Monday, May 30, 2011

We Remember...

Every year, my dad visits his father on Memorial Day.

He and my mom get up at an ungodly early hour and drive to the tippy top of New Jersey, just shy of the New York border. Usually a few of my siblings go along. Today we were all awakened at 6 a.m. by nature’s alarm clock, a thunderstorm, and I almost decided to tag along with the Memorial Day expedition. Dad likes to get there and back before the Jersey Shore Memorial Day exodus begins from all points north of the Driscoll bridge.

My parents drive to Mahwah, named for a Lenni Lenape word meaning “Place Where Paths Meet”, and go the mile or so off of the interstate to where Grandpa is.

Today they drove through the gates, but one year, when they were particularly early, they actually had to climb over the wall to get in. I wish I had been there to see that. My parents are really not wall-climber-overers, generally.

They drive through the meandering road, past the sloping lawns, to where Grandpa’s marker is...a small plaque set into the earth. Grandma is there, too. And Uncle John and Aunt Pat, but it is Grandpa my dad goes to see on this day.

After a moment of prayer, my dad takes out his cornet and plays Taps...the sound ringing out over the quiet cemetery in the early morning light. A solitary solute to a veteran, one of the greatest generation –a generation in which it was honorable for 4 brothers from New Jersey to ALL join the military. My great grandmother had four blue stars in her window. This boggles my mind.

I wish I could play the cornet. To me, this is the perfect memorial: a son with his bugle, playing for his dad a song of honor.

My grandfather never spoke of the war to me. Not once. Only when I joined a writing group in which one member was a World War II veteran working on a memoir did I get a sense of what my grandfather may have experienced. My writing colleague, Maurice, wrote in stunning detail about his time as a young soldier in France. He was infantry, my grandfather was Air Force, Maurice was 19, my grandfather was a mature 25 or so. Both served and then came home and lived and worked and did what needed to be done.

Just a few weeks ago, my friend Maurice was laid to rest. His memoir was published in the winter, and I am so very, very glad he lived to see it completed. I have a copy...and I so wish I had such a record of my grandfather’s history.

We must never forget. Even as we have fewer and fewer World War II vets to honor, we must never forget their sacrifices, or the heroism of our military in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. Whatever our feelings about these conflicts, the young men and women who serve our country deserve our gratitude.

Our local paper today had a special section of photographs, all marking the final resting places of nearly all the Jersey boys killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. My heart is so full for these families, these young soldiers (some only 3 years older than my oldest child)...for them, we MUST never forget.

Thank you, veterans, for your service to our country.

Happy Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I am not Aretha Franklin. Sigh.

I am not Aretha Franklin.

Yeah, it’s a newsflash to me, too.

You see, I always, always have said that I was going to BE Aretha Franklin when I grew up.

Today I hit an age where there is no question, I am Grown Up. There is also no question that I am NOT Aretha Franklin.

Realistically, I knew that I would not magically turn into the Queen of Soul. I think I just hoped I’d get that finger wagging, slippers wearing power of Aretha in the Blues Brothers, so I could say unto the world, “You Better THINK About What You’re Trying to Do to Me”. I think I really wanted confidence and attitude and yes, a set of pipes that makes the rafters shake.

I am not Aretha Franklin.

I still can’t sing, I stood up for myself last week and had someone get all up in my timid, non-confrontational face and try to jump down my throat, and I am literally about half the woman Aretha is. So I am left, unfortunately, trying rather unsuccessfully to NOT be Eeyore this year. I have long not been a fan of birthdays…pretty much since I turned 15. That was the first birthday where I received the wonderful gift of self-loathing. The crazy thing is, NOTHING BAD happened at that birthday. My mom made a lovely dinner, I had friends over, I have NO CLUE why THAT year was the year everything first hit the fan.

It took me until I hit 35 to finally, FINALLY not be overwhelmed with ugh on my birthday. I was ready to be cheerful and eat cake. Ironically that was the first birthday that I spent the night in a hospital waiting for ambulance transport for my child to the Biggest & Best Children’s Hospital a few hours away. I remember how surreal it was to be listening to jazz on an ambulance radio at 4 a.m. while we drove down the Jersey Turnpike, windows wide open to help my daughter’s temperature go down. That was a memorable birthday. My spouse eventually brought the cake down to the hospital, we were stuck there a week…

My youngest child cannot comprehend WHY Mommy doesn’t love her birthday. Why does Mom NOT want to do anything or mark the day? I wish I had a good answer other than it feels fake to me. I don’t even feel like eating cake. Yeah. It’s like THAT. Eek!

I still wish I was Aretha Franklin. I think on these days that mark the passage of time I just get a bit whomped with the way things are the OTHER 364 days of the year. The last several months have not been a fest of hooray—and as mom/wife, a lot of the reason for that comes back on me.

There’s a song I have been listening to a lot recently, a song that says, “you are more than the choices that you make/you are more than the sum of your past mistakes/ you are more than the problems you create” …I am trying to believe this. But some days, “it don’t take too much IQ to see” what I’ve done to me. Aretha trumps all.

So tomorrow will be the first day of a new decade for me. Tomorrow will be another regular day with work and baseball and rain (and maybe then no baseball) and laundry and vacuuming I don’t get done. Life goes on.

My almost 9 year old is standing next to me, balancing a Hershey Kiss on her face and trying to roll it into her mouth. My spouse stepped in to help the 12 year old with her English homework after I totally lost my temper. Even the teen is trying to not be hideous. My 12th grade class gave me a Boston Crème donut with a candle in it. The third grade girls sang an alarming rendition of Happy Birthday to me that was quite endearing if somewhat painful to the ears. I am grateful for the many blessings I have. …I’m just not a birthday kind of gal. And that’s ok.

And you know, even in the Blues Brothers, Aretha eventually gets left behind. She has to figure it out on her own, I guess, comforted by fried chicken and a Coke. Hm. I could live with THAT.
; )

So here’s to being a grown up. Maybe I can focus on becoming Judi Dench now…

NOTE THE OFFICIAL DISCLAIMER OF TRUTH: This is a No Fishing Zone: I am NOT FISHING. I am not fishing for reassurance and comfort or anything like that. I am just saying it like it is. My bs-ometer was blown off in 2004, and now I just Say Things, which is awful but true. Imagine family holidays: Yikes! Please don’t rush to say nice things, I Know you all, you are nice people, and you will want to. I’m telling you, my brain can’t hear it on May 17. It’s just one of Those Things. So don’t worry. Tomorrow is another day. I have no problem with Leftover Cake. ; )

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

There is no charge for Awesomeness...

photo evidence of a Random Act of Chocolate. A pb cup the size of my hand.

In the annals of my personal whatever, this has been A Week.

Yes, it’s only Wednesday. Yes, we’ve had weeks with brain surgery and epic yikes. We haven’t been THERE this week, but... this week just hasn’t been Super Dee Duper (sorry, Barney).

So I decided to blatantly borrow from a recent Gretchen Rubin post on her Happiness Project facebook page, in which she talks about little bits of awesome. You know, those little things that just make you inordinately happy. Here is some of my list:

• A flower growing and blooming in a sidewalk crack.
• Being barely awake in the a.m. and hearing the chug chug chug of ye olde Farberware, indicating my spouse Made the Coffee!
• Forgetting to eat breakfast and finding it is Someone’s Festal Day at school, so there’s crumb cake in the teachers’ room!
• The first night I see fireflies in June.
• Veterans riding in open cars at parades.
• Finding a favorite out of print childhood book at a rummage sale (remember Seven Alone, anyone?)
• Anything with a wild 60s pattern on it.
• Sticking my hand into the pocket of a jacket and finding $2 I forgot about.
• Having this moment happen just as I realize I am approaching a Dunkin Donuts with a drive-through.
• Any time a stranger or person at a store just randomly smiles at me.
• Going to the library for ME books.
• Having the perfect comeback when someone is being a cheerful pain in the neck.
• Perennials.
• Seeing my son get a hit in baseball as I’m praying “God, I know it’s not a big deal in the larger picture of life, but if A could get a hit right now that would be awesome.”
• Seeing the aforementioned son be a nice big brother and join his 8 year old sister in a rousing version of Just Dance’s Spice Girls number.
• Little random countdowns from my 8 year old written on any surface she can find. Today’s countdowns include Mom’s Birthday, My Birthday, and Daddy’s Baptism Day.
• Hearing my middle child laugh in her explosive giggle.
• Laughing with my sisters.
• Laughing about wildly inappropriate things with my sisters.
• Ok, any time with my sisters.
• Having my godson run to me and give me a hug.
• A Random Act of Chocolate.
• Potatoes.
• French fries (aka happy potatoes).
• Watching clouds float by.
• Seeing a ridiculously large bird like a heron or turkey up super close in my yard.
• Puzzles.
• Sticks furniture at my favorite gallery in Lambertville. Or anywhere, Sticks is happiness for me.
• Anything drawn by Tomie DePaola.
• Finding a book by Tomie DePaola at a rummage sale.
• The moment when a student says,bubbling with excitement, “So we were at this nursing home in DC, and I realized the lady I was talking to was old enough to remember the Civil Rights movement, so I asked her if she had been to the march, had she met Dr. King, and she said YES!” right after our unit on the Civil Rights movement.
• The moment the overture begins at a musical theater show. I always get ferklempt at the beauty and anticipation contained in those first notes.

Once you get going, it’s hard to stop. My list of awesome doesn’t fix all the ugh of this week in progress, but it does help. What would you add? What are your moments of awesome?

I have to run the dancing son to physical therapy and feed the hungry girls...real life beckons. But I’d love to hear YOUR awesomes.