Today my dad turns sixty years old. Over the years, I have drawn comparisons of him to many different people. A slave driver. A jail warden. The big, giant, scary, fire and brimstone floating wizard head in The Wizard of Oz. Okay, okay…I kid. But he does do a spot-on impersonation of my Great Aunt Ginny eating. And he was calling the majority of the world’s Continue reading “A Re-Gift to My Dad”
Ten years ago this very day, I was putting on a white gown. Ten years ago this very day, I was feeding off of excitement and butterflies. Ten years ago this very day, I was surrounded by 200 of my closest family and friends. Ten years ago this very day, I spoke the most sacred words I have ever spoken. Ten years ago this very day, I married my best friend.
And what am I doing on the ten-year anniversary of this day of all days? I’m having ten four-year-olds over to my house for a superhero themed birthday party. But that sounds about right…because after ten years, two kids, two houses, a dog, some ill-fated fish, and a very temporary turtle, life looks a lot different for me and my husband than it did on our wedding day.
Ten Years is the “Tin” Anniversary, which seems pretty appropriate if you think about it. Tin is not a flashy metal, but it is very practical and useful. It’s used in bakeware and for coating cans because of its low toxicity levels and ability to resist corrosion. It can be combined with other metals to make alloys and solder to join electrical circuits. It is even used in the window glass-making process and can be chemically combined with fluoride to be used in toothpaste. Tin is not imposing; it is easily adaptable. Kind of like a marriage that has lasted for ten years.
After being married for ten years, life is not exactly as flashy as it once was. “Practical” and “useful” become the norm. The never-ending unpredictability of kids, home ownership, car ownership, and work requires a marriage that can be adaptable. In a lot of ways, life does not really belong to us the way it did when we were first married. But that is a naturally occurring element of marriage…just like tin.
Still, our ten year anniversary is a pretty huge milestone. These truly have been the best ten years of my life, and I have my husband to thank for that. And I find tin to be an even more appropriate representation of our life together because of the coincidental fact that the day I met Kurt, he was dressed as the “Tin Man.” (Well, I put that in quotes because it is hard to call some poorly wrapped pieces of aluminum foil a Tin Man costume.) We were both riding on a Wizard of Oz homecoming float in college, and while the attraction was not necessarily immediate (I mean, LOOK at that costume), I should have known this was a fateful moment in my life.
You see, growing up, The Wizard of Oz was my favorite movie. I had a mini-obsession with Dorthy and would often force family members to act out the entire story with me. So it seems pretty darn appropriate for my knight in shining armor to literally be wearing the “metal” suit of the Tin Man. And Kurt played the role of knight very, very well. The whole sweeping-me-onto-his-horse-and-riding-off-into-the-sunset flash and romance was a talent of his. How could I NOT want to marry this man?
Ten years later, it is clear to me that marrying him was the best decision I ever made. Because Kurt is still my “Tin Man.” Though he can still bring the romance with the best of them, he is more my practical knight in shining armor. The kind with an ax who can chop wood to furnish a home for his family and an oil can to smooth over sticky situations. And just like the Tin Man, he has an enormous heart than no one needs to see…it is obvious it is there.
It seems appropriate that I post this birthday letter to you on my blog, since you have single-handedly provided much of my material for it…and frankly some of my best quality material. Every time I finish a new blog post and read it to your dad, he always says, regardless, “I think it’s your best one.” Well, I know that’s not always the case, but I think we would both agree that “Dancing on Betsy Ross’ Grave” is probably one of our favorites. And that is all thanks to you and your “unique way of living life.” Mostly, I love that post because it means I will always have something to remind me of exactly the boy your were at the age of three-and-a-half. But today, my little man, you turn four years old, and I can not wait (and frankly, am a bit frightened) to see what this next year will bring.
You certainly keep us on our toes, which (while not always amusing at those very moments) has certainly provided us with lots of after-the-fact laughs, suppressed smiles while trying to scold you, and I give up giggles. I have often said about you, “It’s a good thing he’s cute”…and you really are, in my completely unbiased opinion. But truthfully, I don’t want you growing up with the notion that those charming dimples and lashfully luscious baby blues will buy you a free pass to make your own rules…because guys like that are big fat jerks. And you, my little buddy, may have had a salty three-year-old tongue sometimes, but you are powered by a heart that beats sweet and pure. Besides, now that you are turning four, I’m fully expecting the “terrible threes” to kindly be on their way.
One thing I hope will stick around, even though you are getting older, is that I can always count on you for some really fantastic snuggles. You…are…momma’s…boy. Plain and simple. Though it is sometimes burdensome that I am always your first choice to do pretty much everything, I really adore that you adore me so. It is hard to resist your nightly request of “Momma, will you snuggle with me?” even in spite of the massive number of time outs I had to put you in or “Michael messes” I had to clean up that day. And in those moments where you are lying in bed on the brink of sleep, all I can see is a perfect little boy.
Reflecting on this past year, age three has really been something. Exhausting? Yes. Frustrating? Yes (by the way,…PLEASE get his whole normal healthy eating habits thing down. It’s just annoying.). But you have made it all worth while because it is impossible for your genuinely lovable and inquisitive nature not to shine through. And you may be getting wise to ways of covering up your indiscretions (like when I catch you sneaking a cookie and you almost instinctively hold it up and say, “I was getting you a cookie, mom.”), but it also seems that Osmosis Boy IS starting to catch on to the right way of doing things as well…like saying “okay” when we ask you to do something instead of ignoring us or blatantly refusing. And might I say it is pretty adorable when we reaffirm this by saying “Good answer!” and you reply, “Yay! Let’s have a good answer party! Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo!”
Instead, let’s have a birthday party today to celebrate the fact that you have made our lives complete for another year. And pretty jam-packed-super-full as well. I feel certain that age four will bring many more blog posts to come, but I would be lying if I said I was not excited to see what you will bring to the table, and how you will refine the talents you already posses. For instance, your emerging negotiating tactics that usually only consist of what you will get out of the bargain: “How ’bout you take me to the ice cream store. Would that be a deal?” Well buddy, I’ve got one for you…
How ’bout you just keep being exactly who you are, and I just keep on loving you all the way to Heaven and back. Would that be a deal?
Our dog Scout is about as sweet and undemanding as animals come, which (by the fact that the rest of our family registers at varying degrees of selfish and demanding) pretty much makes her the low man on the totem pole in our house. This past weekend, poor Scout did something that knocked her down even one more rung lower on that hierarchical ladder: she found a turtle.
We were all in the backyard on Friday evening, enjoying the beginning of Memorial Day weekend. Kurt and I were lounging in the hammock watching the kids play in the sprinkler (can’t you just picture us in one of those new JCPenney commercials?), when Scout emerged from a hunting excursion under a bush with something rather large in her mouth. Upon discovering it was a turtle, the kids declared that we had a new pet, and the immediate construction of a new turtle habitat began (a.k.a. a cardboard box with one stick, a clump of grass, and a few stray leaves to make the box “feel like nature,” along with a hunk of kale in case the turtle stopped peeing himself out of fear long enough to realize he was hungry). And with that, Scout lost her new chew toy AND her spot of most beloved family pet.
Logically, the next thing to do was name the turtle. Michael immediately went to his second go-to name of “Max” (his first go-to name usually being “Bob”), which Grace of course vetoed right away…mostly because she didn’t come up with it. She wanted to make up a name using the first letter of each name in the family. But being that “KKGM” has no vowels, it didn’t have a real good ring to it. Then there was talk of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which of course led to the name “Michaelangelo.” That was the favorite Michael settled on, but not before offering the very typical and very expected suggestion of “Toot Tootbutt.” This was vetoed for obvious reasons. I thought I would throw out the name “Atticus.” I mean, how perfect, right? Scout and Atticus. I giggled in my head as I pictured Atticus the Turtle lecturing Scout the Dog that she could eat all the blue jays she wanted, but that it was a sin to eat a mockingbird, “because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy.” But alas, my seven-year-old and three-year-old didn’t get my literary allusion. Grace, in her creative fashion, wanted to name him “Turtelo.” Finally it was decided: “Michaelangelo Atticus Turtelo.” We’ll call him MAT for short.
Scout just wanted to call the turtle “dinner,” and soon her innocent sniffing became more aggressive paw batting and gnawing…which sent Grace into a fit of dramatic crying that mean bully Scout was going to kill this new pet that she loved so much. The turtle was gaining even more ground in the battle for most beloved family pet.
About, oh, five minutes after christening the turtle with his new name, Grace curiously wondered if maybe, just maybe, the turtle was a GIRL.
Now we have to start all over again. Michael thought the very best name for a girl turtle was “Crystal.” At first, Kurt and I found this to be odd, but then considering the connotation that sometimes comes along with that name, maybe it wasn’t such a bad choice for an animal that has its own mobile home. (I do apologize to any Crystals who may be reading this…from their mobile homes). Grace wanted to name the turtle “Jennifer” after my brother’s girlfriend. (Jennifer, if you’re reading this…not from a mobile home… I’m guessing that’s an honor?) So again, the compromise of “Jennifer Crystal” was made.
All of this agonizing decision-making was really a moot point though, because the next morning we found that Michaelangelo Atticus Turtelo/Jennifer Crystal had somehow escaped from its new “natural” habitat and was nowhere to be found. Apparently we should have named him “Houdini.”
There is a happy ending for Scout though, as she now remains our one and only beloved pet. She came close to having some more competition two days later when Grace caught her very first fish during our day trip to Innsbrook Resort. I think she would have gladly kept “Herbert,” except that we had to throw him back by law, which was even less of a reason than the fact that the poor fish ended up having a fatal encounter with her hook. Really, we should have expected Herbert’s demise considering the track record we had with our series of goldfish a few years ago: R.I.P. CallieEllas I-III and Chocolate Milks I-IV.
Now that I think of it, maybe instead of worrying about being our most beloved pet, Scout should just be happy she’s made it nine years…
Do you smell that? It’s the smell of tempera paint, clay, a fresh pack of construction paper, and Elmer’s glue mixed with some misshapen waffles and the aroma of overpriced flowers. Ah…the smell of Mother’s Day.
Kids (and dads) everywhere are hustling to put final touches on homemade gifts. Reservations for brunch are being made. Men of the family are struggling to put together menus for family get-togethers that don’t consist solely of barbequed meat and beer. Gift certificates for manicures, pedicures, and massages are being bought at an alarming rate. Hallmark stock is likely skyrocketing.
I myself always look forward to seeing what my kids and husband cook up for me every Mother’s day, both literally and figuratively. But as a post my friend Maggie (check out her awesome blog at Perspectives Writing & Editing…little plug) made the other day on Facebook, it really does not take much to show us mothers some honest appreciation. I would be happy if my kids could just understand that I would give my life for them at any given second of any given day…and treat me accordingly as the unselfish and heroic queen that willingness to sacrifice proves me to be, bowing to my every wish and command. I guess breakfast in bed is nice, too.
But honestly, nothing my children could give me could ever match the gift I was given simply with their advents into my life: a true and pure understanding of unconditional love. Never have I ever been so angry or upset with my kids that I did not tiptoe myself into their rooms after they were asleep, whisper a kiss across their foreheads, and silently thank God for the dreaming little blessings before me. And it will always be that way. I know that because the moment my oldest child came to be and I was able to feel that unconditional love stirring within me was also the moment I understood, for the very first time, just how much I was loved by someone else. For me, it took becoming a mother to know the depths of my own mother’s love for me. To look at my daughter and my son, to feel my adoration without horizons for them, and to realize I am the source of that same feeling in someone else…well…that is a beautiful revelation.
I think those of us especially with young children get wrapped up in Mother’s Day being “ours.” We are now a part of that sacred female community, and we feel a bit entitled to a day where we get a pat on the back for surviving sleep deprivation, temper tantrums, and assaults of various disgusting messes and smells. But when you get those adorable cards with crayon lettering, framed handprints, and handmade beaded necklaces that you will sentimentally treasure for the rest of your days, just remember that somewhere in a box or a closet in the house you grew up in, your mother has packed away all those little things you made for her. And now, you will understand why.
Happy Mother’s Day, especially to my mom. I love you.
(P.S. Mom, you just said the other day that you told someone, “Her blog will make you laugh…and cry.” Well, I’m guessing the tissues are out on this one. Sorry.)
I just wanted to make a quick little post because today my grandpa (a.k.a. “Papa” to me and a.k.a. “DooDa” to Grace) would have been 87 years old. But he’s been gone for almost five years now. Or has he?
Some say that after a loved one passes, he or she will send you little signs occasionally. I’m not sure I believed that until my grandpa was gone. And he wasted no time in making it abundantly clear that he was okay, and that he would be watching us. After his funeral, the family gathered for your typical Irish wake. In the midst of beers and Bloody Marys and laughter and one-upping “Big Ed” stories, someone glanced toward the sky and saw a most unusual sight: a rainbow encircling the sun. Not a rain cloud for days, not even the smallest of haze…but still, a ring of color where none of us had ever seen one before. Coincidence? Maybe. An unusual scientific phenomenon? I’m sure it is. But at that moment, it felt like Gramps was finding his own way to crash the party.
I’ve experience other little reminders of him gently nudging me throughout the years. And gosh darn it if Big Ed didn’t send me one today, on his very birthday. I was at the grocery store in the salad dressing aisle. I was walking rather briskly, barely paying attention to the shelves, because I knew I did not need anything in this particular area. All of a sudden, my eyes deadlocked on a package of sesame breadsticks, and I stopped in my tracks…and smiled. You see, my grandpa ate these ALL the time…so much so that we nicknamed them “Papa Cookies.” I don’t ever remember taking notice of them at the store before (mostly because they are right next to things like capers and olives, which as a rule, I usually avoid). Without a second thought, I picked up the Papa Cookies, put them in my basket, and whispered to myself, “Happy Birthday, Papa.”
So today, yes, I am missing my grandpa, missing the fact that he’s not physically here. Missing the tree trunk arms that would wrap around me. Missing the way he would bite his lower lip and smile when he was proud of me. Missing the way he would always greet me with an enthusiastic “Hello Keeny!” as if I was still the little girl who couldn’t pronounce her own name. But if it has to be this way, and by nature’s law it does, I am happy to have our time together over things like rainbow enshrouded suns and unexpected lunches of sesame breadsticks.
I’ll leave you with a poem by Chief Tecumseh that my cousin Bill, my grandpa’s nephew and godson, suggested because it embodies the man my Papa truly was. If I did not know better, I would have thought my grandpa penned these words himself, because he certainly lived them:
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.
Today you are seven years old. Birthdays mean something different to parents than they do to kids. To us, we cannot help but think about the day our child came into our lives, and every day since then. As this day approached, I have had a certain song playing in my head:
“You can’t fool me I saw you when you came out. You got your mama’s taste but you got my mouth.”
I remember hearing these lyrics to “Gracie” by Ben Folds soon after you were born. Gazing at your tiny, delicate features, acquainting myself with this new little person I had always loved but just met, it was clear that you did in fact have your daddy’s mouth. But only time would tell if you had my taste. I would have to wait and watch you grow. At the time, that was beyond my realm of imagination. I was content to keep you my dribbling, nuzzling little bundle forever.
Sometimes I miss Baby Grace and her big, squishy cheeks that were irresistible to kiss and her downy hair scented with the freshness of baby shampoo and the natural sweetness of brand new life. But if I had only had Baby Grace for these past seven years, I would have missed out on all the things you have become and all the things you have created that I have packed away in my heart. And I would not have discovered that you, my dear little Gracie, do have your mama’s taste.
There are times I observe you and have the feeling I am looking in the mirror, only at a reflection that does not look like me. In your face I see your dad, which has resulted in a beauty my own face has never and will never know. But what goes on behind that pretty little face, that is where I have left my mark. And I cannot help but think this might just give me an advantage in parenting you. I’ve been there, kid. I know what you are thinking and feeling, because already it has been apparent to me that your brain is trying to interpret the world in many of the same ways mine did as a child. So this means I can help you when you need it, if you are not too stubborn to let me…which you probably will be. And I will have to fault myself for that.
But maybe before you get too old to want to listen, before you cringe in utter embarrassment and disbelief that you are anything like your mom, I can let you in on a few little things.
Dad loves to claim you get your artistic interest from him. But we’ve seen him draw, well, anything. So we know the truth. Let that passion live inside you always, and don’t forget to use it every now and again, even when it seems you have more important things to do. Right now, you want to be an artist when you grow up. And you very may well make that a reality. But if you choose another living for yourself, don’t let your love for your other interests fall by the wayside. The pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with creating something is important, even if you only create for yourself.
From very early on, it was apparent you are a dreamer. And by many accounts, you dream like me. I remember the time you sheepishly asked me if I ever pretended to dance with a boy when I was your age, as if you thought you were the only one. Dreaming is a necessity. It is the gateway to imagination, and imagination leads to all kinds of good things. But I also think I would be an irresponsible mom if I did not tell you to keep sight of reality. People will tell you that you can be anything. Well, that is not really true. Everyone has limitations, but those are a blessing if you recognize them and see your limits as guides, directing your focus toward your gifts. Find a gift that fuels passion, then dream as big as you can. And remember that the bridge between dreams and reality does not build itself. Only your own strong work ethic, and maybe a bit of luck, will make that happen.
Your mama likes to dance to the beat of her own drummer sometimes, and so do you. This became completely evident a few months ago when I asked if you wanted to sign up for softball. After saying no, I asked if you were sure, because all your friends would be playing and I did not want you to feel left out. You looked right at me and said with conviction, “Mom, I don’t have to do what everyone else does.” I was cloaked with pride at that moment. Because you were right, and I hope you remember those words all your life. At the same time, the part of me that wants to enshroud you in bubble wrap and hang a sign on you that says Please say only nice things to my daughter whimpered, knowing what lies ahead for a kid who goes against the grain. There will be teasing. There will be times of loneliness. People will hurt your feelings and try to make you feel bad about yourself. But try to remember this in the midst of it, though it will be hard: you are exactly the person God meant for you to be. Not everyone will like you; that is a universal truth for everyone. So you should never change yourself for someone else. Otherwise, you will be changing all the time. And you will find people who love you for who you are…I will always be first on that list. And you will never be truly alone, because your dad and I will be here for you anywhere, anytime. I have been down many of the roads you will be traveling, and I promise I will do my best to remember how it feels to be your age. You may not always like what I have to say, but my love for you will always be boundless.
So you have grown another year’s worth of becoming who you are, who you will be. Seeing you discover yourself has been one of the greatest privileges of my life, and it will continue to be as I watch you add new layers. But underneath it all, “you will always have a part of me nobody else is ever gonna see but you and me…my little girl…my Gracie girl.”
Happy Birthday, Boo.
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What’s black and white and red all over? A panda in a Santa costume of course.
What? You’ve never heard of the Christmas Panda? Well, I feel pretty sorry for you. Because he’s awesome. He brings presents after Christmas, along with a feast of assorted meats and cheeses and grilled pineapple, mimosas, board game fun, and the option to attend the festivities in your jammies, if you feel so inclined.
Panda Day is part of our Christmastime tradition. It started a few years ago with my husband’s family as time set aside to celebrate just with his parents and siblings. See, both my husband and I are blessed (and usually not cursed) to have a very large chunk of our extended families here in St. Louis, which means Christmas Eve and Christmas day are practically scheduled down to the minute. So eventually we had the brilliant idea that it was really okay to celebrate part of our Christmas AFTER the actual day. And it has turned out to be a well-loved tradition. Today was our Merry Panda Day.
On the way home tonight, I was thinking of all the Christmas traditions we are not only passing on to our kids, but also creating for our kids. I wonder which memories will stay with them, which moments are helping to write the stories of their childhoods? Christmastime is always an indelible chapter in those stories. We try so hard to create magical and perfect holiday moments for our kids to fondly remember. Sometimes those are the visions they hold dear. But sometimes magic happens even when we are not trying. For example, twice this month my kids spied a giant buck in our backyard. We are used to occasionally seeing does and their young, but hardly ever are we treated to the antlered version. And the coincidental fact that this buck made himself known so close to Christmas, and the fact that he could easily be mistaken for a reindeer by my kids, made for pure yule tide delight. Grace was sure it was Prancer checking out our roof for the best place to land on the big night. There is nothing I could have ever orchestrated to make her believe in Christmas magic more than that simple and perfectly timed sighting. Although I do think the phone call from Santa (a.k.a. our friend Bob) that comes every year does a pretty good job as well. There is always that perfect mix of fear and wonder in their eyes at the first booming sound of Bob’s voice on the other end of the line.
We would have the Christmas Panda call too, but well,…who the heck knows what a panda sounds like? That would be an awkward conversation. Besides, he is kind of lazy. He only brings presents to us, and often waits until the after-Christmas sales to do his shopping. Ah, the magic of Panda Day.
November. The official month of thankfulness. The promise of savoring sacred family recipes always serves as a cue to be mindful of my blessings. And a number of Facebook friends are posting things large and small for which they are thankful, one for every day this month. But yesterday something happened. Something that was like a bullhorn screaming at me to pay attention to all that is good in my life. Something that I wish had never happened, and would never happen again…to anyone.
Yesterday, our friends Justin and Angie lost their four-year-old son Chase. Months ago, Chase contracted E.coli, which developed into something called HUS. It ravaged his poor little body. For a time, despite all that had happened, a miracle drug seemed to be giving his family and doctors hope for recovery. But his progress was short-lived, and soon there was nothing more the doctors could do. After a few weeks of being kept comfortable, Chase surrendered to his final rest. And now Justin and Angie must live in a world without him, after knowing how beautiful the world was with him.
It’s not fair. It’s not right. Pure and simple.
Being a parent, I can not help but try to imagine what this must be like for them. But I know anything I imagine can not possibly come close to the reality they are experiencing. My heart breaks for them, for Chase, who was robbed of his chance to live a full life, and for his five-year-old brother, who is way too young to have to deal with so much grief. The weight of all of that will sometimes envelop me. But then the relieving moment comes, like when you wake up from a bad dream, when you realize all is right in your own reality. And within my sadness for my friends, I find my ability to be thankful for my own blessings.
I am thankful that my two children are sleeping soundly in their beds. That I can kiss them and hug them. That we can read books together and I can watch them play in the backyard. Even that they can whine and pout and thoroughly annoy me, because that means that they are HERE…with me.
I must be honest in saying there is a pang of guilt in this, as if feeling this way is somehow an insult to my friends. But then I think the greater tragedy would be to have witnessed their tremendous loss and NOT find more reasons to be grateful with what I have, for however long I have it. Because the fact of the matter is, we just don’t know what our lives have in store for us. We can hope, we can pray, we can plan. But Justin and Angie did all those things, and I am certain that what they are going through right now was never on their lists of hopes, prayers, or plans.
So I am going to love as fully as I can. I am going to kiss my kids even when they don’t want me to. I am going to read them one more page before bedtime. I am going to remember what is truly important. I am going to realize the next time the kids ruin something in the house that I am lucky to have them, not whatever was ruined. I am going to listen when they laugh. And I am not going to wait until Thanksgiving to be thankful.
Rest in peace, little Chase. You gave your parents a lot to be thankful for.