~ Hey, Mom, remember the time you took Grandma’s German antique wax Baby Jesus and you put Him into the dishwasher because you thought He was kind of dirty looking?! Remember how He got kind of squished up? And remember He used to have these beautiful golden locks until after you washed Him and then His blond curls were gone and His hair stuck straight out and frizzed and we said it looked as if He had stuck His finger into a lamp socket? Remember how we laughed and laughed?
I still have Grandma’s Baby Jesus, Mom, and I take Him out every Christmas, and He still has the blond frizzed Hair, and the squished Head, and I think of you and I think of all the good times and I smile.
It feels good to be able to say to you once again the word ‘Remember’.

I really love and miss you so much, Mom.
Happy Birthday! ~

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The One Time I Couldn't Pray

It is something that to this day I still cannot explain. It had never happened to me before. It hasn’t happened to me since. I hope it never happens to me again. It was a lonely feeling. I felt lost. I felt alone. I was isolated. I never want to be in that horrible, hopeless place again. It was a poverty of the soul.
I have a hard time trying to make sense of it. I did not feel bitter. I was not resentful. I wasn’t angry with God, and I wasn’t questioning God as I had done in the past, and as I have done since that time. I knew God had a Plan, and I knew I needed Him, but I could not pray.
Our youngest daughter Ellie had just been diagnosed with Hydrocephalus and she was about to undergo surgery to drain the fluid off her brain, the doctor explained that he was going to insert a shunt that would drain the fluid and relieve the pressure. It would not be a cure, but it would save her life, and it would alleviate her headaches and put a stop to her seizures. All good news, and I was thankful, but I could not pray.
I had always known there was something different about Ellie, from the time she was an infant, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something wasn’t right. As she got older and was in school I mentioned it to her teachers, they thought I was just comparing her to my older children who were all overachievers. I mentioned it to her doctors, but they just said that children progress at different rates. But I firmly believe that a mother knows her children, a mother just knows. And I knew there was something not right with my baby girl. When Ellie reached the age of ten her headaches became more frequent and more severe, and then Ellie started having seizures. I changed doctors, I think this new doctor too thought I was over-reacting, but then we were Blessed in that Ellie had one of her little seizures right there in the doctor’s office. The doctor then called ahead to the hospital and we went to the ER where they did a number of tests on Ellie. They told us everything checked out okay, they were just waiting for one more test, but Ellie could get dressed, they would not be admitting her to the hospital, and it was most likely a virus that she had. Although that was very good news, I shook my head in utter disbelief and bewilderment. Then a doctor came to talk to us about the results of the CAT scan, Ellie had a build-up of fluid on her brain, she would have to stay, and a neurosurgeon would look at her pictures and be in to talk to us.
He told us Ellie suffered from water on the brain, he said this was a condition that Ellie was most likely born with, he said the valve in her brain that drains the fluid off was smaller than it should be, he said it probably functioned okay for awhile, but as she grew it couldn’t keep up with the build up of fluid. He said it explained her problems with school, he told us that her brain in order to compensate for the fluid did not grow properly. He said it was now to the point where the fluid was hardly draining at all, there was no choice but surgery, and he would operate the next morning.
My husband and I spent the night at her bedside, she slept on and off between bouts of vomiting, and Ray and I would take turns massaging her forehead trying to alleviate her pain. I had my Rosary with me, and I would finger the beads, but no words would come. God felt far away. I not only couldn’t find words, I couldn’t give Him my feelings. Fear and dread gripped my very being. I had no doubt that God had a Plan for Ellie, I just wasn’t sure it was the same plan I wanted for her. My spirit was frozen, unmoving, and it was a dark place to be. My sister-in-law Susie and her husband came to the hospital that night, and I told Susie that I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t pray for my own little girl. And I asked her to take it on for me, I asked her to do the praying for me, I asked her to hand my little girl over into God’s Hands. And God was good to me that night, I needed to be surrounded by steadfast, unwavering faith and love, and I was fortunate to have Ray and Susie by my side.
The next morning Ellie had her surgery, she pulled through fine, and the doctor told us that she’d probably need more surgery down the road. He explained that he had put in the shunt and also a length of tubing from the shunt to drain the fluid, but that as Ellie grew the tubing would have to be replaced, and he told us that sometimes the body rejected the shunt, or there might be shunt malfunction. Ellie did need another surgery for shunt malfunction, and then again, but the last time the doctor preformed a new, experimental surgery that is allowing Ellie to live shunt-free for over thirteen years now.
I am happy to say that throughout those subsequent surgeries, and throughout all other trying times and trials in my life, before and since, I have felt very close to God, I have been able to pray, and, thankfully, my spirit has never been bound in that way again.
I can’t imagine anyone refusing to pray. I cannot imagine anyone choosing not to have a relationship with God. It is a desolate place to be. I never want to revisit that pitiful, despondent, desperate, forlorn place my soul was in the one time I couldn’t pray.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ray!

It would take a book to write about you/us.
I love you more than life. You are my love, my fun, my laughter, my vacation, my comfort, my goodness, my friend, my spirit, my heart, my soul, my home, my husband.
Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Just a special prayer offered up today for my Irish Mom celebrating another St. Patrick's Day in Heaven.
I miss you more each day, Mom. 'Wish so much I had appreciated you more when you were here.
Give Dad a hug for me and make sure he knows I got his message. I love you both so much.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


“How do people make it through life without a sister?” – Sara Corpening

I have two sisters, an older sister, Marybeth, she is three-and-a-half years older than me. And my younger sister, Diane, is fifteen months younger than me, Diane and I were more like twins growing up. My Mom almost always dressed us in identical outfits (sometimes different colors though, Diane was usually in pink, and I was usually in blue) and everyone thought we were twins. We did everything together until the dreaded day I had to start school and Diane could still stay at home where our world was fun and safe. And I think being separated from Diane was worse than the separation from my Mom or my home. Maybe I wouldn’t have thought of school as so awful if I could have had my Diane by my side as usual. Diane was my reassurance, she was my confidence, a big part of me was missing without Diane, and I had a hard time functioning without her, in fact, at that time I felt like if there was no Diane, there was no me.
Diane and I did everything together for as long as I can remember, in fact, I cannot remember a time when she did not exist in my life. She was my first playmate and my first friend. My very first memories of her were from when we were not much more than toddlers, I can remember my mother giving us spoons to dig out in the dirt in the backyard, and my Mom would add a little water into the holes we had dug so that we could make mud pies, and Diane would always take her spoonful of dirt and eat it! I remember running back into the house to tell my mother, “She’s eating dirt again!” My Mom told me we weren’t more than about two and three years old at the time.
Diane and I had the same friends, and we enjoyed playing the same games, we got our Shirley Temple dolls on the same Christmas morning, and our Mom brought us home our first Barbie Dolls on the same day. We collected Troll dolls together and we made homes for them out of cardboard boxes, and clothes out of pieces of cloth we bought at Woolworth’s. We put pajama bottoms on our heads and played bride or nun. We learned to ride bikes together. And we shared a room together until the day I got married.
It was not all a bed of roses of course, we did fight like cats and dogs sometimes. But mostly I remember Diane as my defender, my protector, my guardian, my solace, my ally, my advocate, my pal, my companion, my comrade, my helper, my support, my friend. Diane has seen me through almost every good and every not so good moment of my life.
Being closer in age to Diane also made me closer to her emotionally than I was to my sister Marybeth, but I did feel close to Marybeth too, especially after we moved away from our old house. Marybeth was thirteen at that time and I looked up to her and I tried to be like her in many ways, especially as I approached my own teen years (setting my hair with orange juice cans and gigantic rollers, making gum wrapper chains, scrapbooking every President Kennedy card Marybeth could lay her hands on [they were like baseball cards], experimenting with make-up, starting a diary just like Marybeth, and borrowing her clothes). And as we got older Marybeth and I grew even closer. Marybeth was a more private person, and she liked to keep to herself a lot. Being older she had her own room when we moved to the ‘new’ house, and she liked to spend time alone, and she of course kept company with friends much older than Diane and I. So while we were never playmates, we were close, and we were friends, and I always felt that I could go to her with anything, and that I could confide in her. Marybeth was exceptionally smart in school and she won all sorts of awards while I found school to be a constant struggle. Marybeth was always willing to help me with my homework, school projects, and theme papers. And I had a lot of fun with Marybeth too, some of the memories I have that make me laugh out loud are due to Marybeth. I remember for my thirteenth birthday I had gotten thirteen dollars from my grandparents and I decided that I was going to use that money to buy a chocolate layer cake from a neighborhood bakery every Saturday morning for as long as the money lasted (I think the cakes at that time were about two or three dollars). Marybeth was very enthusiastic about that idea and said she’d make the trip with me each Saturday and I said that I would share the cake with her. My birthday is in January, and it was very cold, windy, and snowing the first Saturday we attempted to buy the cake. We were freezing and neither one of us was dressed for the weather, no hats, no scarves, no gloves (we were too cool for those things), so Marybeth decided that we should stop into a glass phone booth we saw along the way to get out of the wind. We go in and close the door and huddle together, and Marybeth is saying to me, “See, this is much better. Isn’t this better?” And, I’m just thinking, no, I’m still freezing, it’s still windy, what is she talking about? And then I notice that all the glass in the booth had been broken out - and I say, “Marybeth! There’s no glass in this booth! No wonder it’s still windy!” And Marybeth starts laughing so hard that she’s falling out of the booth, and then she says she’s laughing too much, and she’s too cold now, and she has to go to the bathroom! So we didn’t make it to the bakery on our first attempt that day, but we did go each Saturday for weeks afterwards, and they were some of the most prized times spent with my big sister and I hold them dear to my heart.
It’s really the ‘nothing’ time spent with my sisters (along with my brothers and cousins), the shared ‘first’ experiences, and the routine of our daily life as kids that I value most. Using old popsicle sticks to scrape tar off the street, making snow forts in the backyard, sledding down Dead Man’s Hill, keeping a scrapbook of the ‘Family Circus’ cartoons from the newspaper, playing with our paper doll cut-outs, the thrill of Silly Putty, piggy-back rides, hopscotch, roller-skating (with the old clunky clamp skates that needed keys!), coloring, taking a walk to the candy store, watching TV together, all the nothing things that are more precious than gold.
I don’t think my sisters realize how much they mean to me, I love them both so very much. These two sisters, Marybeth and Diane, I was Blessed with them from the beginning of my life. But then there are the Blessings I gained later in life. My sister Susie (my husband’s sister really), is responsible for restoring my soul. She took what was in shreds and made it whole. I am indebted to her.
And I love spending time with Susie, and we don’t have to be doing anything at all for me to have fun with her. In fact, we’re both happy just to sit on the couch with a cup of coffee, or run around my house after the grandkids, I never get bored in her company and we never seem to run out of things to talk about. I love that she comes over every Wednesday and she'll treat me and the grandkids to McDonald's if the weather isn't cooperating, but if it's nice, we'll walk to the diner for lunch. It's a visit I look forward to each week.
Then there’s Ann, my brother Tom’s ex-wife, she joined our family when I was about fifteen. Ann fit into our family right away, and when she and my brother Tom went their separate ways, Ann stayed. Enough said. Rhoda is my brother John’s wife, and sadly, there was a falling-out in the family a few years back, and Rhoda doesn’t speak to many of us anymore, but she’s still my sister, and I still love her. My friend Barbara, my soul sister, we met when our youngest sons were in Kindergarten together, that was almost twenty years ago. I bonded with Barbara instantaneously. We met while doing ‘security duty’ at school, I remember Barbara was taking classes at the time, she had brought some schoolwork to do, but I talked so much that she ended up closing her book. The next time we were on duty together she had a newspaper with her, but again, I talked her ear off and she gave up on reading her newspaper. And I think the next time we were on duty, she only brought a cup of coffee with her. We started making sure that we would be paired up for security duty after that, and even when we weren’t doing security we would meet after dropping the boys at school and then go to Mass together, and we’d walk home, stopping at the corner where we’d have to go our separate ways, but we’d linger there for hours just chattering away. She and I have shared so much, and we’ve seen each other through a lot over the years. Just today she said to me, “Let’s enjoy the calm now.” I told her not to jinx us! And she said she better knock wood, and she corrected herself and said, “Let’s enjoy the calm before the next storm comes our way.” Our lives are so busy now, but we still keep in touch with phone calls and emails, and we steal a few hours every now and then for a quick shopping spree, or a quick stop at Applebees for coffee and those shooters for dessert (let's skip the lunch and go right to dessert!). I can’t imagine my life without her, and it’s hard to think that she wasn’t here all along. Then there’s my friends/sisters Jan and Ellen, and Debbie, such wonderful friendships that grew into sisterhood. And there are friends from my childhood, and grade school, and high school, Donna Di, and Donna C., and Gloria, and Susan, and so many more, all gathered in my heart. All who have added so much to my life, sisters that I will carry with me always. They have sustained me throughout my childhood and into maturity, these sisters of mine. I am so fortunate, I am so privileged, I am so Blessed to have these sisters.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Just Some Cute Things

I’ve been feeling a little melancholy lately, so I decided to give myself a little boost and I thought about the kids in my life.
I am the mother of five, grandmother of two, aunt to many nieces and nephews, babysitter to some, and I was a teacher’s aide in a Kindergarten class for a few years. These are just some of the cute/funny/silly/nonsense things I’ve collected from some of them:

• Our oldest son Brian was only fourteen months old when our son Erik was born, Brian was just starting to toddle around and just starting to talk. When we brought Erik home from the hospital I asked him if he wanted to see the baby, he came over to look, he pointed at him, and he said, “Pup Pup”. That’s what he called the neighbor’s dog.

• Our sons Brian and Erik were about three and four at the time, they were sitting at the kitchen table and I was getting lunch ready for them. The front door to the apartment was open and it was getting cold, so I asked Brian to please go close the door so a draft couldn’t get in. He was getting down off his chair to do so when Erik started to coax him along, “Hurry, Brian, hurry! Hurry up, Brian, hurry!” He began to get frantic and yelling, “Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” I asked him what was wrong, and he hollered, “Hurry up, Brian, close the door so the giraffe can’t get in!”

• At one time we owned a summer cabin in the woods and I was staying there with our five kids and also my niece and nephew were staying with me at the time, I was alone with the kids during the week and my husband would come up on the weekends. Sometimes the weeks in between the weekends felt longer than others. It was an afternoon during one of those long weeks that my son Brian came in from playing in the backyard with the other kids, he was holding his head and told me that my niece Erin had hit him in the head with a horseshoe. When I asked him if it was an accident he said no that she had done it on purpose. I went out back and asked Erin if that were true and she said yes. I yelled at her and asked her, “Why would you do such a thing?” She answered me, “Because he told me to throw it at him.” I asked Brian if that was so and he said, “Yeah, we lost the stakes for the horseshoes so I was being the stake.” I apologized to Erin for yelling at her.

• Another time at the cabin we had another nephew staying with us. In the area of the cabin there was a large Hasidic Community, we were riding in the car and we passed a Hasidic man walking along side of the road, the man happened to have bright red/orange hair under a tall hat, and my nephew asked, “Aunt Eileen, is that a leprechaun?”

• Our youngest son was only about two when we purchased our cabin and he used to call it the cabinet.

• Our daughter Katie was about two and I was running a bath for her, the water was too hot so I was adding cold water and I was stirring the water with my hand, the water kept moving after I took my hand out and I turned to put Katie in the tub and she said, “Look, Mommy, the water is doing this.” And she had her hands on her hips and was swaying back and forth, doing a little hula dance.

• Another time at about that same age Katie was playing hide-and-go-seek with my husband and she said to him, “Okay, Daddy, now you close your eyes and I’ll go hide under the bed.”

• Katie used to pull on my face and say, “Mommy, look at me, not the TV!”

• Our youngest daughter Ellie was three when our youngest son Andrew was born. She was crazy about him, but her loving was a little too rough sometimes. She would sing, “Oh, I love this baby so much”, and then she’d proceed to put him in a strangle-hold of a hug. I guess we reprimanded her too much because one day when my parents were visiting my Mom asked Ellie if she loved her new brother and she said, “No, I’m not allowed to love him!”

• When Ellie was in Kindergarten she came home one day so mad because they were having a Christmas play and she got the part of an angel, and it wasn’t a speaking part, and she really wanted a speaking part. I told her she would just have to be happy with what she got. She stamped her foot and said, “I’m going to pray for a speaking part.” So I figured she’d find out early that sometimes God says no. She came home from school the next day and told me she had the part of Mary! I asked her what happened and she said the little girl that was playing Mary didn’t want to do it so the teacher picked Ellie instead! I guess God showed me.

• The day before my thirty-fifth birthday I said to my youngest son who was three at the time, “Tomorrow when I wake up I’ll be an old lady.” The next morning Andrew came into my room and he said (very surprised), “Mommy, you look the same!” I didn’t realize what he was talking about until he reminded me of what I had said.

• Andrew used to love to eat Vienna Finger cookies when he was little and one day unbeknownst to me my husband teased him that he was going to get a fat tummy if he didn’t watch out, and my husband then proceeded to stick his stomach way out and told Andrew it was from eating ‘cookie fingers’ as Andrew called them. Andrew was refusing to eat any of his favorite cookies after that and when I asked him what was wrong he started crying saying, “I don’t want to get fat!” I asked him who would be so mean to tell him that he’d get fat and he said, “Daddy!”

• My son Erik told us a cute story the other day about our granddaughter Mia (she's not quite two years old yet). They were sitting down at the table and Erik had brought home something to eat from the store, he took it out of the bag and broke off a piece to give Mia, he put it on her plate, and then he himself was going to eat the rest of it over the bag. Mia tried to share her plate with him and he said, “No, Mia, that’s okay, I’ll just use the bag.” Mia thought he was saying something about himself being bad, so she said, “Oh, no, Daddy, you’re not bad, you’re the sweetest, sweetest Daddy.”

• When she is at our house Mia loves for me to run with her. Every time she’s here she says “Run, Grandma, run!” and so we run until Grandma is tired. Then I say to her, “No more, Mia, Grandma is too old and too tired. I can’t run anymore.” One day I settled her and my grandson down at a little table and chairs with some Play-doh and Mia wanted me to sit on one of the tiny chairs and I told her no, I couldn’t, and before I could finish my sentence Mia said, “Oh, you’re too old and too tired to sit here.” Now any time I say no to her about something Mia tells me I’m too old and too tired.

• In the Kindergarten class where I worked the teacher had a Phonics book and in it were pictures, they were sort of hand drawn cartoon pictures. One picture was of a man, it was a construction worker, and one of the little boys was looking intently at this picture, and he made his hands into binoculars and was looking at the picture through his hands, I asked Kevin what he was doing and he said to me, “Well, this guy looks very familiar to me and I’m trying to figure out who he is.”

• Another time we were using the same book, and in this exercise you had to cross out the things that didn’t belong. One page was a picture of a teacher and the children were supposed to circle the things she needed and cross out the things she wouldn’t use in her classroom. I noticed Kevin was crossing out the box of chalk and I asked him why he was crossing it out and he said to me, “Well, I know she doesn’t smoke so she doesn’t need this box of cigarettes here.”

• One day the teacher, Debbie, and I had lots of paperwork to do, so Debbie gave the students some playtime. Little Joseph came up to us and said, “We were talking about you two at the dinner table last night.” Debbie and I looked at each other, and Debbie asked, “Was it good or was it bad?” And Joseph said, “Well, it was a little bit good and a little bit bad. I told my Mommy that I loved her a lot, and I loved you two a little bit. And then I told her that she had very big boobies, and that you (he pointed to Debbie) had medium boobies, and that you (pointing to me now) had very, little, tiny boobies.” Out of the mouth of babes!

• One year we had a little boy that just could not sit in his seat. If he wasn’t getting up out of it, Nicholas was falling out of it. One day I said to him, “Nicholas, what’s going on with you?” And he answered, “I don’t know! This seat won’t keep me in it!”

• Another boy, Allessandro, couldn’t keep his hands to himself, he was always taking toys from the other kids, taking school supplies off my desk, or trying to hit the other children. I said to him one day when he was being particularly obnoxious, “Allessandro, don’t you want to be a good boy? Don’t you want to make Mommy happy? Don’t you want to make your teacher happy?” And he said, very dramatically, with hand gestures, in his little Italian accent, “Yes! Yes! I want to be a good boy! Yes! Yes! I want to make everybody happy! I want to make the whole world happy! Yes! Yes! Are you happy now?!”

• We had another little girl one year that was trouble with a capital T, she not only tried to hit the other kids, she would have full-blown meltdowns, throwing desks, hitting Debbie and myself, kicking, biting, scratching, screaming. Brianna was hard work, but she could also be the sweetest thing. I started a ‘good girl sticker chart’ for her, and I told her if she was good and she filled the chart with stickers, at the end of the week I would bring her a treat. She asked what kind of treat and I promised her anything she wanted (I was desperate!), so she smiles slyly at me, and I’m thinking, oh no, I’m in trouble here, then she raises her eyebrows up and down, and rubs her stomach, and asks, “A can of black olives?” I bought her two cans.

• One day I had the class in the playroom and one little boy was taking a dress out of the costume box and putting it on, some of the other boys and girls were laughing at him, but he didn’t mind at all, he very seriously said to them, “Now we are going to play church, I am the priest and you are my audience.”

• This same little boy came to school with a baseball cap on once and was refusing to take it off. I told him that we weren’t allowed to wear hats in school, but he kept begging and begging me to let him leave it on, I asked him why and he told me because he didn’t like his haircut. I assured him it was probably fine and to let me take a look at it, I figured I’d make a big deal of how nice he looked, and that would be the end of it. Well, he took off the cap and he had a big bald spot in the middle of his head! He had tried to cut his own hair the night before. I took him to the principal’s office and we got permission for him to leave his cap on.

• My husband used to play Santa at Christmas for our kids and for our nieces and nephews, one year he asked our nephew Adam if he had been a good boy (poor Adam, trouble just always seemed to follow him, like he had a black cloud over his head, I don’t think he ever left our house without having broken something), Adam didn’t want to lie I guess, so instead he deflected the attention to his sister and said, “Well, sometimes my sister bites my leg.” I thought Santa was going to fall off his chair laughing.

• Anytime my grandson Jayden asks me to do something for him and I agree to it he will say, “Oh, thank you, Umma, you’re the best-est Umma in the world.” And I usually say to him, “Oh, you’re just saying that because I’m you’re only Umma.” One time he asked me to do something, I agreed, and he gave his me his little ‘Best-est Umma’ line, this time I said to him, “Thank you! And you are the best-est Jayden in the world.” And he said, “Oh, you’re just saying that because I’m you’re only Jayden”!

More to follow at another time…

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Brief Encounters

Sometimes in our lives we have such brief encounters with others and yet they leave lasting impressions on us. It may only be a minute, a small act of kindness, a written word or two, some small consideration, or a helpful hand. Sometimes we stumble upon these encounters with strangers, and other times we are fortunate enough to have a brief encounter that so profoundly touches our lives and we are also Blessed enough to have that experience last for just a little longer than a moment in time.
I was privileged to have had such an encounter with Kerry, one of the Kindergarten students in the classroom where I was a teacher’s aide a few years ago. Kerry was in my life from mid-September to January, and in just four short months my heartstrings developed such a strong attachment to her. Kerry came to our classroom with cancer. She had been diagnosed at the age of two and since that time she had numerous brain surgeries, and had undergone countless sessions of chemotherapy. Her skull was misshapen, and she had several scars on her little hairless head. She was near blind in one eye, and the eye would ‘roam’ and she couldn’t focus it at all. She used a tiny little walker that her Mom had decorated with stickers, and a helmet hung in the coat closet for her to use whenever we went into the playground.
Over the first few weeks Kerry tried hard to keep up with the other kids, scurrying around the classroom and the playground with her walker, learning her letters, numbers, and colors, doing all the arts and crafts, fighting for a favorite toy, standing her ground. But by mid-October Kerry no longer wanted to participate in much of anything. Her Mom sent her to school with her ‘sick-y bowl’ as she was undergoing chemotherapy again, and it left her sick and exhausted. Most mornings she would nap in the back of the classroom on a Barney mat that my sister Diane had sent in for her to use, and most afternoons I would sit with her in the rocker on my lap and sing to her. She became an attachment at my hip because I’d carry her everywhere now as she had become too weak to walk. Her Mom would come up to the classroom at lunchtime to sit with Kerry so I could take the rest of the class out to the playground. One day her Mom said to the teacher Debbie and myself that it wouldn’t be too long before Kerry died, and she wanted to know if Debbie would like for her to speak to the class about it. I was seething inside and I wanted to scream at this woman, “Why don’t you have this little girl at home with you? Why don’t you want to spend every minute of what little time she has left with her?”
One day I worked up the courage to ask her just that, more out of bewilderment now rather than anger. Her Mom humbled me by answering, “Because I want Kerry to experience everything a normal five year old would experience. I want Kerry to have as normal a life as possible for as long as possible.”
And, to tell you the truth, I was so grateful her Mom felt that way, because I got to spend so many hours of Kerry’s last months with her. She and I got to know each other very well. I learned that she loved Barney and her family, in that order! I learned that she collected Beanie Babies and I happily added to her collection. I learned that she didn’t like dressing up but that she liked looking at party dresses, and she especially liked white Communion dresses. I learned the songs that she liked most, and the games she liked best, and I learned that Kerry was feisty. And sadly, I learned that Kerry thought she was ugly.
On the first Friday of every month the whole student body went to church for a school Mass and the Kindergarten class participated in this. At the November Mass, Kerry as usual was in my lap and I noticed her shaking her tiny fist at two little girls across the aisle. I asked her why she was doing that and she said, “Because they’re looking at me. They’re looking at me because I’m ugly, because I have ugly eyes.” My heart broke for her and I said to her, “Oh, no, Kerry, they’re looking at you because you’re so beautiful, and because you have such beautiful blue eyes.” She smiled up at me, and snuggled into me and she fell asleep. Kerry continued to be such a joyful presence in that classroom and such a joyful presence in my life each day until Thanksgiving. As Christmas approached her days at school were few and far between, and her Mom came to retrieve her walker and her helmet from the classroom. She told us Kerry would be in the following week though as she wanted her to participate in the Christmas play, Kerry was going to be one of our little lambs.
All that week Kerry sat on my lap and repeated a mantra “I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to go home.” And something told me that Kerry’s spirit wanted to go Home to God. I asked her if she wanted to pray with me and she shook her head yes. I carried her to the front of the classroom where we had set up a Christmas tree, and my husband had made a little manger and placed it under the tree, and Debbie had swaddled one of the dolls from the playroom to be our Jesus. I told Kerry we would ask Jesus to take her home, and she smiled at me, and she looked down at the baby and she said, “Jesus, I want to go home.” And I prayed too that Jesus would please take her Home to Him.
Kerry seemed so fragile the day of the Kindergarten Christmas play, but she was dressed as a lamb, sitting in her Mom’s lap on the stage with her classmates, too weak to sing along, but she was there, smiling out at all of us in the auditorium.
Her Dad brought her to me after the play was over to say good-bye, and the pain on that man’s face is a heartache I will carry with me all my life, his eyes filled up and he had to excuse himself, and I felt helpless, I had no words of consolation. How could you tell a man that is about to lose his baby daughter to cancer that everything is going to be okay? Maybe he couldn’t bear to hear that Kerry was a part of some great plan. Maybe he couldn’t accept that it was God’s Will. How could I say any of those things when I was finding it hard to accept myself? I felt powerless. There was nothing I could do for this man. I could only hold his little girl in my arms and pray that he and Kerry would find God’s Peace.
Kerry didn’t come back to school after the Christmas vacation, but I did see Kerry once more after that, it was a cold January afternoon, and her Mom had come to pick up Kerry’s sisters and brothers from school. Kerry was sitting in the front seat of her Mom’s car in the school parking lot, God was good to me as I happened to pass by and I spotted her. She looked so frail, and she looked so tiny wrapped up in a big blanket. Her Mom had rolled down the passenger window for me and I leaned in to say hello, Kerry’s eyes were closed and I thought she was sleeping, but she opened them and smiled a weak little smile at me, and then she leaned her head against mine. I told her I loved her and she closed her eyes again and shook her head yes, and she said slowly, weakly, slurring her words a little, “I…love…you…too”. Her Mom told me the doctors said it wouldn’t be long, and it wasn’t long at all because on January 20 God took Kerry Home.
I went to her wake and Kerry looked angelic dressed in the white Communion dress her Mom said that Kerry had picked out for herself while shopping one day, and some of her hair had grown in, and it curled around her beautiful little face, and she looked so peaceful. I saw that among the toys placed in with her was one of the Beanie Babies that I had given her, and her Mom said she had always slept with ‘Monk’. Her Dad asked me how I thought she looked, and I said she looked beautiful, she looked just like a little cherub. Kerry had always looked beautiful to me though, and Kerry was always my angel. And I thank God for allowing this little soul to come into my life. One of my most valued treasures in this Blessed life I live is that God bestowed on me the gift of this brief encounter.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"God's Been Very Good To Me"

The Gospel reading at Mass this past Sunday was The Transfiguration, and the sermon was about God’s Goodness and God’s Forgiveness. The priest said that sin disfigures us, but God through His Goodness and His Forgiveness transfigures us. And while the priest was talking I thought about how right he was. I thought about the many times in my life that sin disfigured my soul, and sin disfigured my life, and I thought about the many times that God’s Forgiveness transfigured my soul and the many times that God’s Goodness transfigured my life.
And I thought about the times I questioned God’s Plan. I never doubted that God Had A Plan, but I did question His Plan at times. And, in questioning God’s Plan I know I was permitting my soul to be disfigured and allowing my life to be disfigured. And I thought of the time I questioned God about my Mom, and God in His Goodness and Mercy answered me through my Mom. Alzheimer’s Disease had disfigured her very being, my Mom suffered with this disease for the last seven years of her life, and our family lost her in bits and pieces until there was very little left of the strong, enthusiastic, engaging, likable, friendly, woman that she had been. Each passing day left us missing her more and more. Losing my Mom to Alzheimer’s was one of the most heartbreaking experiences we’ve had to endure. In many ways, watching Mom deteriorate mentally was more cruel than watching Dad deteriorate physically. While my Dad’s body betrayed him, and he had to give up all of his independence, he was still my Dad, none of his personality was altered in any way. Not only did my Mom lose her independence, she also lost the unique qualities that made up her personality. One wonderful trait my Mom had was that she was a great conversationalist. My Mom could converse with anybody. She was interested in everyone and people found her easy to talk to. Sadly, Alzheimer’s robbed my Mom of her vocabulary.
Near the end, for the most part, my Mom spoke only gibberish. Here and there you could catch a word to make sense of what she was trying to convey, but most times she was just this sad, lost soul, wandering around, making no sense at all. On a rare occasion my Mom would have a moment of clarity, and for a few Blessed moments there was a glimpse of my Mom and there was the brief hope of a chance to have a familiar chat, just like we used to do for oh so many hours. But then in an instant the moment had passed, and the hope was dashed.
Mom was living in a nursing home for the last year of her life and sometimes a Eucharistic Minister would come by to offer Communion, and surprisingly my Mom seemed to understand that she was receiving our Blessed Lord, and when we said the Our Father together, well, most times the right words wouldn’t come to her, but she would bow her head in reverence, and she knew to respond “Amen” after the minister offered the Host up to her and said, “The Body Of Christ”. The day finally came though when she didn’t realize anymore what was happening, and she didn’t understand the Sacrament, and she didn’t want to take Communion anymore, or if she did receive the Host she would then try to spit it out after the minister left, and I would have to coax her to drink some water to distract her and to get her to swallow. That was especially depressing because my Mom was very devoted to her Catholic Faith, and for her not to recognize this Sacrament was devastating to me. And I questioned God as to why this too had to be taken from her?
Most times after that my Mom would shake her head no to the minister if he came by and she would point to me, but on one of the last visits that the minister made to us before my Mom passed she did bow her head for the prayer, and when offered the Eucharist she did receive. After the minister left I remarked to my Mom how nice it was that the minister came by and that we were able to receive, she was already busy with her coloring and didn’t look up or acknowledge me, and I didn’t expect her to, but then she lifted her head and looked at me and said, “God’s been very good to me.” And I knew then that no matter what may happen to our bodies or to our minds, God’s Goodness and God’s Mercy still touches our souls. Even in her confused and distorted state of mind my Mom knew that God had been very good to her. It validated to me my belief that she was more than this disease she had seemed to become. And it was confirmation that God didn’t abandon her, and even in her altered state, she did not abandon God. Our souls still have that connection even if the outside world can’t see it. Just because I couldn’t see her connection to God did not mean that it didn’t exist for her. And just because my Mom wasn’t able to participate in religious ceremonies didn’t mean that anything Sacred had been denied her. Mom was still united with God. Those words spoken by my Mom were a gift to me from God, one that I will always treasure.
Whatever the future holds for me, I know that God’s Goodness and God’s Forgiveness will transfigure me, and I pray that my soul can always remember what my Mom’s soul remembered -
“ God’s been very good to me.”

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I More Than Love You

A few weeks ago I got a call from my grandson’s school where he is in a Nursery program three afternoons a week. It was the school nurse looking for my daughter, I told her that my daughter was at work and asked if I could take a message. After verifying that I was Jayden’s grandmother she told me that she was calling because he had fallen, he had a fat lip, a bruise above his mouth, and what looked like a tiny little chip missing out of one front tooth. She told me that he was fine, he wasn’t crying, and he was sitting on the lap of the teacher’s aide and holding ice on his mouth. She said there was really no need to come pick him up until dismissal time, but that it was customary to call. I thanked her for calling and said that I would be there at 2:15 as usual to pick him up.
My calm during the phone conversation contradicted the anxiety and worry that was gnawing at my insides. I felt more than a little anxious, I had to see for myself that my boy was okay. I wanted to tear right up to that school, grab that little guy in my arms, and race him home.
I don’t know what’s come over me. I didn’t used to be like this. I’m the mother of five and I’ve gotten countless phone calls from school over the years. Playground mishaps have been plentiful, and I’ve always taken them in stride (well, except for the time my youngest son decided to crawl in the ceiling of his classroom, fell through to the floor and broke his femur. That left me somewhat panic-stricken too). But I know that kids fall. They get hurt. It happens. They heal.
And it is not like Jayden hasn’t fallen in my presence, he’s gotten hurt and I don’t come apart at the seams. My sister-in-law Susie just reminded me about the time we were taking a walk with Jayden and I kept telling him to hold my hand and he wouldn’t listen. He then fell onto the concrete, hitting his head hard. I did scoop him up right away and hugged him to me, but I also said very matter-of-factly to him, “That’s what happens when you don’t hold my hand.”
So what was it about this phone call that sent me into a tailspin? The nurse said he was fine and he wasn’t crying, but I kept wondering if he wanted his “Umma”. I kept thinking of all the times he’d fallen at home and came running to me for consolation. I’d be in another room, in a house full of people, and I’d hear him calling for me frantically, “Where’s Umma? Where’s Umma?” until he found me so I could kiss the hurt away. I wondered if in his little head he was thinking, “Where’s Umma? Where’s Umma?” and there was no Umma there this time to kiss it better for him.
I think this new feeling I’m experiencing is something that I refer to as ‘the Grandma factor’. It’s a new trait that I now possess, one that I couldn’t even fathom before grandchildren came on the scene. I’ve been grasping for a word to convey my feelings for my grandchildren and while ‘love’ comes close, it doesn’t do this feeling justice by a long shot, I really don’t think there is a word in the English language that could convey the feeling I have for them. I don’t know if I’m unique in feeling this way or if all grandmothers feel the same, because what I feel for these children is so much more than I felt for my own children and it is something that took me by surprise. I never knew I could feel this way about another human being. It is so different than a love for your spouse, of course, but it’s even so much more different than the love you have for your own children. It’s more than love. And I don’t know of a word that expresses ‘more than love’. I remember my sister-in-law Susie one time saying to Jayden, “Oh, I love you so much. I love you so much it hurts.” And that came close to some of what I feel. A love, so much so that it hurts, but also a love so much that it heals. A love so bright and burning, a love that is radiant, it is bliss, and joy, and enchantment. It is everything good. Even that description doesn’t come close to what I feel.
Most amazing to me is that this feeling wasn’t awakened in me until grandchildren came into my life. From the moment I first laid eyes on Jayden I felt that “Grandma” must be the most beautiful word in the English language. Now I am grandmother to two, Jayden and Mia, and I am on a quest find a word to best capture what Grandma (Umma) feels for her grandchildren. For now I will have to settle for telling them, “I more than love you.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tattered Treasures

My friend Barbara and I always talked about how we were going to open a sort of thrift shop and call it "Tattered Treasures", and we joked about how between the two of us the shop would have a full inventory. I love almost anything old. I will go to flea markets and rummage sales to scout out any old piece of lace or embroidery, chipped vases, old tin cans, anything time-warn that looks useful (to me) and can be re-purposed. I especially love old furniture. I was never attracted to 'fine antiques', but old, used, even abused furniture sitting on the side of the road is something I have a hard time passing by now. Peeling paint, beautiful! Scratched and marred, what history! Ring marks, even more endearing! Most of my family and friends know this, and my husband and I have acquired some of our most prized possessions because family and friends were kind enough to rescue them from the garbage and deliver them to our home. My friend Barbara was just telling me how she recently picked up a small chest of drawers that was put out for the trash, she took it home, painted it, changed the drawer pulls and is using it as a lingerie chest. I am so jealous!
There's a warehouse near us filled with both antiques in excellent condition and what I like to call the tattered treasures. My husband and I go there quite often just to browse, and invariably I'll find something to my liking, to which Ray always protests "But where are you going to put it? We have no more room in the house for another piece of furniture!", and he's right. The salespeople of course always side with me and say that a place can always be found for something you love, and they are right too. They also go on and on about how they will 'fix up' and 'recondition' whatever it is I have my heart set on and my response is a resounding "NO!!" I love the broken, the bruised, and the battered.
I no longer want my house filled with furniture that anyone has to be afraid to use, I love that my family and friends can come over and feel very comfortable about putting their feet up on coffee tables, and relaxed enough to put a cup down without first searching for a coaster, our house is a very 'lived in' home and we do not have nor do we want a museum quality to anything in it.
I didn't always used to feel this way. I used to fret about every spill, about every tear, and about every little nick in the furniture. I really did a disservice to my kids when they were young. I'm sure I sent them the message that my 'things' mattered more to me than they did. Believe me, I do not advocate having a lack of respect for your home or the things provided in it, I just learned over the years not to place such an importance on having/keeping my furniture pristine.
I think it struck me years ago when one of our dogs ate through the leg of an oak dining chair (brand new dining set), and then he went on to chew the bottom of the buffet, along with a corner of the china closet, and I decided it's not worth having nice, expensive things. Then a light bulb went off in my head. That dining set has long been given away and replaced by an almost indestructible marble table (hot dishes and spills have no power here), and big, old, heavy mismatched dining chairs, almost equally indestructible (but hard to lug around when you are vacuuming!). I love all my old pieces, and I think my most favorite is an old teak, beefy-looking coffee table that came complete with scratches, deep grooves, and water marks, just waiting to be perfected with even more abuse from family and friends. And as I replace each piece of furniture I do it with an eye for comfort both for my own family and for any guests, and also for my own sanity. 'New' furniture has no attraction for me anymore, in fact, I look around my house for things that can be replaced, and I have my family saying, "Let me have first dibs on anything you're giving away!" Most people replace the old with the new, but I'm looking to replace the new with tattered treasures.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

This Old House

I love this old house I live in. It is the home of my childhood, and it is a big, old, American four-square, and I love it. My husband on the other hand does not always share my love for this old house. Even the smallest home improvement endeavor turns into a major project for Ray. I know when I see him with his tools out it is time for everyone to cover their ears because soon the swear words will be flowing! Old house, old wiring, old pipes, etc. equals big problems for a do-it-yourself project. But I know he does share a love of some things in this house, we both love the character of this old house, the stucco-plastered walls, the craftsmanship of the hand-plastered ceilings and crown moldings, and the built-in shelves in our dining room. Neither one of us loved the old kitchen too much though (peeling wallpaper, leaky sink, painted cabinet doors and drawers that always got stuck shut), but we both loved having it done over, and we both had fun picking out everything new, and I love that the new kitchen is his design. I thought I would be sad with too many changes to the kitchen I grew up in, but Ray did me proud, I love it. And we both love having family and friends over to our house, especially in the summer for pool parties. We both come from big families, so there are times I wish this old house were a little bigger, but all-in-all, I love this old house.
I first moved into this house in 1963 when I was nine years old. My parents moved us from a small three bedroom semi-attached house (that had grown much too small for a family of nine) to the 'new' house (which was about sixty years old then) that had six bedrooms and seemed like a mansion! I lived here until the day I got married at nineteen years old. I have a lot of nice memories growing up in this house, all the friends, all the relatives, birthdays, graduations, holidays, Holydays, Sacraments, lots of fun, lots of fights (there were seven kids!), and lots of love.
I was pregnant with my fourth child when my Mom called to ask if I would like to have my family move into their house. The house she said was too big for them now (although they still had my two younger brothers and my younger sister living at home at that time), and my Mom said that with her having gone back to work full-time the house was getting to be too much for them to keep up with it. I really think it was just my parents looking out for one of their own as usual, as we were in a two bedroom apartment at the time. And, by the way, the house we were living in at the time was also a house my parents had bought a few years before. My husband, myself, and our three kids (with fourth on the way) lived in the apartment upstairs and my brother, his wife, and two kids lived in the apartment below us. My parents also owned the house next door to them and another brother and his family lived in the apartment downstairs over there, and my grandmother (my Dad's Mom) lived in the apartment upstairs. It is very easy to see that my parents had more than merely generous hearts. Ray and I were more than grateful, and more than happy and eager to jump at the offer, and a few months later we were settled into this old house. My sister Diane stayed on with us and was always there to help with the kids, lend a hand, and support us in more numerous ways than I can count for the few years she was with us before she got married and moved out.
It will be twenty-seven years this June since my family moved back into the old house I grew up in, our youngest daughter and our youngest son were born after we moved here, and the house has seen it's share of commotions with our five kids, their cousins, and their friends, (along with three dogs), and there were never many dull moments in this house, not in my childhood nor after my own family made it their home. I have so many fond (and some not so fond) memories of my own kids growing up in this house, all the milestones, the heartaches, and the joys, and I embrace each and every one of them, the not-so-good along with the very good. Our son, Erik, married his sweetheart Lori, and they gave us our granddaughter, beautiful Mia. Our oldest son, Brian, and our youngest son, Andrew, have moved out to apartments of their own. Our daughter Katie and her son Jayden, and our daughter Ellie still make their home here, so the house is still full and now with the grandkids we have more opportunities to create many more memories for them and for us. This house has always been a bustle of activity, for as long as I can remember, lots of people in and out to this day, friends and family that come to visit for an hour, and friends and family that come to stay for a weekend, or for a year or more. My Mom always made this house a welcome haven for everyone, our door was always open.
We are far from a perfect family, and as is bound to happen in a big family, sometimes there are more of us on the 'outs' with each other rather than 'in' and embracing the family circle, but I hope I do justice to my Mom and the house that she too loved. And I hope that each and every one of my family knows that if they ever knock on this front door, it will opened to them and they will be welcomed into this old house.