From Chaos to Calm

A rare gift for any family with “adulting” children, we spent two whole months together. Timing really is everything. My eldest, Ryan, living and working as a chef in Chicago, took two months between jobs to spend at home for the holidays. At the same time, my younger two (one a senior at college, the other a sophomore), Tyler and Alexa have also been home for their winter break.

At any given moment, my house is mayhem. Scraps on the floor, pillows strewn about the living room (often not where they are suppose to be– Ryan says I have a pillow problem), cups and candy wrappers left on coffee tables, shoes by the door, clothes (bathrobe, sweatshirt, coats and hats, currently) thrown over the railing that separates living room from kitchen, dishes from last night’s midnight food craving left in the sink, technology and chords on the kitchen table, classic music playing in one room, hip hop in the other, and somewhere in the middle one of them on the laptop binge watching Shameless or Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I stand back, taking it all in. Half of me is feeling really disheveled. The other half is telling the first half to enjoy it because I know full well when the chaos is gone, there will be silence.

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When my babies were little and I felt so overwhelmed that I needed a break, even just to steal away for an hour to browse in stores or grocery shop alone, I couldn’t wait to get back to them.

When my husband and I finally got away for a weekend, just the two of us, we spent most of it talking about how it would be different if the kids were here. When my eldest went off to college for that first time, I mourned as if he’d never be home again.

Two months is certainly a gift– albeit an extended one. It’s permitted me to enjoy the little things, to bask in them even. When my children were small, I found myself so caught up in the mayhem, that I didn’t realize happiness when it was right in front of me. I worried about what was next– the planning, the making sure everything wasn’t about to fall apart. Now, in my fifties (yes, my fifties, OMG!), finally, I recognize happiness in the precise moment it occurs.

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The annual Thanksgiving photo shoot that my children insist upon, out in the backyard at my dad’s while they goof around, attempting to pose, and I snap, snap, snap capturing them laughing and loving each other. When we sit around a bar table in SoHo, each of us sipping cocktails, for the first time together, losing ourselves in mundane conversation about the reservations we’re waiting for or the mild weather in December. At home in the kitchen, I share my grandmother’s manicotti recipe with Ryan and he shows me how to cautiously use a mandolin or how to emulsify a parsley garnish for chicken cacciatore over polenta. Laboring over plans with Alexa for a kitchen remodeling dream that we both share for different reasons. The pride I feel as they immerse themselves in conversation with elders of family at a Christmas party where they didn’t think they wanted to be. Waking up on Christmas morning without the wide-eyed excitement to see what Santa brings, but, instead, the relaxed contentment that we’re able to share our gift opening ritual together.The off-the-cuff comments Tyler makes, and the laughter that ensues, while playing Cards Against Humanity with three generations of family. At night, we sit around the Rangers on the television, cheering, eating popcorn, talking only during commercials. Watching Anthony referee an alumni high school hockey game where both of his sons are players, something they haven’t done together in eight years. The sounds of all of them downstairs competing at darts, and Alexa winning. Ryan calls Alexa a lady for the first time and she feels like they are finally equal. Tyler and Ryan resuming their talent of holding entire conversations with memorized lines from different movies leaving the rest of us bewildered.  Watching the pride on the faces of their grandparents as they look at them lovingly because I know they are enjoying this as much as I am (or maybe a little bit more). The kisses I bestow upon their foreheads at night because I haven’t in a long time and I can. Ryan looking up at me on the last night, saying, “You have me for one more night,” and I smile because I do.

I’m about being present enough to recognize these seemingly insignificant moments when they present themselves. I’m about living in them. I’m about collecting them like the cherished tokens that they are. So, when the chaos has passed and the calm is here– the silence– I can recollect, I can look forward, I can live in the moment not worrying that there aren’t more to come.

love-beyond-words

<silence quote>

 

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A Cornucopia of Thanks: Tradition

Pungent November scents fill the air on Thanksgiving day. The roast turkey at the center of it all, stuffing oozing from the seams. Homemade mashed potatoes and sweet potato balls rolled in brown sugar and walnuts, fresh cranberry sauce and –my personal favorite– the canned/gelled variety. I’d sneak in & steal parts of crisp turkey skin as my father was making the ceremonial slices. And once we were sufficiently stuffed and well-napped, with the endless melody of football as a backdrop, we’d return again to the table for apple and pumpkin pies with Nana’s homemade sweet sauce. These are the familiarities we come to rely on each Thanksgiving day. Like Norman Rockwell’s Freedom from Want painting depicting a traditional feast– so much food to be thankful for. And each other. Our family: mom and dad, me and my two siblings– until we grew and we grew and we grew.

Before we knew it, we acquired step members, and spouses and kids of our own. Our Thanksgiving tradition was morphing to accommodate our current statuses. Soon, other familial obligations took hold– the in-laws wanted to be part of the tradition as well, which prompted us to establish new traditions. Every other year, we’d all eat as a family, but it was those in between years that we missed not being all together. It seemed just not quite right to be giving thanks on a day when we couldn’t be with everyone we were so thankful for.

So, we created a new tradition: family film on Thanksgiving night. No matter where we spent Thanksgiving meal, we’d agreed to commune at a central local to enjoy a film which brought in the new holiday season: Christmas. My children were little when we began it (now in our eleventh year) and new children have been born and have taken there place as the current little ones. The challenge has always been finding something we all will appreciate: big and small, young and old. The underlying premise, a film released on Christmas day. Among them Eight Crazy Nights, Four Christmases, A Christmas Carol, Elf, The Santa Clause 3, How the Grinch Stole Christmas… Now, that my children are nearly all grown, the first question that arises in talking about the holiday season is, “What movie are we seeing this year?” It’s one they research as soon as possible in order to get the seal of approval from the aunts and uncles and cousins; Nonni and Poppy and Marguerite and Clarence always go along with whatever we decide and are simply just happy that their families are all together.

This year our selection is Rise of the Guardians. Just another year, and another film to end Thanksgiving and welcome Christmas with all of the people we are most thankful for.

 

Honey Boo Boo, Move Over!!

Dysfunctionality and all of it’s implications is a state of being I choose to embrace.

 

 

I love my father’s side of the family; I always have. From the time I was little, they were the fun side: the partiers, the drinkers, the laughers. When spending time with the Normans, the Bruchs and the Madsens, I have been able to lose myself from reality for even just a little bit of time. There’s never been a shift in their devotion to one another; never a family squabble that needs working itself out– just a common level of respect and appreciation for the quirkiest bunch of people I’ve even had the pleasure of surrounding myself with.

So it comes as no surprise that when my parents divorced in 1983 that my mother didn’t want to give that up in the settlement too.

Fast forward to 2012. It’s the second, in just the past year. of anniversary parties: milestones.

Last year, it was for my dad’s sister and her husband, married 50 years. It was an upscale, no holds-barred celebration at an Inn in New Hampshire, where years ago my cousin was married (yet, another one of those memorable family celebrations). It felt good catching up with relatives who span the United States. My husband and I were coming off a difficult time in our marriage, and to see the video of photographs of my aunt and uncle over those 50 years prompted me to hold my husbands hand tight and wish away all of the obstacles we’d recently faced and say a silent prayer to be sitting beside one another in 27 more years.

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of my dad’s cousins whom have been like an aunt and uncle to me throughout my life. When I was a teenager and having a tough time getting along with my mom, it was Jan who would talk to me and set me straight. My siblings and I grew up babysitting for John and Jan’s daughters while our parents got together every single Friday night. Sometimes they’d go out, but most times we’d get pizza and the grown-ups would play card games and board games. I suppose it’s the routines of these formative years that has made my fondness of family so strong.

One of the quirkiest traits of this family is their habit of giving tacky gifts. I’m not sure exactly where it started; I’m thinking at my father’s 30th birthday party (when my parents were still a couple). As I recall, my dad was given a drunk photograph of himself & John framed in a toilet seat. The tacky gifts persisted from there. It was expected that the gifts would be saved, modified in some outrageous way and passed on. In fact, at my wedding shower, I was inducted into the tackiness when I was given a ceramic witch with light up marble eyes by Jan and my Aunt Kathy; only, they were a bit ruffled because I actually liked the gift and use it at Halloween as a decoration each year. In fact, each time I’ve received a tacky gift, I find a way to use it– my own contribution to the tackiness of our family.

Last night there were tacky gifts abounding: leis and silly Hawaiian glasses (because John and Jan and my dad and his wife are celebrating their anniversary with a cruise to Hawaii in two days) also boner squash leis. As good sports, they sit at the center of their guests, opening the gifts and wearing each one they are given. Meanwhile, playing in the background is a video of their lives, a chronicle of not only the two of them but all of the people in their lives who have loved them (me and my family included).

As I’m learning, my father is growing very sentimental with age (I’ve even seen him tear up on  a few occasions, something I never witnessed as a child). In the midst of the celebration last night, my father and mother bound across the room to me and my siblings. My father declares, “In three years is the anniversary of our marriage,” something we’d totally brought up earlier– siblings considering the what ifs. “We want a 50th celebration,” he continues. “It doesn’t matter that we didn’t make it 50 years, it’s just celebrating the fact that 50 years ago we were married.” We all laughed, shaking our heads. They skirted off to their respective spouses, and my wheels began to turn.

My parents didn’t always get along so well post divorce. They were both angry and bitter, my father because my mother sought the divorce, and my mother because when she changed her mind my dad was too hurt to give it another try. They had been together since they were fourteen, and I was the reason they married so young. What I loved and admired most about my parents, growing up, is that they were best friends; it was a trait of their marriage that I sought in my own. I think that was the most difficult part of their divorce, though; no one saw it coming, I guess, except my mom who thought it was what she wanted. They had rarely even argued in our presence. So when it became finally clear that there was no chance of them getting back together, we (my siblings and I) went through a monkey-in-the-middle stage. It took my parents about seven years to heal and become part of each others’ lives again– albeit in a different form. Both of them, by that time, had moved on and married other people. I think my wedding, and then the birth of my children, were a catalyst for them finding their way back to one another as friends.

Eventually, we’d have family functions with them together, and, even, go on vacation together. I refused to choose one over the other, so I let them work it out. Going to Disneyworld with my family is something they both wanted to do, and, so, they found their way. What makes it possible is that their spouses fully supported their decisions. And, because my mom still was very close to members of my dad’s extended family, she’d be included in family functions too.

One thing they’d do, without commonality of my family, is attend Cousin’s Weekend, an annual get-together at my aunt & uncle’s home. It made my mom happy to be included again after a brief hiatus from the belonging to the group. Once, they even went on a cruise all together.

My friends and my husband too, are a bit weirded- out that my parents (and their respective spouses) are one big happy family, but I like it. It makes family get-togethers unstressful. And it comforts me the way my parents still look out for and worry about one another; I think it’s really a testament to the kind of relationship they had.

My father knows that if he tells me something, I’m the one to get it done. That’s what makes me think he’s sincere in his idea. So swirling thoughts went through my mind… wouldn’t it be fun or funny, it goes along perfectly with the tackiness of our parties. A reality show! Honey Boo Boo, move aside. If that redneck family can find an audience, surely we can too.

All night we joked, extended family climbing on board. Every aside became an episode. For example, I told Jan she had more pictures in her video of her father than I even owned. My mom piped in, “No, I have all of the photographs of your father. I’ll give them to you.” I replied, “NO. WAIT! That’s another episode. You keep those photos right where they are.”

So, this is how I’m imaging it. The year in the planning of a crazy f’d up family’s, nearly 30 years- divorced couple who are celebrating what would have been their 50th wedding anniversary.

I’d say, that’s quite a pitch! Book it, Mark Burnett!

 

 

 

 

Summer of Repairs

Every time we turn around, something is falling apart.

We began the summer preparing for Tyler’s high school graduation party. Having invited 80 guests, we rented a tent, hired a caterer, I prepared some dishes myself, decorated with balloons and streamers– classy grey, black and white theme– and stood back, ready for the guests to arrive. Only when the guests arrived, so did the gusts of wind, the driving rain and the hail (yes, hail, in the beginning of July). We scurried the guests inside to watch the streamers come undone, the plastic cloths flying off the tables and the balloons sagging to the ground. Once it appeared to break, we bustled outside with a team of beach towels to dry the tables and chairs. As soon as we were done, another driving rain came thundering down. I said, “Fuck it” and thought, what can I do? let it ruin the day? I think not. I placed a dry pile of towels by the door and proceeded with the party.

It’s the first summer with the new boat. One week into summer, we take it out on a cool evening night– Anthony, Alexa and I. Definitely a sweatshirt night, as far as the riding in the cool and constant ocean breeze, we set out for our voyage run on Long Island Sound. This boat is bigger, roomier around the center console with a wider bench for lounging at the bow of the boat. Alexa and I are sharing earbuds, listening to upbeat music, singing to our hearts content on the way out; we can feel the speed and hear the motor humming. The sun begins to set, and we snap pictures to capture the moment, on the way back. And suddenly, the boat stalls. Anthony starts it up, but can’t get past going 7 miles per hour, so what took us 30 minutes to get out, took us considerably longer to get in. We saw SeaTow on three separate occasions coming in– a bad omen, as we put-putted our way back to the dock– the darkness ascending rapidly. At one point, fear set in; it was becoming cold, we were wet from the waves and I imagined us waiting in queue for SeaTow to come get us, shivering, stranded out at sea. I prayed. When we reached the No Wake Zone, the motor seemed to be stuttering more and more and I prayed we’d get into the slip without hitting any other boats. As we turned left into “C” dock, we stalled again, Alexa and I on opposite sides of the boat in ready position in case we were to bump another boat. Anthony tried and tried again to turn over the motor, but nothing… we continued to coast. A man saw we were in distress from the dock and rushed to our dockside. The nose of the boat veered off to the left, bumping the dock, as the man, in waiting, grabbed hold of the back. I held onto the dock, walking it in with my hands as the man pulled. We arrived safely, but our motor was dead– and would remain so for the next three weeks while we waited.

Now, Ryan, is living on the Cape working (his externship) at The Chatham Bars Inn with no car. A good lesson for him, while his brother is home using their shared car to drive to an from work each day. We agreed to a compromise with Ryan, that he could have shared-said car when we come up to the Cape for our vacation in August (since Tyler will have only one week of work left when we come home before he goes off to school). In order to ready their 1999 Ford Escort for the trek to the Cape, we needed to spend some pretty hefty money for a complete overhaul to keep it working, for it wouldn’t even pass emissions in the condition it was in.

Fluke storm #2… tornado warnings, hail, buckets of rain, wind, thunder lightening… (Al Gore is onto something, I’m thinking). In truth, I usually LOVE storms like this (sans tornado warnings). I like to sit outside on my front porch and watch the light show in the sky, never flinching once at the loud claps above. Normally. Well, on this day– the thunder was so loud that it shook my whole house, and the lightening lit up the whole sky. It was so strong, you could almost see it touch the ground. But, instead of seeing it, we felt the ramifications of it when it took out my husband’s work computer and phone, the dog fence and the air conditioning unit.

On two separate occasions, we also had issues with the windless anchor we’d looked so forward to having, a feature in the new boat we didn’t have in the first one. This boat is three feet longer than the first, so it fits more snuggly into the slip. A period of adjusting the navigation in and out of the slip was necessary. At the start of one of our first trips, the stern of our boat swung out, from a strong gust of wind, and stalled simultaneously, causing the top of our motor to get stuck beneath the windless of our across-the-dock-neighbor, thus, making a dent in the top of our motor. Later in the season, our windless ceased working and needed repair.

My husband, not fond of the pool– he goes in it an obligatory one time per summer– perhaps because he is the primary care taker. He cusses it from Memorial Day until Labor Day. So, of course, as Murphy’s Law would have it, this summer, the pool filter is on the fritz. And because he is the handy man that he is– of course, he insists on trying to fix it about umpteen times (since we’d had the pool guy out earlier to fix a leak in the pool, which he informed us the “fix” would be temporary, getting us through the summer, but we’d need to replace the lining next summer in order to fully repair the leak). Finally, he had to give in and make a phone call, and the pool filter is finally running like a charm.

I don’t recall a season of so many repairs. Perhaps it’s where we are in our lives, and the status of our “things” and I keep reminding us that they are only “things”.  I am reminded of our family motto: