Small Changes

When I was young, I liked few things better than going out on a Saturday night with my husband.  It didn’t matter if it was a quiet dinner for just the two of us or we were joining our friends at a party. As long as I was out and about on a Saturday night, I was a happy camper.  The only exceptions were if we invited friends or family over to our house, or if something we couldn’t control (like the flu or icy roads) prevented us from leaving home.  As far as I was concerned, Saturday nights were for celebrating and being with the people I loved best.

Then we had a couple of children and learned that the joys of going out on a Saturday night weren’t always worth the hassle.  We didn’t have much family nearby and reliable babysitters were both expensive and hard to find.  Going out on Saturday night became a rare treat, usually enjoyed only once a month or so.  Not that we minded…we found other ways to enjoy Saturday nights that included the children.  But I’d be lying if I said we didn’t look forward to the nights we managed to slip away for a quiet dinner at a nice restaurant or to catch a good movie.

All too soon, our children grew up and we were once again able to “go out” on a Saturday night without any advance planning involved.  And we did, probably more often that our budget actually allowed.  I guess all those years of having to plan a night out made us feel that we were doing something special when we headed out on a Saturday night, even if we had reached the age when our “big night out” almost always ended before ten.

These days, however, we have a whole new idea of a fun way to spend Saturday night.  These days our ideal Saturday night would be spent in the company of a very little person who just happens to be our grandson.  When we tell our daughter and son-in-law that we would be happy to babysit so they can enjoy a date night, we are only telling a partial truth.  We are happy to babysit for the little guy, period.  That fact that his parents are getting in some couple time is just icing on the cake.

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Last Saturday night, we put on our jeans and sweatshirts and headed over to our daughter’s house.  While she and her husband attended a fund-raising event with his family, we took turns changing diapers, feeding bottles, and walking the floor with a baby snuggled on our shoulders.  Whoever didn’t have the baby took their turn petting the family dog, who seems unfazed by the tiny addition to her family.

I suppose my idea of the ideal Saturday night out hasn’t really changed all that much.  Our evening may not have been romantic or particularly exciting, but that didn’t matter at all.  I still spent Saturday night with the people I love the most, and that is celebration enough for me.

 

A New Chapter

Life is often called a journey, and I think that is true.  But I’m an avid reader and also a writer, which means that when I think of my life, I tend to picture it more as a book.  Just like life, books have definite beginnings and endings.  The interesting part is what happens in between and the story is usually divided into specific chapters.  My life’s “chapters” are the highlights of my story, such as graduation, marriage, my first job, the birth of my children, etc.  And now I am beginning yet another chapter, because two days ago my daughter gave birth to her first child and I became a grandparent.

04-RWAR-26Many of my friends already have grandchildren, and they did their best to tell me just how special it is.  And I believed them, I really did.  But I still totally unprepared for the absolute joy and wonder I felt when I first saw my brand-new grandson.  He seemed like nothing less than a tiny little miracle.  And just as I did with my own newborn babies all those years ago, I fell in love with him, immediately and absolutely.

He’s not even a week old yet, so the role of grandparent is still new to me and I don’t really quite know what to expect.  I hope he will always know how much I love him and that he can always count on me.  I want to be the sort of grandmother who enriches his life, and maybe gets the chance to spoil him, just a little bit.  I’ve heard that what grandparents are supposed to do.

I see so much of my daughter in him already, and when I look at my son-in-law, I have no doubt that my grandson is blessed with a wonderful father and role model.   I hope they both know I’m always ready to offer my support as they adjust to parenthood, with all of its joys and all of its demands.  I know they are going to be terrific parents.

I’m not exactly sure what this next chapter of my life will bring.  But I have to tell you, I can’t wait to find out….

One More Christmas

IMG_2153We were sure that last year would be our dog Lucy’s very last Christmas.  She was fifteen years old, and had survived a couple of serious health issues.  Signs of her aging were obvious: stiffness in her joints, hearing loss, and worst of all, a digestive system that obviously could no longer handle the variety of “food” she still found and insisted on eating.  Lucy had been part of our family for over fourteen years, so our Christmas morning was a little bittersweet as all photographed and video-taped what we thought would be the last time she would ever help us open presents.

Clearly, Lucy had other ideas.  Because Christmas is a week away, and she is still with us.

I’m not sure if it’s her competitive nature (her doggie sister lived to be sixteen and a half, and I think she has every intention of exceeding that goal), or just that she is still enjoys life.  She turned sixteen last October.  Lucy’s hearing is basically gone, her eyes are somewhat cloudy and she can no longer balance on three legs while I trim her nails.  But she still has a healthy appetite, still trots briskly after the occasional squirrel, and still plays with her dog toys now and then.  She can even still chase her tail a little bit when she gets really excited about something,  such as her dinner being served.

I know that eventually my family will be facing a Christmas, and a life, without Lucy.  She won’t be with us forever despite her best efforts.  Time moves on and those we love, both human and otherwise, grow old and die…often before we are ready to let them go. And since Christmas is a time when the influence of the past seems to be stronger than usual, acknowledging that loss can be hard.

My father has been gone for eight years now, and both my mother-in-law and father-in-law have been gone for six years.  And while my husband and I miss them all the time, we miss them especially during the Christmas season, when the memories of the holidays we celebrated together are especially strong.  We didn’t live in the same state so we had to be flexible about when we got together, but they were always a part of our Christmas celebrations.  And Christmas isn’t quite the same without them.

Yet Christmas is still a beautiful season.  It’s a time to treasure the family and friends we still have and to appreciate the new people who join our family and enrich our lives. My mother may be in her late eighties, but she is still with us, and so is her elderly Chihuahua.  My children and their spouses live close by and we are very much looking forward to the arrival of our first grandson in just a few weeks.  Some change is good indeed.

And the fact that Lucy will get at least one more chance to find the special present that Santa Dog left under the tree will just make this Christmas that much sweeter.

A Change of Season

According to the calendar, Summer isn’t officially over until September 21.  But for me, the Labor Day weekend has always signaled the end of summer.  Public swimming pools close, all the kids are back in school, and although the days remain warm (or even hot), they are shorter and followed by cooler nights.  And the flowers that bloomed all summer long begin to look faded and worn, as if they know that the first frost isn’t all that far away.

Some years I’m more than ready for Fall, but not this year.  This year the summer went by way too fast, and we had so many unseasonably cool days that I barely got to wear most of my summer clothes.  If I had my way, we’d be celebrating the 4th of July this weekend, not Labor Day.  But I don’t get my way on such things, and Fall is coming whether I like it or not.  So all I can really do is think back on the last three months and be grateful for all the good memories they brought.

I’m grateful for the short trips we took to visit old friends who we don’t see nearly often enough.  I’m glad that I have finally figured out that good friends are worth the time and effort it takes to stay in touch, no matter how far away they live.  I may not be getting any smarter as I age, but I am doing much better when it comes to getting my priorities straight.

I’ll remember the cool nights my husband and I ate dinner out on our patio, which is rare in St. Louis’ usually hot and humid summers.  I’ll remember that this was the summer we finally painted the ugly-colored brick on our house an attractive shade of grey.  For the first time in over twenty years, I drive up to my house and think, “Wow! That looks nice!”

IMG_2688I’m grateful that I got the chance to host my mom’s 87th birthday party so that she could celebrate with some of her family and friends.  So many of my friends have lost their moms in recent years, and I know that they would give anything to be able to have them around for just one more family gathering.  When I was young, I tended to take my parents for granted (as young people do) thinking that they would always be around when I finally decided to make time for them.  Now I know better.

fullsizeoutput_417bBut mostly, I will always remember that this is the summer that I learned that we will be welcoming a grandson into our family in a few months.  Becoming a grandmother will be a huge and wonderful change in my life, and I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the reality that my daughter is going to have a baby of her own.  To say I’m excited for the arrival of my first grandchild would be an understatement.

So this Labor Day, there is a part of me that is not quite ready to let go of summer and that wishes Fall would hold off just a little while longer.  But I also know that the changing seasons mirror the changing phases of my life, and that they mostly bring good things.  A mere three years ago, my immediate family consisted of only four people.  Two weddings later, it has grown to six, and soon there will a seventh member of our family.  And that’s a change I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Wedding Moments

img_0566The big day finally came last Saturday, and my son is now officially married to the lovely young woman he has been dating for the last several years.   People have been asking me, “How did the wedding go?” and I answer, honestly if vaguely, “Very well, thank you.”  The thing is, my memories of that day are jumbled images that are all mixed up together in my mind.  I’ve always been told I’m a bit of a scatter-brain, and I guess this proves it. But that’s okay, because all of the images are good ones.

I remember waking up on the morning of the wedding and immediately checking to see if the weather forecast of a cool but sunny day was correct.  It was, which meant that it was a perfect Fall day for the outdoor ceremony.  I remember getting my hair done later that morning, and telling the stylist to be very generous with the hair spray so that my hair wouldn’t be drooping by that evening.  I believe my exact words were, “Use enough so that if I walk into a brick wall, the wall will be dented but my hair won’t.”  And she did. I think I finally washed the last of it out this morning.

img_2001I remember seeing my daughter-in-law in her wedding dress for the first time and how incredibly beautiful she looked,  but also thinking how lucky I am that my son chose to marry someone who is even more beautiful on the inside.   I remember seeing my son, all dressed up in his suit and tie and wondering exactly when my energetic, loving and creative little boy turned into such a handsome, intelligent and caring young man.  (I know I’m bragging here, but I’m a mother, and that’s one of the perks.  It makes up for all those years of dirty diapers and sleep deprivation.)

I remember blinking back a few tears during the ceremony, and not even being sure why, because I felt nothing but happiness at that moment.  Later, during the cocktail hour, I remember greeting so many friends and family, and feeling so grateful for each and every person who came to share the day.  I remember being nervous right before the mother and son dance, because I rarely dance and never like to be the center of attention.  But I followed my blogger friend Jodi’s advice and simply focused on my son, and enjoyed it so much that I was actually just a little sorry when it was over.  Who knew?

Once everyone was dancing, there was so much to notice I could hardly keep track.  I was touched when my son-in-law asked my mother to dance, and impressed with their moves on the dance floor.  I remember trying to follow along in a line dance, being glad I was at the back of the group, and my surprise when they all suddenly did an about-face and I found myself front and center.  (I have since learned that where you want to be in a group dance is in the exact middle, sandwiched in between tall people on all sides.)  I remember watching in awe as my son (who hates to dance) danced not only with his new wife, but with his grandmother, his friends, and (briefly) with his cousin Travis.

I remember posing for many photos, some serious and some silly, and texting a few to dear friends who were not able to attend the wedding, because we wanted to find a way to include them.  But mostly, I remember looking up to see my son, my daughter, my son-in-law and my new daughter in-law taking a group photo and thinking, “That’s my family now.  Those are my kids.”  And I couldn’t have been happier…..

Shower Gifts

Yesterday, I helped host a family shower for my son’s fiance.   I admit that I was a bit nervous about the whole thing, because I really love the young woman my son is marrying and wanted to throw her a nice shower to welcome her into our family.  My daughter, who also helped host the shower, wanted to do a champagne brunch, so we booked a room in a nearby restaurant for the event, ordered some petite fours and cake pops from a local bakery to serve, and in general, did all the things that one does when planning a bridal shower.  Still, I was just a little bit on edge, wondering if everything would go well and being more than a little bit afraid that something would inevitably go wrong.  Little Mary Sunshine, that’s me.

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But I am happy to say that everything went just fine.  The restaurant staff was very professional, setting up the room the way we wanted it and serving delicious food.  We had a nice turn-out, and everyone seemed to have a good time.   As is the tradition, at the end of the shower, the bride-to-be opened her gifts while we all watched.  She got some terrific presents and seemed very happy with all of them, which was a wonderful thing to see.

Still, while I was watching my future daughter-in-law open her gifts, I found my mind wandering a bit.  I kept looking around the room at all the people who were there, and realizing how much I appreciated each of them being there.  Each and every person in that room made the effort to take time out of their busy weekend to come to this shower, showing their support for the newest addition to our family.  And their presence was a gift.

My sister helped host and provided the beautiful flowers for the shower.  My mother offered assistance in any way that was needed, and helped us set up the room.  My sisters-in-law from Iowa not only came a great distance to attend the shower, they showed up early to help us get ready and stayed late to help clean up afterwards.  My sister-in-law from downstate, her two daughters and her granddaughter, all came to help us celebrate and show their support.

Family friends came, some of whom I have known for my entire life.  Friends I met when I was just a baby and friends I met when I was newly-married and childless were all there, knowing how important this shower was to me and my family.  The youngest attendee was the seven-week old granddaughter of a dear family friend, and that baby represented the fourth generation in the friendship between our two families.  It doesn’t get much more special than that.

Yes, the bride-to-be received many terrific gifts at this shower, and that’s as it should be.  It was her day, and she handled it with grace and style, just as I knew she would.  But as I looked around the room yesterday and took in all the people who were there, the friends and family who showed up to offer their support and to welcome the newest member of our family, and to meet her lovely mother and grandmother, I couldn’t help but realize that my son’s fiance wasn’t the only one who was receiving gifts.

True, the love and support of family and friends is not a gift that I could open.  But it was a gift nonetheless, and one that I will remember and appreciate for a very, very, long time.

Wear the White Jeans

IMG_0290Like many women, whenever I get invited to an event, one of my first thoughts is, “What in the world am I going to wear?”  So when I received an invitation to my future daughter-in-law’s bachelorette party, my first reaction was to be very touched and happy that I was included.  My second reaction was to start fretting about exactly what I was going to wear for this occasion.

We were going to a nearby historical town to spend the afternoon visiting wineries, and since we would to be outside some of the time, I decided to wait and see what the weather was going to be before I decided on my outfit.  I have reached the age where the more clothes I have on, the better I look.  But I also knew that August can be very hot and humid, and had to take that into consideration.  Luckily, the day of the party turned out to be only pleasantly warm, which gave me more choice in my attire.  I decided that I was going to aim for a casual, yet festive look, with an eye toward maximum coverage.

Pairing white jeans with a light-weight, dressy top seemed to be the obvious solution, but I found myself hesitating, as I always do when I consider wearing my white jeans.  I usually wear dark pants, which help hide the fact that the lower half of my body is bigger than the top half, and was afraid that the white jeans might highlight the fact that my body shape is, in essence, that of a pyramid with legs.  Also, I was afraid that the white jeans might be ruined.  Even though I always drink white wine (the wine of choice for clumsy people), I knew there would be plenty of red wine around, as well as other things that could stain white jeans, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk it.

I think if I hadn’t been rushed for time when I was getting ready, I probably would have made a different clothing choice.  But I didn’t want to be late, so I just threw on the white jeans, found a top with a “busy” enough design to counter-balance the vast whiteness below, and headed off for the party.  And had a wonderful, wonderful, time with my future daughter-in-law, her mother, and her close friends, including my daughter.

Which brings me, finally, to the point of this post.  My white jeans have sat in my drawer for most of this past summer, as well as the summer before that.  I have been too afraid to wear them, because I didn’t have the figure for them and/or that they would get dirty or stained.  So each time I tried them on before going out, I almost always took them back off and put on a different, “safer,” pair of pants or jeans, believing that I would wear the white ones later.

What exactly I was waiting for, I don’t know.  It’s not as though, at age 58, I’m going to suddenly lose a ton of weight or develop “buns of steel.”   If anything, I’m going in the opposite direction, with the needle on my scale moving steadily upward, and the best I can boast at this point in my life is “buns of Jello.”  And yes, white does show the dirt and get stained, but so what?  That’s what bleach and washing machines are for.

The bottom line is that if going to a party that celebrates the fact that a lovely, sweet and intelligent young woman is going to marry my son isn’t worth finally wearing my white jeans, I don’t know what is.  I may be getting old, but I can still learn something new.  And what I learned yesterday is: appreciate all the good things that are going on in your life right now.  And wear the white jeans!

Father’s Day Gifts

Like so many things in my life, Father’s Day has changed.  When I was a child, Father’s Day meant getting out my paper and crayons and making a home-made card for my father, to accompany the gift I had either made or purchased for a quarter at the local Ben Franklin store.  As I grew older, the cards and gifts I gave to my dad on Father’s Day became more sophisticated and expensive, but they were no more sincere than the clay ashtray I made for him two years after he gave up smoking. (I honestly don’t remember why that seemed like a good idea.)  And then came that afternoon in the grocery store five years ago when, out of sheer habit, I headed for the greeting card aisle to buy a Father’s Day card, before I suddenly and sadly realized that I no longer had either a father or a father-in-law to acknowledge with a card.

These days, my family’s Father’s Day celebrations are centered on my husband, who has been a father for almost thirty years now.  We usually meet at a restaurant of my husband’s choosing, since what he always wants most for Father’s Day is simply to spend time with his kids. (I try not to dwell on the fact that he always chooses to go out for a meal rather than have me cook it, as that could be a judgement on my cooking skills.)  It’s always a happy gathering, as we are fortunate to have wonderful relationships with our son and daughter and their significant others, and I know how lucky I am to have married a man who is not only a great husband, but a terrific father as well.

Still, there is always something a little bittersweet about Father’s Day.  Partly, it is the memories of the fathers that my husband and I have lost.  I don’t think we ever outgrow the desire to have a father in our lives, or ever stop missing them when they are gone.  All we can do is be grateful for the time we did have with them, the good memories, and the wisdom that they passed on when they shared the best of themselves with us.

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And even as we are enjoying the company of our adult son and daughter, there is always a small part of us that remembers, and misses, the sweet years when they were growing up. I remember my toddler daughter running across the lawn to greet my husband when he came home from work, calling “Dee!  Dee!” as she ran.  (“Daddy” was still too hard for her to say.) And my husband still cherishes the framed, painted handprint my son made him in Sunday school class when he was just three years old.  Even though he always worked at a demanding, full-time job, my husband found time to be very active in our children’s lives, coaching their sports teams, advising them, playing games with them, and generally just being there whenever they needed him.

So, yes, Father’s Day is a bit more complicated now that I am in late middle age, but it is still a very good day.  It’s a time to remember and appreciate the father and father-in-law I had, to cherish the memories of my husband’s relationship with our kids while they were growing up, and to celebrate the family we are now.  Sometimes complicated is good.

 

A New Perspective

When I was eighteen years old, I graduated from a small high school in Kansas and headed off to college in Iowa, and at the same time, my parents moved to a new home in Illinois.  I never moved back in with them, and for the next forty years, my parents and I lived in different states, usually several hours away from each other.  But when my father passed away nine years ago, we all agreed that it would be best for my mother to move to St. Louis to be nearer to two of her daughters, and seven years ago, she moved to a house that is about a fifteen minute drive from me.

It seemed so different to suddenly have my mom close by again.  The first few weeks after her move, I was at her house almost every day, helping her unpack and settle into her new home, and helping her find all the necessary connections (a new doctor, the closest grocery store, a new bank, etc.) that moving to a new state entails.  These days, I’m not at her house as often, but we talk several times a week on the phone, eat dinner together often, and I drop by her house regularly to see if she needs anything or just to visit.  We both like to watch HGTV and sometimes I help her with a jigsaw puzzle, but other times we just sit and talk.

MomThe mother-daughter relationship is always a complicated one, and I suspect that each mother-daughter relationship is also unique.  When I was very young, our household was busy and my mother had her hands full with raising her own three kids, plus a niece and a nephew.  Later, she added to her work load by going back to school to get her masters degree in Education so she could support my father when he quit his job to go to Seminary.     My mother was there when I needed her, but we didn’t spend a lot of time together, and we weren’t especially close.  And of course, once I became a teenager, I was far too cool to listen to anything my mother had to say anyway.

So now it seems that in many ways, I have been given a wonderful gift of being able to spend time with her, as two adults, and get to know her more as an individual, rather than simply as my mother.  She tells me stories of her family and her early life (sometimes the same story several times, but repeating stories is a privilege of the aged).  I always knew my mother was a hard worker, but I am still in awe of how active she is in her church, and how willing she is to take on new responsibilities.  I see how much time she makes for the friends in her life, always reaching out to them when she knows they are dealing with something hard.

DSC01665My mother will be turning eighty-six this summer, so I know that our time together is not unlimited.  I know that she will become more dependent on my help as she ages, and that is nothing more than the natural order of life.  But whatever the future brings, what I know most of all is that I am so very grateful that I have her close by now, and that I will always have the memories of these past few years together.

 

Family Legacy

Bernard and Martha_0015I was sorting through some old family photos the other day when I came across my favorite picture of my grandmother.  She’s standing in the backyard of of her modest brick bungalow, dressed in her Sunday best, complete with hat, white gloves and one of those fox stoles that were so popular back in the fifties.  She’s looking off into the distance, unsmiling, formal, and quietly dignified.   Even though I remember her smiling easily and more often than not wearing a casual cotton “house dress” as she went about her daily chores, there’s something about this photo that really captures the true spirit of the woman I remember from my childhood.

I know only the most basic details of my grandmother’s history.  I know that she was born in 1893 to German immigrants, and grew up speaking German at home and English at school.  I know she married my grandfather when she was almost thirty years old, and that shortly afterwards she had two children, a girl first and then a boy (my father).  To my knowledge, she never worked outside of her home after she was married, and like many women of her generation, she never learned to drive a car.  I know that she lived through the Great Depression and counted herself lucky to have “enough” at a time when so many people were hungry and homeless, and how she regularly handed out sandwiches to those who came to her door, asking for food.  She raised her family and lived her entire married life in the small brick house she and my grandfather purchased shorty after they were married.

I was lucky enough to live near my grandparents for the first eleven years of my life, so I spent a lot of time with them both, but especially with my grandmother.  She came to our house often for family gatherings, or to watch my sisters and I while my mother ran errands, and she almost always brought cupcakes, cookies, or brownies with her.  Even better were the times when we went to her house, where she kept the candy jar full and stocked our favorite brand of root beer in the refrigerator.  She rarely took the time to actually play with us, but simply welcomed us into her home and then got on with whatever job needed doing.  Sometimes we helped her work around the house, other times we headed upstairs to the back bedroom where she kept a toy chest filled just for us.

I wish I had taken the time to get to know my grandmother more, but she died just before I turned eighteen, which was well before I was mature enough to be interested in family history.  I know she stayed close to her brother and sister, getting together with her siblings and their families every week, that she was very active in her church, and enjoyed playing bridge and canasta with her friends.  I know that she lived to see her only daughter die a violent death, and can only imagine her heartache and grief.

Bernard and Martha_0015 (2)But I would like to have known if she was happy spending her life at home, raising children and keeping house, or if she had other hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled?  I wonder if she waited until she was almost thirty to marry (unusually old, in that time) because she was still needed to help her parents and siblings at home, or if she simply didn’t meet the right man until my grandfather came along.  I even wonder about the silly, insignificant things, like why she prided herself on never drinking water with her meals, or where she got the idea that drinking white soda pop gave a person kidney stones.  (She let us drink root beer, but not 7-Up.)

Sadly, there are many things I’ll never know about my grandmother.  But I have my photographs, and my memories of a strong, caring woman who had an ingrained sense of duty, who enjoyed her friends and who loved her family dearly.  And I know, without a doubt, that I’m proud to be her granddaughter.