Monday, May 25, 2009

Thank You

The terrain looks different to her. It had been many years since she had been there last and now, on this day,those memories were dreamlike. " I know that it was near the Vollenweiders.." and then her thoughts trail off as she sees trees that have grown,the new markers that have been placed. This was the last grave we were to visit on our cemetery tour on this Memorial Day. The last memories my Mother-in-law wanted to honor. But she could not remember where the headstone-- where the remains of her sister-in-law were laid in this vast cemetery in Northern Iowa.

" I think it was in this area, all of the Vollenweiders are here.I know it was near here." I could see that she was getting worn down after a long day, but she had flowers and they were going to be placed. We had them in our car for the 5 hour drive. She had carefully counted the bouquets and floral markers days before we left our home, assuring herself that she had enough. She had brought tools to clear off headstones. Visiting, cleaning,and decorating graves is what we had done all day. We had to find Carol's and do what we came here to do.

This tradition, the cemetery visits and decoration that accompanied them was new to me when I entered this family. Sure, my family visited the graves of our family members but never with this organization, never with this sense of mission.

During the years where we were not near the resting places of his family members, Brian liked to spend Memorial Day at any nearby cemetery. It was peaceful for us as we walked and looked at the graves of people we had not known.We would look at the names and put them with ours, planning for the children we would have. We would stop at those that displayed flags or military insignias. We would say a prayer for their families and Brian would say outloud " Thank you Robert." " Thank you, Frank". Thank you to any that we encountered. It was a very sweet way to commemorate and remember, but not a personal one. It was an exciting day planning our futures as we thanked people we had not know from the past.

Once we moved to Kansas City and Brian's Father, then Step-father passed away and were buried nearby, we would go to one or the others grave on Memorial Day. We would take the kids around the cemetery and continue the Walk of Thanks that we had begun years ago.

This trip was my first in the nearly 18 years we have been married that we visited the graves of more than one family member. I say " we" but Brian was not with us. It was his mother, our daughter and myself. Today we also picked up an elderly, but not aged, woman who is a lifelong friend of my Mother-in-laws. In addition to our family members we were also going to be stopping at the graves of her family members. Her husband and two sons who have passed before her. This was not a day for sarcasm, or wit. It was a day to allow these women to share their memories in the town they had both lived in for many many years. The town where they had raised their children. Where they had experienced firsts and lasts and everything in between.

We had used the two rolls of film we had brought, stopped an bought a third, filled up an hours worth of camcording and were tired. It was odd for me being with these two women. Yes, I am a 46 yr old grown woman with children of my own, but I was a kid the group. A kid sitting next to my kid in the back seat. Bekah and I were on equal footing as we snapped pictures, captured video, hauled tools, listened and asked questions as the two senior women told the tales and showed us the sights.That was the job of the kids in the backseat and we were determined to do it with grace dignity and nary a booger joke.

As I walked the aisles searching each headstone for Carol's name I felt bad for the children of my Mother-in-law who were not here to live this day with her. Originally I felt as if I were the only one willing to make the trip... but, after today, I realize that I was the only one fortunate enough to make the trip. It wasn't life changing for me, but seeing the look on my Mother-in-laws face when I said " I found her! Here she is! I found Carol! " was life affirming for me.

As we walked back to the car where the most senior member of our group sat waiting we listened to the love that my daughters grandmother had for Carol who passed away almost 30 years ago. I know I learned something this day. As I watched my 12 year old hug her grandmother as she let a few tears roll down her face, I know that the day was life changing and life affirming for Bekah as well.

I thank you Mother-in-law for inviting me on this trip, I thank you Marion for allowing me into your life. I thank you Bekah for not giving in to adolescent temptation to be too cool for this type of activity but to soak it all in and roll with it. I thank all who had flags waving and the families that honored them today. I thank you Bob and Grace, and Earl, and Florence,and Robert and Francis and Carol for all that you have done for this family. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Well, that didn't take long...

There are always hints to our future if we know where to look. Usually when we get our 20 / 20 Hindsight Glasses on, the hints glare at us. Maybe it is seeing habits in your husband that your Dad possessed. Maybe it is seeing your Mom in the mirror. Maybe it beams at you when you ground your teen for doing exactly the same thing you did at her age.

Maybe it is reading your blog from just a few days ago when you thought you had your summer mapped out.

"Life got in the way of our annual vacation"

"But if all goes well, in a couple of months I will hit the road with the two most important woman in my life, and my first and second born children. "

Once again LIFE has gotten in the way of our vacation. The trip that we thought we had planned out so well -- the DONE DEAL with my MIL and my Mom is not going to happen. The reasons are not important. I can't play the blame game, I won't. I'm tired of it. I lose the blame game each time because I twist the reality and end up blaming myself. I started to do that yesterday when I said "I should have seen this coming," I told my friend " it's all my fault for getting excited so far in advance.

I am still taking blame. I should KNOW by now that my life doesn't work out on Plan A. What usually happens to me is somewhere down the alphabet . Plan Q. Plan T. Right now our vacation is at Plan W. I'm running out of alphabet.

Usually I am OK on Plan Q. I actually PLAN for Plan Q. I know that things aren't going to go according to Plan A so I have my life Jogging Gear and Heart Protection Armor on. I can be levelheaded as I zig and zag with the plan changes . I don't let it get to me, I know that is life and that eventually it will all work out for the best. Just keep doing the zig zag jog.

But I wasn't dressed appropriately for this one and I ended up not being ready for what happened. When LIFE GOT IN THE WAY again it took me down. Literally. I was in tears . Nobody was dead, injured or facing a major life challenge-- but I was laying on the bed sobbing like a heartbroken teenager.

But I have gotten back up, gotten my Armor and Gear on and am zig and zagging. I am trying to salvage the dream.

I know that I can not take the unpleasant memories that my kids have from recent summers away. I know that I can not create future good memories. But I do know that I am smart and strong enough to set up a situation where my family and I can be in place for future pleasant summer memories. Just like my parents did for me when I was a kid. They didn't create the memories. They don't even share the exact ones my brothers and I have. Their memories are of the zig and zag they did with what life threw at them. My treasured memories are of the car trip across the USA. The summers at the shore. The times at my grandparents cottage with my cousins. These 20/20 Hindsight Glasses ROCK!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Road TRIP!!!!

Noah was so excited to get the bag of Hand-me-downs that I had stored in his closet. He is getting old enough to remember Luke wearing these clothes, or at least have seen pictures of him in them. It makes Noah feel like one of the ‘tweens when he proudly wears them.

He is drawn to a lime green t-shirt with an alphabet of things aquarium: Aquarist to zebra shark. He must have seen pictures of both Luke and Bekah wearing this shirt. I had picked it up for Bekah when she was 4 and we were in Connecticut at the Mystic Aquarium.

I am from Connecticut, born and bred. I am proud of my New England heritage, especially living in the Mid West. It’s great here, a wonderful place to raise children . I have been a Midwesterner since Brian and I wed in 1991. But if you ask me where I am from, where I feel at home, I will say New England.

When my first two were young we traveled back there every summer. By the age of 3 both of my kids were experienced travelers due to these East Coast pilgrimages of mine. At one point, I was taking one child for a week, leaving the other with Daddy and Grandma here in Kansas City . I would leave my clothes at my parents home, take the child back to KC, and fly back the next day with the other for another week. It sounds crazy, but it was 4 round trip airfares, the same price as if our family of 4 traveled to CT. The kids had time alone with not only me, but with my birth family, extended family and family like friends on the East Coast.

Brian is not from New England. He is a Midwest guy. He and the ocean are not one. He doesn’t crave lobster and has never been to a Clam Bake. Going to visit my parents one bathroom, un air-conditioned Victorian home wasn’t a vacation for him. He only went when he had to. I would spend my time with my parents and brothers feeling drawn between having fun with them and making sure Brian was having a good time. Taking the kids by myself worked out best for everyone.

The summer we went to the Mystic Aquarium I had taken both kids for the same time. 2 full weeks at my parents house. Bekah was 4, Luke was almost 3. Bekah was very excited to go to the aquarium, She had heard great things about it, and wanted to see all the creatures. After what felt like a long day spent in just a a few hours of preparing, travel, and lunch we finally paid our admission and walked through the gates. Greeting us was a 12 foot high glass pool containing the sea creatures that were the big draw: Beluga whales. She had heard the song, seen the pictures-- heck , we had past a poster advertising them as we waited in line a few minutes ago. What she was not prepared for was the size and the closeness of them.

I was concentrating on herding a wild 3 yr old, not paying attention to the independent 4 yr old walking with my mother. The 4 yr old who first froze in freight, then took off in flight when she spotted the whales right in front of her and staring back . Right out the entrance and into the parking lot she went , screaming at the top of her lungs and running for her life.

I’m not sure how I passed Luke off to my mother as I tore off after Bekah. I can not recall how I got her calmed down. I have zero recollection of the words that it took to get her to go back . Maybe she was smart enough to read between the lines of my “ Darling, we need to go back in, Luke and Grandma M’am need us” to hear “ get you fanny back in there!! I just paid 25 bucks for you to see all the creatures of the sea and damnit, you will!” But, back in she went. mustering courage she got close up to the Belugas and all the other marine life. She loved it and she picked out the t-shirt to remember the day.

And now, I pass this shirt down to Noah. But he does not possess the memories of where it came from. Noah has never been to Connecticut. He has never been out of the Kansas City Metro area. Life got in the way of our annual vacation. We have not been back to New England since that trip. 4 year old Bekah is turning 13 this September. The wild 3- year old Luke will be 11 in a few weeks.

Not back ...until this summer. Right now, my dear Mother-in-law has agreed to undertake a road trip to my home turf with me and my older two children. My mother will be flying out to make the trip with us. 3 women and 2 Tweens. Noah will stay with Daddy. One day he will have his turn, but this trip is for those of us who do not require carseats or constant entertainment.

We are still in the planning stages. Still contemplating our route. Still wondering what life might throw at us to make the trip just a dream.

But if all goes well, in a couple of months I will hit the road with the two most important woman in my life, and my first and second born children. Daddy, who does not like to travel, will stay home and take care of the dogs and have one on one time with the Tiny Tot. If all goes as planned all of us should have the summer vacation that we dream of. Maybe we will bring Noah back a new T-shirt.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother Of All Days

Today is Mothers Day. To all reading who are Moms I truly hope that you are feeling special and appreciated and loved today. I am. While my special gift of double chai spice wasn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea , I loved it because I knew that they scoured the grocery store just yesterday thinking of me as they walked the aisles. I can only imagine how the conversation went:

“ Coco-puffs? She likes chocolate..?”

* Slug* Smack* “ You idiot, she has DIABETES ( yelled)she can’t eat that much sugar! Do you want to KILL her??! How about these bran flakes?”

* slug smack punch* MORON ! That’ll make her poop too much! Let’s go to the next aisle….maybe we can get her a dog toy?”

“ * slug smack punch push* “ Doofus! We don’t have a dog!.. Hey, we don’t.. but we could…… DAAAAAD ( who is three aisles over looking at tea bags and pretending he doesn’t know them) CAN WE GET A DOG?? MOM WILL LOVE IT!! I’ll WALK IT EVERDAY!!!! DAAAAD???? DAAAADDD!!!! ????”

Of course the best part of that gift was that I didn’t have to be there when they bought it.

I also received a beach towel with a flamingo print from my Mother in law. I collect flamingos. Don’t’ ask me why, I couldn’t tell you although I can trace it back to a college road trip to Cape Cod with my Sisterlike Friend, Debbie. We stopped at a tourist trap and each bought lawn flamingos for our dorm rooms. To this day we exchange flamingo themed gifts at birthdays.

Mother in law received cash from us. Another gift that, on the surface, seems a bit cold,. But it was for something that she had seen in an antique store when on a recent trip. She didn’t buy it then, but thought about it and once she got home called her friend who lived nearby to go back and get it for her. She didn’t feel the expenditure was necessary, but she fell in love with the item. She talked about it to both Brian and I separately and we are happy to help pay for it so that she can have it. You want to know what it is, don’t you? But, if I tell you, it will just sound odd. I can’t tell you the whole backstory, only she can, but she felt drawn to it. Who am I to judge her? I am drawn to lawn flamingos. Ok, I’ll tell you. It was a mannequin. Don’t judge! The backstory is very interesting. If you ever have the privilege of meeting my Mother in Law maybe you can ask her.

The gift for my own mother was a phone call. I know, really harsh and cheap. But this is the woman who INSISTED that Mothers Day was a Hallmark Holiday. She accepted our gifts, and the fuss we made over her on Mothers Day, but she repeated over and over again how every day should be Mothers Day. Yes, one of THOSE women. I can’t relate. I grab all the celebrating I can because I KNOW that while I am a Mother every day, everyday is NOT Mothers Day. Maybe everyday is Mother*******s day… but not the flowers, brunch and sweet card day that today is.

While talking with her we planned a trip together this summer. THAT will be her gift. Time that she ordinarily does not have with me and her grandchildren. Special memories for all involved that we will treasure for a long time.

Right now it is just after 4 PM. WE have been to church together ( all of us, Mother in law included). Mother in Law came to the Senior High Sunday school class that Brian and I teach. In the 17 years we have been doing it, this is the first time Brian has invited her to attend. The kids in the class would not open up if she was in there for a regular Sunday. She understood that, but this year Brian tailored a lesson around her presence. This was also part of her gift from us.

When people say it’s the thought that counts in a gift, this is what they mean. The THOUGHT behind the gifts is the true story of the love of the giver. The amusing trip to the grocery store to get the weird brand of tea that not every store carries, but my family knows is my favorite. The mannequin that will sit on a shelf in My Mother In Laws house and bring a smile to her face. The phone call to let her know that I love her, am thinking of her and planning to make shared experiences and special memories. The flamingo towel that nobody else will use at the pool because it is boldly obvious it belongs to me. Mostly the greatest gift behind these tokens of affection is knowing that the giver KNOWS us. That they know what will touch our hearts. It’s not about dazzling each other with expenditure, it is about dazzling each other by saying “ I know you so well, and love you because of it.”

To all my Mommy Friends, I wish you a very wonderful Mother's Day.