Monday, December 17, 2007

Holiday Rantings - Seed for Thought

It's that time of year again. Thanksgiving has come and gone. The masses have ventured out before dawn for the 'shopping experience'. I still ask myself WHY? For clarification I must let you know - I am not a shopper. I do not like crowds. And I think people in general are extremely rude to one another and should stop and listen to themselves more often.

My family believes my cynicism is a result of my employment. Let's face it - in five years I can count on one hand the number of times someone called to tell me they liked what we did or that we did a good job. Anyway...

Despite all this, I love this time of year - I really do. I think Thanksgiving is such a special day, when family and friends gather together. Our years away from family were never vacant - we filled the holidays with friends who were away from family as well. Some of their traditions have joined ours. We sit at the table together and recall fond memories and share stories - and they are with us again.

I love all the preparation for Christmas. The music, the smells, the colors and all the memories that come with each day. I love the old movies - Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story (You'll shoot your eye out Ralphie), and It's a Wonderful Life. I just wish it were possible to actually spend the day with more family members. So many are miles away.

When I grew up we gathered with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Gifts were often made by hand and with love. Inquiries were made about likes and desires. The planning seemed to add to the anticipation. Everyone oo'd and ah'd over the carving, the handknit product, the sewn by hand garment, the photograph, the painting... or even the store bought addition to a special collection. The sentiment was sincere. The feeling was genuine. You knew the thought and love that went into the gift you received was meant just for you.

I have returned to making gifts over the past few years. I try to think of likes and hobbies and create a gift that will be put to use and appreciated. Outside of my immediate family they aren't well received. My nieces proudly show me how they still have something I gave them a couple of years ago. I see my own gang using their gifts. A smile always returns to my heart.

That isn't always the case. It is difficult for a sweater or a stocking cap & scarf to compare to an expensive Ipod or video game. It appears the dollar value holds a great deal of importance to some. Actions speak louder than words.

Part of the difficulty is our family. There are many quirks. We are not the Norman Rockwell version. We are the 21st Century version with a lot of ins and outs.

We have long distance relationships with family that stay in touch - if we call. I place myself in the middle because of my personal desire to have everyone together...

In the past I've reminded my husband to keep in touch, but don't do that any longer. I call my parents and my family. The rest you cannot force.. If family doesn't choose to call on holidays or birthdays, I try not to take it personal. It's just the way things have developed. We are grateful that the relationships have grown to this point.

We want our family to know they are special. We hope that our gift giving will reflect this whether or not it is store bought or expensive. With finances being what they are for so many, we hope a well thought out family gift will be enjoyed as well. We hope the gift will be enough to evoke in their own minds the thought that miles don't have to be a barrier in this day and age. We hope it is seen as encouragement for growth.

As frustrating as it all is - I return to my immediate surroundings where I make lists for baking, and candy making. I organize the Christmas card list and think of pleasantries to share with our family and friends. Instead of racing to the mall I enjoy a hot cup of tea and see the progress on my latest project (ok - so maybe a little cyber shopping too). Mall or no mall, we still want our family to know we are thinking of them and hope they will appreciate the thought and time we put into their gifts.

Stay sane, drive careful and remember to call someone and tell them you are thinking of them! That's what the holidays are all about.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Life is Grand!

Have you ever noticed that some days you are older than others? It's that reality thing. I manage to keep busy and try to stay one step ahead to avoid facing reality with too much seriousness.

However, recently I succumbed to my vanity and started wearing contacts. Mind you I've only worn my glasses routinely for the past couple of year.. i.e. it's mandatory to see what's within arms range.

My family has been saying - get contacts. Seems easy enough. While I'm not a big fan of poking one's self in the eye, and never been fond of prying the lid open, I'm getting better at it. I can actually get the contacts in my eye now in under an hour! Not kidding!

Why is it the eyelashes formerly referred to as "razor stubble" now get in the way. I've spent so much time stretching the skin tissue around my eye that I'm going to need a nip and tuck (or for me it would be more of a slash & fold).

The vision is just one of many declining activities I've faced in the past few years. I've noticed I get noisier when I walk, sit, move... used to be just the joints protesting by creaking and now it's this odd "uff" sound expelling from my mouth.

We won't even discuss the gray hair. I have given up coloring (mostly because I have no clue what my original color is any longer) and have resorted to "highlights" (which is code for I'm adding blonde to confuse the gray!).

I could go on - there are hot flashes, dry skin, removal of out-sourced body parts... crazy, huh. I no longer fret about that extra 10lbs - because they have friends (about 30 of them). I could exercise - but that would involve more energy than I care to produce. I'm quite content with my 'virtual' workout.

But these changes only define 'what' I am - not who. What I am is a gardener, photographer, wanna-be writer, beach-comber, traveler and lacrosse mom. This is who I am... nearly 48 years old, recently a grandmother, mother of three, wife to him, mother-in-law, daughter, big sister, aunt, step-mom to four, 'gramma' to ten more, 'Uncle Deb to two, sister-in-law, niece, Godmother, confidant, listener and friend. Life is grand!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

He's here!

Taten Michael

Our first grandson was born last week. I am so pleased to announce he is healthy and beautiful. Though smaller than everyone anticipated, 6 lbs 19", he has reached into our hearts and stolen them.

Everyone has always said being a grandparent is a wonderful experience. It has been for many years. You see, my husband and I have six grands from his children and four adopted grandchildren - ten total. I love each and every one of them. They are all very special. They all call me "Gramma". They have other grandparents geographically and emotionally closer. We aren't as prominent in their lives as we'd hope to be.

As special as they all are - Taten is our first grandchild - the product of our marriage and one of our children. With Taten, I'm not Dad's wife. I'm not the 'other Grandma' or "also". I don't have to stand in the shadows. I am Gramma! It is a wonderful feeling. I look into his little face and think - wow! This little person will be someone to tell stories, read books, teach songs, make cookies, take walks and share secrets. He's our grandson! We are so blessed.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Feeling Melancholy

July 2001

Family is the most important thing in my life. My children, my husband, my parents, my siblings, and all of the rest. I love visiting with aunts, uncles & cousins. I miss the stories of 'days ago'. They know so much. I love family recipes. I relish family photos. I am thrilled to learn the crafts of these folks who have so much to share. I love being compared to someone in the family - it's a connection. It's who I am.

I'm no saint. My mothering skills revealed my impatience way too often. I regret this but hope it made us all stronger. I love my children and would give my life for them.

I recall the days when the three were small/young and wonder how I managed so often by myself while my husband served our country. We spent holidays apart, anniversaries separated, relocated to unfamiliar territories by ourselves. Our income was divided to support all of his family... we made the most of what we had.

When faced with a home left behind by my predeceasor we found ourselves paying back taxes, deep cleaning walls and carpets, replacing light fixtures removed and the fireplace insert. We were blessed with acreage that needed major attention to avoid code enforcement and a pool which had to be emptied, scrubbed, refilled in addition to replacing the equipment. At that point in our life it felt like two steps forward and one back. With every accomplishment we were faced with another outstanding bill left by another or an legal document breaking a previous agreement leaving us once again to pick up the pieces. And no means of contacting his children who were no longer available to him.

I flew to foreign countries with 3 small children, left my babies with women I had to trust, lived in an economy of theft & distrust where I was the foreigner, endured Hurricane Hugo AND the aftermath of living on an island with no water or electricity waiting for supplies to arrive by barge, managed chicken pox X3, flu, head lice, pneumonia, runny noses, scraped faces/knees/elbows, stitches, mended broken hearts, sold multiple houses, moved cross country, unpacked households, the list goes on. This doesn't even touch on the day to day "make my hair turn gray" car maintenance, bills to pay and no money, repairs, food disasters, dead pets, mishaps, fumigating, projectile pukes... I don't feel sorry for myself. It's the life we chose - no one forced me. It is part of what makes me who I am today. I managed - one day at a time. I smile because I survived! I am proud of myself.

In addition to my own children, I have spent the past 25 plus years trying to find a place in the hearts of my husband's older children - and their families. Family is important. Our children were raised knowing they had 2 older brothers & 2 older sisters. They were raised knowing we are ONE family. Even when the contact was minimal, there has never been a doubt about what role the older four children play in the lives of the younger three. It's never been questioned. This is what we chose and what we want to be.

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about family. They don't all see us as a family in the same manner. It's been a rollercoaster ride, believe me. Through them we are blessed with grandchildren - and while we are not a part of their family snapshots, I hope they will always know how much we love them.

Once upon a time we were able to spend more time together. We lived in an area that was convenient, or on the way, when they traveled. We looked forward to those visits every year. Often times we had more than one daughter at a time, as well as their children. It was great to be a part of their lifes. We moved some years ago. To date, their frequent travels haven't found them returning to our new home. We've traveled to their homes or crossed paths on the coast when they needed someone to watch their kids while we camped. The time with the kids was special but we missed their parents too.

My own parents and siblings are also thousands of miles away. My parents are healthy now but I worry. My sister's family is growing up way too fast. I need to figure out how to get back more often to visit and spend time with them - know them - be a part of their lifes too. I had two precious weeks with them in October. It was quality time with my folks and time on the run with my sister. I loved every second. My nieces and nephews are good about emailing and texting. I love being a part of their day. It's nice to know I'm in their thoughts.

My husband's immediate family is gone. His brother passed away followed by his mother and then his father. The family Patriarch position is supposed to be his Dad. Except his Dad is not here. Mike's brother got sick when we lived in Puerto Rico. Twice Mike had tickets to be with him and his parents, but needed notification from the Red Cross to leave his military post. Twice we got partial refunds from airlines because no one got word to the Red Cross. It breaks my heart when we hear the stories of how hard it was for his brother. I know Mike feels badly he couldn't be there for his brother or his family. Not for lack of trying. My husband's life was directed by the military. Even after he retired, we were without jobs, and drove cross country to spend time with his family. We didn't go there to live and start over because we had an offer of a place to live, until we were settled, elsewhere. You deal with the cards you are dealt.

When his mother died we were driving cross county to spend time with them again. It went from a time of family reunion to a funeral. Then the long distance care of his Dad and the accusations that we stole or took advantage. You try to do your best but if someone else has a different agenda they can mess with your emotional state very easily. Fortunately my husband was at his father's side when he passed away. Unfortunately he is alone.

There have been the normal family stirrings, too often caused by outside sources. Long periods of no communication - due to busy schedules, illness, misunderstandings or the ability to not give a darn. I don't understand it. I'm not good at that. How can people who claim to care about one another go weeks or months without responding to one another? How can you ignore inquiries about how you are doing? You certainly cannot expect someone to understand your situation, how your are feeling or what you are enduring if you don't at least give them a hint.

After our move to Idaho my brother-in-law's family grew and we reconnected. My husband was asked to be Papa to two beautiful girls who mean the world to both of us. It's such a blessing to be a family reunited. They are the pieces of the puzzle that links my husband to his brother and parents.

I once had a Navy chief who told me I wear my heart on my sleeve. Wow - what a revelation! I'm a Cancer - very family oriented. This is who I am. I try to understand - give space - be patient. It's not my forte.

In recent months, it feels like we are on a long bike trip - we've had flat tires, branches in our spokes, and sore backsides. It seems as though we get through one trial and another arises. We hug one another and remind ourselves that God never gives us more than we can handle. Despite what it feels like at the moment. And believe me - it has been a test. We stick together. We help one another. We will survive.

Life goes on. You take it one day at a time. Our own children are grown and moving on to the next stages of their lifes. We are proud of everyone. We will soon have a new generation with which to share our love. I cannot wait!

I still have this dream that some day there will be a family gathering - my husband with all of his children and grandchildren. I hope it will include his nieces and nephews and their families too because they are our family too. I hope it will include memories, stories, hugs, kisses and tears of joy. I hope I will be there to sit back, watch, smile and thank God for bringing us all together again.