Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Aunt Dolly

The Amadios to me have always been Aunt Dolly, Uncle Paul and my cousins, Sabina and Daniel (Sorry Dan, deep down you'll always be Daniel). We are not technically relatives, but I challenge any of you who tell me this is not my family. They have been a part of my life from day one and in my parents' lives before I was even a possibility.

A couple of years ago, I saw a quote - "Friends are the family you choose." And that could not be more true of our two families. Sometimes I believe that bond is even deeper because these are the people you work to keep in your lives. Example: How many of us have family members who show up at holidays simply because they have to and they feel obligated. With your chosen family, you're all there because you want to be. I'm insanely lucky the Amadios chose us and my parents chose them. They've stood beside us through so much. I can't imagine my life without them, I know I wouldn't be the same person I am right now.

Since I mentioned luck, I know that I am extremely lucky all four of them are as patient as they have been to put up with me for my first handful of years being an only child and truly acting like it(or maybe they just loved my mom and dad enough to look past it?). Little Johnene was not an easy kid to like. I've heard that I bit, hit, threw tantrums, threw shoes (on the Turnpike, I believe?) and most famously threw sawdust...

In Dan's eyes...

Still feel the need to apologize for that one...

Again, sorry Dan...

(But I also helped him expand his vocabulary! I instigated and was the aim of Dan's first swear word - for those who have heard the story, I am the 2-year-old "asshole" of legend - though I believe it was pronounced 'ath-ole' at the time.)

And yet, for all the terrible things I did to their own children, they loved me. And when they met my husband, they loved him and his family. And when we had our kids, they loved them, too. The love Dolly and Paul have given us is unmeasurable. I don't know how the world didn't stop rotating, for just a split second even, when Dolly left us last Thursday. Because in our world, we all felt the shift.

Thursday April 12th was a gorgeous morning here, sunny and bright blue skies. And all of the sudden the blackest cloud rolled over, so black I'd gone to the window to see what was happening. 30 seconds later, the phone rang with crushing news. The world didn't look the same as it did a minute ago. Aunt Dolly saying brace yourself. Things are changing.

I have a million memories of our times with Dolly, Paul and the kids. Where to start sharing is the real challenge. They will all make us laugh or cry, but each will cause a shake of the head because I still don't believe I am writing these in memoriam.

For the past 20 years, Dolly and Paul spent many Augusts here in Washington fishing and sightseeing with my family. The sights and stories that have accumulated over the years are extraordinary and could fill a book. But no one would appreciate them like the four of them (and their kids) have.

One particular trip ended up being a little longer and more eventful than anyone planned when Paul suffered a heart attack while on a fishing trip in the San Juan Islands. Just step back for a moment to imagine this scenario - 3,000 miles from home and disaster strikes. Dolly was strength personified. There have been several times I've thought of that and wondered how she did what she did with the poise and relative calm she did it with. Her world crashed and she was nowhere near her comfort zone. Unbelievable. But as the years pass and I get older with my own family, I know and appreciate it even more. Everything Aunt Dolly did was out of love. And when you love someone as deeply as those two love one another and their family, performing extreme feats of bravery and selflessness are second nature. It is something I aspire to - when the chips are down, I will be a rock like my Aunt Dolly.

Now, speaking of chips...

Aunt Dolly loved her some casinos, but I bet she rarely visited one without a little gift shopping, too. And that leads me to one of the things I loved the most about her.

Every once in a while, probably a couple of times a year, my parents would call to let us know there was a package at their house from Dolly and Paul. We'd show up and there would be a book, a piece of jewelry from Florida, a magnet from Maine, a t-shirt from the shore, a calendar, something. The best was for my daughter's 4th birthday when my mom showed up with a giant box from Aunt Dolly and Uncle Paul. When she opened it, it was a full-blown, tip-to-tail Cinderella dress. With all the fixins'. I have a picture of my little girl seeing that dress for the first time. Whenever I look at it, I know what pure joy looks like. It's a moment they weren't in the room for, but every time she pranced around the house in it, or tried sporting it with rubber boots to the grocery store, or danced circles in the living room with her dad, Dolly and Paul were here. The story was they'd found it while out shopping and there was no way it wasn't coming home with them for Maddie. And they were right, it was perfection.

It wasn't the grand gift, but the little things that let us know. It's that no matter how far apart we were, how long it had been in between visits, where we were in our lives, where Dolly and Paul were in theirs, wherever they went, they took us with them. I was with her in that gift shop when she bought that funny magnet. Maddie was with her when she bought the necklace in Florida. Parker was with her there, too when she found the 'Pirate's Life' shirt he didn't take off for 3 years, Eric was in that bookstore... I know for my parents, it was even more so. Everywhere Dolly went, she took that love with her and shared it with us.

Now Aunt Dolly, I will carry you and I will share my stories with Nina when she is older and I will see you in Sabina and Dan and I will remember the way Uncle Paul called you Migdalia when he'd tell stories about you. You and your lighthouses.

I never thought about what those would come to mean to me in your absence, I never thought of your absence ever. You and our memories of you shine in all of us and your love will be remembered. Not just in the big gestures, but in the little ones in that small moment when we let someone know - we are apart, but I love you and I carry you with me.

I love you, Aunt Dolly.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Love Letter To Our Boy.

While I was pregnant I read your name in a book and before I saw your face, held your hands or heard your voice, I knew that was who you were. Never a doubt. You are a 'protector of the park' and the hearts of those you love, a fierce competitor and more fierce friend.

You wear your heart on your sleeve in good times and in bad. You love without abandon and it makes others want to love you more. I know that isn't always the "coolest" way to act at your age, but it doesn't bother you to hug us or say I love you. Dad and I are so grateful for you.

Yesterday, you gave us a gift that your Dad and I will forever be thankful for.

The first time you walked onto a tee ball field with a uniform on at 3 years old, we saw your path open up for you. From that day on, you worked hard to get to the next level, always pushing a little harder for that extra step. You made a big leap this year on your regular season team. As the only 9 year old pulled up to the older age bracket, you did well. We were so proud. You struggled on the personal side a little - there's a big difference between 9 and 12 and unfortunately, it showed on the field sometimes. But you fought through. Proud.

When you turned 9, one of the first things you said on your birthday was, "I'm finally eligible for All-Stars!" You got 3 games in your first run. You started with a loss, came back, pitched an AMAZING 2nd game. We have pictures of your team pig-piling on you after you closed out the first inning with a knuckle ball that had the batter so out front, he could have swung twice.

Then there was today. You had to play the other 9/10 team from NK. Brutal that you and your friends were put in the spot that you would have to put each other out. Your team was down for most of the game, but then we got to the 6th inning.

You were incredible.

I was shaking.

You made me so proud, I will never forget those moments.

Two down, down by 3, bases loaded - and you came up to bat. Parker, you smoked a 3-run double out to right center to tie the game. Then you managed to come around and steal home for the go-ahead run.

I've always tried to keep perspective, but I, and any of the parents around me, can tell you - my hands were shaking like a leaf. I wanted this so badly for you, because I know you've been waiting for this opportunity from the minute you picked up a baseball. You got to that moment - "2 down, bases loaded..." and you stepped up and made that magical thing happen. YOU did it.

Proud. More than you know.

Things went badly after that and your team did not end up with the win. Of course, you shed a tear. But you know what, so did your Dad. And that was okay. Because you gave your heart and you left EVERYTHING on the field. I hope there will not be a moment that you look back and do a 'what-if'. You will have plenty more opportunities. I know that you can and will make the most of it.

You commented to me later that you've never seen Dad cry before. He was sad for you. But he shed a tear because you gave so much heart and weren't able to make that win happen. You gave your Dad and me a gift that day. There are not many moments that we get to cry tears of joy and pride in our lives. That was one of them.

Daddy and I will carry that memory in our heart for a very long time. You showed us what you were made of at that moment. And it is something we are VERY proud of.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Advice From Cellblock 98370

Before they were born, I remember floating around in a pregnancy-induced bliss (must've been 2nd trimester), creatively imagining names for our impending children.

I wrote out the options in swirly script, I stenciled them on nursery walls, mocked up birth announcements - "Johnene and Eric can hardly contain the love they feel and must herald along with the angels the arrival of..."

Anyway... our beautiful girl was given the equally beautiful name Maddie Joy and was quickly followed by her adorable, but masculine brother, Parker John. Lovely names, the first literally the emotion we felt toward, well, both the children and the second, an adoring tribute to the many Johns (and Johnenes) on my side of the family tree. Well done us. Maybe.

In hindsight,

after a two weeks of summer vacation,

and two preteens,

I would take a different approach.

Allow me to explain.

Growing up, my brother *lovingly* coined the phrase "Prison Voice" to describe the change that occurred to our mother's voice when she was angry. (As in, "Watch out, Mom's using the Prison Voice. You may want to have dinner at a friend's house.") Not so much a tone, but a growl. As teens and young adults, we belittled it into ineffectiveness.

With 11.5 years of parenting and the aforementioned 2 weeks of summer vacation under my belt, I feel I may have undersold the Prison Voice. It may legitimately have a place in every mother's repertoire. I have used it this week and subsequently have realized it is very hard to growl the name Joy. Hmmm. Who'da thought?

But to all you parents-to-be, I would strongly suggest finding your own Prison Voice long before you stencil that name on the wall and give the moniker a test run in that way. Trust me, no matter what marshmallowy bliss cloud you are floating on right now, that is the way you will repeat that name the most.

Monday, June 27, 2011

One Night (and then more the next day...)

I had a one-night stand this week. And I liked it. A lot.

Maybe it was the warm summer night, the lights on the river, the lovely hotel with it's cucumber-infused cocktails, I can't really say, but I know I woke up the next morning wanting more. And I got it.

I was treated with long walks, art museums, friendly smiles, delicious food, crisp wine from local vintners, farmer's markets further set the scene - overflowing with delectable fruits, vegetables and flowers.

I left, reluctantly, with a big, ol' crush... On Portland.

Just one night was all I had, while Eric worked beginning early and through the next day.

The trip itself was entirely unplanned. I had even threatened to back out at the last minute because Eric was getting on my nerves and I didn't want to spend 3 hours in the car with him. But he called me Wingman (which always gets me) and turned on some really good music (can't resist). Plus, the kids were already with my parents... Okay. Fine. Let's go.

We got into the city late, enjoyed the aforementioned cucumber cocktails, I slept late, Googled some must-sees and headed out. About 2 hours into my Portland Art Museum-induced bliss, I realized what was happening to me was totally organic and probably unable to be duplicated. These hours spent carelessly wandering the city and it's art would never happen with the fam in tow. N.E.V.E.R! It would be tainted with sprinklings of "My feet hurt", "I'm hungry" and "How much loooongerrrrr?" But with E in an all-day meeting and the kids across the state line, I indulged in all those things that would make the rest of my family "soooo buh-huh-huh-ooored." (Bored - say it phonetically like an 11-year old girl, bounce on the balls of your feet, let your arms drape, head thrown back and eyes rolling. Get it now?)

And so it happened, just one night. But it was really the next day that consummated the love affair. Before it could happen again, I pointed the car north as my arugula wilted in the trunk. But I will be back. Oh yes. I will be back.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tina Fey's Prayer for her Daughter from "Bossypants"

I love Tina Fey. Love her. And in the spirit of my last blog post, I am simply re-posting this bit of hilarious brilliance because again, it makes me laugh and it somehow fits. This spoken by the mother who was so mad at my 11-year-old yesterday that I thought it would beautifully make my point to give her the silent treatment for the day in front of her friend. By the way, neither noticed. They just thought I was being a bitch. Enjoy.

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the the Beauty.

When the Crystal Meth is offered,
May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half
And stick with Beer.

Guide her, protect her
When crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the nearby subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock N’ Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance.
Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes
And not have to wear high heels.
What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You because if I knew, I’d be doing it, Youdammit.

May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a Rough Patch from twelve to seventeen.
Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long,
For Childhood is short -- a Tiger Flower blooming
Magenta for one day --
And Adulthood is long and Dry-Humping in Cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever,
That she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers
And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister,
Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends,
For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord,
That I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 a.m., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back.
“My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck.
“My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental note to call me. And she will forget.

But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Against and Alongside"

A friend sent this along in an email today and it truly couldn't have been better timing - although, it's made me cry for the last 1/2 hour...

Today was the day Maddie got to tour the Middle School she will be attending next year. The impending 6th grade transition has hung over our horizon all year, often becoming the subject of so many of our conversations. She has talked about it for the last nine months with such excitement, I didn't expect this morning to go as it did.

As I went about making lunches, Maddie reminded me that she didn't need one today, as it was the day of the tour and she would like to buy lunch there to see the routine. But then she added, "You're coming, aren't you?"

Momentarily stunned by the invitation (I've moved from "Mama" to mostly "Moooooom!" nowadays), I said that if she wanted me, of course, I would be there! And she did, so I was.

Walking into the auditorium, I was again shocked to see her waving me over and asking to sit with her. I pushed in front of another group of kids so quickly, those brats didn't have a chance to take the seat she was saving for me.

I watched her try to balance her nerves and her cool as I did the same. Tried to blend, but also made sure the questions I knew she had were answered. The handful of kids she knows up there were extremely gracious and went out of their way to make her feel welcome. Something as a mom, I was beyond grateful for.

It was a good morning for us. She even kissed me goodbye!

But then I got home to this essay below. Thank you, Angela. I wish I knew who the author was! It captures so many things that are so timely in our home and in my mind recently. There is a balance we are all striving to achieve, there are days like today and there are days, well, like yesterday, but that's another story... Motherhood is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me, and sometimes, it takes someone else to find the words you can't.
"I began as the mother of babes.

And I mean that, for I was born then, too.
All of the me that had begun,
The wonderings and wanderings of my first three decades,
Melted away in the faces of those new babies
And I was born anew.

I spent the next decade tending.
And tending, I did well. It was my thing, apparently.

I grew into it, and I loved every minute.
You know that to be a gentle lie.
There were quite a few minutes of awful. Of anguish, even.
And so much comedy, uncertainty, dishevelment.
You know.

But now...
Some of my babes are almost grown.
Do not kid yourself about how quickly that happens.
Do not kid yourself and do not miss a second wishing those
Wonderfully intense, delicious early years away.

For it happens even as you are watching them.
They grow.

And as much as you need to lose yourself to care for those newborn babes, those littles-
When they have grown to your size almost-when their feet may be as big!-
It is then that you need to find yourself again.
You need to grow.

For then, as they come upon ten; at twelve maybe...fourteen certainly;
Then you must find yourself in order to know how to guide them. You must be the you
That you want to be,
So that the you they are growing up against and alongside, is the you that you want them to know.

For here's the thing:

In the end,
What you want for them most of all is to leave you.
To leave your house to become who they will be.
And when they are gone
Who do you want to be left with?

My wish is that my own answer
Is the me that was born out of mothering them.
And the man that's loved me all along the way."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Little Faces.

I was the very happy recipient of a new computer for Mother's Day this year. It's arrival has caused me to go through several of the files I've had locked away on a hard drive. Those that struck me the most were the pictures. Thousands of split second moments that we've captured over the years. Several forgotten, at the time not deemed album-worthy, but when I look at them now, I just want to stare at those faces that I've gotten so used to seeing, I don't always realize how quickly time has changed them.

When did the kids grow up? I swear it wasn't that long ago that there were two bodies wedged between us in the bed and the smell of baby lotion on everything I touched. When was the last time I watched Elmo? There was a time when I never traveled without something with his image on it. He was truly my best wingman for several years. Many things got done under his furry, red watch. The potty training, the first days of school, lost teeth. Now it's nail polish, boys, girls, school, sports...

Wow. That went by fast.

I loved those days (maybe not EVERY one, but in general...) but am also loving to see the kids get older. I appreciate their sense of humor. It's wonderful to have a full conversation with them. I love seeing the friends and relationships they've developed. I hope they will be lucky enough to maintain some of them as they get older. It's a gift to be able to sit down to coffee with a friend who's known you since you were 12, or even better, wake up next to one.

While I miss those little faces in the photos, I so love the ones that greet me after a day a school, or an evening on the ball field. Motherhood has been a speedy ride, but I am glad to be on it.