November 28, 2012

Grateful for the Passing of Time

It's been a busy, crazy, intense, sad and joyous 5 months since I last posted here. As a 'blogger,' one isn't supposed to draw reference to the fact that she hasn't posted in a while, but it's part of a  larger theme, so roll with me.

On June 28th, my life was so different, yet still so much the same. My Dad was alive and I was beginning a new adventure in my life. I'm still enjoying my new adventure, I am nearing my 40somethingth birthday, preparing to register my daughter for high school, and my dear Dad passed away. Time keeps moving on. Some days she flies on by, and others she drags her pokey self through each and every hour.

There is such beauty in the passage of time, such grace, so much awe. We know life can change in an instant. We are aware of the intensity of that possibility - but what about the awareness of life changing moment by moment, breath by breath, day by day and so on? For years I've allowed myself the gift of enjoying the present moment and taking time for stillness. It's an ongoing process, as there are days when I'm so unenlightened and ready for the day to be over, I head up to bed as soon as the last dish from dinner is dried. For the most part though, I have a deep respect for the here and now.

The feeling of Now really seeped in to my consciousness right after my Dad died and the month that followed. While it was a time of deep sadness, it was also a time of reflection, wonder and dare I say joy. Joy because of the wonder that is life and death. Joy that I know my Dad is at rest, or in a better place or on a new journey, or whatever it may be called - I know, so deeply, that he is with me. Whenever I want him, he's here. And in that glorious month, I wanted him daily. I woke with him, saw him on and off throughout the day, and said goodnight before I settled in to watch The Daily Show.  I think the reason I felt so close to him during that time is because I was allowed to be still - to shut off from the rest of the world to take care of only what really mattered at the moment: grieving, my husband, my kids, my mom, my brothers, getting dinner on the table and maybe doing some laundry. Society allows us this time to be flakey, not return phone calls, miss meetings and be still, if we choose.

I am so fortunate to have friends, family and a community that embraced me and allowed my stillness. I want it back. I want you all to have it too! And, no, I don't want you to have it at the expense of a loss or some other tragedy. I want the quiet and peace that comes with some sort of self imposed shut down of what really matters. I think there is a way to get this back, even though we have to load the dishwasher and go to work and go to parent/teacher conferences and deal with the crazy road rage guy in the Honda. It will take effort to find the peace and dwell in it - but I do know it's possible. It all comes down to balance, and I lack that most days...

The best way to move toward this place, this peace, is to embrace Now. Each moment, every moment. When you're typing, type! When you're stirring the risotto, stir and when you're listening to your son go on and on about the Bears, listen (challenge point for me!) This is the start to finding the space to be still. I am not a guru, I am not a preacher, I am not a religious gal. All I know is what works for me. Stillness works. It's hard to get there, but when I do it works. And if it works for me, I gotta share the love.

June 28, 2012

summer obsessions 2012

I love being obsessed. Whether it be a new song, a food, a product or an activity, I love the way a new obsession takes over my whole being, starting in my head and ending with my blathering on about it to my friends, family and anyone who will listen. My soon to be 13 year old let me know quite frankly, "Mom, you are ALWAYS (eye roll) obsessed with something." Before I could even deny it, I paused and said, you know, you're right! But this isn't a bad thing. Especially this summer, when I am obsessed with many things healthy, except for a few things on the naughty side. Below is my list - I encourage you to join my obsessive nature and give me a holler so we can go on and on and on about them....

Gillian O'Malley Modal Thong Underwear for workouts. I am obsessed. These panties are thin, lightweight and inexpensive. They fit well, and you can't feel them during your most grueling workouts. They are very plain jane, so I wouldn't recommend them for a night out on the town or with your guy, but for your yoga practice or barre workout, these are go to undies.

Zico Coconut Water. DELICIOUS and delightful!!  At 60 calories for a 14 oz bottle, this yummy drink refreshes and hydrates me immediately. I love to drink water, but sometimes I need a little more, and Zico does the trick. It has 569mg of potassium, 0 fat and is gluten free. While I drink the natural, they have other flavors like chocolate (You Know Neen's daughter LOVES) and pomegranate. 

Avocados! Yes, they deserve an exclamation point. I began my avocado obsession after I completed a juice cleanse and couldn't get enough of these creamy, filling little suckers. I eat them in the morning sliced with egg whites or for lunch sliced on an open faced turkey sandwich. YUM. I've even eaten them whole, right out of the skin. Gross? Maybe. I'm obsessed.  While they are high in calories, the nutritional value is astounding. From Avocados provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including fiber, potassium, Vitamin E, B-vitamins and folic acid. They also act as a "nutrient booster" by enabling the body to absorb more fat-soluble nutrients, such as alpha and beta-carotene and lutein, in foods that are eaten with the fruit. 

Chobani Yogurt At 14 grams of protein per 6 oz container - you get a LOT of bang for your buck. I literally raid the grocery store when the raspberry flavor is in stock, as it seems to be missing way to often. Perfect mid afternoon snack when I get my sweet tooth attack!

The Dailey Method  This is truly the best fitness program I've ever participated in. The 60 minute class is designed to help strengthen, tone and lengthen the entire body. The movements are controlled and focused and work each muscle group to fatigue. My favorite aspect of class is that alignment is the main focus, which allows you to really "master" the movement. Active stretching rounds out the work out and your body AND mind are in sync the entire class. I've been doing Dailey Method since January and have noticed significant results, including much better posture!

Motivational Quotes I am obsessed with any motivational quotes I can get my hands on. One or two a day can really change my mood from negative to positive, discouraged to uplifting. I find them everywhere - from books, to Pinterest to blogs. My favorite this month : "Gratitude turns what we have into enough."

Grey Goose and Soda with a Lime  Plain and simple. Delicious and effective. No headaches to speak of, and if you have a few too many and spill - NO STAIN!!!

Adam Levine Do I even need to explain why? I've loved this man since "This Love" and he's only grown more appealing as he's aged and gotten more ink. And now he golfs. I want to have him over for a beer and have him laugh at my jokes, and...Heavy sigh. Mr. You Know Neen won't appreciate this obsession...

Music Obsessions These change weekly sometimes. The following have been hanging on for at least a month or so, and they are on repeat on my iPod....There is no common thread, either. Some are angsty, one is ridiculous in its pop craziness and the others are just plane fabulous. They all own me this summer:

'New York'  Snow Patrol

'Hey Ho' The Lumineers

'Payphone' Maroon Five  (the video is pretty goofy, but I can forgive Adam anything.)

'Call Me Maybe' Carly Rae Jepsen

May 30, 2012

"Did You Love Anyone Before Daddy?"

With head shaking clarity, I remember the questions my children would ask me as toddlers.
"Why do we have to go to the grocery store?"
"Because we need food to eat."
"Because we need to eat to grow and be healthy."
"Because if we don't eat and grow, we become unhealthy."

And the 'why's?" went on and on and on. Or so it seemed. The questions have gotten more complex as the years have marched on and the 'whys' have become more detailed, accompanied with opinions. During toddler days, I longed for the time when I could really talk with my little people.  Well my little people are on the cusp of adolescence and we are, in fact, really talking. And while I'm not cringing at the whys, I'm surely thinking about my answers more carefully because they are paying a LOT of attention to what I have to say.

At dinner last week I sat with my two kids, sans hubs and we noshed over homemade pizza and caesar salad. Don't ask me how or why my youngest started talking about love. But he did. And the questions began....."Mom, how many boyfriends have you had? Were you ever in love before Dad?"

OH COME ON. I pride myself on being so open with my kids. You ask, you'll get. I have one that is an information glutton, and one that only wants to hear the very important facts and that's it. So, I breathe in. And out. And again. And I regroup and ask back "Well, it depends on what you mean by boyfriend. Are we talking about dates or about longer relationships?"

"Both," child.
"Hmm. Okay. Well, I went on lots of dates, which was a lot of fun. I had a high school boyfriend. And a college boyfriend, and then one after that. Then I dated a lot. Then I met Dad. And yes, I've been in love before your Dad," Me.
"REALLY? Mom, you were a player!!!" Child.
"WAIT. No. A player is someone who dates lots of people at the same time. I didn't do that," Me.
"Okay, but how many of those boys did you love?" Child.

In the name of all that's holy, I really didn't think these conversations, these "real talks" with my children would happen so quickly, or be so personal. Those who know me know I love to talk. I do. It's a blessing and a curse. And here I sat with my lovelies, asking about me, me before them, before their Dad. Me, who they never knew. So I dove in carefully. Honestly. Shamelessly. And nervously.

I told them I loved all three of my 'serious' boyfriends as they looked at me wide eyed. I told them, looking back, high school love is so different than college love, or post college love. So, was it love? It was then, but it seems a bit silly to me now, it seemed silly to me when I was in my 20s. But it was real when it was happening. And college? Oh college and dorms, and frat parties and late nights studying and thoughts of the future.... That was a different love, a stronger love and a really fun love. And after college? Real life love but young love? All encompassing possibility love? It was great and powerful, laced again with hope and innocence.

"How can you love someone and then not anymore?" child asked.
"That's such a good question," I answered. I struggle with this myself sometimes. When you spend years with a person and love them deeply, does that emotion ever fully leave you? I think the intensity leaves, and the memories of faded love always linger. And I think that's great.  It gives us strength and perspective and moments of joy and sadness that shape us.

I explained to my kiddos that sometimes, people grow apart in love, and not together. And when you're smart, you know when it's time to say goodbye and hopefully, it's on good terms with your other half.

"So did you get dumped, or did you do the dumping?" Quiet child.
"I dumped and I've been dumped. And before you ask, yes, I cried when I was the breaker upper and when I was broken up with."

They looked at me and giggled and of course wanted to know the who, what and when of each break up, before I was saved by the ringing telephone. On the other end, my truest love, their Dad. After hanging up the phone, I told them both that yes, I loved their Dad the most and that I'm a lucky person to have loved and lost and to have found someone so special, real and lasting and I never doubt that this love, will not end.

Both sets of big brown eyes seemed to relax and smile. They were done with me then, wanting to go off and watch American Ninja Warrior and talk about the latest YouTube videos they're watching. Proud of myself for answering their questions honestly, while hoping I introduced them to who I was before I became Mom, I lingered in my kitchen, clearing the dinner dishes, reflecting on my very lucky life, the wonderful boys I've loved and the one boy that loves me because of it all.

April 4, 2012

Can I Let Go of the Fifty Shades of Guilt?

I've always considered myself fairly liberal, morbidly curious, and caught somewhere between risk adverse and 'go big or go home.' However, when I decided to see what all the fuss was about Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book of  the naughty New York Times best selling book trilogy, I turned about fifty shades of red and felt seventy shades of guilt.

I read three books, via my best friend Kindle in three days time. Shirking my family, sneaking off between dropping kiddos off here and there and making dinner, I was bewitched by sultry Christian Grey and mousy, inexperienced Anastasia Steele.

Why the guilt? Was it the mention of the 'Playroom,' the flogger (OH sheesh) or the shower sex? No, it was none of this, although I learned a lot more about what caning is than I ever needed to know. The guilt didn't even stem from the BDSM, (again, lots o' info I could have gone without.) The guilt stemmed from the fact that I felt like I had to sneak away to read it! I am a grown, confident woman, aren't I?

I told my husband what I was reading and he playfully shook his head at me and wagged his eyebrows. I've even recommended it to some who I think may enjoy the little fantasy ride. But my kids?! I couldn't even look them in the eyes when they asked me what I was reading. I am a mom. Not a secret middle of the day mommy-porn-reader. Am I? NO! Maybe? And you know what, who cares, right? If I can have sex, I can certainly read about it, can't I? So why the guilt? I'm not just a mom. I am a grown woman that enjoyed a naughty escapade of a book. Big deal. I'm a fairly well-read person. I enjoy 'challenging' books just as much as the next gal.

Hmm. I need to reconcile this unnecessary and unwarranted guilt. Until I do,  I won't flaunt my newly archived books around. But I vow I won't sneak around the next time something overtly provocative finds its way onto my Kindle. I'll just change my password so my kids can't find it...

March 4, 2012

Tree of Diamonds

I wrote this years ago, in honor of my grandfather's 100th birthday. He's on my mind today, so I'd like to share him with you. This is a long one. Find a comfy chair if you're interested...
Papa’s would be 100th year snuck up on me like my son does in the wee hours of the night. At first I was shocked and then comfort and warmth settled in as I realized I would live through a tree, four, ’07 of my own. March 3, 2007, that is.
As the date drew nearer by the minute, he held front and center in my mind. Standing at 5’4 and weighing in at 180 pounds, my little Italian grandfather always stood larger than life in my eyes. He held my attention for hours as he sat with me, cards in one hand, Lucky Strike’s in the other teaching me the ins and outs of 7-card stud, 5 card draw and his favorite, in-between. I loved the rapid fire way he dealt the cards and the slow, careful way he told his stories. I loved the smoke swirling above his head and the privilege to be in his company. I loved the way he said the number three.
 “Tree a diamonds to you darlin’,” is all it would take to make me giggle while I held the red card with the prety diamond. It was a quiet giggle, slowly released with respect, for fear he may think I was making fun of him. Each time I asked him why he said tree instead of three; he just looked at me and smiled. And he would then say “Tree, four, ’07, dat’s my birtday.”  
His kitchen table was home to the poker games, family feasts and family fights. A typical Sunday began with my mother, brother and I driving to Adison after a long, boring, meant to inspire church service.  We drove up what seemed then to be a long driveway, and always looked for the loaf of Italian bread defrosting on the window ledge. We inhaled the sweet parade of scents; tomatoes, basil, oregano and garlic as we walked through the kitchen door. The taste of gravy and meatballs was always worth the drive. Upon arriving, we would be starving, and since the pot wasn’t “on yet” Nana would dole out some gravy and bread on a small dish and say “go ahead, but don’t getcherselves too full.” 
Nana stood, wooden spoon in hand, breaking up the tomatoes in the pot or breading chicken ready to be deep fried. My mother put on an old, green apron made from an out of date towel and helped Nana, my brother vanished into the backyard, and I sat down across from Papa at the small, round formica table. 
“Hiya Herman!” was his standard salutation to any and all of us. Rarely, he would stand to greet us with raised hands in mock fighting stance. Not today though.
 “asdf jkl semi-colon,” rolled off his tongue as his sturdy, soft fingers glided across the imaginary typewriter keys. I was too little to know what he was doing, but later in life, in a crowded dorm at 4 am, I understood the value of knowing the keyboard and typing at a quick pace. “asdf jkl semicolon”. His nails were neat, clean and trimmed, although they looked long because of his long nail bed. My mother’s hands are the same, soft, yet heavy, tired but functional. 
I reached for the jar on the microwave cart next to me, and grabbed as many pennies as I could for a round of penny poker. Today, the game was ‘in between’.
“You remember dis one?” he asked.
“Of course. We each put in 10 pennies and then bet on the number in between the two cards laid out.” I looked at him, confident, with a crooked smile.
“Okay, here we go. King and…… a five ‘a spades.”
“I’ll bet two pennies!” I yelped.
“Only two pennies? Fer cryin’ out loud?” He flipped the middle card and it was the nine of hearts. “Dere ya go. Two pennies to you!”
I slid my pennies across the table, gathered them in my pile, then it was his turn, then mine and then his again. 
“Ace and……. A deuce!  Woah Nina. Whaddaya tink I should do?”
“Bet the pot Papa, bet the pot!” I anxiously screamed.
“And….it’s a…..tree! Dere we go, da pot goes to me!” he winked and I laughed and clapped and the game went on while we chatted easily. 
 “You know darlin’, I always liked the short ones,” he said one Sunday in response to my complaint stemming from my 8th grade physical. Dr. Ganchoff told my mother I would never grow past 5’3, (which, by the way, proved true). My Nana was only 4’8, so he smiled as he said this and she rolled her eyes at him.
 “You know, when I would go to the dances at the Aragon , my dance card was always filled,” he said proudly, looking at the mock dance card in his hand, his mock pencil in the other. 
“I saw ‘em across da floor, and I raised my hand,” he demonstrated, pointing his index finger at an invisible girl, then three fingers indicating which dance that girl could have. 
“Then, I would write it on my card, and I was set for da night,” he put down the fictional card and pencil. 
“But, I always liked the short ones Nina, always the short ones.” 
At this, he lit a cigarette, re-opened his newspaper, and I sat staring at the back of the paper feeling quite special, stunted growth and all. I caught him peering at me from his left and caught a quick, mischievous smile. His job completed. 
“You know, yer papa here was quite the man in my time,” he mentioned, as if answering a question. “I was president of the Holy Name Society at Holy Guardian Angel. Holy Guardian was the first Italian parish in Chicago  ya know. All Italians, then some a’ da Irish came. But dey were all right.”
“What did you do there?” I already knew the answer, I just couldn’t help my yearning to hear it over and over again.
“What didn’t I do? Dat’s da question. We held fundraisers to raise money forchurch, we held raffles and picnics and helped priests communicate wit all the parishioners.  Lou, where is that picture?” he called to Nana.
“Which one Pete?,” she answered, clearly annoyed by the interruption.
“Da one wit me and the guys at the dance.” He sighed heavily, exasperated with her as always. Nana disappeared upstairs and just as quickly danced back down and handed him what he wanted.
“Here, ya see.” He showed me, pointing out his friends. Now this, I had not seen. “Who are these ladies papa?” I asked him. 
At this he smirked and laughed his sarcastic ‘I know more than you’ laugh, and Nana howled and cackled, which made me jump as usual. He told me the names of the men in the picture. They were dressed like women. I have no recollection of their names now…
“I don’t get it, why is that funny?” 
“Ah kid, someday you’ll get it…” Someday I’d get it. He always said things like that with the same snide laugh. He knew this frustrated me. I remember once, when we discussed some of my mom’s teenage boyfriends, Papa told me he always thought she’d marry Mickey Brennan, the “mic” from across the street. “Ah, but then we wouldn’t have you now would we?” He said.
“Well, you’d have part of me, the part that was mom,” I said. This made perfect sense to me.
“No,” he smiled. “No, no”. Oooh, that sly, almost arrogant smile really got me frustrated. I didn’t get it and I didn’t like the implication of being wrong. 
“Papa, I wouldn’t be exactly the same, but I would still be here, I would just have a different dad part,” I breathed out. I had to make him understand. Clearly it was me who didn’t understand - the birds and the bees  had yet to descended upon my world.
“No, you wouldn’t Nina. Let’s just leave it at that.” He picked the paper up again and left me with the photo and a feeling I couldn’t quite figure out. He knew I’d forgive him quickly.
I examined the picture carefully. Those men were ugly women, I thought. But Papa was young and handsome and thin, and he had hair. Wow. His eyes were deep set, his suit fit him splendidly, he stood proud with the “women”. As if he knew what I was thinking, he said:
“Not a bad lookin guy eh Herman? I was a looker alright. I used to wear Florsheim shoes, bought all my suits at Turner Brothers, right Lou?” I wondered why he asked her, knowing he wouldn’t get any response. “Yeah, Florsheim. And all da furniture here, it’s all John M. Smyth. All good stuff Nina.”
“Papa, why didn’t you dress up like a girl?”
“Dat wasn’t my ting. I ran it all, so I had to be somewhat respectable. Not a big education, but I did alright.”
I knew he had to leave school as a freshman in high school to go to work and support his mother, two brothers and three sisters.  They were poor, but respectable. And he went to work doing odd jobs like typing for the local newspapers, filling in as a deliver guy where he would literally run documents, letters and even lunch from office to office in the city. This lead him to his career path of truck driving. He only drove locally though, he liked his Chicago roots.
He valued education and talked about its importance any chance he got. That’s why he enjoyed seeing my weekly stash of schoolwork every Sunday. “Gotta go to college kid. Ya get good grades, ya get a good job and a good Italian husband.”
 I remember looking forward to bragging about my school work all week long. One week, I wrote a perfect paper on the making of a sound government, and Mr. Miller presented it to my class as an example of neatness, story content and overall good writing. I handed the “4++ paper” to Papa and watched as he slowly pulled out his reading glasses from their case. He lifted them to his head, secured them over his ears and began to read. I waited, so excited about the forthcoming compliments, imagining the extra game of cards we would play, the stories he would tell about his school experience. 
“What’s dis word?” he asked. I walked over, enthusiastically, ready to help him decipher my writing. 
“Government,” I said. “Government”.
“You spelled it wrong. You forgot da n. It’s not goverment, it’s 
g-o-v-e-r-n-m-e-n-t. How can you get an A+ if you don’t spell da words right.” He set the paper down, a bit carelessly for my taste, and I felt my cheeks turn tomato red.
“Dad, it’s about the content, she got a 4+, come on,” my mother pleaded from the stove.
“A 4+ is a 4+, it means perfect. If you spell it wrong, it ain’t perfect,” he said. And with that, the newspaper opened again, and I sat there, unfazed by my mother’s pat on the shoulder. He was right. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t. I didn’t deserve the 4+.
We didn’t talk much the rest of that visit. I sat next to him, as always, passed the gravy, the salad, and brought him coffee after dinner. I didn’t have anything to say. 
The next Sunday was Easter Sunday. A very big deal in our household, and not because we were celebrating our Lord and Savior rising from the ashes. It was an excuse to eat something other than macaroni and gravy on Sunday. My mother and Nana began cooking on Holy Saturday. We would have lamb (the only time during the year), calzone, ravioli (not macaroni!) and gravy, stuffed artichokes and a delicious little frosted cake shaped like a lamb.
Still not too keen on seeing him, after my non-deserving 4+ was rebuked the week prior, I walked in, kissed him hello, got my “Hiya Herman” and got to work helping my self to some gravy and bread. 
“Sit down dere darlin’,” he said. I sat and he shuffled two steps to the refrigerator, opened it and looked for something. As I was on the other side of the fridge, I watched his hand grip the handle, fingers drumming against it while he looked for whatever it was he needed on the other side. The small Green Bay Packers magnet that today hangs on my fridge sat prominently at the top of the freezer. Once when I asked him why a Chicago man would favor the Packers, he looked at me like he didn’t understand why I didn’t know. “Vince Lombardi? He’s Italian and he was da greatest Coach in da game.”
He rummaged through a few pieces in the fridge and pulled out a clear plastic box that looked like a container for a leftover slice of pie you couldn’t finish from the restaurant. 
“Here, look here,” he said.
“What is it?” I looked at the box curiously and saw some sort of white flower. He sat at the table and said: “It’s an orchid. It’s the official flower of Easter. We used to give em to all the girls. Now, you can tell everyone you gotchyer first orchid from your grandpa.”
“I love it Papa, thank you!” I hugged him hard. “What do I do with it?” 
“You wear it, geez,” he said, playfully exasperated. He gently pulled the orchid out of the plastic container. It smelled like fresh air and crisp water. It was white, surrounded with babies’ breath. He reached for my hand, slid the wristband of the corsage over my clumsy fingers and onto my wrist. It sat there perfectly. It didn’t dangle to one side. It belonged with me. I loved it. I loved him. I didn’t care about the 4+. No one has given me an orchid since. 
While nana and mom did the dishes and my brother fell asleep in the basement, I jumped rope on the driveway, keeping Papa company as he listened to the White Sox on the radio. The Sundays of my life are lovingly littered with memories such as these. The food, the smell of fresh cut grass and Papa drinking his coffee outside, sitting on a lawn chair in front of the garage.
These Sundays continued, even through my college years. And slowly, they lessened, instead being filled with Sunday morning hangovers, needing to sleep in rather than visit. Brunches with friends and boyfriends took precedent, but I always made room for one Sunday a month. During this time, dementia took hold of him and slowly escalated to Alzheimers. How sad it was, when after a “Hiya Herman” he would ask my name and then ten minutes later start talking about how he wanted to visit his mother, who had died 40 years prior. Even when his mind betrayed him by withholding  dates and time and names, the typing hands would still strum across the kitchen table. 
During one of his hospital stays, when I arrived on the third floor and entered his private room, he was sitting straight up in bed, near the window, talking with the nurse and watching television.
“Hiya Herman.” 
“Hey Papa,” I kissed his bald forehead. “How is he today?” I asked the soft faced nurse.
“He’s doin’ great today. He’s very alert! We’re laughin’, oh are we laughin’, right Pete?” 
“Ya see here,” he spoke to us both. “We’re just watchin the Bud Billikin parade.” He loved parades. Every November he called me to make sure I was watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade. The same on Columbus Day, and even St. Patrick’s Day. I was surprised never to have heard of Bud.
“What’s the Bud Billikin parade?” I asked as I propped up this pillow and grabbed his hand.
“It’s for all the colored folks,” he said to my embarrassment, right in front of his “colored” nurse!
“Papa!” I reprimanded.
“Oh, it’s ok, we’ve been talkin’ all mornin’ me and Pete. We understand each other, right Pete?” the kind nurse said.
“Sheesh,” he looked at me. “It is what it is. It began when the Chicago Defender, the black newspaper, uh, the founder, Abbott - organized the paperboys to gather and then it eventually became the parade.”
“Oh, okay.” I said, relieved. “How are you feeling, you look good.”
“I’m feelin’ good. I should be comin home soon.” He leaned his head back and continued to watch the parade. “How’s yer boyfriend? Is he Italian?” 
“He’s fine Pop, and no he’s not Italian. Does it really matter?” I knew it mattered to him.
He did go home that August and the months went by and I visited on Sundays as usual. But the following May, he was readmitted because his blood pressure was very low. And then, I answered the phone at 1:53 a.m. on May 18, 1994. 
“Hello?” My mother came running into my room, “It’s Papa, it’s Papa?”
At the same time, a stranger on the other end of the wire was saying “Hello, Mrs. Kushner, I’m calling about your father.”
“I’m his granddaughter.”
“Oh, is your mother there?”
I gave the phone to mom.
“Hello? Yes, Oh…okay, yes. When? Yes.”
“Papa passed away honey.” She handed me the phone. My father joined her at my bedroom door.
My heart sunk. I hugged my mom tight. No tears, yet. My dad, mom and I drove to the hospital as mom told us they checked on him at midnight and he was good, and when they went in at 1:30, he was gone. We drove the rest of the way in silence.
I was nervous to see his body.  I didn’t know what to expect. We parked the car, walked in and took the elevator up to the third floor. The inside of my head seemed to slowly plummet, inch by inch down the rest of my body, until all my body weight was in my feet. I don’t know how they kept moving me forward. They felt heavy as steel. We met the nurse who called us at the nursing station. There she sat, doing a crossword puzzle, but looked up with sympathetic eyes before kindly escorting us into Papa’s room. A small dim light was on over his bed. Quiet tears flowed from my mom and I. My father stayed on the other side of the room. 
“Oh Dad,” my mom said. “How am I going to tell mom?” “I’ll miss you.”
She walked away for a moment to busy herself with asking protocol questions of the nurse.
I walked toward his body. His skin looked slightly yellow in the artificial light. He looked like he was sleeping, with a small smile on his face. And then I looked at his hands. Peacefully, they rested on his stomach. I reached out and glided the back of my fingers along his skin. He felt soft. I lingered there and  memories whooshed through my head - his hands holding mine, his stories, his birtday, his warm and welcoming eyes. 
“Goodbye papa, I’ll miss you.” I kissed his forehead and took with me the grace of his peaceful smile and his beautiful, caring hands.
Eighteen years have passed since his death. And yet. I can still see him before me at the kitchen table.  His voice floods my mind as I drive the kids to school. I look for orchids in the flower section of the grocery store.  I see his smile while I run to my car in the rain. I see him eating macaroni as I pay the bills.  I see the twinkle in his eye when he winks at me.  
And, always,  I see his hands. They shuffle the cards, hold the cigarettes, strum the  typewriter keys and wave ‘Hiya Herman’. His hands will forever hold my heart.

February 13, 2012

Love in the Time of Appreciation

Happy Valentine's Day. I hope everyone is doing exactly what you want to be doing - whether you're shopping for chocolates, preparing a special dinner, buing sexy lingerie, or not acknowledging this "holiday" at all. I've gone back and forth with my feelings about this day for years. Some years, I'm all about enjoying it,  other years, meh.

This year, I'm all in. I've purchased little tokens for the kids and the Hubs, am making heart shaped brownies and my husband's favorite meal for dinner. However, being me, I allowed my chaotic thoughts to take me down the path of why do I need a silly red and pink 'holiday' to bring a bit of extra effort to my relationship tables? Why aren't I doing these special extras more often?

I'm not silly or idealistic (well...) enough to chastise myself for not doing the "little" things that make a big difference daily. I know some nights are Subway nights, some days, my Hubs drives me. absolutely. nuts. My kids irritate me, and I them. But.....

As midlife continues to swarm around and envelope many of us, I can't help but want to improve myself. Change the way I look at my marriage, my relationships with my kids and my friends. I want to be better. Not perfect, better. How easy is it to get lazy, check out of your marriage for a while because life is busy and let's face it, boring? It's so easy to forget old friends because life gets in the way. It shouldn't be (but can be) hard to 'work' on the very relationships that mean the most to us. So, I know, when I change the way I look at "working on it," it's actually quite simple.

How about changing "working on" my marriage to "nurturing" it. Change "making another damn dinner that no one will like" to making dinner to nourish the little people I love dearly. Change, "I would love to see her but I hate going out during the week," to "It'll be so nice to catch up with my girl."  I think it makes a big difference and I know it's worth the challenge.

I'm no Pollyanna - it is a challenge to remain in a state of appreciation. Especially when it is so darn EASY to only think about the yuk stuff? You know, the stuff that you hate about your husband? That stupid noise he makes when he eats pizza? Or that face your wife makes when she applies her lipstick - gross? Or how about his passive aggressiveness or her ability to tell the same story EVERY time you go out to dinner with friends. Stop with the red wine already!

I am challenging myself to live with appreciation. Appreciate the fact my husband makes the coffee every. damn. morning. Appreciate him for picking up the kids from practice. Appreciate him for being constant. Appreciating him for forgiving me my many, many mistakes.

And appreciating my kid's 'streaks of independence.' Appreciate their silliness, their youth, their naiveté, their joy and their constant questions. And my friends! My dearest, kindest, most patient and enduring friends. I hope to appreciate their love, sincerity, candor, humor and presence in my life. They bring me joy, I want to give it back to them.

So maybe aside from the flowers, professions of love and candy hearts, maybe Valentine's Day can be set aside as a day for a relationship check in. Kind of like a mammogram or a colonoscopy? Sounds dire, but most things worthwhile require lots of care, diligence and effort - all of which require some rooting around. 

February 8, 2012

Remember to Remember

I remember. I remember so much from 1982 it hurts. 
I remember thinking I was in love. 
I remember sneaking Judy Blume's Forever to and from school every day and reading about teenage sex. 
I remember two classmates fighting in our classroom. 
I remember my first dance, my first kiss in a basement dancing to Journey. 
I remember being alone with a boy. I remember when he told everyone about it. 
I remember riding on the back of my 'boyfriend's' brother's motorcycle. I was 12 and I was riding on the back of a motorcycle with a teenager. 
I remember mean girl drama. I remember laughing. I remember crying. I remember healing.
I remember getting straight A's.
I remember sleep overs and seances and talking on the phone. 
I remember riding my bike all over River Grove, across busy streets, through the woods and over rail road tracks. 
I remember loving my parents and loving/hating my little brother. 
I remember feeling safe in my bed at night. 
I remember talking to God while listening to Joan Jett on the radio. 
I don't remember if I told my mother about any of these memories.

I remember all this, and shake my head back to the present moment, back to 2012, back to my 12 year old daughter. The challenge, now, is to remember all I remember, and let her live her life, have her own experiences, good and bad, so she can learn and grow from each success, failure and choice. I can only hope she'll share some of her 'remembers' with me.

February 6, 2012

Coyotes Make Me Ugly

It’s official. The coyotes have driven me to madness. When the smarmy, (and might I add healthy looking) predators began sauntering across driveways and walkways with an air of entitlement, I became slightly alarmed, proceeding with caution by monitoring my dog closely while she sniffed around the backyard. 
And then, like white on rice, they were everywhere. All I see are coyotes. All I hear are people talking about coyotes. IN FACT, just last week, a friend mentioned she went to a lecture,YES a lecture on Urban Coyotes. 
It’s shocking really., what I’ve been reduced to.  I used to loathe animals of all kind. I would smile politely at friends’ pets while cringing internally as they sniffed my boots. Since becoming a dog owner, that’s all changed. 
Unintentionally, I became some sort of crazy lady coyote cop. That’s right, my normally pleasant demeanor turned demonic due to myriad coyote sightings. Call me Neen, the wild-eyed dog vigilante. “There she is,” you might say, ‘waiting, hoping to catch one on her land!” Land?
I called neighbors informing them their dogs were spotted off-leash chasing down coyotes through yonder yards. I found others like me. Formerly calm, collected men and women are out there, watching, slingin’ baseball bats, wielding sticks and honking horns to protect themselves from our “Urban Coyotes.” I hear the coyotes howling at night behind my house across the creek and wonder when the madness will end. I’m losing sleep because of these villains. What the shit is going on?!
After witnessing a nasty coyote/dog fight on Westleigh Avenue, I pulled my car over and started honking and screaming at the creatures hoping to separate them (utterly mortifying my middle schooler in the process.) I realized I finally snapped. The sneaky beasts got the best of me. Heavy breaths and a heavy dose of ‘you really need to get out more,’ I decided to be more productive.
Since these creatures are part of our urban habitat, we need to protect ourselves, civilly, as this is not the wild west, and I, am fortunately not Annie Oakley. While the idea of a pellet gun, a beer and a small wound to scare these critters off my property sounds DANDY, I do realize I need to at least act as though I am a dignified human being and handle this properly.
So, I’ve done my research, and this is what we need to do:
Especially while its coyote mating season in February - Keep your dogs on leash - don’t let them run free at the park or down the paths.
Keep an eye on your pets, even in your backyard.
If you come across a coyote, DO NOT run from it. Educate him to be afraid of you. That’s right - educate him. Make loud noises, appear bigger (I wouldn’t use stilettos, but that’s just me) by raising your arms in the air and shouting loudly. I don’t see the dignity in this, but at least maiming isn’t involved.
So today, I say goodbye to Crazy Lady Coyote Cop. I will heed the aforementioned instructions and will mind my own business, my own dog and plan a girls night this week with the hopes of returning to my former self.
For more information about our new neighbors, go to