Wednesday, October 7, 2015

At 36,000 Feet

The chartered bus ride home from Conneaut, Ohio to Pittsburgh marked the last two hours of camp. Two final hours to sing campfire songs in unison, exchange back rubs, laugh about the girl with stinky feet, drool over the dreamy counselor of cabin 7, envy the girl who went to the Banquet with Rory, and exchange phone numbers.

As the bus veered off of I-79, and onto the branch of the winding interstate bound for my hometown, I started to remove myself from the banter and laughter associated with camp’s honored memories, and transitioned out of my role as camper and into that of my parents' daughter.

Every year, I felt like I had changed after spending two weeks away from my mom and dad. I had new skills, songs, jokes; I had gotten a little leaner, a little faster; I had learned a new summer style, adding to my wish list; I was less awkward, more confident in who I was and what I had to offer.

As the skyline came into view, I found myself preparing to capture my mom and dad's welcome home hugs, wondering if they would notice I had changed while locked within their embrace. I envisioned how the back row of my dad’s Transport Van would feel, how my room would look after two weeks spent uninhabited, how goulash, salad, French bread, and a tall glass of milk would taste, how my bed would feel that night. I wondered if everyone, everything was ready to receive the new me.

Undoubtedly, my parents would always comment, giving me a once over. Thinner. From too many lunches and dinners left untouched, relegated to slop buckets at meals end. Tanner, rosier. From forgetting to apply sunscreen on too many occasions. Bigger. Older. Wiser. And somehow altered in a way that my parents probably couldn’t quite identify.

While it was a moment of pride for me, looking back on it, I bet the realization of their daughter's continual maturation year after year was bittersweet for my parents.


As I left home yesterday morning, bound for Oklahoma City, I nursed Bobby one last time, and put him down for his morning nap. I hugged Mary mid-motion as she ran from one side of our front porch to the next, pretending she was a lion cub in her cage. I caught her kisses as I backed out of the driveway and replayed her farewell message in my head as I drove to the airport. It was a 24 hour trip, but I knew by the time I got home they would have changed just a bit.

Mary will add a couple more words to her arsenal of vocabulary and moves to her interpretative choreography. And she’ll be a little more aware of the distance between today and tomorrow night. Bobby will be taller, rounder, hungrier. And likely, as he teeters on the edge of another milestone, he will be over it by the time I walk through the door this evening.

The other night as I was nursing Bobby to bed, he turned his head as if to tell me that he’d had enough. Okay, little one. Then night night. When he woke up at midnight upset from hunger pangs, I turned to my natural taming device to lull him back to sleep. He turned his head and cried harder. I offered again, but he seemed more frustrated, inconsolable. Finally, I pulled an emergency bottle out of the refrigerator and soothed him back to sleep with it.

Without a back-up bottle in the morning, I coaxed him into nursing, but I could tell he was losing interest. He wanted his bottle. Not me.

I remembered when Mary turned her head to me as well, cried harder, demanded her bottle. She signaled to me that she had grown up, asserting a pearl of independence that I wasn't ready for. She was my little baby, and I wanted her to stay that way. So if like Mary, Bobby figured out how to wean himself prematurely, I at least know that I got to cherish the last moment we spent in our chair, cow to calf.

Everyone more senior tells me that they grow up too fast. I'm too aware. In fact, I'd say the second seems faster than the first. But while I know each day, whether I'm there or not, my babies will grow and change and find a way that is all their own, they will always be my babies. And my love, warmth, and desire to nourish them will always be there. They will never outgrow my embrace.


Saturday, September 26, 2015

Call On Me

In a world before mobile devices, there were pay phones. Large, clunky machines, jacked into a wall or booth were standard in any public building or facility. A mere 35 cents (the last time I used one) earned you a 10 digit call for a set amount of time, but if you didn't have change, you could always call collect.

At my dance studio, the pay phone was located on a wall to the right of the door, tucked behind a staircase that led up to the gymnasium where the early 90s versions of Chatham College students would work out and shoot hoops in unflattering gray sweat pants. My class though, was straight ahead through the double doors and down three steps.

Within my hour long tap class, I would float away to a world where I was triple ball changing with Shirley Temple and Gene Kelly. It was the highlight of any given week. Surrounded by mirrors reflecting my best self, pumped with the rhythms of Paula Abdul, removed from the judgement of my schoolmates, I passionately danced in leotards that proudly exposed my 6X tummy.

An hour later, as the 6:00 PM adult jazz students started arriving and putting their shoes on, I would return to reality, and the pending worry that accompanied it. Would I have a case to take the pay phone off the receiver tonight? Please say no.

After changing, my classmates and I waited outside, looking for our rides to come around the bend. Divya went first. Then Meghan, Nuka, Ozzie, and Devon. Sarah and Jackie were next. It was down to me and Mandy. It was always okay with one other person sharing my burden. Five minutes went by. Six. 'Ah, there she is,' Mandy sighed. 'See you next week.' One left. Me left. Seven minutes, eight. No tears. No crying. Nine minutes. Ten. Eleven. I dug around in my dance bag, no change. The tears started coming.

I walked back inside and picked up the phone.
1-800-C.O.L.L.E.C.T. Ding!
Please enter the number you would like to call.
Please say your name.
A quivery Loooaaaaa.
Please hold while we connect your call.
My mom would answer as if totally surprised to hear from me. I could hear Evening Magazine and my brother and sister in the background. She said Dad was on his way.
Okay. Pull yourself together. Don't let the collegiates see you with red eyes. Inevitably, a minute later my Dad would be there. Phew. Let's get out of here and eat some Linguine with clam sauce.


Comparatively, picking up my Mom last weekend in our ever connected world was a lot less dire. On Friday night, we heard that she was stuck in New Orleans. On Saturday morning she was stranded at Midway, in need of getting to her golden destination. I knew that feeling well, so we packed up the car, kids and all, and came to her rescue.

Where are we going (clap, clap, clap) 
Save Nana! 

We didn't have definitive weekend plans, so it was no sweat off our backs; rather a chance to dress the kids in their Irish ware ...
... hang out with Nana and Opa, run into old friends, take some Domerific photos (pardon the pout), and further indoctrinate our children into Notre Dame's cultish culture.
My parents were very appreciative (Peter even got to go to the game as a thank you.) I figured how many times had my parents driven out of their way to pick me up, see me play or perform, or show me something new? I was happy to be the in case of emergency number, and when we were running fifteen minutes late, relieved that I could text my mom and say we were on our way. She showed no signs of teary eyes when we pulled up at entrance 2.

Looking back on it, I don't know why I used to get so nervous about my parents being a couple minutes late to pick me up. It's ridiculous, but I think with each passing minute, I feared that I would never seem them again. Yes, dramatic, but a possibility in my young mind.

This week, as I was flying higher and higher above the Midwestern landscape and south into Arkansas, the same fears I had as a kid started creeping up. I got nervous that something would happen, that I wouldn't make it home in one piece and that I wouldn't be there to pick up my kids when they were waiting for me.

I reasoned my way out of the paranoia and into my book, and lucky for me there was cell phone reception on the other end of my flight. With it, pictures and texts relaying news about Bobby crawling up stairs and cruising, Mary wearing undies all day, and Daddy surviving the night without me. Better than that, there was Facetime in the morning and more photos throughout the day. Finally, there was ultimate reassurance when I texted, 'landed' late Wednesday night.
I think that's the hardest part about being a working mom, and in particular traveling for work; the gap that exists each day between you and your family. It's challenging and a little scary at times and there's always that possibility that you are going to be late. But knowing you have an amazing partner and extended family at home, making the wait fun (as well as a cell phone with a charger) makes all the difference.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Only A Number

On Saturday Night, the extended family gathered around a big table at the Grille to celebrate Grandma Shirley's birthday. As she blew out the candle on her gold brick sundae, she offered some sage advice to the chatty group surrounding her.
She said, 'there's no use lying about your age. When I graduated from high school in 1944, I knew people could look me up. So then and there I owned up to being 18 and I wasn't going back. Regardless, age is only a number. [She paused.] You and you and you can all get older, but I won't.'

God, I love her.

For this elite member of the Greatest Generation, age truly is a mere figure. Earlier that morning she had been evaluating the wind, rain and waves coming into Belmont Harbor, ultimately concluding that her crew should take the Peggy O out for a soggy Harbor cruise. Reflecting on the outing, she told me 'it was great; it showed that we don't just boat on perfect summer days.' (I do.)

At 89, she does Yoga every day and can handle my 22 pound 7-month old. She always has the hair and nails to match her perfectly polished ensemble. She texts and I swear is just short of tweeting. She'll raise you a book recommendation and match you opinion for opinion in a political debate. She tried and ruled out your next health craze 60 years ago; if you ask she'll tell you what works. No matter what life hands her, she survives with a radiant smile. And the only thing she loves more than a great party are the family members that saved the date to be there.
While according to Shirley, the definition of age is relative at best, there is something about the years of life experience racked up that should be taken into account when celebrating another of milestone. 

Take the number of branches and leaves that now stem from the Nebraskan soil that sprouted a sweet little Irish girl in 1926. 
Which roughly translates into the number of people who RSVP yes to your party. 
Or that you can't just serve any old thing at dinner; a seasoned veteran knows what to order and how to eat well ...  
... all while managing that trim figure. 
When the next generation of frenzied explorers needs to settle down, 89 years translates into an evolved grace and care that has an undeniable calming effect on the room.  
A lifetime of practice means not sweating, but rather appreciating the small stuff. And knowing which battles to pick, while laughing off the others.
After nearly nine decades, everyone knows and respects your name. They can't help adding the words super, great and grand to it.
And one party isn't enough. You need two, three and sometimes four of them.
After a weekend dedicated to celebrating this legendary lady, I headed back to work on Monday. Several fast paced days and too many restless nights followed. When I looked into the mirror yesterday morning, I noticed several lines around my eyes growing more pronounced. After counting up the number of years I've racked up and the number of leaves on my tree, I figured I had earned these stripes. But in thinking about SGS's wise words last weekend, I found myself questioning if I was aging as gracefully. Was I the you, getting older while SGS refuses?

There's no doubt, I'm no longer the 20-something girl with the 20-something perspective that I was. And I'm certainly in a stage of life that can gray hairs and etch lines. But I'm okay with it. And I think according to Shirley, that's the first step.

Hey world, I'm 33! But with a house full of babies, most days I'm 33 going on three. The days are long, the nights are short, and I'm doing more than I ever did as a teen, or collegiate or young professional. (Honestly, I question what I was doing with all my time back then?) But these are great years and ultimately I believe the scars from them will just be reminders of how sweet they were.

Happy birthday Gigi! Thank you for helping to make life so super for all of us.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

From Little Rock with Love

Last week, I broke the news to my husband. I needed to start traveling for work again; the first trip was on Thursday; destination: Little Rock, Arkansas.

Bummer, he said. That's our anniversary. 

My mind had been moving so fast at work and at home, that I had forgotten to line up the dates. I frowned and got a little teary eyed with disappointment.

Oh. no. 

I reassured him (and myself) that it was an in and out thing; that I would be back by 8:00 PM; and that we would end the day the way we had started our wedding celebration; with a champagne toast.
That Thursday, I woke up bright and early to squeeze in a run before my flight to the land of Bill and Hillary. Afterward, in an effort to ensure Bobby had enough milk for the day, I pumped in the kitchen as Peter descended the stairs to wish me a happy anniversary. Given my bovine appearance, thinking back on how glamorous I looked four years ago, I felt bad. Sorry, honey.

The kids woke up shortly after, right before I needed to head to the airport. Ten minutes of flurried chaos ensued. I gave an abrupt goodbye to everyone in the house. And sped as fast as any parked car on a Chicago Interstate could to O'Hare.

In the never-ending security line, I thought back on the morning spent with my girls, getting my hair curled, make up done, and dress zipped, buttoned, and clasped. I thought about my Dad looping his arm around mine, escorting me down the aisle, and handing me off to my Prince. I thought about all the people in the congregation, enveloping us in their love, making our day feel a little more like heaven.

35,000 feet in the air, I thought about drinking Veuve in Mellon Park, the ballroom doors of the Fairmont opening for us, icing, chocolate, more champagne, and the best dance party the failed to document.

Driving through Clinton-ville to Conway, Arkansas, I thought about our European escape; the decadence of Monte Carlo, the views from Eze, the posh beaches and Picassos of Antibes, the dazzling lights of Paris, yachts, water skies, lavender, triple creams, saucissons, strawberries and even more champagne shared with my favorite travel partner.

Throughout my meeting, my mind wandered to the walls, stairs, and doorways of the houses we have owned.  I thought about the delicious dinners and corresponding dialogue we've shared; from rigorous to endearing. I thought about delivery rooms, nurseries, and the milestones that have punctuated the little lives we've made. I thought about tears, hugs, stress and laughter.

I thought about how lucky I was to have stumbled into a classroom, then a chapel, then a bar, and then a boat with the person who undeniably was the match for me.

As I drove back to the airport that evening, then waited for the gate agent to assign my seat, I thought about the sound our flutes would make as they sounded our humble, yet bubbly celebration. However, my mind flew back to reality when United said ...

We're oversold. Looking for volunteers. $250 travel voucher. Come see me. 

Crap. I had no seat and there is no room left. More and more and more business men getting on. Consultant after consultant. Damn consultants. No volunteers. Crap. Crap. Stronger words.

That's everyone. Sorry, honey. This was the fifth flight today that was oversold. For future reference, you should never book a ticket that doesn't have a guaranteed seat. 

Arguing didn't even register in my mind, I went straight for tears. Pitiful, I'm missing my wedding anniversary, I'm the food source for my seven-month-old, I'm hormonal and tired tears. I was hustled to American. They were oversold too. I was hustled back to United. They couldn't even get me out on Friday. I was urged to return to American. I could get out at 9:00 AM on Friday. The tears showed no signs of withdrawal. I conceded my ability to ever show my face in Little Rock again. (Sorry, boss, next trip's for you.) As the gate agent tried to find me a room at the Economy Inn, I heard a last call for American Flight get-me-out-of-here at Gate 3. Robert so-and-so had one minute before the gate was closing. I ditched United and sprinted down the terminal to beat Robert to the punch, and somehow, miraculously, found myself in seat 16A, going home to see my hubby on our anniversary.

My romantic idea of surprising Peter turned into him thinking I was a burglar, Mary screaming, and me putting her back to sleep. By the time I made it to bed, Peter was nodding off and I couldn't wait to close my eyes as well. There was a kiss goodnight, but no champagne.

A day later, en route to the place that started it all for us, we laughed about my adventures in Arkansas as Mary and Bobby were lulled to sleep by the holiday weekend commuters. In a way, I wasn't phased by our lack of formal celebration. Thanks to the grandparents, there would be a night out and a babysitter in our near future. I was just thankful to be in the same state, in the same car, on the same page of life as the love of my life, looking forward to a long holiday weekend. Looking forward to sharing a lifetime more of frameable memories that I can browse through on future flights home.
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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Married Poppins

At the end of Disney's musical masterpiece, Mary Poppins, as the wind changes from East to West, the Banks Family's beloved Nanny opens up her chatty umbrella and flies away. Above the kites, above the clouds, she floats away to powder her nose from a celestial nest, waiting for the next opportunity to infuse her magic into another troubled household.

The ending is ambiguous though; a departure from the typical happily ever after for which Disney is known. And as a kid with a deep love and appreciation for my marvelous nannies, I was always disappointed with the film's finale. How could she just leave them? Who would fill her lavender shoes? And what about poor Bert?

Yesterday, I witnessed an alternate ending to the film; one that provided a more romantic rationale for Mary Poppins' abrupt departure; one that secured a return date in the minds of the children who love her so much; and one where Bert finally seals the deal.  

As it went, Mary Poppins did drift off to cloud nine, but her feet stayed firmly on the ground while a hula hoop circled her waist.

She ended up marrying Bert. And on their special day, he traded in his chimney sweep ensemble for a camouflage tuxedo. Black and white was for the penguins.
There were many, many spoonfuls of sugar ... 


... scoops of ice cream, bites of cookies, and forkfuls of velvety chocolate layer cake.
Bert left his one man band at home and let the Mariachis carry the beat ...


... while everyone stepped and shuffled in time.

Butterflies were naturally drawn to the occasion,
kites flew,

and the food, oh the food(!), was far better than anything a pack of penguins would have ultimately served.
But despite my reassurance, I could tell, knowing Disney's ending, Mary was a little unsure as Eva and Cavan rode off from the ceremony in their Just Married branded golf cart following the ceremony.

'Where's Eva going, Mommy? Where's Eva going?' Mary asked me over and over again.
'She's just going on a little ride with Cavan. She'll be back to dance, and to cut the cake, and to celebrate.'
'Where's Eva going, Mommy?' 'I want Eva, Mommy.' 
I could see the tears start to well up in her eyes. She understood the end of her favorite movies and the conclusion of Mary Poppins for that matter, in her little mind she was starting to consider that Eva's happily ever after might not include Mary.
She'll be back, honey. Don't worry.
A couple minutes later, Mary spotted Eva on the dance floor and ran over to give her a hug. Feeling her embrace, her worries subsided. And the rest of the night, she ate Tacos Pastor, dressed up in the photo booth, explored the lush gardenscape, hula hooped, and dashed between her heaping bowl of ice cream and the dance floor.
It was an awesome day; beautiful ceremony, pulsing party, ultimate fiesta for a foodie, and the best time I've had out in a while.

Eva, we love you so much and are so happy that you found your Bert. The kind of partner you can share your life, love, laughter, kitchen, dance floor, hula hoop, Harry Potter books, Star Wars episodes, and tie dye patterns with. And thank you for inviting us to share such a magical day with you.

(And SNAP!) The rest of the pictures follow.




AND ... a big thank you to Nana and Mimi for filling some big shoes while Eva celebrated her jolly holiday.