Friday, June 19, 2020

Trail Blazers

Trail Blazers 

"'Why do you have a cigarette lighter in your glove compartment?' her husband, Jack, asked her. 'I'm bored with knitting. I've taken up arson.'" ~Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry

I'm a knitter. I'm a knitter now, but for a while I was a wannabe knitter. I always loved watching my mom knit. Her needles clicked and she held different notions between her teeth while the rest of the family watched TV. She was so involved and never bored. The idea of never being bored and having an end product, something to show off, is what made me a wannabe knitter. I am proudly a self-taught knitter. Why didn't my mother teach me? Well...she's left handed. And I would have totally driven her crazy with my stubborn frustration, so it was probably the best decision for both of us that she helped me buy materials and a how-to book and wished me luck. Now we have a shared talent and we do share it. We shop together and swap patterns and advice. 

For a little while I was a closet knitter. I'm only 39 now; when I learned to knit I was about 28. Knitting was not quite as cool as the bar back then, but in a "would you rather" game I would have, and still would, choose knitting. I met Michael when I was just 29. We met on December 30, 2009 but that part of the love story is a story for another time. Today, the important thing to know is that Michael's mom's birthday is March 21st. She turned 60 the March after I met Michael. So just about 3 months after I met him, I also met his entire family. Every cousin, aunt, uncle, second cousin, and family friend who is considered family, showed up to Theresa's 60th birthday party and I was Michael's new girlfriend. Full disclosure, I spent about an hour and a half with Michael's younger brother, Chris and his wife, Liz out to dinner a few weeks before, but I had never met anyone else in the family. I was terrified! I don't know if I have been that nervous at any other time in my life (and I teach freshman English). 

A few months later, Chris and Liz threw a BBQ at their former home in Pittman, NJ. Michael's older brother, Matthew and his wife, Eunice attended the BBQ. I walked in to Chris's backyard and...Eunice was knitting! I had found my people! It was that day that I became a wanna be Eunice. My now sister-in-law is one of the coolest people I know. I'm sure she'd never been bored a day in her life. She is the mother to three talented and kind kids. She makes Kim Chi from scratch. She built her kids' bunkbeds?! I used to admire the photographs of the shore I saw hanging in my in-laws' former beach home in Ventnor and one day I asked where they purchased the photos. I learned that Eunice was, in fact,  the photographer. It must be an older sister thing, because next to Stacy, my older sister, Eunice, my older sister-in-law, is the best gift-giver. This list goes on and on...

While Eunice has not taken up arson (that I know of) she definitely lights fires. At family gatherings Eunice is the one who not only packs up her three kids to travel from formerly South Carolina and now from Idaho, but who packs some well-informed opinions and debating skills. She has a wise wit to her advice which I both crave and accept on any topic. She has been lighting fires under my brother-in-law Matthew for years. 

I am a middle child. So is Michael. He's the middle of three boys and I am the middle of three girls. My older sister, as you may have read, works in medical research. Michael's older brother is a pulmonologist. Michael is a firefighter and I'm a teacher. Michael's younger brother, Chris, is the head pastor at his church in Reading, PA. My younger sister, Lindsay, is an elder at our church in Haddonfield. Seeing a pattern? Anyway, Michael and I both look to our older siblings for, among other things, medical advice. Whenever, we are worried about a diagnosis or a major medical issue, we call Matthew or Stacy. A week after my daughter, Emerson, was born, Michael started having a bad reaction to a medication he was given for his brain tumor. With a newborn in my arms and a crying two year old hugging my legs, I called Matthew. Matthew and Eunice live in Idaho, but Matthew directed me as to how to handle the situation and kept me calm. He organized how to get Michael to the hospital and directed his parents as to Michael's care while he made arrangements to fly to New Jersey in time for Michael's surgery. He waited with me in the waiting room and slept in Michael's hospital room for a week. Eunice is the coolest person I know, but Matthew is the calmest. If Eunice ever gets arrested, she need not fear. Matthew will know what to do. 

I am currently sipping one of the teas that Eunice sent me in the mother-of-all care packages. Michael informed me this morning of Matthew's take on several of my test results from Penn. I laugh when I think of myself at 29, shaking as I walked into my mother-in-law's 60th birthday party. I have felt like family every day since. I adore my big sis, Eunice and my big bro, Matthew.

Thanks for showing us the way, Matthew and Eunice. We can't wait to see you in Idaho. 

Monday, June 1, 2020

Love Is Love

Love Is Love


"We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that/hope and love last longer/And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be/killed or swept aside..." Lin-Manuel Miranda

Growing up, I looked forward to hearing from my uncle, my mother's older brother, every holiday. On Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter, I would twist the rotary phone cord around my fingers as my Uncle "Butch," known to most as Chuck or Charles, would check in on my sisters and me. We didn't actually see Uncle Butch much as kids, nor do we see him a lot now; however, if anyone asks if we are close to my uncle, the answer is, "Of course!" And it's because love has nothing to do with how often we see each other.

I take great pride in having already taught my daughter, Zoe, about death. It happened by accident, but I will say, it was a happy accident. Who knew my, at the time, 3-year-old would be so enthralled by the Netflix original film, The Little Prince? The classic French tale by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, is nestled inside a modern-day story of a little girl whose mother's type-A multitasking is robbing her daughter of the messy, amazing, and necessary trials of childhood. Of course, at the end of this --in my opinion-- brilliant remake, both protagonists, the original character of the Aviator and the new character of the little girl, must grapple with death. Both characters realize that a dead loved one's body "...will be like an abandoned shell. [And] there is nothing sad about an old shell." Both protagonists realize that love does not depend on physical bodies.

In quiet moments of play, unsolicited, Zoe often reiterates her understanding of the themes in The Little Prince. She says, "Even when I can't see you, I still love you."

To be clear, my Uncle Butch is alive and well. He and his husband Paul live in New Hampshire. They have lived far from New Jersey my whole life, and while my husband, Michael, and I did visit them for a fabulous week of dining, sight-seeing, laughing, and relaxing during the summer of 2013, we don't see them often. Regardless, my uncles, Butch and Paul, have supported and loved me since the day I was born.

Throughout my life, Uncle Butch has given me several heartfelt and significant gifts. For our wedding, he gave me and Michael a vase from Tunisia, his French-speaking mother's, my Mamina's, birth country. Yesterday, I received a thin golden band and a letter explaining that the band had belonged to generations of my family members. He meant this band to show me that regardless of whether they are alive or dead, generations of my family are loving and supporting me.

I have never met my mother's and my Uncle Butch's mom. She died of colon cancer in her early 40s. We would have called her Mamina. My children call my mom, Mamina. I'm certain my Mamina is loving me still.

Speaking of never having met someone who loves me, my Uncle Butch's best friend Michael, has also showered me and my family with love for many years. Michael has prayed for me and my Michael through  a brain tumor, childbirths, and now cancer. He sends cards and many thoughtful, generous gifts. His gifts always look professionally wrapped, and are as beautiful in meaning as they are in appearance.

Over the past week, I have been thinking a lot about how to teach Zoe and Emerson about this world and its complicated realities. Luckily, passed on from generations before them, my mother, uncles, and their friends have engrained in me that, "...love is love is love is love..." and that love transcends orientation, gender, race, skin color, distance, and death.

Thank you Charles Motta, Paul Hynes, Michael Bogdanowicz, my Mamina, and my children's Mamina for proving "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye."