Sometimes I feel like the most important thing we ever gave you (besides life) was each other…
Sometimes I feel like the most important thing we ever gave you (besides life) was each other…
I was having a moment a few nights ago as I was drifting off to sleep. My subconscious took over early and there may have been some hormones involved…
It started innocently enough with gratitude. I am so incredibly in love with my family.
You kids are awesome little people and I obviously love you, but it’s more than that. I LIKE you. I’m excited to get home and see you. I curse at traffic that makes me wait longer to be with you. I genuinely enjoy you guys and that makes me feel like the luckiest person in the world.
I love your Dad. I love ‘us’. I like who I am when I’m with him and I’m constantly surprised by how special he makes me feel. He impresses me all the time; as a father, as a professional, as a man. He’s so cool, and funny, and for some reason he hangs out with me; he likes hanging out with me! He finds out what I like and makes it a priority. He brings me flowers just because. Pinch me!
I was on cloud nine thinking about these things. I thought; it’s perfect.
And suddenly, the good feeling was gone. Thanks, hormones.
I thought, what had I done to deserve so much? Could it last? Was the other cosmic foot about to fall? The thoughts of a restless brain that needs rest.
But then I thought, it’s not actually perfect. We have a messy life (and house). Relationships are messy; yes with spouses, but the ones with your own kids, too. There are tears, there is shouting, there is disappointment. There are mistakes. There are flaws. There is stress.
And that made me feel better. Because flaws make a thing real and effort makes things last. It’s not luck that I like my family. It’s the conscious & unconscious effort on the part of each member of it. It’s humility and compromises and the very unsexy nitty-gritty of life. It’s teamwork. And it’s the best part of us.
In pottery, there is the occasional practice of taking a piece that didn’t work out like it should have and firing it anyway; taking the piece as it is. I think they call it a ‘flop pot’. I have one.
I made it in a pottery class several years ago. It’s not symmetrical, it’s incredibly bottom-heavy, and it is by no means the proper cup it was supposed to be. But, I put a lot of work in to it, literally bled from pressing against its gritty clay, and it is just what I need it to be. I love it. I’m proud of it. It makes me happy. It’s perfect for me, because of its flaws.
It’s like my little family and our beautiful flaws; from my horrible cooking, to the obnoxious fart jokes, to our constant lateness, and -yes- even unexpected hormones in the middle of the night.
Imperfectly perfect. And maybe just a little bit lucky 😉
You got new bikes! They are magnificent – although not as cool as the bike I had as a kid with streamers on the handles and a big banana seat with a rainbow on it – they are still, in their own ways, magnificent.
Buddy, yours is a Star Wars Rebels bike. It goes super fast (so you tell me) and has little buttons near the handles that make laser gun noises and tie fighter noises. Ok, that might be cooler than my rainbow banana seat.
Kitten, yours is a Tinker Bell bike. It’s purple with streamers on the handles. I think the purple-ness of it helps you get over the fact that your feet don’t exactly touch the ground yet. However, at the rate you are growing that could change by next week.
All of this put me in mind of my bike-riding days. I learned to ride a bike without training wheels when I was about 7 years old. My dad would take me up to the top of our block where there was a nice-sized blacktop which the church across the street used for over-flow parking on Sundays. It was our biking spot.
Dad would push me along and let go – the standard bike-riding teaching technique for generations. I would wobble for about 2 feet and fall over – the standard first ride result for generations. Push-wobble-fall, push-wobble-fall, push-wobble-fall…understandably, my father got a tad frustrated after about a 30 minutes of this. I was in tears. There was disappointment on all sides.
Meanwhile, my older sister glided in circles around us with her impressive training-wheel-less skills. Show off.
Eventually, Dad left and walked home shaking his head, leaving my sister and I on the blacktop. My sister dismounted her bike and committed right then and there to teaching me how to ride my bike without training wheels.
She told me that I would probably fall…a lot. She told me to put my foot on the ground if I felt wobbly or scared. She showed me how to bail without hurting myself. She showed me how to use the curb to get on the bike easier. She told me that she knew how frustrating it was, but that I was doing a great job.
The great wall of impossibility lifted. I suddenly knew that I could do this. And within 20 minutes…I could!
The period of elation was splendid…if short-lived. Now that the last member of our family had learned how to ride a big bike, we could go on Family Biking Trips. ::Groan::
Dad biked often. And far distances. And across great terrains. On purpose. Without anything chasing him.
The rest of us biked to church, school or 7-Eleven (all within a mile, tops). We avoided hills. We liked to coast.
We biked for fun. He biked for challenge. Family Biking Trips sucked were character-building.
I recall being at the back of the pack (always), struggling to keep up. My father would shout over his shoulder, “Put it in gear, Meg!” I thought this was just an expression until my mother finally answered back, “It’s a one-speed bike!”
“It is?” He responded and just like that I got my first bike with gears. To this day I have no idea what gear is for what, but they did make an impressive ‘clunk’ when you changed them.
On the very next Family Bike Trip we all mounted up and headed down our hill. I pushed back on my pedals to engage the breaks – something that had never failed me on any bike I’d ever ridden to that point in my life – and DID NOT STOP.
I screamed for help. “Hand break!” my Dad yelled at me as I zoomed past him.
“What’s a hand break??” I shouted over my shoulder.
Eventually I bailed out on a neighbor’s lawn. Immediately after I got a crash-course (somewhat literally) in how to use the little levers in front of my handle bars to break the bike. I still prefer back pedal breaks and wish adult bikes had them. An well…
Despite the Family Bike Trips and my many near-death experiences, I still enjoyed a happy bike-riding childhood. The highlight being the freedom to roam our neighborhood at large…and trips to 7-Eleven.
Most weekends during the summer, my sister and I would hop on our bikes, bargain who would carry the backpack (it made your back sweaty), and set out for 7-Eleven.
We always got the same things: Two slurpees, a bag of chips, and two boxes of candy (usually Hot Tamales). The bag of chips was key; positioned in the middle if the back pack, it kept the slurpees upright for the ride home. And let me tell you, you do not want a slurpee drpping down your back a half mile from home. Refreshingly cool? yes. Sticky? oh yea.
So, kids, enjoy the bikes and – eventually – the freedom! …so long as you bring me back a slurpee 😉
Just after Christmas you saw your first movie in the theater. We say Big Hero 6. You loved it!
On the drive home, you were a non-stop super hero peanut gallery.
Buddy: I tell a super hero story!
Mom: Ok, Buddy. Let’s hear your story.
Buddy: Der are fwee super heroes and two bad guys.
Mom: Three super heroes? Who are they?
Buddy: Mommy, Daddy, Kitten, and Buddy.
Mom: That’s four, but keep going. What are our super powers?
Buddy: Mommy super power is flowers.
Mom: Flower power, eh? Ok, sure. What’s Kitten’s super power?
Kitten: Running fast! Buddy, my super power is running fast, ok?
Mom: Alright, what’s your super power, Buddy?
Buddy: My super power is…DANGER!
Dad: That might be the best super power I’ve ever heard of.
Mom: Ok then. Danger it is! What’s Daddy’s super power?
Mom:…Daddy’s super power is…donkeys?
Mom: Like, he throws donkeys or something? What does he do with the donkeys, honey?
Dad: I smell like ass.
I may have snorted leftover movie soda out of my nose. Your super power is Danger after all.
I just got back from an unexpected trip to visit my family out West. Normally these are visits that I plan for and look forward to for months. This time there were literally days between needing the flight, booking the flight, and then taking the flight. My Aunt Anne was gravely ill.
My mother is one of eight children in a very close family; the kind of close where you need 20 tickets for every opening night, graduation, and significant milestone, because they are all going to be there. The kind of close with unwritten phone trees. The kind of close where you think you might go crazy if you don’t get just twelve seconds of alone time and when you do you wonder where everybody is. Very close.
Only…we live on the other side of the country. My mom left the West Coast when she was a young woman and planted new roots on the East Coast. I know it is hard for her; her brothers and sisters on one side of the country and her daughters and grandchildren on the other. What can you do except rack up frequent flier miles?
Aunt Anne posted on Facebook in early April that she hadn’t been feeling well and was sent home with a case of pneumonia and a prescription of antibiotics. About two weeks later, after no response to the antibiotics, she was admitted to the hospital for observation and more aggressive antibiotics. After an additional week of no response to treatment, we all began to get worried and the calls for prayers went out. The next day she was admitted to the ICU.
You know how providence sometimes gives you a leg up? When the call came in that her youngest sister was sick, Mom already had a ticket in her hand for home. Sometimes you get homesick for a reason – because home really needs you.
Testing, testing, testing…they thought it was this thing then they thought it was that. They tried all kinds of antibiotics. Nothing helped. In fact, after several weeks and well in to May, she began to decline. They transferred her to a hospital that could perform a lung biopsy. Initial results were inconclusive. They sent pieces of the sample to the top ten pulmonologists in the country. 8 came back inconclusive. 1 came back with a possible Hamman-Rich Syndrome diagnosis; a rare lung disease that manifests itself randomly during pneumonia and causes scar tissue to develop on the lungs preventing oxygen from being absorbed in to the body. Anne’s doctors decided to err on the side of caution and started her immediately on the treatment of massive amounts of steroids.
But, she was weak. She had been fighting to breath for over a month. They put her on a ventilator and a feeding tube; life support.
When my uncle sent for my sister and I, Aunt Anne’s oldest nieces, we didn’t know what to expect. Were we going there to say goodbye? Were we going there to be cheerleaders? Honestly, we were just happy to be going.
Days before our flight to the West we received the results from the 10th pulmonologist: Hamman-Rich Syndrome. This was bad news, but also good news; the treatment she was receiving was appropriate and already underway. The scar tissue on her lungs was minimal, so it was possible they had caught it in time. Also, she was responding well to the life support, breathing on her own up to an hour at a time and communicating with visitors.
My sister and I were giddy on our flight; we imagined sitting with Aunt Anne and telling her stories, reading her books, showing her pictures of our kids, and being with her as she recovered!
We got off the plane and met up with our cousin Ali, who had flown in shortly before us, and our Aunt Terri who picked us all up at the airport and gave us an update. The news was bad. Aunt Terri had been at Anne’s bedside all night. They had done another scan. The scarring on her lungs had spread; it was everywhere. They couldn’t fix it. They were waiting for us to say goodbye before they took her off of the life support.
We were stunned. We kept repeating ourselves, “How could this happen?” “When did this happen?” “But, how??”
We arrived at the hospital and they took us immediately to her room in ICU. She looked like a deflated version of herself; propped up in the hospital bed with so many tubes running in to her. Here’s the kicker: she looks like my mom. With freckles.
The whole family was there, with the exception of my mom. Mom had been fortunate enough to visit just the week before while Anne was still talking and laughing. When anyone said, “I’m sorry your mom couldn’t be here” I responded immediately with, “Don’t be. She was here when Anne could still talk with her and hug her. What could be better than that?” Honestly, I am a little jealous. I can still hear Aunt Anne’s voice and her laugh when I think of her, but I would have liked to have heard her one more time. I’m glad Mom has that.
We waited for a few hours for the priest to arrive and bless Anne. The family held hands all the way around her room, squeezed in to nooks and crannies. We told her we loved her. We told her it was ok.
But it’s not.
She’s too young for this. She’s only 57. Not even retired yet. She had plans.
After she was anointed and we prayed, the nurses came in and removed her life support tubes. They told us she would likely pass in a few minutes, but it could take up to an hour. The family stayed in the room or drifted in to the hallway. People took turns holding her hand and speaking to her. After 30 minutes some folks sought solace and chairs in the waiting area. After an hour people were stretching and pacing the hallways. After an hour and a half there were six people in the room with Anne; her husband, two nieces, a brother, a sister, and a sister-in-law.
Here is what I will always take with me: I was holding her hand when she passed. I had tucked a small, wooden cross in to her palm and wrapped her fingers around it. I held her hand, warm and soft, in both of mine. I hummed Amazing Grace quietly to myself and imagined her as I always do when I think of her; laughing out loud with her head thrown back. After I realized I’d suddenly forgotten all the words to Amazing Grace, I lifted her hand, bent down, and kissed the back of her hand. Moments later the nurse arrived to let us know that she had passed.
I took the cross from her palm and stroked her arm; still warm. How can she be gone if she still looks the same? Then two nurses physically confirmed what the machines already knew; she was gone.
I went in to the hallway and called my mom. I let her know what happened and that I had something I wanted to give her; the little cross she was holding when she passed.
Things happened immediately. Rosaries were removed gently from her body. Personal effects were gathered up. Family members moved down the hall to the waiting area. We all looked exhausted. Someone suggested pizza.
Do you know how weird it is to laugh over pizza with family members after hours of crying and watching a loved one die? It’s strange. But, somehow therapeutic. The world has shifted, but there is still pizza.
Aunt Anne was loud, bold, sometimes rude, always honest, generous, and – did I mention loud? She could start an argument like no one I’ve ever met – usually because she was at the heart of it. She didn’t have an emotion that she didn’t have passionately – she loved things or she hated them. She had many hot buttons, but her biggest was her family.
When you are one of eight kids you have to work hard to be noticed. You have to fight for space and attention. And if that’s not the reality, that’s certainly how Anne saw it. She could fire up that family like coals on dry grass. Sometimes in a roll your eyes sort of way. Sometimes in an awkward family Christmas sort of way. The thing is…everything will be quieter now. Too quiet.
Where’s our firecracker?
My father was raised from the age of four in a house built by his father in Washington, DC. My grandfather was a printer by trade and a carpenter by hobby. He was born in 1897 and although I never had the opportunity to meet him personally, his legacy is strong. He was a redhead like you, Buddy, and he went by many names; Red, Mike, Curtis, and Noney to his kids; a mispronunciation of ‘Honey’ which was his wife’s name for him.
He was known for his wit and easy way with people. Once when my father misbehaved and knew he would get into trouble, he hid his mother’s switch. His full-blooded Irish mother tore apart the house looking for it. “Just you wait, young man!” Noney came home to the situation and calmly told his wife to wait just a moment; he would take care of everything. He came back from the basement holding a thick log, smiled and said, “Have at him, Dear!” Luckily for my dad they all fell to laughing and he managed to escape both the switch and the log that day.
Noney planted a tree beside the fence in the backyard of that house in DC. He was known to frequent that spot for a cup of coffee or to smoke his pipe. When he died in 1969 – years before my parents were even married – they buried his ashes beneath that tree in his favorite spot.
Even though I never met Noney, even though that house is gone, and even though I’ve never seen that tree – I know that it grows for me. There is a tree in Washington, DC, that grows for me – and it grows for you kids too.
The other day you and I were playing with Play-Doh. We were making lots and lots of snowmen. You were naming them.
“That’s Daddy.”…and on and on until we had made our way through our family and extended families. There was one snowman left (we had a lot of Play-Doh).
“And who’s this?”
You rolled your eyes and with weary tolerance and said, “Mom, that’s a snowman.” (Duh)
Well, excuse me.