My Beautiful Mother

My Beautiful Mother

My mother turned 80 years old last week. All five of us kids had a big party for her and she was surrounded by so many family members and friends that love her. She is easy to love. Her smile is welcoming and comforting. Her spirit is gentle and kind. She will make you feel well cared for with her conversation and concern for you, over a warm cup of tea. I’m her daughter, but she shares this gift with everyone. I’m not the least bit jealous.

I was fortunate to be the collector of the RSVP’s for the party, because whether our guests were coming, or unable to make it, everyone felt the need to tell me what a wonderful person she is and that they would love to celebrate with us. I loved hearing those things about my mother. It brought back people to me from my past that I hadn’t seen or heard from in such a long while. They sent cards and photographs in droves. Family traveled from Florida, Indiana, Missouri and Ohio to be here. My mother is the best at keeping in touch with her friends and family. She is a gifted letter writer and I’m certain that everyone who signed the guest book will get a personal, beautifully handwritten and heartfelt thank you note.

I enjoyed the preparations for this party. My brothers and sisters and I were in frequent communication and we all had recollections of past memories coming back into the present. My sister Kim amazingly remembers everything in great detail and wanted to talk about all things funny. It made me happy that she keeps all of these stories tucked away in her brain, because she makes us laugh. Kathy is the oldest and is a talented cake decorator. She cares about all of us and lavishes over all of the details, making everything beautiful. She would do anything for anyone and loves when we are all together. I consider my sister-in-law, Missie, to be more like a sister. She and my younger brother Larry were high school sweethearts, so she has been part of our family for a long time. She has blonde hair like the rest of us girls and fits right in to the picture. She is great at putting together a spread and I was thankful to have her help! She lost her own mother when she was in her twenties and my mom has compassionately cared for her, so I know she was just as eager to honor her on her birthday. My brothers Butch and Larry are quiet, and mostly let the girls do the planning, but I admire the way they love our mom. They, along with my husband Eddie, and brother-in-law John, were all helpful the day of the party, carrying TONS of food and decorations, setting up tables, figuring out the sound system and obediently doing whatever orders us girls barked at them!

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My mother has 19 grandchildren and 13 great-grands! The grandchildren (led by Allison and Andrew) put together a precious, creative gift for my mom, whom they affectionately call “Nana.” It is a large, framed crossword puzzle with all of their names intersecting to form the grid. The corresponding clues are how you figure out the answers for each grandchild! What fun they had coming up with the clues! Andrew, my nephew, also put together a slideshow of 80 years of photographs to run during the party. My daughter, Charlotte sang a beautiful song to my mother titled, “Love Will Be Our Home.” 

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I know my dad was proud to honor her as well. She is a faithful and loving wife. They have been the best example of love through everything life throws at you. They’re an adorably cute couple!

I had planned to say a few words about my mother the day of her party. Both of my sisters did, but honestly, I couldn’t utter a sound. I definitely would have ended up in a puddle of tears. I am so grateful and blessed to have her as my mom. She has been with me through everything; teaching me as a child about God and laying the foundation for the person I would become. I share her love of creativity, entertaining, cooking, sewing, crafting and compassion for others. We love to laugh together. Even my teenage years weren’t that bad. Although I’m certain I did a lot of eye-rolling, and possibly closing my bedroom door firmly. (My bedroom door wouldn’t slam! There was some sort of invisible vacuum preventing it! As hard as I tried, it just whooshed and stopped right before impact. Do you know how frustrating that was for a teenage girl?) I married young and I was in constant communication with her about life, marriage, cooking and motherhood. When my daughter became ill, she never left my side. She helped me physically, emotionally and spiritually and I couldn’t have done any of it without her help. When my marriage ended, she supported me again in all of those ways. When I made decisions she didn’t approve of, I knew how she felt, but she never stopped loving me. She let go of me when she knew I needed to spread my wings, but she was, and always has been, there when I needed her.

She’s a good mom, the best a girl could hope to have. When I think of my mom, I see a beautiful and graceful pillar of strength, fueled by faith. A quiet, introspective person who thinks before she speaks. Sometimes, she never speaks at all; she doesn’t feel the need to. She lives out the adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Maybe I get my “pondering heart” from her. As Mary, the mother of Jesus observed and pondered things in her heart, so does my mother; knowing that God has a plan for whatever happens in our lives. When she does choose to speak, it is full of wisdom; wisdom that only 80 years of living a life of faith can give you. There’s not much she hasn’t seen. There’s not much that she hasn’t experienced, but through it all she chooses to love, and love us well.

Happy 80th birthday to my beautiful mother! Not only are you beautiful on the outside, but most importantly on the inside. Your smile even makes your eyes sparkle and is a constant comfort to me. I am honored to call you my mother and am blessed beyond measure to have you in my life. I love you so much!

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The Vexing Issue of the Yearly School Portrait

The Vexing Issue of the Yearly School Portrait

I am waiting for my car to be inspected, along with a part replaced due to a recall on my Honda Accord. The technician told me it would take about an hour and a half to complete the job. He shows me to the waiting area where the TODAY Show is playing annoyingly loud. I sit down and look at the other waiting customers who all have their noses buried in their phones. I glance at the variety of magazines, but am not intrigued. After a few minutes of listening to Martha Stewart show Hoda Kotb how to peel garlic without using her hands, I knew I couldn’t sit there any longer, so I decide to go in search of a cup of coffee. I find a vacuum carafe, pour a cup and stir in powdered non-dairy creamer.  I find a quiet table in the showroom to sit down and make a to-do list. It is the kids’ first full week of school and between signed syllabuses, multiple checks written for a variety of things, three-ring binders coming out of my ears, new sneakers and gym uniforms, I remember that tomorrow is picture day. It is only the sixth day of school and  I’m tired and broke. Who schedules these things?  Thoughts go through my head, “Should we get Ethan’s hair cut after school today?” He is in that in-between stage of the ‘summer buzz cut’ and  ‘no real style yet.’  Not the best look going at the moment, but that would add another $21.00 to the cost, so I think we’ll pass on the hair cut….

As I think back on Ethan’s school pictures, I fondly remember his third grade picture in which I sent him to school in a nice button down plaid shirt. He decided to take that shirt off at recess so he wouldn’t get it dirty. Good thinking on his part, but they went directly from the playground to the photographer. His picture is of a sweaty, red-faced boy in a white Hane’s undershirt. I have 2 8x10s, 3 5x7s and 100 wallets of this precious memory. The next three years, he managed to wear the same bright orange shirt. Last year, I opened his package and thought, “Finally, a great school picture!” His hair looked great and he had the best smile that showcased his new braces. At closer glance however, I discover they took the picture after lunch. Food in the braces – yummy. Another $45 down the tube.

School pictures are the worst, but such a tradition. They awkwardly pose our kids, make them smile on demand and you get what you get. I begrudgingly write checks every year to Lifetouch so I can send Grandma pictures that she treasures, so she can show all of her friends and hang them on her refrigerator door with cute magnets.

After four children, I have thousands of school pictures still in their original envelopes with the celophane windows. I have several friends who are amazing photographers, yet I continue to spend a small fortune on these packages year after year. Is it a mom-guilt thing? If I don’t buy the package, I’ll deprive my children of their ‘school-days’ memories? Will my kids feel left out if they don’t show up with their money envelope in hand?

I force down another gulp of my luke warm coffee and I try not to make an ugly face. I shudder and know a drive through Starbucks is in order as soon as I leave here. With thoughts of school portraits, a memory pops into my head of my fifth grade school picture.

Just look at this gem:

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I giggle as I recall the story of this photograph….

My mother decided it would be a great idea for me to wear my Girl Scout uniform to school for my class picture. Wearing your Girl Scout uniform to school wasn’t unusual back then- when your meeting was after school in the cafeteria- everybody did it. So when I showed up on picture day in my uniform, my best friend immediately noticed and then reminded me that we didn’t have a meeting that day. I told her I knew that, but my mother wanted me to wear it for my school picture. She then informed me that school pictures weren’t that day- they were the next day. What? Not only did I have to wear my uniform to school on a non-meeting day, but it wasn’t even the correct day for the school pictures! I was so embarrassed! I went though the entire day with people reminding me that I had worn my uniform on the wrong day. I could not wait to get home.

When I returned home that afternoon, I informed my mother what had happened. She could tell by my attitude that I had been completely mortified by the whole experience and that I was not at all happy. It would have been the perfect day to come home to some warm, fresh-baked homemade chocolate chip cookies, but that didn’t happen either.

My mother seemed unaffected by my drama, and then promptly told me to go to my room to change, and to make sure that I hung up my uniform so I could wear it again tomorrow. That’s when time stopped. Everything froze. She could not possibly be serious. I could not live through this indignity again tomorrow. I was panicking! This.was.not.happening.to.me.  My life was over. I could already picture the kids laughing at me in my predicament.

The thing is, I knew that I would not win this argument. I was the fourth child, and if I had learned anyting in my 10 years of life, it was that once my mother spoke something, she could not be persuaded to change her mind. Arguing or complaining only cinched the deal all the more. It was my sentence. I bowed my head in shame and slowly walked to my bedroom.

When I woke the next morning, I thought I could fake an illness to escape my fate. After some volleying inside my head, I knew that it was either today or prolonging the agony until make-up picture day. Maybe she would forget, but I knew that would never happen. I resigned myself to my degradation.

The funny thing is, I showed up to school in the same outfit- a Girl Scout uniform- two days in a row, and no one really noticed. At least they pretended not to notice. Other than my best friend who just rolled her eyes, no one said anything. Maybe they felt sorry for me or maybe they just didn’t care, but I walked in expecting to be humiliated and nothing happened.

I got my portrait taken in my Girl Scout uniform and despite my vast array of mixed dentition, I think I looked adorable. I know my mom was happy, she got her wish. When I got home there still were not any warm chocolate chip cookies waiting, but there were homemade brownies – and a big hug.

Touche’ Lifetouch.

Are Ya Sure?

Are Ya Sure?

My bestie lives in Arkansas. We met when we both lived in Maryland in 1991, and we were both pregnant with our second daughters. She only lived in Maryland for three years, but we have remained best friends ever since. Our friendship is easy. Although there have been many tears shed together, our favorite thing to do is laugh.

I’m not sure how long it was after she moved back to Arkansas, but one Saturday afternoon she called to chat and to tell me what had happened to her that day. I was laying on the couch as she told me her story…

She and her husband had gone to the hardware store to pick up something that they needed. While they were in the checkout line, a young girl at the cash register began to make conversation with her; southern folk are nothing if they aren’t friendly. This is how their conversation went:

(You have to picture this in your mind as being said with an adorably thick southern accent.)

Cashier: “Hey” (because people in Arkansas don’t say ‘hi,’ they say ‘hey.’)

Bestie: “Hey”  *smiles warmly*

Cashier: “How are ya’ll doin’ today?”

Bestie: “We’re good, how are you?”

Cashier: Suddenly and excitedly says, “Oh! When is your baby due?”

Bestie: *Stiffens*

Bestie’s husband: *gets deer-in-the-headlights look*

Bestie: Smiles politely and through her teeth says,  “I’m not pregnant.”

Cashier: Looks confused, pauses for a minute and says: “Are ya sure?”

Bestie: *Begins to climb over counter as her husband physically attempts to restrain her*

The cashier said, “Are ya sure?” LOL! She was only a teenager, but still. I thought I would die laughing! Actually, I fell off the couch onto the floor from laughing so hard. My bestie wasn’t laughing, as she was still pretty sore about the whole incident. After a few minutes though, we were both laughing at the whole story, the unbelievable comment, her reaction, her husband’s reaction, all of it. Ever since then, I cannot think about this story without giggling. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to witness the whole thing.

My laughter was at the young girl’s comment. I mean she said, “Are ya sure?” to a grown woman after she told her she wasn’t pregnant. That’s funny, I would never laugh at my bestie.

I’m certain it was the way she was standing, or an unflattering top accentuating what my husband likes to call my ‘woman-ess,’ to make the girl think she had a tiny baby-bump. I’ve had days where I’ve felt bloated to the point of looking pregnant. However, the comment made her feel not-beautiful, and immediately she was hard on herself for not being what our world brainwashes us into believing we should look like. There are many shapes and sizes of women, and all of us wish we could change something about ourselves, especially our weight. Why do we do this? Embrace your ‘woman-ess” ladies. Don’t let the world take away from you what is beautiful, which is all of you; not only your physical body, but the beautiful person, mother, daughter and woman you are. My bestie is one of the most beautiful woman I know on the inside and out, and I want her to know that and believe that with all her heart.

However, never ask a woman that question unless you are 110% sure.

You’re welcome.

 

 

February

February

February is the month I love to hate.

February sits smack dab in the middle of winter, when the skies are grey, the trees are bare and it’s cold outside. You go to work when it’s dark and come home when it’s dark. No neighbors are outside to chat with, the kids are bored inside and although the days are short, they seem to drag on and on….

Every year for the past 15 years, I brace myself for the arrival of February. Chelsea, my beloved daughter, passed away on February 10, 2001. It was only 15 days before her 10th birthday. So every year, in February, I celebrate her life, and mark her death. You would think that after 15 years it would get easier. Some years have been easier than others, but when you lose a child, the heartbreak never truly goes away. Yes, you learn to live with it. You learn to smile and laugh again. There is even joy to be found, but when thoughts drift to her, it’s just…hard. Would it be different had she died in the spring? I doubt it, but mid-winter only exacerbates the emotion that is as grey as the sky.

What should I do on February 10th? Some years I’ve taken off work, stayed under the covers and wished it would all go away. Pity parties don’t help, but sometimes the tears just fall regardless of how hard you try to not let them. Other years, I try to celebrate her life, remembering the good times and how sweet she was. I can look at pictures and watch home movies, but still the tears…. Sometimes we’ve gone on an adventure she would have enjoyed. Another year I was on a business trip and was so busy that I didn’t remember until I wrote the date. I almost panicked. It made me feel like a terrible mother. Then my own mother called to check on me and I broke down into a million pieces.

I used to struggle with terrible depression in the winter. One doctor diagnosed me with SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder. He suggested I try light therapy. I diagnosed myself with SAD, but I was just that, ‘sad.’

Then there’s February 25th, Chelsea’s birthday. This year she would be turning 25. That’s hard to imagine… This day is a little easier. We always get a cake, sing happy birthday, then write messages on balloons and let them go. I love to see what Ethan and Charlotte, (my son and daughter who came after Chelsea passed away) say and write to her. They never knew her, but she is every bit a sister to them as Ashley, my oldest daughter. They talk about her like they did know her. Hopefully, because we all have talked about her so much over the years that they feel like they do. I love when they ask questions about her.

Now when the holidays are over, and we round the corner into the new year, I see it looming in the distance. I know it’s coming and I try not to fear or dread it. It’s a time to remember Chelsea and celebrate the life she lived. I don’t make any definite plans as to what I’ll do or how I’ll feel, because every year is different. Awareness and acceptance of my feelings is what has made the difference. It’s okay to feel sadness and even pain, because even though it hurts, it is part of healing. The most important thing is to let yourself feel – all of it – the good, the bad and the ugly. Grief is a process and there is no time limit. It really never actually ends.

The best part is that after February is over, spring arrives. A renewal and rebirth of life. The trees bloom and the sun comes out and life is new all over again. I take a deep breath and know it’s going to be okay. My joy and hope is in knowing that I’ll see her again one day. So, until then, I will remember her with a smile, (and most likely a tear) and live my life to the fullest, experiencing as much joy as I can along the way.

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My little monkey Abu!