Thank you, Grandma


In my 38 years, my Grandma taught me many things. These are just a few.

  • Children and babies keep us young.
  • The best bagels are lenders egg bagels with plain cream cheese cooked in the toaster oven.
  • It’s possible to be a strong woman, and still live life with grace and kindness.
  • I can be a great mom, even if I’m not the best cook.
  • There’s no sweeter smell than that of lilacs and lily of the valley, scents I will always associate with the many, many happy days spent at her house.
  • You don’t need much in life to have everything you need.
  • Everyone, even the most patient people, have their breaking point, a line that they just can’t tolerate being crossed. For her, that line was spilt milk.
  • Family always comes first, and even when you have nothing to give, you still give them everything.

My Grandma did give us everything and more. It’s hard to reconcile this world without her in it. But, I feel like I still have all that she gave me over my life and I will always be grateful to have had her here for so long teaching me so much about how to live and love. 

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Our Sweet House

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I remember the moment we found our house. I was scouring the classifieds looking for ANY house that remotely fit our criteria. It was the height of the real estate market back in 2003. We’d lost two houses already in bidding wars. We sold our town home in 1 day and were moving in with Craig’s parents until we could find a place. We had our hearts set on the town where we grew up, but the situation was forcing us to look outside our ideal area. I wanted a street canopied by trees, but I could give that up. We wanted brick, it made my father-in-law happy, he was a brick layer earlier in life. But, we’d settle for siding. I didn’t want cookie-cutter, I wanted something with a soul. I had this fantasy of a large picture window where we could put our Christmas tree, but I guess the tree could just go in a corner. Of course we had a list of things like number of bedrooms and baths, etc. But, I was really searching for a feeling. A place I could envision our life with a family. So, no pressure.

As we started getting desperate all our need-to-haves started feeling like nice-to-haves. What would really be the difference anyhow, we only planned to live in this “starter” house for a couple years. Four max. By then we’d have a few kids, need more space, have more money and be on our way to a bigger house. Right? (Hilarious.) But just as we started writing off what we wanted, I saw an ad in the paper.

From the moment we pulled down the street in the town where we grew up, I was in love. The trees were massive. (Check.) The neighborhood was one of the oldest in town, a mix of houses from the 1800s all the way through the 1960s. Charming and chock full of character. (Check.) We walked up to the house as a man was placing a “For Sale by Owner” sign in the yard. It was a tiny red brick ranch. (Brick. Check.) And there was a massive picture window, I could imagine our aluminum tree there in all its kitschy glory. (Check.)

I remember walking in the front door, the windows were open and the sheer drapes were billowing in the breeze, the sun streaming across the newly refinished hardwood floors. We barely made it through the house we were so giddy. We raced to my in-law’s as fast as we could, it was only a mile drive (BONUS!), and we dragged my father-in-law back to see it. We needed a second opinion, what did we know about houses anyway. We couldn’t really pick a house based on just a feeling, could we? What about the foundation? The sump pump? The soffit and fascia? What even was a fascia? Within a few minutes we had his blessing and a deal and the sign was removed from the front lawn.

Then, in our new home, life happened. It happened both exactly as I’d imagined and not at all in the way I’d planned. There was joy, so much joy. There were raucous parties filled with music and cocktails and long quiet evenings filled with deep conversation…and cocktails. There were celebrations, so many celebrations (births, birthdays, holidays, super bowls, world series, bbqs, backyard camp outs). There were those Friday nights in the early years with our “Porch-light’s-on-all-are-welcome-for-beers-in-the-backyard” policy. And more recent Friday family nights with carryout and nowhere-to-be ease. There was also pain and sadness and loss. Crying alone and crying together. Hearts breaking and hearts mending. Breaking down and holding each other up. There were beautiful moments and ugly moments. There was drama and monotony. There was change and stability.

But more than anything, for the past 14 years, our home has been filled with love and laughter. Our family went from two to four in that house. Our kids spoke their first words and took their first steps there. They learned to ride their bikes on the sidewalk out front, and learned to play ball in the backyard. They learned important life lessons like never stop doing something because it’s “too hard” and how to make fart noises with your armpits. It was everything I’d dreamt back in 2003 that a life with a family might look like. And our sweet home was the backdrop to it all.

Every summer we relished in the large yard, and every winter we cursed the tight quarters. And, before we knew it we’d been there 14 years, in this “starter” home. We’d talked about moving, talked about adding on, but there was so much momentum in the day to day and so much inertia in the familiar. We never could quite make it happen. We got close to doing something a couple times, but we always got distracted or cold feet.

And just as we missed out on those other two homes 14 years ago only to get the exact home we were always meant to have. I can’t help feeling like we were never meant to get up the nerve to make a move until now. Our lives and our new home collided in just the right way at just the right moment. And, I have to believe that it was always meant to be this way. If we’d moved two years ago, we wouldn’t be able to do what our family needs from us now. And though we didn’t know that then, it all makes a bit more sense now.

It’s going to be hard to spend that last night in our sweet home, the only one we’ve ever known as a family. But at the end of the day, as long as I have my people with me, I know we could live anywhere and find the joy. And, like it does, life is continuing to happen. And we’ve already started creating memories at the new house, filling it with all the love and laughter we need to make it our home.

It was a good little house. And, I’m glad we stayed so long. I can’t imagine our lives having happened anywhere else. I hope the folks moving in can feel the love we’ve left behind.

 

Why I Write & Why I Haven’t Been

When I started this blog it was a gift to myself. I’ve always dreamed of being a writer and have thought about starting a blog pretty much since they existed. Maybe even before they existed. I’ve always had to work through my feelings by writing them out. A journal helped some, but it’s the sending them into the world that really helps me process. Whether it’s giving an emotional toast, reading a letter aloud to someone or posting my inner most thoughts to social media, I’ve always felt this sort of ritual in putting words to paper, reciting them over and over in my head until they were just so. Then saying them into the world to be kind of etched in time. Then, later, as I need a safe place with those feelings, I recite them in my head as sort of a prayer or mantra to go back to. Word for word, never changing them.

Not just for negative things, but for the happiest and best moments as well. I’ve been married nearly 16 years. At my wedding I gave a toast to my husband. At the time standing up in front of 200+ people with a microphone was the most terrifying thing I could imagine. But, to this day, I’m so glad I did it. I could still recite that toast verbatim today. On happy married days I sometimes say bits of it to myself with a wistful smile. On harder married days I say it to myself and remember that feeling, and that our life together is founded on love and hard days are just days in a life full of wonderful.

I’ve made toasts at my husband’s 40th, my grandmother’s 90th. When I went off to college I wrote a letter to each member of my immediate family. Then I made them all sit around the dinner table and I read each of them aloud through tears. A marking of a milestone in our lives, and a thank you to each of them for what they taught me. As you can imagine they were wordy and overwrought with emotion.

I’m a pretty even person, by which I mean not outwardly emotional. I like to think the people I love know I love them. But, I’m not a person of grand gestures and lots of hugging (in fact, very little hugging unless you’re my kid). I’m not so good at capturing my feelings through dialogue in the moment. I need to wrestle the words into just the right order. Write, read, rewrite. Tweak until it flows through my brain effortlessly, like words off the tongue. I think I would’ve done well in the days of lengthy letter writing. Except for my terrible penmanship, and the fact that those quill pens don’t have an easy backspace for all the editing I require.

I’ve had this on my mind for the last couple weeks as we muscle through life and its new normals. I haven’t been writing. And, I haven’t been putting my feelings in the world. For three reasons really. First, there’s so many massive emotions, but there are also so many tiny ones. But, the tiny ones seem too tiny to be worth addressing, and the massive ones too daunting to tackle. So, limbo. Second, when I started this blog I promised myself I’d write about me. My issues, my thoughts, my feelings, my reactions. Not my family’s. Not my friend’s. It’s not my place to share someone else’s story. But, this. It’s so messy and tangled up and belongs to all of us.

And, lastly, I just don’t want everything I do and say to be heavy and about loss and difficulty and grief. Because that isn’t my life. There’s pain, but there’s still joy. There’s loss, but there’s more love than ever. There are tears, but there’s so much laughter. Somehow it feels like when I posted to Instagram about the loss of my father-in-law, I drew a line for myself. By using that little square photo and caption to capture what was easily the most devastating day of my life, of my family’s life, it somehow shifted that place for me. The idea of posting caftans and weavings and glitter and nonsense seems wrong. But I’m finding I need it. I need the catharsis of putting my feelings out there (sad, silly, sarcastic, all my feelings), the normalcy of being in that community. I need to get lost in scrolling through my feed, giving support with emoji high fives and showing my love with color coordinated little hearts. The escape of looking at beautiful things with kind and wonderful people.

When massive things happen you want the whole world to pause. But it doesn’t. Life doesn’t stop or even slow down. I’ve stopped writing. And, as such, I’ve stopped sharing, and delayed healing. But I need to start again.

 

An Open Letter to President Elect Trump

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Mr. Trump, I did not vote for you.

I do not agree with your views on women, your views on Muslims, your views on African-Americans, your views on Latino-Americans, your views on disabled Americans, your views on LGBT Americans or your views on yourself, for that matter.

I do not respect you because you respect no one and have not earned my respect. I do however respect the Office of The President of the United States. And I hope in the coming months you can find respect for it as well.

I will be praying, wishing, hoping that you can realize it’s possible to lead without being a tyrant. It’s possible to be the best without making everyone else feel like the worst. It’s possible to be angry without being cruel. It’s possible to be successful without making everyone else feel like a failure. It’s possible to be both strong and kind, opinionated and respectful. It’s possible for you to accomplish all your hopes and dreams while at the same time allowing others the opportunity to accomplish theirs.

I’m a white college-educated, middle-aged, upper-middle class, successful female executive. You don’t like me anymore than I like you. But today I’m choosing to move forward with hope, respect and kindness. Can you?

Are we there yet?

Clawing our way to the finish line, toes poking out of gym shoes and lunch boxes basically disintegrating. Is it summer vacation yet?!? Honestly, I don’t know who’s more excited to start summer break, me or the kids? Okay, it’s definitely me.

I feel like the stress of our regular daily routine gets amped up in the last weeks of May. Every day there’s a school function or something extra to send with the kids for the day. It’s costume day, pajama day, wear your clothes backwards day. Did you remember money for the book fair and to RSVP for Donuts with Dad? Oh, and I need to wear yellow on Friday. Wait, today’s Friday. I need to wear yellow TODAY! Honestly, I can barely keep it together during the school year with lunches and morning routines and evening routines and All. OF. THE. THINGS.

I am so ready for it all to be done. No rushing home to cram a sandwich down the kids throats to get to baseball on time so we can get home on time and they can shower and do their homework and go to bed and do it again tomorrow. Later bedtimes, later wake ups, no lunches to pack, no homework to check. Did I mention NO LUNCHES TO PACK!

Go riddance school year. Thanks for all you taught the kids. I’m grateful, but I’m over you. See ya in the fall when I’m dying for some structure.

“I don’t like mayo”

If you ask me about mayo, I’ll tell you I’m not a fan. But, that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I liked mayonnaise as much as the next gal. On a chicken sandwich…yum. Slathered on a Jimmy John’s sub…delish. Cleverly mixed with ketchup to make that secret yummy sauce on a Whopper…Sign. Me Up. The more the better.  Mayo, what’s not to love?

But there came a time about 4 years ago that I decided to make a commitment to taking care of myself. And, at the tippy top of that list, was getting to a healthier weight. I actually reached my heaviest weight 10 years ago, before having kids, but that’s a story for another day. The point is, 4 years ago I was nearing that highest point, was not healthy and not happy. It took a lot of work and a lot of time, but I lost 50 lbs. There were lots of techniques and tools involved in doing that, but one little thing I did was DECIDE that I didn’t like mayonnaise anymore.

I know you’re thinking that’s crazy, but it’s absolutely 100% true. I told myself I didn’t like mayo, and anytime I encountered it I said I didn’t like it. I started ordering from menus asking to leave it off and replace it with dijon or nothing at all. And you know how people say that if you hear something enough times, you start to believe it’s true? Well, they’re fricken’ right. Over time, I’ve actually convinced myself I don’t like it. I’ve even gotten to the point that it kind of grosses me out in large quantities.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m the sort of person that overthinks and over analyzes everything. So, I find it fascinating how much control we have over ourselves, our thoughts, our preferences.  I really believe I can do anything I put my mind to, and that includes changing my mind.

And, the thing is, this isn’t an anomaly. I’ve convinced myself of many things in my life. I used to be scared to death of public speaking. One day I realized that if I wanted to be successful in my career, I’d have to get over it. So, I started telling myself it didn’t scare me. I would literally repeat it over and over in my head “I’m not afraid of public speaking.” And, over time, I believed it. And now it barely bothers me at all. I have dozens of other examples of this sort of “self talk” or coaching or whatever you want to call it.

People often talk about the impact our words have on others, and I whole heartedly believe words can change lives. But, I don’t think we always realize how much the words we’re saying to ourselves are shaping and changing our own lives. So, here’s to convincing ourselves we can quit what makes us unhappy and overcome what stands in our way.

My Sweet Boy

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Today is Nathan’s 9th birthday. We surprised him with tickets to tonight’s Cubs game, so he’s at Wrigley with his dad. I was so excited to get him the tickets, I knew they’d have a blast, but now I’m selfishly kind of sad to not get to spend his birthday with him. It got me thinking about the first time we were ever apart. But, there’s the whole story of him being born that comes before that.

After several years of trying and fertility treatments, I finally found myself pregnant in the summer of 2006. I had an uneventful and lovely pregnancy. It was easy by all accounts. No morning sickness, no drama. Other than the insane level of monitoring because of all I’d gone through previously, it was a breeze. A total dream. And I absolutely loved being pregnant. I loved that we did everything together. No one in the world knew my baby yet, but I got to spend every moment with him or her (after so many long months of plotting and planning every fine detail of getting pregnant, we wanted this surprise). I felt like I had this little secret all to myself. I talked to him at length and told him about all the things we’d do together when he was born. About all the things I was doing throughout the day that he couldn’t yet experience. It was him and I always together. It was awesome.

Nathan was due on April 10. A day which came and went with no signs of his arrival. I actually went to the eye doctor to pickup new glasses that day and enrolled him in daycare. People were slightly horrified to hear I was out in the world ON MY DUE DATE…like I was a ticking time bomb. I was having intermittent contractions on the 11th, so on the 12th, Craig stayed home from work. It was gorgeous out for April, mid 70’s. So we took a long walk around the neighborhood and headed back home to take a nap. I woke up a while later and my water broke….kinda. So, we called the doc who originally told us to come to the office. Halfway there they called us back and said to go to the hospital instead.

If my pregnancy was a dream, my labor and delivery were beyond unbelievable. I often think my easy pregnancy and delivery were a gift, after so much heartache leading up to them. A gift I don’t take for granted. We’d narrowed our names down to one for a boy, Nathan, and two for a girl. We just couldn’t decide. So, we made a deal if it was a blonde girl she’d be Gwendolyn (Wendy for short) and if it was a brunette girl, she’d be Charlotte (Lottie for short). During labor the doc said, “I see the head, the baby doesn’t have any hair.” I remember looking at Craig in a panic, this better be a boy, because we didn’t have a no hair name for a girl.

Much of it still feels a blur, but I remember Craig saying “It’s a boy” not holding back the tears, pride filling his voice. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. That moment, when the rest of the world got to meet this sweet boy I’d been hanging out with the past 9 months. The moment he and I got to see each other for the first time. It was everything.

We were able to spend a good bit of time together there in the delivery room. At some point they said it was time to take him to the nursery to get his first bath, and Dad could help. That’s when everyone left the room. Everyone including Nathan. We’d never been apart. I watched them go, sat there helpless in bed and cried. Cried until at some point I fell asleep, exhausted from it all.

As I write this, it’s almost exactly nine years later. I’m once again sad to be away from my boy on his birthday. Wishing I could keep him with me every moment of every day. Grateful I got to do just that for those first 9 months.

Homesick in NYC

  
Sitting at LaGuardia, hours early for my flight (I’m a neurotic traveler, would always rather be early), missing my kids like crazy. I’ve written before about my thoughts on traveling for work here. I love that my work allows me to go places, meet people, see things. And mostly while I’m away I’m so busy there’s little downtime to think about home. And, that’s how I like it, that’s how I need it. 

I’m a total home body and no stranger to home sickness. I still live in the same town where I grew up. I went to college just a couple hours away, and only made it 3 semesters before moving back home. I don’t like to be away. I need my people to breathe. 

In between the busy spaces of my travels there are little bits, thoughts, feelings and longings for home. But, it’s subtle. I liken it to being slowly suffocated, something sitting on my chest getting ever so slightly heavier with each passing minute, hour, day I’m away. Only noticeable when I walk in my front door and pull my kiddos into my arms….at that moment it’s like a rush of air into my lungs. They’re my oxygen. It’s only in that moment that I realize I’ve been holding my breathe the whole time I was away. Somewhere in my brain, counting the moments until I’d be home. Until I could breathe again.

I’m sitting in LaGuardia, nothing to do but miss my babies. Wishing I was home, or at the very least, busy.

Mother’s Day Feelings

When I was younger, I never gave much thought to Mother’s Day. Of course, on that special Sunday in May I celebrated my incredible Mother and Grandmothers. Often created homemade gifts for them, bought cards full of all the sentiments I probably should’ve shared more throughout the year. A day of brunches and gardening and love and gift giving. Mother’s Day was a happy day until it wasn’t.

When I was a kid and young adult, Mother’s Day was about my mom. Not a day for me, but for her. But, once I got married, and started to try to become a mom myself, there was no single day in the year more excruciating. More painful. More difficult. Each Mother’s Day that passed that I couldn’t celebrate was like a punch in the gut. And there was no escaping it. My inbox was jammed with Mother’s Day sale messages. The television played what seemed an endless stream of commercials featuring happy moms with their kiddos, not to mention the storyline of EVERY SINGLE tv show turned to Mother’s Day. Stores were packed with cards and images of women being moms. I thank god that there was no social media back then, I’m not sure how I’d have survived an Instagram feed of homemade gifts for moms on those challenging days.

The worst were the years where there was hope leading up to Mother’s Day. One more round of fertility treatments, and if it worked, I’d actually be pregnant on Mother’s Day. I could finally celebrate, too. Those were the hardest.

After years of terrible Mother’s Days, I’d built that Sunday up as this epic prize in my mind. The incredible day I was missing out on would someday, hopefully, be one of my favorite of the year. I don’t know what exactly I had in mind, but it would be awesome and thoughtful and lovely and perfect. 

And, honestly, my first Mother’s Day wasn’t any of those. I’d somehow catupultated my expectations right past simply being grateful to be able to finally celebrate the day all the way to this insane unattainable expectation of myself and everyone around me. Nathan was just a few weeks old on my first Mother’s Day. So I was still very much in the haze of new motherhood, a mix of exhaustion, elation and confusion. And, I’d missed a key part in my grandiose plans for the day, I didn’t tell anyone else, particularly my husband, what all I’d dreamed this day up to be over my years of waiting for it to happen. I just expected it to magically be magic. And, as the day progressed, I became more disappointed and frustrated, which in turn filled me with guilt at missing out on this day because I was being so selfish. 

It took me a few Mother’s Days to find my rhythm. To forgive myself and my family our imperfections, and realize that the perfect Mother’s Day for me is simply a nice quiet day at home with my husband & kids, and a few hours to myself to dig in my garden. 

Mother’s Day is just a day. It doesn’t make you a mom, define you as a mom or serve as a barometer of your abilities to be a good mom. It’s a day.

My kids and I are grateful for each other every day, even when we don’t do our best at showing it, and that’s the real prize as far as I’m concerned. The lifetime of motherhood I get to experience, the good, the bad, the hard, the wonderful. I’ve done nothing in my life as important or incredible as being a mom. I think I knew that back then. I knew I wanted nothing more than to be a mom and I knew it would be magic. And, the idea it may not happen was impossible to handle. So, in a way, maybe all those terrible Mother’s Days allowed me a chance to funnel all that pain into one focused day, so the other 364 days of the year would be ever so slightly more bearable.