Tag Archives: family

Turkey day thanks!

While I try not make sure everyone in my life knows how important they are every day of the year, it doesn’t hurt to take a moment to contemplate the important things in life.

I am thankful for coffee. Just kidding. While I am thankful global warming has not yet obliterated coffee and chocolate, it ranks way below people.

Sometimes holidays can be hard. While the reasons vary, a common one is that people we loved are no longer with us or are far away. I’m thankful for all the loved ones in my life, whether they have left this life or life has taken them far away. People we know add love to our hearts. They give us a piece of theirs and in return we give them a piece of ours. So even when they die or are not with you, you always have that bit of them with you. That’s important to remember. We are better, more complete souls for all of the love given and received.

So while I gather tonight with my most wonderful husband, my crazy crew of children and extended family, I will also remember all of my friends and family far away and long gone. Thank you for all the love that has brought me to this point in my life.

*Hubby asked if I mentioned sleep. I do admit, I am really, really thankful for sleep.

Nine to Thirty-six

Yesterday as I drove home with Miss Diva we passed Audubon Park. I drive past it if not daily, than several times a week. Miss Diva was having a blond moment and didn’t realize it was a park until I pointed it out. She asked why we don’t go there. It’s close to us and quite pretty, but they lack proper restrooms or water fountains, and while not as much an issue now, their playground was kind of crappy. We’ve been there, but I much prefer other local parks.

My mother loved Audubon, likely because they have some gorgeous trees. We lived a good thirty minute drive or more from that particular park when I was little. The last trip to that park before we left Memphis was probably the in early fall of 1988. I loved trees too, but I was a bit disappointed when we made a trek to that one in particular. Back then there wasn’t a playground at all and swings and slides rank high on kid priorities. Still, we had fun. I think we had a take-out picnic and played frisbee.

I was hipster before it was cool.

I wore hipster glasses before it was cool.

I lived in Memphis for nine years before moving away and didn’t return until I was 18. Memphis was my home and at the age of nine I made the decision to return as soon as I could. I was just a little older when I decided to be a scientist and a writer and the president of the United States. I may have only been 9, but my record for achieving those goals is currently 3 out of 4.

Despite my nine-year old resolution, when I returned, it was just as much a strange place in many ways as other places I’ve lived. My connection to Memphis is now essentially the eighteen years I’ve spent here as an adult. Sure, I remember playing frisbee there, but far more clear are memories of taking Mr. Smarty-pants there when he was itty-bitty, walking with all the kids there and playing troll under the bridge.

Every once in a while though, my brain time-warps and I’m 6, or 7, or 8 again, running through leaves, giddy with the simple joy of freedom that running at that age brought. It was before asthma and chronic allergies stole all the fun. It was before I reached an age where I was self conscious. It was before I went through five long, painful years of bullying and isolation at school. It was long before grief and heartaches and the tedium of adulthood.

Chatting with Miss Diva about the park, I realized how integral our memories are. Our past may not define us, but it shapes us. I read a book recently in which the characters’ memories are wiped and then they regain them. While I enjoyed the story, something felt off and I realized the change in one of the main characters seemed too subtle to me. I can’t even list the number of ways different events have helped make me who I am today. I look back at pre-9 year old me and have no idea who I’d be if you erased all I experienced, but it wold not be who I am now.

Sixteen years ago today, I didn’t know it yet, but my brother had been taken from this world. Growing up with Justin influenced me, just as losing him changed me. Even knowing the pain of his loss, were I given the choice, I’d go back and do it all again just to hear his laugh one more time or hear his voice again.

Having hit 36, a number of people I know are saying goodbye to parents and other family members or friends. I know there isn’t really anything I can say or do to make it better. I offer my sympathy as that’s all one can do. Nothing ever makes it better. Not really. You move on. It becomes a part of you. So, for all of those dealing with loss, new or old, you are not alone.

Memory Lane

It’s funny how the mind can skip from one random event to another and draw connections. Our minds evolved to see patterns and connections because it helped us survive. So, it isn’t really all that surprising that your mind can go tripping through memories if you let it.

The other day I accidentally hit a bird with the car. I know. I was very sad about this, especially when I noted its bird buddies’ concern. I didn’t kill it, but it definitely was injured. I was already merging into traffic and couldn’t really stop. Normally birds are excellent flyers and get out of the way, and I usually slow down a bit to give them plenty of time. That day I was in a bit of a hurry and didn’t. ūüė¶

For whatever reason, this reminded me of the time my sister came home all worked up about hitting a racoon. I believe there was more to the story, but I don’t recall it. That memory blip jumped to a time where I was carting one of Justin’s friends home. As we crossed a little bridge over a drainage canal I braked for an animal that was in the road. It was a HUGE rat. I may possibly have shrieked a little.

As my brain pulled up that incident, my eighteen year old self felt not so different from my nearly thirty-six year old self. I’ve lived nearly as much additional life now as I had up to that point, and yet while I’ve grown in many ways, I’m still very much the same girl who braked for a rat. My brother’s presence in the back seat and the kid in the front felt very close to the teens I cart around now and my own son. Mr. Smarty-Pants does not physically favor his uncle, but he got a heaping helping of his personality. Sure, he is very much his own person, but the similarities at times are striking. Justin teased me for braking for a rat, just as Mr. Smarty-Pants once urged me to gun for a turkey that ran across the road so we could eat it (I didn’t). It really isn’t a surprise that my brain can draw connections between events related only by an animal in the road and a vehicle barreling toward it.

My relationship with my little brother was a combination of camaraderie and motherliness, as being the eldest I felt it my job to watch out for my younger siblings. My relationship with my son bears the same combination of feelings, albeit in different proportions, and so of course, is prone to sparking that random memory connection. When speaking to family members, it is not uncommon for me to have to correct names, as the wrong one slips out. That rarely happens when I’m talking directly to my children, but add in the connection to my sister or my parents, or my grandparents, and my brain trips over a lifetime networked memories.

They say that the more connections one makes with regards to a memory, the less likely one is to forget it. We used to joke that my mother remembered everything. I don’t proclaim to recall everything, but people have remarked that I do have very good recall. I can tell you the plot of the first really long chapter book I read at maybe 10 years old. I can remember playing hide-and-seek with my mom and being eye-level with her dog. I recall visiting my brother in the ICU (although I buried that one for awhile), and¬† seeing my sister on the fuzzy ultrasound screen. I remember pulling up the carpet in the apartment at age four to watch the little ants underneath scurry about their little ant lives. I remember dissecting a washed and dried ball of paper when I was maybe 3 or 4 and wondering if there was something in it. Fast forward and I’m sitting at the dining room table at age 6 or 7 in the summer and my brother is telling some silly joke about trains. It was the kind of joke that only made sense to a kid and I’ve long forgotten the details, but that moment of pure happiness, with everyone laughing until their sides ached, that moment remains crystal clear. I can rattle off plenty more, some happy, some sad, some a mix, but the point is that they are primarily ordinary days doing nothing in particular.

All of that reminds me to cherish the little random moments in life. People make a big deal about the big key moments, life events, but in truth when your brain goes skipping down memory lane it’s snapshots of every day life that paint the portrait of your past. Years from now when my grandchildren are my children’s age now, more connections will be made and it won’t be the “big days” so much as the little things, like telling Ms. Drama that the window is not a door, or cuddling with Miss Diva while watching a TV show, or shrieking when Mr. Smarty-Pants sneaks up behind me and picks me up—his uncle did that too.

Just this past weekend I shared with Miss Diva the bit of wisdom that happiness comes from within you. It comes from living in the moment and seeing the beauty even in the midst of less than ideal circumstances. Happiness isn’t a destination or a reward, but a state of mind, a contentment that comes from love.

Power of Three

So, yesterday was sibling day. It’s a relatively new thing, and as far as I know, Hallmark has not turned it into a cash grab. Still, I suppose there’s a use for Hallmark in the world. The advertising reminds me of when the holidays are. Oh wait…. my phone does that. Sorry Hallmark. You’ve been outsourced to my phone and my handy dandy skill with words.

Well, at least the works for Nationally recognized holidays. Outsourcing is never a smooth process.

A long time ago, in galaxy far, far….

Wait… wrong story.

No, this story started in good ol’ Memphis, Tennessee in June of 1979. I ruined my parents’ plans for a Saturday picnic, and any shot at eating a warm dinner for about the next year. Soon enough, seeing as how my opinionated ways started early, I informed my parents I wanted a baby brother or sister. Sure, I was ever so slightly annoyed when I found out they didn’t pop out ready to play, but life has lots of surprises like that.

In 1981 my brother arrived and in ’83 my sister rounded things out to form our intrepid trio. Being a sibling is an odd sort of thing. Half the time you like them and the other half you want to kill them. As you grow that balance swings back and forth. If you are lucky, your siblings end up as people you like. If you are very lucky, they are your best friends.

In construction, the triangle is the strongest shape. 3 points. 3 children.  3 unbreakable bonds. Sometimes it was an equilateral triangle and sometimes isosceles, but it never, ever broke.  For those who believe in magic, three is a number of power. The three of us together were far stronger than any of us alone.

As a kid and even into adulthood, I didn’t realize that not all siblings shared the bond that grew between my brother, my sister and myself.¬† It’s sadly true, that far too often you do not really know what you have until you lose it.

In 1998 that triangle lost a point. As my sister so eloquently stated, “There’s an empty space in my life where my brother once was…..it was so much better when we were a trio.”

Partners in crime

Partners in crime

I’m the third dork on the left.

We don’t need sibling day to remind us how blessed we were to have each other, but it doesn’t hurt to use it to tell the world how wonderful mine were and always will be.

From the Gulf Stream Waters…

My boss started to sing “This Land is Your Land” the other day as he talked about how much he enjoyed the July 4th holiday. I managed not to wince. At least it wasn’t as bad as when he played the recorder at Christmas. (Yes, that really annoying instrument that kids learn to play in elementary school….and he played worse than the average elementary school student.) The patriotic song brought back memories of my elementary school music classes and was rather apropos, seeing as how I embarked on a last minute road trip the¬† following¬† day.

My sister, Ms. Music, celebrated the start of graduate school in Michigan with an unscheduled trip to the E.R., followed by five different doctors arguing over what to do with her. Four days later, after they finally arrived at a consensus, she got released, minus her gallbladder and a piece of liver. I arrived in time to ferry her to the place she’s renting and act as cook and errand girl for a day or two.

I got mono the first semester of college and a semester into my grad school I had stomach flu for a week, which triggered the onset switch from occasional intestinal issues to a chronic condition.

We girls know how to party! In fact we’re in full party mode right now.

How so? I woke up today with a splitting sinus headache. Two doses of ibuprofen later, a dose of phenyephrine, and two mugs of coffee, I’m almost back to normal, and by normal I mean stuffy and sneezy. In the spirit of American equality, I can proudly say I’m just as allergic to the north as I am the south.

My sis is having quality time in comatose land. It used to be that like me she could sleep through anything. Even doped up, she sleeps rather lightly now. I startled her out of sleep on accident last night merely by opening the door. The lamp from the other room was enough to wake her. Me? Unless you pry open my eyelids and blind me with the light, I’m out cold.

Our July 4th will be a rollicking good time, what with her being doped up and me feeling like the fireworks are going off in my head and both of us trying to catch up on graduate study stuff.

So Happy Independence Day everyone, but I don’t suggest sinus headaches or surgery as ideal celebratory activities!

 

Sisters

My sis came through town yesterday on her way to Michigan. She’s starting a graduate program. I’m very proud of her. We’ve both found the true meaning of higher education: the ability to techno-babble at each other in different technical vocabularies and not understand anything.

I gave her the nickle tour and introduced her to the people in the lab. A visiting student commented, “Oh my, you two look nothing alike. I would never guess you were sisters.”

We’ve gotten that a lot over the years, and in many ways it is true.

  • I have thin, fine hair that is low-maintenance.
    She has thick wavy hair  that takes an hour or more to style.
  • She loves heels.
    I hate them.
  • I’m into science.
    She’s into music.
  • I love gardening.
    She avoids gardening like the plague.
  • I’m semi-organized and can focus even with three kids hollering, a television on, and dogs barking.
    She struggles with ADHD and even before she had a child to add chaos, mess followed her like a devoted puppy.
  • She quit playing with toys when she discovered boys around age ten.
    I thought boys were idiots and really only fun to moon over from afar, and I plead the fifth on how long I continued to play with dolls.

I’m fairly certain the list could go on, and yet over the years as we grew up we found common ground. We both love Star Trek, and reading, and like each other’s career fields enough to have true interest, we enjoy the outdoors as much as we are allergic to it, and can even sometimes agree on music. As we walked at the park I caught her singing a few phrases of Pink‘s “Just Give me a Reason”, which I love, and randomly singing is also something I do.

I’m sure over the years my mother felt like bashing our heads together as we fought over whose mess had trashed the room yet again. My sis only has one child, an eleven year old boy, so far, and so she hasn’t had to deal with the joys of sibling wars. When the siblings are the same gender it seems to me that it adds an extra layer of love-hate to the relationship. One minute you’re best friends and the next one is smacking the other with a doll…or a fist…or whatever happens to be handy.

My sis and I managed to not kill each other and she’s as much a best friend as a sister. I’m proud of the woman she’s become.

When two people are by nature polar opposites, clashes happen frequently. My two girls, much like my sis and me, don’t look tons alike nor¬† do they act it.

My girls way back when they were little bitty:

Is that dirt? Did I get dirt on me? Where's my hand sanitizer?

Is that dirt? Did I get dirt on me? Where’s my hand sanitizer?

I made a mess. Isn't it GREAT!!!!?

I made a mess. Isn’t it GREAT!!!!?

Did I mention that Miss Drama didn’t quit eating dirt until about age 5? Miss Diva began color coordinating outfits and three. Miss Drama preferred running naked.

My hope is that one day they’ll be adults and have found that common ground and realize just how lucky they are to have each other for friends, if they haven’t killed each other by then.

What was that I said about getting along?

What was that I said about getting along?

Death and Division

There are some nights Miss Diva might claim that math is going to kill her, but last night was not one of them. As I explained the intricacies of dividing decimals, I got a call. Truthfully, I had been expecting it, as my aunt’s health had spiraled quickly down in the last month. After the call, as she worked her math problems, Miss Diva proceeded to quiz me on whom I had been talking to. So, I shared the sad news.

It’s an interesting thing, the way children attempt to grasp the concept of death. At about two, Miss Diva went “fishing” in the fish tank and accidentally killed one of the goldfish. She didn’t even notice. At three or four she spotted a dead bird outside and for weeks after was obsessed by it. It upset her greatly to learn that no amount of poking it with a stick would make it get up and that Mommy could not make it better. Even after the carcass was discarded, she’d walk by the spot and comment on the poor bird. Sometimes I got another round of “20 Questions on Death”. At 6 we had the tragic loss of two healthy young pets back-to-back, and she mourned her cat long after other kitties joined the family. We had other minor pet tragedies, which led to my rule of no prey animals in a house full of predators. That just doesn’t end well.

A close friend of mine, whom she had met, died a couple of years ago, which again presented another situation where the children asked me about death. The friend was older than me, but not more than 12-15 years or so. That sparked the question, “How old do you have to be to die?”

Needless to say, learning that even babies not yet born or just born can die is sobering. In the way of children though, these grim thoughts are quickly forgotten.

“How old was Aunt K?”

“About 78, I think.”

“That’s not old!”

I was a bit surprised by Miss Diva’s response, because the way the kids talk, one would think I’m ancient. “Well, maybe not like REALLY old, but yes, that’s definitely old.”

“But Grandpa is 76 and he’s just fine!”

The light dawned. I agreed that yes he was (which may be a bit of a stretch, as he has chronic health issues, but that’s not for her to worry over), but sometimes at that age if people get sick, it’s a whole lot harder to get better. She then proceeded to ask me about Aunt K.

She, and her brother and sister had met my Aunt briefly a handful of times. When I explained that my aunt had Alzheimer’s and could not remember anything anymore, that was yet another shocker for Miss Diva. I explained how the disease damages brain cells so that the brain doesn’t work right,¬† and she’d had it for quite some time.

Our conversation was terminated by Miss Drama’s request for assistance on her project. I know Miss Diva isn’t very upset, because she was not close to my aunt. She’ll store the information and go back to her usual youthful immortal view.

Meanwhile I think on the handful of visits I had with my aunt and wonder how much of her is in me. Is that sometimes overly pragmatic streak from her? What was she like at my age? At the same time I look at Miss Diva and her siblings and distinctly recall being their ages. Time stretches infinitely in both directions and I’m just a microscopic blip.

Yet, I’m connected with my mother, aunts, grandparents, and legions of cousins and ancestors, as are my children and all those who will come after. It is both humbling to face your mortality and amazing to see the connections that extend far beyond imagining.