phases of normal

Years ago the refrigerator was always open.  As was the pantry door, and usually the snack cabinet.  With three kids, and their waves of friends, someone was always hungry.

The grew up and for a while I kept things like stuffed olives and spinach bread in the refrigerator and we changed from kraft cheese blocks to artisanal offerings laid out on a bamboo cutting board with matching slicer.

Grandkids came  and we reopened the snack cabinet and laughed as subsequent 2 year olds made their way to the cheese balls and gushers…the pantry found itself loaded with teething biscuits and oddly orange cheese noodles.  Lucky to have all of our kids live within 10 minutes distance, we went through packing lunch for one of them to pick up on his way to work, setting two extra places at the table, just in case, and dropping coffee and protein boxes off to our daughters job.

We moved, only 30 minutes down the road, to a smaller house.  Not “on the way” to anyones normal destinations, and it took me a while to realize I didnt need to buy frozen waffles, oreo cookies or boxes of pizza.  Fruit snacks and yogurt sticks passed their expiration dates before they were tossed and I realized I missed feeding them all…

The nor’easter brought 3 snow days to our area.  We drove home from our beach place in case we were needed for emergency childcare.  Late yesterday afternoon the youngest came to pick up her 2 and headed for the kitchen.  “Wheres the leftover brisket?”  Her husband turned on the coffee pot and she pulled the provolone cheese from the refrigerator.  Today my son came to pick up his 2, said hello, went straight to the kitchen, opened the nacho chips and new jar of salsa, sat in his dads chair and enjoyed an afternoon snack.  I sat, amazed and humbled that they still know they are “home” when they walk in the door.  Doors slam, cupboards open and years of memories rush back.  Life is good.

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keeping it real

Last night I watched one of those shows where they renovate a house.  This lady was moving to a new state to have her dad come live with her and her husband.  This state was half a country away from her original home.  So, anyway, they obviously had a ton of money and were renovating a beautiful big house, putting in handrails for dad, building him his own suite….adding great decorator touches to the whole home.  beautiful.

But, the lady kept going on about “I need a huge island so when the family comes to visit there will be room for us to gather around the island”  She went on and on about how when the “whole” family is here it will be so relaxing and so family…..Sunday breakfasts and chats on the back porch….

I was like, whoa mom, wake up!  Those young men you raised are not planning on jumping on a plane every weekend and having breakfast with the rents….All those cousins and siblings and extended family members are staying put — your’e the one leaving, setting up shop half a country away.

Cynical much? maybe.  Realistic?  yah.  Of course I may be wrong, but I just kind of felt sorry for her, she was building this huge home with the expectation that they all would have home time like when she was living nearby…..I doubt it.

The search for normal

We drive our grandkids to the boardwalk.  Lights and rides and cheap stuffed animals surround us — then a young man runs out of a storefront — “Stay the F— out of my store, you hear?”

We search for normal.

We sit poolside, toucan floats and cheesy pizza at our side.  I check twitter, only to learn of another shooting in our home town.

We reach for normal.

We run to the ocean edge, scooping shells and searching for sand crabs for bait.  I hear an elderly couple speaking of the newest health care changes being considered.

We yearn for normal.

I can not help but worry that my grandchildren, aged 8 to 2, will never really understand this normal that I look for.  They are growing up without peaches with a quarter inch of fuzz, without open doors and barbecues.  They hear of shootings and presidential “tweets”.  Will they be able to sit on their front step, a half hour before sunrise and smell that sweet morning nectar, see the golden rays jump up behind the neighbors house?  More and more I doubt it.  And more and more I search for pieces of light to share with them, pictures and memories of days gone by when the ocean was clean, the rivers and creeks safe to swim in, woods were for exploring and friends spent the night.

I cry for normal.

A little visit…

Gonna put this out there, call me crazy if you want, but….
two weeks ago I lost my wedding ring. Not my original wedding ring but the diamond one George gave me on our 5th. married Christmas, the one he saved a year for and he and dad went to Philly to find. Special, beyond measure.
We tore the house apart. I cried, like a baby. Went to grandson  Jackson’s birthday party and the first thing Valerie said when she saw me was “Whats wrong”.
Spent the last 2 weeks sad. Looked at work, all over the house, the beach house. Its gone. My ring is gone.
Today is the 6th. anniversary of the last meal we all shared as a family before my dad passed. He and mom were staying at our house and I made brisket and all the fixings and we have pictures of all of us, kids, grandkids, all of us, eating, smiling, gathered around his hospital bed in the living room…
I mentioned that to George this morning. How much I still miss dad. How much he loved that brisket. 85 pounds, 3 weeks before his death, he ate two helpings of brisket….

And then, after putting this year’s 20 pounds of brisket in the pot I went in and started to clean up our room. I looked, one more time, on the dresser. Picked up my vanity tray, looked under it. Looked in the closet floor. No, its gone.
And then, I walked in the room an hour later, looked at the tray again, and there it was. Just laying there. It took me a few seconds to realize, but its my ring. The one diamond is slightly bigger than the others. The one prong is twisted a bit. Its my ring. I Yelled for George — and then thanked dad for bringing it back to me. And for visiting  me on the anniversary of a wonderful memory. I watched as George stood at the front door, looking out, giving thanks, I think, in his own special way.  I felt the ring slide into the familiar notch on the side of my finger.  I prayed and thanked and tried to figure out why today was the day dad decided to bring it back to me.  Did he remember that meal that day with the kids?  and was he happy that we continue the tradition?  Was he telling me he knew I was doing the best I can with mom…..

The Bible says not to question. I’m good with that.  I’m just happy to know that dad is still here, that he can visit, that he watches over us.  That he sits at the right hand of God.
I mean seriously, God is at work, isn’t he?

 

Christmas true

When you parent you always wonder….will IT matter…?  IT can be anything from using the time out chair to a trip to the beach to an extra story at night… to any of a multitude of moments that wrap themselves into the bundle that is parenting.  Will IT matter?

This Christmas has been  a mix of memories and precursors,  misplaced Christmas dishes and a house too small to decorate the way I like to … which got me to thinking, will it matter?

Last week, I took my oldest grandchild ( 7 years old ) Christmas shopping.  We’ve done it every year since she was born.  Our son raised her alone the first 3 1/2 years of her life, mom walked out when she was 5 months old and left him with a mortgage, a dog she had to “rescue” and this precious little girl.  So when Christmas came that first year, she was 10 months old and her daddy had done everything he could to make it a Christmas like he had always imagined he would have when he became a father.  But, there was no one to buy him gifts so baby Ava and I went shopping.  Everything she touched or smiled at I bought.  He got a lego set, a pink polo shirt and, if I remember correctly , a gazing ball for the back yard.  And so it began, the yearly Christmas shopping trip with our girl.  When we went back  to her house last week to wrap the presents she wrapped and bagged and wrote the tags. She looked at me and said, “so which of these are you taking to your house?” and I explained that they were staying at her house for her to give to family.  Her face broke a bit when she looked at me and said “wait, we’re not going to your house this year , you know to open all the presents and eat and everything??  the whole family?”  As I explained to her that “Yes, of course you will all come to my house, you will bring your presents then, everyone will be there” — she smiled and continued her task.  And I knew, without a doubt, that IT mattered, the yearly Christmas traditions that are so much work and go way too fast, that result in huge piles of paper and misplaced pieces — that I always wonder if the kids are coming to just to appease me — they matter to Ava, and probably to all of them.

This morning my son came to pick up a gift for Ava that had been delivered here.He walked in and surveyed the piles of gifts under the tree.  He smiled and said, “All red and white paper this year!  It looks like a giant candy cane, awesome.”  And, again, IT mattered.  The buying and wrapping, the clutter and  ribbons, matter.  A candy cane.  35 years old and he sees the Candy cane in a pile of Christmas gifts.  It matters.

Two weeks ago the youngest, 30 years old, called to ask me what I was doing on Christmas Eve.  Our Christmas celebrations depend on when Ava is in town and what years the oldest daughter has to go to New Jersey to celebrate with inlaws….so it was a fair question.  I said “not sure, hanging out, maybe church.”  She immediately suggested a “7 fishes” celebration at her house — just us and my mom , everyone else had plans.  She and her husband could have planned any number of parties or events for them and their kids, but they chose to spend Christmas Eve with us, her parents.  It matters.  All the years of gathering the family together at our house to play Christmas carols and open gifts, to eat and sometimes drink too much…matter.  And, when it came to be her turn and she finally had a house big enough to feel comfortable entertaining in — It mattered. Then when her brother called to tell us what time his Christmas Eve celebration was starting, we all adjusted times so we could do both.  and the traditions will continue.   IT matters.

On the 18th.  all the kids and all the spouses and all 7 grandchildren gathered at oldest daughter’s house to bake cookies.  They do it every year, sometimes not everyone can make it, but this year it was full out everyone.  Sprinkles and dough, ovens dinging and me and George just standing there grinning.  It matters.  All the years of gathering them in the kitchen and baking cookies and breads matter.  And now, they continue it with their children, and since they are lucky enough to have siblings that they love, they do it together, bringing those cousins together to build memories.

I wonder sometimes if their dad and I are burdens, or insignificant in their lives, but this season has reminded me that it matters.  We matter.

Merry Christmas everyone.

 

It would be easier if…

my kids lived far apart.  If it took a plane ride or a road trip to get them together it would be easier to see them apart.  but it is not space, but choice, that is tearing our family down.  My kids grew up incredibly close.  less than 5 years separated the three of them, and our house was full of laughter and noise and tears and hugs….

They grew up and became adults.  Life got in the way and we had some ups and downs — but they had each other.  we had barbecues and family dinners.  Family vacations when all of us — 12 of us — stayed in one house for a week or more.  Boat trips and impromptu beerpong in the back yard.

But then it changed.  one of them has become joined to someone who has a power trip like non other.  And it has torn my kids apart.  Rarely do I get to see the 7 grandchildren together, to plan a party or a dinner and know they will all be here.  I miss it.  And, maybe it was inevitable, but it makes me sadder than I can say.

Not my mother’s daughter

I am SO not my mother’s daughter.  I tell myself this regularly.  I pray at night that my wish will come true and that I can hold on to the precious few memories of bonding with my mom and let loose of the pain and the wound tight persona she embodies.

And, today I am reminded of just how much I am not my mothers daughter.  Packing one more box for the dual moves we are making over the next month,  I came across two poems written to us by our daughters.  the first, from our oldest, musing about her memories of car rides and long talks, full of joy and melancholy and family.  The second, a sort of apology and gratitude piece from our youngest, who often feels she has to apology for her past.  This is not true, she does not have to apologize.  She is the most caring, involved, loving person I know.  her passion has led her astray a few times when she was young , but she has nothing to apologize for.  her experiences have made her the amazing woman she is today.

But, anyway.  As I picked up these two poems and read them, I remembered the last notes I had found tucked away in drawers and boxes.  The hate filled notes my mother had written for me to find when, she assumed, she was dead and I was organizing her life’s clutter.  I found them early, but their bite was just as strong.

And I am happy that the notes I have chosen to save are filled with hope, and joy and love.  With good memories and praise.  Notes that will make everyone who reads them, now or in years to come, know that this family faced things together, and loved each other through every heartache.  I am SO not my mother’s daughter….

She’s in

mom is in the Assisted Living home.  She has a sweet little apartment, complete with refrigerator and microwave, coffee pot and toaster. And most of her beautiful stuff, her antique desk and her grandmother’s rocker were the first pieces of furniture we brought in.  I had them all set up before she came into her room.  It made her smile, and I like to think, gave her a sense of home.

I am left to clean up the mess that was her home.  whenever you walked into moms it was dark.  Since I was a child she avoided turning on lights in the house.  her home always looked neat and tidy.  When we began to ready her move and I had to open drawers and cupboards I found out that she has kept every piece of paper to enter that house since dad died over 5 years ago, along with a multitude of bills etc. from when he was alive.  And, among these bills, checks, receipts and contracts, I found no less than 15 letters and notes   where she detailed a variety of wrongs my brother and I had done to her.  Hateful notes full of self pity and accusations of neglect and anger.  Not one, not ONE of them spoke of her great grandchildren, or her grandchildren.  Of visits to dads grave, or shopping trips or Christmas meals.  None of them spoke of her sorrow at dads passing or her memories of their past together.  Each was a scathing hit at one of us, or dad. She kept one from 1956 that she wrote to dad, a private note between a young wife and her husband, full of hatred and threats.  And they were scattered throughout her troves of papers.  You couldn’t miss them, and, for all except one dated October 2012 and the one written to my father, you couldn’t tell when they were written.  And even if now she doesn’t remember they are there — if her fog is that deep— when she wrote them, when she placed them in with these papers, she knew we would find them  .  She wrote them to cause us pain. We were meant to find them after she died, when we couldn’t confront them or her, when we couldn’t question her or dispute.  She wrote them to cause us pain.  What a pitiful, angry life.

And a lesson for me to surround myself in gratitude and joy and let the anger and pain roll off. It is just cruel to cause pain to those who love you — and to do it when it is too late for them to make it right.

spirits and wishes

I have a dear friend who lost her son to heroin three Christmas’ ago.  He had been fighting addiction for years — good kid, good family, bad drug, terrible ending.  Tonight she posted on facebook that she received a gift from a friend to attend a medium’s performance today.  Posted a picture of her and her 3 friends, all mothers of lost children, smiling, you could see the hope in their eyes.

And I realized, once again, how blessed and lucky I am. Today I saw all three of my kids. Hugged and spoke with all 7 of my grandchildren.  Saw my kids with their chosen partners, in love.

But for the grace…you know the rest.  I get to hold my children, all three of them.  Love them, argue with them, buy them things, make them things.  cook for them.  My friend visits the grave, fights the good fight, works to make a difference for other families.  Mourns and misses her son every minute of every day.

I really hope she heard from Ty through the medium.  I hope he told her he was fine, living the good life on the other side, clean and clear headed, watching his siblings and his dog and her and his dad fight the war on drugs. I really hope she had the sensation of a warm hug from her son.  One more time.