July 22, 2014
I have five kids. I’ve become adept at ignoring the whine of youth. My brain tunes out the words and only hears the annoying drone. One day my youngest daughter followed me around whining about something. Finally, a word— divorce—penetrated my consciousness. I started to listen, although the droning whine made it difficult.
“He can’t divorce her. He just can’t.”
“Who?” I asked. I wasn’t aware of anyone we knew contemplating divorce.
“*Leon wants to divorce *Lulu. But Lulu doesn’t want to get divorced. He promised they’d be married forever and now he’s changing his mind,” my daughter said, her whine changing to anger.
She and my youngest son had gotten stuffed dogs from Build-A-Bear-Workshop years ago. Leon and Lulu married soon after. They’d had a beautiful wedding.
My daughter faced my son with her hands on her hips. “You can’t get a divorce. You said they could stay married forever.”
“He can get divorced if he wants, and you can’t stop him.” My son remained icily calm.
While my daughter fumed, I asked my son why Leon wanted to divorce Lulu. He shrugged. “She’s always all over him. He never gets any time to himself. She never leaves him alone.”
It’s true what they say about a woman (or stuffed puppy) scorned. My daughter and Lulu flew into a rage. “That’s not true. She does not. You just don’t want to be married anymore. She doesn’t want a divorce!”
The thing is, those are the exact words my kids used (I knew it was great blog post fodder so I wrote them down right away). They sounded bizarrely real. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was an argument they’d heard daily for years. But they hadn’t. I took Pscyh101 in college. I knew all about self-fulfilling prophecies. So my husband and I agreed that the word DIVORCE would be off-limits (spoken aloud, anyway).
So where did this come from? I think it must be something in the dogs from Build-A-Bear.
* Real names have been changed to protect their privacy.
May 20, 2014
There was a time when I knew what I wanted. I wanted to grow up. I didn’t know much beyond that—what I wanted to do with my life, or what I should do with my life, or how to figure out what to do with my life. It was vaguely exciting but it was mostly worrying, like setting off on a journey in the fog.
Then I got married and started having children. Some things came into focus. I knew I wanted to be a good mother and I wanted to have a happy marriage. Other things remained blurry and indistinct. I wanted to finish school. Kind of. I wanted to write. Kind of. As time marched on, it became less about what I wanted in life and more about accepting what it had become. But that was okay; I liked being a wife and mother. Until I realized I wanted more than that. But I didn’t know what.
Then there was a time when I knew what I wanted. I wanted things. I wanted a big, elegant house. I wanted a showplace of a yard. I wanted House Beautiful. Life had a purpose. I spent hours poring over catalogs (pre-online shopping era), scouring stores, and examining what my friends had. Unfortunately, my taste and desire exceeded our income. By a long shot. So I bought less expensive things we didn’t really need. And I wasn’t happy. Neither was my family.
Then everything changed. On a mundane day, on a familiar road, on our way to some unexciting place, a spark ignited in me. In that brief illuminating second, I became aware of the existence of God in my life. Not the God up in heaven, watching the world with a wrathful eye. But the God who knew me intimately and still loved me. And I wanted to get to know him.
I rode that spiritual high for about a week. It came to an abrupt end one morning when things weren’t going my way. I finally lost it when I dropped my blow-dryer on my foot (I was having a bad hair day on top of everything else). I was in a relationship with God now. I shouldn’t ever have a bad day again. And I told God that: “What the hell (yes, that’s the word I used) is going on here? I’m not supposed to have bad days anymore.”
He probably chuckled at that.
Although everything had changed, it remained the same for a long time. I wanted to know God and I wanted to be cool with him. And I still wanted House Beautiful. And I wanted God to want me to have House Beautiful. But that’s not what he wanted for me.
There was a time, on another day, on another ride, it struck me that God had a plan for me that I didn’t know about. I’d have to trust him to lead me on this journey. That thought filled me with excitement. What adventures were in store for me. I couldn’t wait to get started.
And here I am years later, still unsure of where I’m going, but trusting in God and really enjoying the ride.
May 9, 2014
I’m going to try this with my kids. They hate when I dance. If they really get annoying, I’ll add some singing.
January 10, 2013
My aunt called over the holidays. She’d invited a few of my cousins over for a “ladies’ night” and wondered if I could make it. I was looking forward to seeing everyone for a happy occasion. It seemed many of the circumstances bringing us together recently had been tinged with sadness.
My cousins and I arrived at my aunt’s home with a flurry of greetings. After shedding boot and coats, and sharing news of grown children and photos of grandchildren and great-grandhchildren, we settled around the kitchen table.
I sat quietly for a moment, looking at the faces of the women gathered there, remembering our shared past. I felt the tug of connection that had been missing for so long, lost in the busyness of raising my own family and the isolating blanket of grief I’d wrapped around myself. I loved those familiar faces; they made up a large part of my life. Yet for all their familiarity they’d changed, not so much from the passage of time, but from the lives they’d lived and all they’d seen. And I realized we’d entered a new season of our family life, together.
When I was born, our family was in the midst of its springtime– seven brothers and sisters (of which my mother was the youngest) their spouses and children (thirty-one kids between them). We saw each other often back then. When we got together, it was always a party and I don’t mean a Norman Rockwell-type party. I mean the dad’s in the basement, drinking beer, watching a ball game and playing Euchre. The mom’s at the kitchen table, after preparing enough food to feed a small Polish city and putting it out on a wood-covered pool table, munching on special mom goodies, and gossiping (in a nice way, of course). Then there were the kids— unsupervised, unchaperoned, unfettered and best friends. We were in heaven. Life was good.
As the thirty-one cousins grew up, the family remained close. Maybe not quite as close as we had been when we were younger, but we still got together often and when we did it was still a party. And those of us that didn’t play Euchre with the dads were still unsupervised, unchaperoned and unfettered. But now most of us were old enough to drink. That made for more “fun”.
We cousins began to get married, standing up in each others weddings, with the new spouses becoming a welcome part of the chaos that was our family. And as the summer of the family wore on, babies came and families grew. And we didn’t see each other as much as we had in the early summer. But when we did, it was still a party.
Until one of the uncles died, sending a chill over the summer of our family. And yet even in that death we were together, many of us blessed to be in his hospital room with him when he drew his last breath in this life.
Summer was the era of “Girls Gone Polish”—the cousins and the aunts and the music. The highlight of our summers was the outdoor concert. We’d arrive an hour early to get good seats on the hill at Meadowbrook Music Theater, coolers packed with the usual goodies and exotic drinks like “Sex on the Beach” or “Fuzzy Navels”. I sometimes think we didn’t go as much for the music as we did for the autographs. Can anyone ever forget surrounding Roy Orbison’s bus until we got the zillion autographs we were after (a shout-out here to Aunt Dolores) or, if the bus managed to elude us, scouting out nearby Marriot hotels in search of autographs? Have the Righteous Brothers ever forgotten the late night phone call to their hotel room asking them to send down their autographs on the hotel napkins?
Autumn came suddenly to the family during an unexpected snow storm. That was the day the youngest cousin died in a tragic car accident on an icy road. That was the day my brother John died.
John had a great love for the family; he was one of those that was always at its heart and core. And even when most of us were too busy to attend this or that graduation or get-together or party, John was there. The death of a beloved cousin, and the youngest on top of that, was painful for everyone. Even so, somehow it made me different from them; I didn’t fit in anymore. I was afraid John would get left behind and I couldn’t bear that. So, I took him to all the family functions with me, and I’d watch the festivities from a distance, with John.
As I sat at my aunt’s table, gazing at the faces it suddenly struck me that each woman sitting there had suffered her own heartbreaking loss since John’s death— the loss of a mother, a sister, a brother, a husband, a father. Yet, I saw a strength and beauty emanating from each of those women that had been lacking in youth. The love we’d always had for each other had deepened and matured. I took a deep breath and settled back into my chair, so grateful for the comfort of being with my family again.
It was a bittersweet moment, because I realized summer had passed and winter would soon be upon us. But I was thankful for our autumn, the most vibrant season of all.
Disclaimer: There may be an ad/video visible below or above. I’m not sure because they are invisible from my account, but I know they appear to my readers with annoying frequency. I do not receive monetary compensation for the ad nor do I endorse it.
December 30, 2012
I was going to write a new post when I came across this (It’s from December 20). Now that I don’t have to write one, I can use this time to make a sandwich for Dave.
Hello all, this is Dave, the other half of the Dawne/Dave marriage (actually, the other 2/3′s based on girth). Dawne is struggling to come up with something for a post, and since Christmas draws nigh she’s very busy (stressed). She left herself logged on and walked away, and me being the helpful sort I thought maybe I’d contribute – just keep it between you and me.
Since we’re talking about Christmas, I’d like to tell you about a gift I gave to Dawne: the moment I became a far better husband than I was before (and also a better all around person). I didn’t realize at the time that’s what was happening.
Like everyone, when I was growing up, I learned how to do things the way that my family did them. That way may not be the only way, but since they’re the way I learned them, they seem like the “right” way.
I learned how to do things like mow the lawn, take out the trash, and make a sandwich. I ate a lot of sandwiches (and still do), so my mom decided to free up several hours a week by teaching me how to make my own.
One of the things she taught me was that if you pull out a piece of bread near the end of the loaf, the bread has a big side and a little side (because the crust is angled, if you’re having trouble visualizing this you need to spend some time making your own sandwiches). My mom explained when the aforementioned situation occurs the little side of the bread slices should be on the outside of the sandwich and the big side on the inside since its greater surface area allows more spread or condiment to be applied thereto, thus increasing the sandwich’s overall yumminess quotient.
As my mom spoke I saw the light and swore to live my life accordingly from that day forward.
Then, down the road, I got married.
Overall, Dawne and I have always been a happy couple. Like any couple, we occasionally have our disagreements, and many times those disagreements are about how to do things the “right” way.
Also, there’s something that happens once you’ve lived with someone for a while– you get comfortable around them. I know that doesn’t sound like a spectacular insight but stick with me on this. What I mean is that you act around them differently than you do around others. You let them see more of what’s inside you, and sometimes what’s inside can be pretty childish.
Not only that, but things about our spouses that drive us crazy, we tolerate in others. Many times we’re far more forgiving of those we barely know. With those we know well we’re comfortable enough to let them see how their actions make us feel, even when those feelings reveal that we’re fairly petty.
Okay, now back to sandwiches and Dawne.
One day, after we were married, Dawne asked if I was hungry.
“Sure,” I answered.
“Can I make you a sandwich?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said again (I stick with what works).
And then she made the sandwich, applying the spread to the LITTLE SIDE OF THE BREAD!
I lost my mind. How uncouth could she be? Had this woman been raised by wolves? Had I really married a troglodyte?
I don’t exactly remember what I said to her, but it was on the opposite end of the spectrum from “Thanks for making me a sandwich, dear.” Now, here’s the important part: even though I don’t remember what I said, I remember exactly what I was thinking when I said it— I was thinking I was an idiot.
I’m yelling at my wife for buttering the wrong side of the bread? Really? I can blow off all kinds of slights by strangers but I can’t let this slide? Yes, there was the fact that what she did bothered me and I felt comfortable enough around her to let her know it, but on a deeper level, the problem was that what she did bothered me at all. And, ironically, that was the moment I became a better person because at that moment, I became aware how petty I could be. And by being aware of it, and being able to recognize it, I could work on fixing it.
To end the story, I apologized and got my sandwich (with a side of humble pie). Five kids later, Dawne and I have a pretty good marriage. On my better days I can ignore minor problems. Not just refrain from making a hurtful comment about them, but truly ignore them. I’m not perfect in this area; I’m still a work in progress, but I can recognize when I’m letting the little stuff get to me.
This is something everyone can learn to do, and its one of the best gifts you can give. You give it to everyone, and you give it most to those you are closest to and most comfortable around. It’s not found under a tree and you don’t have to wait for Christmas to give it. And the best part is it’s free.
April 23, 2012
Another year has passed. It’s been seven since I saw you last. I’ve been thinking a lot about you. When you died my biggest fear was that I’d forget something about you and our last day together; I wanted to remember every tiny detail always. The other fear that haunted me was that one day it would get easier and I wouldn’t miss you so much. So I’m grateful for the memories I have and I’m grateful for the bittersweet ache they leave in me.
I’ll be honest. I don’t dwell on you anymore. That makes it easier. For the first year, I hugged close everything that reminded me of you: photos, videos, memories and especially music. But I can’t hug those things anymore because they’re too sharp and they cut through the scar tissue that took so long to grow on my shattered heart. Sometimes when you flit across my memory I find myself shaking my head just as I did after you died, because I can’t comprehend that you are gone from here.
But I’ve decided this won’t be a day for sadness. I went to Mass this morning and I saw S² eyeing me with concern. I smiled at him and told him truthfully that I just had a tickle in my throat (Easter flowers and incense can do that). Now I sit in the fading sun and think of you.
We’ve always shared a passion for reading, writing and music. When you were a toddler, you’d put on a pair of star-shaped sunglasses, sit at a little piano shaped box and lip-sync to Elton John’s greatest hits. We called you “Elton Johnny”. It was the only time Mom and Dad listened to Elton John without complaint, so we had you do it often. When you were a little older, we played school. I swore for years I taught you to read, but after trying to teach my own children, I wonder…
Remember the summer you were turning sixteen? Dave had moved to Cleveland for his new job. You and Mom stayed in upstate New York to help me sell the house. We were really into Pink Floyd that year and we discovered Wish You Were Here. I have a hard time listening to it now. You brought books about the band, which I read when you were done. Then we’d talk about Syd Barrett and debate about Roger Waters and David Gilmour while we worked on my yard. You did a lot of yard work for me so I told you I take you out to dinner. You wanted steak and lobster. Funny thing for a fifteen-year-old to want for dinner, but typical for you.
Remember that same summer going to the mall parking lot late at night so you could practice driving a stick shift before getting your driver’s license? We saw a UFO hovering above the woods next to the mall. It was amazing, but we never told anyone about it because we knew no one would believe it.
We both love Chris Cornell’s voice. One Christmas I shared his version of Ave Maria with you, but I don’t think you heard it over the football game. Then you shared Audioslave with me. After you died, I got your CD and listened to it constantly. I can’t listen to Audioslave anymore. That annoys me frankly, because I really like them.
But I can listen to “United States of Whatever” by Liam Lynch. You turned my kids onto it. After they listened to it a million times a day, it grew on me. Do you remember when we found the video? Wow. Liam was not the cool Eminem-type I’d imagined. But we loved the video and watched it a million times too.
And tonight, as I looked up the video to add it as a link to this post you, my little, beloved brother John, gave me a gift. A video I’d never seen of Dave Grohl, drummer extraordinaire (and my favorite), playing/pounding his little heart out with Liam Lynch on United States of Whatever. And I’ll go to bed with a smile on my face, which is a gift I hadn’t expected on this of all nights.
Skip ahead sixty seconds. The quality improves greatly.
PS-Is it mandatory for great drummers to chew gum?
November 20, 2011
Thanksgiving is the the quiet, pastoral younger sibling to that jubilant, festive darling, Christmas. There’s a calmness surrounding Thanksgiving, like a deep breath before the whirlwind of the approaching holiday. I look out my window at the bare tree branches and gray sky and snapshots of Thanksgivings past roll through my mind.
The smell of turkey baking, the Thanksgiving parade on the TV (whether anyone’s watching it or not) followed by the Lion’s game (we may actually watch it this year), and the sound of Christmas music (Thanksgiving is the first official day of listening to Christmas music here, although every year someone tries to cheat and listen to it earlier). These are the traditions that have woven the background of Thanksgiving celebrations since my childhood, but every year has a unique flavor all it’s own.
When I was very young, we would spend Thanksgiving at my grandparent’s home. I can remember the heavy, unreadable stare of my grandpa during the meal. I didn’t realize it then, but the stare was one of amusement because my eating habits fascinated him. None of the food on my plate could touch, much less mix with any other food (making gravy verboten). I ate one thing at a time until it was finished, then I would turn my plate to the next item and eat that until it was gone. I continued in this way until the plate was empty or I came to something I wouldn’t eat. As our family grew, I was a relieved to add a child’s table in another room and be out of his range of vision.
Another snapshot takes place when I was in high school. Thanksgiving was celebrated at our house and we used the good china. I remembered that I just wanted to be alone, so I offered to do all the dishes myself (By hand. It was the good china after all). My family and our guests disappeared. The snapshot is yellowed and fuzzy, but I think I see a few tears trickling down the face of a teenager enjoying a solitary wallow in her angst. I know I broke one of the china coffee cups. My daughter inherited the china, and you can see the hairline crack on a cup handle that was glued back together.
The next snapshot is taken a few years later in the first apartment my husband and I shared in upstate New York. He worked third shift so we were often up before dawn. I remember going out for a walk on a frosty Thanksgiving morning before the sun came up. We went back to the apartment and I prepared a magnificent Thanksgiving feast: a twenty pound turkey (literally), a gallon of mashed potatoes and three pumpkin pies. I was used to cooking for seven people and I couldn’t seem to make the adjustment to cooking for two. I couldn’t understand why the potatoes looked untouched at the end of the meal. I was sure my husband hadn’t eaten enough, and I kept asking him if he wanted more potatoes. He declined and pointed out that two people would not make much of a dent in a meal prepared for seven.
The next snapshot is more of a feeling than an image. We moved to Ohio (both of our families lived in Michigan) and had the first grandchild on both sides. Suddenly holidays were not as enjoyable as they had been. There were more responsibilities and schedules to determine. Would we go back to Michigan or was someone planning to come to Ohio? What time would be spent with my family? What time spent with his? The list went on and on…
I finally told our families that Thanksgiving was our holiday. We were spending it alone at our own home. Nobody really minded; it made it easier for everyone else too. Once again I found the peace of Thanksgiving.
After we’d lived back in Michigan for a few years, I had my parent’s over for Thanksgiving, because they were in the midst of moving and didn’t have a refrigerator at the time. We were in the middle of the meal, and suddenly my dad said in astonishment, “Hey, Dawne. This stuffing is really good.” Who knew I had it in me?
October 26, 2011
I know it sounds crazy, but I look forward to Christmas shopping because every year my sister-in-law and I celebrate the joys that are Christmas shopping and gift wrapping, together. It’s a staple of our Christmas season, but I fear it’s a tradition that’s coming unraveled.
Things have went swimmingly for years. Granted, we only exchange gifts with my husband’s family (his dad, his sister and his brother-in-law) and they only exchange with us, and that automatically makes shopping easier. But we’ve simplified it even more. My five kids get gifts from everyone, and the five adults draw names. Every child and adult provides a detailed wish list. I learned early on that in my husband’s family, gifts come from the list and the list is never deviated from.
My sister-in-law and I spend one whirlwind weekday in mid-November shopping. My father-in-law gives us money to shop for him too. On that one day we get ALL the gifts for everyone, ourselves included. In other words, she and I pick out our own gifts. Then she and I have a gift wrapping party at her house in early December and get it all wrapped. We have a lot of fun all the way around.
Over the years, we occasionally run into a snafu. My father-in-law and sister-in-law can buy what they want, when they want it, so when gift giving time rolls around sometimes they don’t need/want anything. For the past few years they’ve been opting for cash or gift cards instead of a “real” gift. Recently my father-in-law asked me why we exchanged gifts at all. “All we’re really doing is giving money back and forth. Maybe we should just stop exchanging gifts.”
Even though I saw the logic in it, my heart dropped. I confess I don’t think I could be one of those selfless people who give the money to a charity instead of exchanging gifts. I admit I like getting gifts. And our method allows me an anxiety free, guilt free shopping experience. Money does not grow on trees for my family, so whenever I purchase something for myself it’s usually accompanied by guilt and anxiety “Is this sweater taking food from the mouths of my children? Will we lose the house because of this sweater? Maybe S¹ has outgrown the shoes I just bought for him and he already needs new ones. Maybe I should buy him another pair of shoes instead of this really gorgeous sweater.”
But when Christmas and my birthday (which happens to be the day after Christmas) roll around, I’m able to get things I otherwise wouldn’t spend money on, from dishes to designer handbags, to winter coats (one year a red leather jacket. It was hot!), to a dress for the Christmas ball.
But my father-in-law makes a good point. If we didn’t exchange gifts, the thought is I’d be able to go shopping with the money we didn’t have to spend on gifts. Honestly, it would never happen. I’d never use that money on a designer handbag or a red leather jacket and if I did it would definitely be an anxiety inducing experience.
And so, I ponder the mishmash of our tradition: the cockeyed giving money for a gift, just to get the money back, and my personal fondness for receiving gifts. But under that superficial stuff, I wonder “What’s the purpose of gift giving? Why are humans compelled to give gifts?” I know it’s more than trading money we have boiled it down to.
For those of you (and you know who you are) wondering what the point is, there is no point. Basically I’m confused about it and looking for other’s thoughts on the subject. I see it like this: it seems impractical to continue exchanging gifts when it’s become simply an exchange of money, yet there is something fundamentally off-kilter in discontinuing for that very reason. And to put it crassly but truthfully, I like having the guilt-free shopping experience and I know that’s affecting my judgement on the subject.
The countdown has begun– Christmas Shopping Extravaganza 2011 is on the calendar (Tuesday, November 16). Will I be mentally prepared?
October 19, 2011
Time was the enemy when we were kids. It dragged on interminably the weeks before Christmas, then flew by with supersonic speed the weeks of vacation. Remember how the tortuous hours in the car driving to the destination seemed to last much longer than the vacation itself? And in the previous millennium, it took forever to reach the age when we’d be old enough to stay up later, wear make-up, drive a car and graduate from high school.
Recently the essence of time has changed. Time is going so fast it’s decreasing. Really. And it’s not just my biological ticking louder and faster, or mommy-time (times flying because the kids are growing so fast). It’s an inescapable fact (of my imagination? Maybe…)
I became aware of this phenomenon with the bi-weekly visit of the Schwan man. For years he’s been handing me a little orange reminder sticker at each visit and saying, “See you in two weeks on November 2.” “It won’t be Novemeber 2 in two weeks,” I reply in disbelief. “Isn’t it still September?” He always chuckles, but shakes his head slightly. He thinks I’m cracked. I’d agree with him but it’s not just me. My kids notice that time is always flying, even during the everlasting things, such as the school year.
I’ve given it much deep thought (usually with a glass of wine. It’s easier to mull on the increasing speed of time if one is relaxing and not in the throes of trying to keep up with it). Here are some of the hypotheses I’ve come up with.
- Culture Shock: Our culture has a compulsion to change things. Some of my favorite examples include: Age changes– “Forty is the new thirty” and clothing size changes– “Size 10 is the new size 4“. Maybe in our inclination to change things, we’ve subconsciously changed the time/space continuum.
- Retailer Syndrome: Retailers load the shelves with seasonal merchandise months in advance of the actual season. Decades of this fraudulent calendar acceleration has affected the cosmic clock.
- Daylight Savings Time: I’m not sure how this would speed up time, but it’s screwy enough to mess with something.
- Global Cooling/Global Warming: In the ’70′s we were preparing for the next ice age. Now we’re preparing for a global oven that will melt the polar ice caps. All this back and forth of temperatures has messed with the earth’s biological clock. Or maybe it’s the hole in the ozone. The different catalysts of impending disaster can be confusing.
- The Spiral Effect: Time is a great spiral, and the nearer we are to the end, the faster it goes, like the vortex of a tornado or water going down a drain (that seems more fitting). Or, if you want a pretty, graceful image, like a ballerina spinning faster when she pulls her arms in. If I’m correct about this hypothesis and the world should end soon, remember I predicted it here and I deduced the cause. Of course, I won’t be around to accept my Nobel prize.