A conversation with my 7 year old son, Bryce.
Bryce: Why do you smell like you’re going on a date?
Me: Because I have a date with Daddy tonight.
Brcye: Oh…well….I guess that’s ok then.
Some of you may recall that I’ve written about my visits with her every summer. Getting Old is not for Sissies She was 96 years old and passed peacefully in her sleep. It’s a blessing to know that her passing was quiet and quick. It’s heartbreaking for me to accept that she is no longer with us. A physical and emotional presence that reminded me every day to be my best self, even when I wasn’t.
This past week our family came together in her hometown of Bloomington, Illinois to celebrate her life and lay her to rest. We are a family strong in Catholic roots, and my Nanny was a devout Christian Catholic woman to her core. So, as you would expect, her service included a Catholic mass in the church where she was raised, and where she also raised her family. I was baptized in this church. My parents were married in this church. My grandfather was memorialized in this church. Our family’s life is intricately entwined with sacraments and services that took place in this church. I spent countless Sundays sitting in the pew next to her, learning how to participate in the Catholic mass by watching my grandmother. Memorizing the responses, imitating her motions of kneel, stand, sit. Kneel, stand, sit. This particular house of God has immeasurable significance for me in terms of emotional and physical memories. To stand in the sanctuary, in front of her casket, was almost more than I could bear knowing it would most likely be the last time I ever had cause to visit this place.
When the service started I was beside myself with emotion. As were the rest of my family. My Nanny meant so much to each and every one of us. We were all trying to manage our grief. The service was lovely, but something was missing. The priest gave the eulogy for my grandmother. This is not common. Typically, a family member would do it. But for some reason no family member had been identified or asked prior to the service to give the eulogy. I don’t know why, and wouldn’t dream of questioning the decision because I was not the one responsible for planning the service. But it felt incomplete. The priest did his best to honor my grandmother, but he did not know her. He could not convey with any depth of emotion or real intimacy the woman that she was, or what she meant to all of us.
I know I wouldn’t have been able to stand at the alter and talk about her without completely breaking down, and I’m talking about some serious ugly crying. And because I need closure I decided to write my own eulogy, of a sort, honoring her and my memory of her. So, this is what I would have wanted people to know about my grandmother….
Kathryn, or Kay, as most people knew her was born in June of 1921. She was an Irish Catholic Midwestern girl who grew up during the Great Depression. She often told stories about the depression, describing food shortages and what little money most families earned at that time. She talked about having one pair of stockings that she had to wash out by hand every night so she could wear them again the next day. She told these stories in an attempt to help us understand how good we had it growing up. I’m embarrassed to say that at the time we were just horrified to learn that she had to live without things like Doritos and Taco Bell.
My Nanny was very meticulous with her appearance. She wasn’t necessarily vain, but it was extremely important that she always look her best. Perhaps this was something learned during the depression, as she had so little material possessions or clothing. She learned to work with what she had. She did her hair and make up every day. She pressed her blouse and her slacks. She sewed clothes for herself and her children. Once, she made herself a beautiful camel colored wool-lined dress coat. She loved cashmere turtle-neck sweaters and wool blazers. She once made my cousin and I matching plaid, wool, pleated skirts to wear to Christmas Eve Mass. I would give anything to have that skirt back. She also slaved to ensure that her husband and children went out into the community every day as representatives of her household. They were meticulously dressed, pressed, and laundered. At her funeral service my cousins and I were laughing and trading stories. One cousin told me that she came to Nanny’s house one day wearing a pair of ripped and torn jeans. Nanny asked her if she bought the jeans like that, and when she confirmed that she did, Nanny said, “Poor girl. Can’t even afford to buy a whole pair of pants.”
She kept her home in the same meticulous manner. She made her bed every day. Hospital corners. She cooked and baked almost every meal from scratch and she always had a cake or pie prepared in case someone dropped by and she needed to offer them something. She knew how to refinish wood floors, kept a garden, and everything had it’s place. She tried to teach me the importance of these things. As a teenager I would laugh. Make my bed every day? Well, that was just crazy talk. But when I stepped into her home I would breath in the smell of freshness, with a hint of bleach, and it was comforting. I loved knowing that I would crawl into a bed that night with freshly washed and ironed sheets. And that I would wake up to the sound of eggs frying in the pan and the smell of biscuits coming out of the oven. My own childhood home was often chaotic and unorganized, so being in her home provided a sense of old fashioned comfort.
Given that my Nanny was a devout Catholic woman, she was truly a servant of God. She took her responsibility as a Christian seriously and every moment was a teachable moment. She prayed openly for everyone. She and my grandfather organized and coordinated a prayer group every week, and they were huge members of the charismatic movement within the Catholic church. No one loved Jesus more than my Nanny. Last summer when I was visiting her, she was worrying quite a bit about family members, and I said to her, “You know what you need to do. Just give it to God and everything will be ok.” That’s what she would have said to me. She looked up at me with wide eyes and said, “You have been listening to me all these years!!!!” Even when I didn’t want to, I was listening.
I have a strong personality, much like my grandfather. Nanny would always remind me that my tongue could be sharper than a sword. She would say, “Mind your words. They are like feathers, and once you let them go, the wind takes them and you can never get them back.” I didn’t want to hear it at the time, but over the years I found myself measuring my actions and words by whether or not she would approve. I can honestly say that in those moments where I held back, or didn’t do something impulsive because I knew she would disapprove, I never once regretted the choice. The thought of doing something that might embarrass her was unacceptable. She would often say to me, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, and that covers a lot of territory.” Of course, I often did thing she wouldn’t do, and in my adult years I would sometimes tell her stories of my bad behavior. Sometimes she would laugh and other times she would roll her eyes and say, “Well, I will pray for you.”
She loved the Lawrence Welk Show. She would sing at the top of her lungs while cooking or doing housework. She made me homemade mashed potatoes and gravy every Sunday because she knew it was my favorite. She helped my grandfather manage their drive-in restaurant. She coached the young people who worked for her at the restaurant on how to mind their manners, develop a strong work ethic, and represent their employer and community with pride and dignity. She was an old fashioned, fierce, Godly woman who loved her family and loved her Jesus. She refused to talk poorly about others because she felt it was a terrible sin. She taught me about faith, unconditional love and how to respect myself and others through her actions. She could talk the talk and walk the walk. She held her loved ones to a high standard, and she voiced her disapproval when we fell short. But there was always love. She was love and light, with a little bit of sass.
The last time I saw her prior to her passing was last July during our annual summer trip. Her Alzheimer’s was progressing rapidly and she had become more emotional and confused. I knew it was the last time we would make the trip as a family. Too many people in the room made for a rough afternoon. As I was leaving and saying good-bye, she was the most distant she had ever been, like she was saying good-bye to the mail man. At the door as I was about to walk out, I turned around and said, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” In an instant she lit up from the inside and said, “And that covers a lot of territory.”
She was laughing as I closed the door behind me.
He responded with this…
“Yes, I know who he is. He was a great man who went to jail, like thirty times, so that black people and white people could eat together.”
(Insert proud mom moment here.)
It’s a simple answer, yes. A complete answer, no. But through the eyes of a six-year-old, it’s one hell of a start. 🙂
Today is my birthday!
I’m 42 today. I just need to say it out loud and embrace the hell out of it!
The day started amazing. Dan got the kids up early and they were all ready and waiting to celebrate the morning with me before school. I had my coffee and opened some very thoughtful gifts from my kids and husband. We got the kids off to school and I sat down to work on my blog, while receiving several phone calls from family and friends.
I’m a lucky girl.
I then met Dan at one of our favorite local Mexican restaurants for lunch. We had an awesome meal, and although he had to get back to work, neither of us really wanted lunch to end. We really enjoy each other’s company, and today was one of those days that just felt perfect, in the moment.
I’m a lucky girl.
We said good-bye and I walked to my car. I climbed in, closed the door and looked at my phone to answer a text message. Suddenly, my entire car was shoved up and lifted forward, then to the right. It was a hard slam and I was bounced in my seat as the car settled. Somewhat stunned, I got out of the car and saw another car slowly driving away. The driver seemed to stop, then started driving like they planned to leave, then stopped again. The driver backed up, then pulled into a parking spot.
Dan was immediately out of his car and walking toward the other driver. It was a woman in her 60’s and she appeared to be experiencing symptoms of a stroke. She said she lost sight in her left eye right before she hit me. Another witness said she hit some private property at their store the next parking lot over. Dan called the paramedics and the police, and the entire experience of processing the accident began. The woman was taken away in an ambulance and Dan and I were left to deal with the mangled mess that was the back of my car.
This is the first accident I’ve ever experienced in one of my own vehicles since I got my driver’s license at 16. As I was speaking to the police officer, answering his questions, several things became clear to me. I was parked. I was safely inside the vehicle when she hit me, when ten seconds before I was standing at the back of my car. I wasn’t injured. The air bag didn’t deploy, which would have punched me right in the face, and could have potentially broken my nose, as they often do. I have insurance. It’s just a car. No one else was hurt, and she didn’t hit any pedestrians as she was careening toward my vehicle. Again, I wasn’t hurt, and it’s just a car.
I’m a lucky girl.
It’s the little things. It’s perspective. My kids could have been with me, and they weren’t. I don’t take this life Dan and I have created together for granted. Again, it’s the little things.
I’m a lucky girl, and I know it. 🙂
This is the conversation I just had with my son, Bryce (age 6).
Bryce: Mom, I love this rock! (It’s a plain river rock.) Can I carry it with me everywhere? Even on vacation?
Me: Sure. You really seem to love rocks. Maybe you’ll be a geologist when you grow up. (Case in point, I fished three rocks out of my washing machine this morning, because he picks them up everywhere he goes and leaves them in his pockets. One of them wasn’t even a rock, it was a broken bit of concrete.)
Bryce: What’s a geologist?
Me: A scientist who studies rocks.
Bryce: Oh, cool. But can I also still be a secret agent?
Me: Sure, buddy. You can do both.
Kids are awesome. 🙂
The summer has flown by, as I knew it would, and as I predicted, I only got about three posts up all summer. Figures.
But life continues to be busy. Since I got home from my grandparent’s house at the end of July, I hosted my college roommate and her family for a few days, was sick for two weeks with a nasty virus that closely resembled strep throat, threw a birthday party for my son and twenty of his closest six-year old friends, and got both of my kids back to school. So yeah, life and children continue to dominate my time and attention. Blogging has been on the back burner for a long time, and I’m hoping now that I have both of my kids in school full-time that I’ll have more time and attention for both myself and all of you.
Being sick for two weeks wasn’t fun. I went to the doctor about five days into it and she ran all the typical tests to rule out bacterial infections. It felt like my head was going to explode, and every time I swallowed it felt like my eardrums were bursting and I was trying to swallow crushed glass. Fever, fatigue, and all the glamorous parts of feeling like total shit. My husband had to be out-of-town for work for several days, so taking care of the house, kids, and all the pets when all you want to do is lay down and die was no picnic. Unfortunately, the doc couldn’t give me any drugs because it was a viral infection, and it took a solid two weeks before I felt human again. To add insult to injury, going to the doctor in the first place is always such a mind-fuck. I already felt like shit, and have you ever noticed that going to the doctor makes you fat? Seriously. I walk in and immediately feel like I’ve gained ten pounds. Then the nurse puts you on the scale and you realize that in the two hours since you got dressed and hauled your sick-ass to the clinic, you really must have gained ten pounds because their ancient scale, that must be counter-balanced with massive invisible boulders, says so. Why don’t doctors use modern digital scales that will weigh me the same as when I’m at home? And now that I feel like a sick, ginormous, fat cow, I have to sit, forever, in the little room and wait. And there’s a mirror in there that is now confirming what the scale said. Somehow my face looks heavier. My ass seems to be climbing up my back and my muffin top is more muffin-y. And now I want to cry because my throat hurts, my ears hurt, I can’t get any meds, and just walking in the door made me feel like Martha Dump Truck.
Damn, I’m glad that’s over.
My son’s birthday party was fun, and humiliating. But I found my self-respect at the top of a bounce house, so that was an unexpected bonus. We had the party at Pump It Up. If you’re unfamiliar with the Pump It Up franchise, it’s basically a party venue with giant inflatables. Each room is a massive, two-story room with multiple indoor inflatables, like bounce houses, obstacle courses, rock climbing walls, and things like that. We had the Glow Party, which is like a super cool rave for kids with music and glow in the dark everything. I had promised my daughter that I would do some of the inflatables with her because as the big sister, she was the oldest kid at the party and didn’t really want to hang with the six-year olds. Thank God it was dark in there. I was a little dressed up for the party and my nice jeans were somewhat confining. Also, you have to wear socks in these things, and I quickly realized that with
socks on it’s hard to get any grip on the structure with your feet. So, I was attempting to climb this two-story monstrosity that was part rock climbing wall and part slide in tight jeans and slippery socks. You see where I’m going with this? You had to put your feet on these small squares and then use alternating tether straps for your hands to climb up. Well, the tiny-made-for-five-year-old-feet squares would collapse under you if you didn’t move fast enough. Half-way up there was this ledge you had to get over, and then another ledge all the way at the top. I fell trying to get over the first ledge. Kids were flying past me and laughing as I flailed and dangled by the tether straps. Did I mention it was also pretty steep? And also that I’m not a ten-year old? Anyway, I dug deep and hauled myself to the top, and as I was struggling to get over the second ledge, and considering saying fuck it and just letting go, my son’s friend from his class was sitting at the top of the ledge, and she was watching me as I hung on the tethers. She’s an adorable little girl and she says, “Keep going Mrs. B! You can do it!” Sweet Jesus. How do I fail in front of her now? I couldn’t, and it was ugly, and I’m glad it was dark in that room, but I managed to get my fat ass over that ledge and to the top. I was sweating and tired, and when I went down the slide it was so steep and fast it actually launched me out of the shoot and I landed in a heap in front of several parents watching from below. There was no way to play it cool, so I laid there like a lump, catching my breath. Thankfully, several parents said how impressed they were that I even attempted to get to the top, so at least I got some street cred out of it. Or they were just trying to make me feel better. Either way, only one other parent attempted the same structure and made it to the top, so that makes me one of the cool moms.
My kids went back to school on August 31st, so I had three days last week of blissful alone time. I’ve never had that, and I savored it. I read several of your blogs, did some housework, ran errands without children, and met friends for lunch. It was heaven. I’m really looking forward to this school year. And for the first time since my oldest daughter started school eight years ago, I didn’t cry at drop off on the first day. I fucking celebrated and went out for sushi!
Life is good, people. Life is Good!!!!!!
At least that’s what my 95-year-old Nanny (grandmother) tells me, and after spending a little over a week with her in Illinois last week, I would whole-heartedly agree with her.
My daughter Bryn was going on vacation with her grandparents, so I flew her to St. Louis from LA, handed her off to her grandparents who were driving to Florida for a week of fun in the sun, and then drove the three hours north to my grandmother’s house in Bloomington, IL.
Upon my arrival, my grandmother burst into tears and announced how happy she was to see me. I had just been to visit her the month before as part of our annual summer vacation, but sadly, at 95 years of age her memory is not what it used to be. Although it had only been a month, she was unable to recall my previous visit. This always breaks my heart. She will say things like, “No one ever comes to visit me.” I gently remind her that I see her every summer, and although she believes me, her reality is such that she cannot remember the visits, so for her it’s like it never happened.
While my Nanny is very healthy physically, her memory loss and diminished capacity for independence grates on her self-esteem. She hates that she can no longer stand at the stove and prepare full meals or bake the delicious cakes and desserts she always enjoyed having in the house. Every time I came to visit she always had a cake, pie, or some amazing sugar creation waiting for whatever company happened to stop by. She was always prepared for company. Now, she is still able to care for her own physical needs, prepare light meals like sandwiches, and also do some very light housekeeping, but for the most part her recliner in the living room occupies most of her attention these days.
My Nanny is 95 and my grandfather turns 97 this week. They don’t have computers, internet, Wi-Fi, or even a DVD player. They have cable TV, but that’s about it for modern technology. Their day consists of rolling out of bed around 9am, and sitting in their chairs in the living room all day long, watching baseball, Mass, Fox News, and AMC movie classics. That’s it. I imagine I will find that life pretty enjoyable if I make it to their advanced age, however, for a 41 year old active woman, it was enough to make me want to throw myself from a cliff.
I wanted to spend quality time with them, so that meant sitting with them in the living room. For hours. Every day. For nine days. Watching Fox News. And Lawrence Welk. For the love of God, Lawrence Welk. Watching her sing along to songs she has known for fifty years was heartening, but it was also like nails on a chalkboard. My grandmother sings beautifully, and it made me happy to see her happy, but an hour of Lawrence Welk is enough to make me want to grind my ears through a pencil sharpener. Now imagine a week of that. (If you are reading this and you don’t know who Lawrence Welk is, google it. Right now. Then drink a bottle of wine and thank your lucky stars you weren’t me last week.) I used to watch it with her when I was in college, just because it made her happy. I did the same thing this week, just to make her happy. Damn, I’m a really good granddaughter. One night I came upstairs to find them watching AMC Classics, and Animal House was on. OMG! Talk about awkward! But I sat through the movie because it was two hours of something funny and relative to my age group. At the end, my Nanny declared it to be “junk” and she stated that if people actually thought this movie was good, then she held little hope for the future of our country. I informed her that Animal House is a cult classic and almost everyone loves this movie. She was thoroughly disgusted with humanity and went to bed.
Oh, and did I mention that many people tend to lose their filter when they hit advanced ages? Well, my Nanny is no different. This is a Christian Catholic woman who took her responsibility as a Christian seriously, and my whole life she refrained from talking trash about others because she felt it was a horrible sin. However, that is no longer the case. She has become brutally honest and says whatever pops into her head. For example, among other shocking statements, she told me one day that I was the fattest she had ever seen me, and what the hell did I think I was doing letting my body go to shit like that. I’m totally serious, and this is a woman who never cussed. I reminded her that I’m not 25 anymore, I’m almost 42 years old and I usually work out 3-4 days per week. She said, “Well, whatever you’re doing, it’s not working for you.” One day I came upstairs wearing fashionably distressed jeans. She said, “Are those the best clothes your husband can afford to buy for you?” So I said, “Yes Nanny, and can you believe I bought these jeans with the patches already sewed into them?” She rolled her eyes in disgust. I winked at her. We both laughed.
Due to her memory loss, we also had many repeated conversations. She would ask me the same questions every few minutes, and I would give her the same answer, every time she asked. We did this every day. Several hours per day. I was kind to her. I was gentle. I tried to remind her that she was still pretty and valuable. Whenever I told her she was beautiful, she would say, “Yeah, pretty ugly, and pretty apt to stay that way.” I’m laughing as I type this because her sense of humor is awesome.
I had to leave the house for a little while each day to maintain my sanity. I found myself falling asleep on the couch with them at 6:30pm. I was sleeping until 9am in the morning. I was becoming an old person. One day I looked at my VivoFit and saw that in the entire day, I had only walked 892 steps. In a whole day! The next day I went for a four mile walk just to combat the sedentary inclination. I also went to the local campus, Illinois State University, my alma mater, and walked the quad. It felt good to see the buildings, the new renovations and the efforts made to beautify and modernize the campus. I found myself thinking, “Damn, I went to a nice school.” I relived a lot of great memories that day and refreshed my old lady soul.
One day, Nanny let me take her for a drive. She was alive with excitement driving around this town where she had spent her entire life. She was seeing old and new buildings, construction and modern architecture, as if she were a young child in a new and enchanting land. She was filled with memories and emotion as we drove past homes where she lived as a young woman with my grandfather, and cried when she observed new buildings where her old favorites no longer existed. She lamented the time when she also would no longer exist, torn down and forgotten like an old, worn out building.
The day I left we said a tearful good-bye. We are both painfully aware that at the end of each visit there is a very real possibility that it will be our last. Before I left she looked at me and said, “You know I may not remember you at all next year.” I held back my tears and said, “Yes, but I will remember you.” And I drove away watching her in my side mirror as she stood in the driveway, beautiful and proud, with her hand raised in the air. As she always does when I leave her.
So yes, whether you are 41 or 95, getting old is most definitely not for sissies.
Same Shit, different Dave
Listen to your inner self..it has all the answers..
Chef, Blogger and Food Photographer
Finding my way back out of motherhood -- while mothering
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Dr. Jennifer Molidor
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain