Happy Birthday to You

Although you have all read my book, how many of you know that today is Grandpa’s birthday?Today he would be 99.

There are so many things I would love to discuss with him. I would love for him to read my book and critique it. As hard as I researched it, I am sure there are mistakes, and there are many holes I would love for him to fill.

I would love to know how he and his siblings felt when they learned they were moving to Russia. Was there a lot of anger and sadness in the house? Where did they get the money for the move, and how long did it take for them to prepare for it?

I am interested in learning about the trip from the memory of an old men about what he recalled of his thoughts as a twelve-year-old boy. Who found the apartment in Leningrad which they shared with another family, and how did they get along with them?

In particular, I am interested in learning about how he felt about his very long journey home alone. I would have been so frightened, particularly going on that trip as a twenty-two-year old. Unlike today, he had no way of communicating with his family, which is an experience that none of you ever experienced.

An example of this is happening as I write this. Kelly and Mark are on their way home from Alabama, where they went to pick up the kids who spent the week in Louisiana with their other grandparents. I was easily able to ask Kelly how the trip has been going via text messages (indirectly my invention).

I learned that they have been discussing the fact that Lily is unhappy with her hair, so the two of them have been trading ideas regarding how to transform her—purple pigtails was their decision! Can you believe a two and five year old are discussing hair styles?

If Grandpa were still here to celebrate this milestone, I would tell him that I finally understand so much of his behavior: why we never moved into a bigger house, why he never wanted to go on exotic trips (but I am glad he did not object to Grandma going on jaunts with her family and friends), and why he was always calling someone to right a wrong, such as complain about the noxious odor emanating from the local chemical plant.

I would tell him how sad I am about what I learned about his childhood, particularly regarding the details of what happened to the three members of his family he lost during the war. I would tell him I am proud about how he was able to get himself home, serve in the Army, and then settle down with Grandma and raise five children.

Whenever I think I can’t do something or think life is too difficult, I think of him. That is what I would tell my dad.

                            

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Birthday Kid Picks the Meal

There are definitely pros and cons to having children with adventurous eating habits. As a parent to three children who did not fear exotic food such as escargot, I never worried when dining out about whether there would be a children’s menu.  Often the children’s menu was ignored, but the downside to that were higher bills at the end of the meal.

History is repeating itself via the next generation in our family. What does a five-year old boy want for his birthday lunch and dinner? Mac and cheese, hotdogs, or spaghetti are typical requests of little men, but not our boy. He requested sushi for lunch and mussels for dinner.

Remember what Dad taught you all. When you turn five, you become a human being. I guess that means your eating habits may become more sophisticated.

The sushi he chose was much more daring than the California or shrimp tempura roll which is what I usually order. Rather, the choice for birthday #5 was spicy salmon and spicy shrimp. And may I add that the mussels requested were not in some kind of red sauce such as one might see in your local Italian restaurant. Instead, what he wanted was a recipe recently prepared by his dad: Red Curry Mussels.

Impressive, right? I have the recipe and will include it in our family cookbook. I look forward to more birthday requests.

A Birthday and No Friends?

We celebrated another family birthday this past weekend. It was held at a cute little place called “My Gym,” which reminded me of your days of gymnastics lessons at the YMCA.

As we all know, little children and the elderly do not have filters on their mouths, so Bryce made the comment that “Lily does not have any friends.” While that is true compared to the amount of friends that a child who has attended school for three years now has, it was not particularly complimentary.

I decided to check out your baby books to see if you all had friends at the tender young age of two. As the oldest child, Kelly was the only one who truly had friends that were not related. They were the three little girls from the playgroup which she attended beginning shortly after her first birthday. That particular year she had three parties. The first was with her neighborhood friends, the second was with her aunts, uncles, and the only cousin she had at the time, and the third was with her playgroup friends.

Jamie had two parties. The first was with her playdate friends, all of whom were the children of my cousins. We had lunch and cupcakes. Like Lily, Jamie was a fan of Minnie Mouse, which was exemplified by some of the gifts—a Minnie Mouse bank, Minnie Mouse Colorforms and a Minnie Mouse train.

Casey, sorry to say, you had only one party, which was with your sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I suspect that as the youngest of three girls, you primarily played with your older sisters. I made a Dalmatian cake, and you received a Dalmatian puppy, a desk from Dad and me, a Ninja Turtle mug,  a Magic Nursery doll, and an Ariel outfit, doll and puzzle. The Little Mermaid gifts should not be surprising since you have reminded me on numerous occasions that the movie was released on the day you were born.

So Lily, when you grow up and read the account of your second birthday and hear what your brother said about having no friends, Aunt Casey and you can commiserate over a glass of wine.

What Will Each Year Bring- Wow #7

“I can’t wait ‘til I’m a grown up because…” says four-year-old Bryce. He has already began making plans and dreaming about his future. We talk about his thoughts on a career—“Being Dad’s work friend” and “Helping Mommy hold her camera.” He tells me that he wants to be an adult, because “I am excited to be a dad.” He has told me that he is not interested in drinking wine now, but when he is a grown-up, milk will no longer be his preferred beverage.

When you are young, there are so many milestones to look forward to, such as getting a driver’s license, being able to vote, drinking legally, and becoming independent. Each birthday is eagerly awaited.

At what point does that excitement turn to antipathy? For me, it was each new decade beginning at forty, when I truly knew I was no longer a kid. I watched my parents age, and with each passing birthday, new wrinkles appeared, trips to the doctors increased, and their memories deteriorated.

Grandpa’s travels became primarily limited to walking from the living room window to observe the neighborhood activities, to shuffling into the kitchen for a cup of coffee or his afternoon glass of wine. Grandma now spends most of the day in her recliner, with the television tuned to whichever station was last turned on by one of the nursing home aides or a visitor.

If this is my future, it saddens me. However, my gloom turns to hope when I dine with our new friend, a ninety-four year old gentleman with a perpetual smile on his face. He greets me by name and with a hug, and we have animated discussions about our lives—mostly his because he is so fascinating—and he tells me about his travels. He has seen the world—China, Thailand, Alaska, Germany, and Ireland. He does not look just backward on his life, but happily anticipates his future trips.

At this moment, he is on an adventure in New Zealand and hopes to visit the Galapagos Islands or Ireland in his ninety-fifth year. I asked if his family is uneasy with his solo travels, and he admitted that they are. He dismissed their worries telling me, “If something happens to me while I am away, what’s wrong with that? I have lived a long life, and I am happy now. I am doing what I want.”

What a great attitude, and what an admirable and memorable man! He is my hero! If I can still be physically and mentally fit enough to still travel and socialize thirty years from now, then birthdays will become a day of pride.

Hello World

I considered ignoring this day because it’s just not the same once you are no longer a kid. No longer do I look forward to the pool parties in my back yard or playing pin-the-tale on the donkey or bingo for nickels with my school friends. No longer do I have milestone birthdays to look forward to such as my seventeenth, when I could get my driver’s license, or my eighteenth, when I could vote, and back then, legally drink. Now the years are just reminders of my mortality.

There is a movie—City Slickers—which came out in 1991. In the opening scene, Billy Crystal is lying in bed when he is awoken by a telephone call from his mother. He is expecting this call because it’s his birthday, and every year, Mom calls Mitch to relive the day he was born.

I laughed when I saw this, understanding exactly how his character felt, because every year, Grandma would call me on my birthday to discuss the day she gave birth to me.

Grandma: “It’s June 16th. I remember the day well. I was in my bed in the hospital when an orderly walked in with a tray of food for me. It was dinner—a nice steak dinner. I looked at it and told him to take it away. Without hesitating, your father, who did not have a shy bone in his body, looked at the tray and said without hesitating, ‘I’ll take it,’ and proceeded to eat my entire meal. I was not happy…. You were born much later that night. One hour more and it would have been the 17th.”

Baby me and Great Aunt Mary. This is the earliest photo I have of me.

Labor and delivery sure have changed a lot since I was born. Steak dinners would never, ever be allowed today. I think the medical world would laugh at the thought.

When Kelly and Jamie were born, I was permitted to eat nothing except ice chips. (I was allowed to sprinkle lemon juice on top for flavor.) The good news was that there were no restrictions regarding the amount.

By the time Casey came alone, pre-delivery rules had relaxed a bit, so I was allowed to have juice, Jello, and bouillon. Clearly not a steak dinner but still, so much better than only those stinking ice chips.

Now, based upon Kelly’s experiences thirty years later, the rules are back to ice chips. History repeats, but not like during those good old days when I screamed my way into the world while my dad enjoyed a nice steak dinner.

And here is the world the day I was born:

P. S. I am okay with the aging process. Not thrilled, but okay. I will thoroughly enjoy the milestones of my children and grandchildren and hope to share lots of them with them all. 

That’s My Girl!

Now that we have children in the family again, I am back in the cake-making saddle again. I was reminded with the first birthday of my first grandchild that a one-year old has little interest in the cake, whereas by two, there is a lot of opinions involved. (It had to be a Thomas the Train cake the second time around.)

My first cake for a little boy was quite amusing as you all recall. We ever so carefully placed it on his high chair tray, and then waited for the reaction. He took one look at it, burst into tears, and pushed it away. You would have thought I baked him a brussel sprout-infested cake.

“Hey,” I thought, “I worked hard on your personalized blue cake with the green number one in the center!” (Coincidentally, green is now his favorite color.) I don’t recall any of you reacting like that. I think you all rather enjoyed your first cake.

With another one-year old in the family, I was prepared this time. I wondered if my little granddaughter would react in horror just like her big brother.

This time, her personalized cake was all girl—with pink frosting with gold dots. The cake was placed on her tray, and I waited for the reaction. I saw a smile, and I immediately thought “Girls really are different than boys! She knows how to butter me up already.”

She had a grand old time poking her fingers in the icing, stabbing it with a fork, shoving some of the sweetness in her mouth, and throwing much of it to the floor. The point is, she truly enjoyed my cake. That’s my girl!

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I look forward to taking her out for a tea party as soon as possible.

Can Grandma Jean Come?

Each day, I wonder what I will write to you next. Today, I decided to write a few birthday memories. I was going to discuss a few of your more awesome parties, but then I had a conversation with Bryce over lunch today. I first asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday and he told me he wanted a cake with cars. That is easy. Then we moved onto the party. “Who is coming,” I asked him next, and he proceeded to mention the names of some friends, then “Mommy, Daddy, Gigi, Pops, Bampa, Grandma.” Then he stopped and said, “Grandma Jean. Can Grandma Jean come?”

I tried to explain that she lives far away and he said again, “Can Grandma Jean come?” When I said she wasn’t feeling well, he was satisfied with that explanation. Yet that simple request evoked so many emotions in me. I felt sad knowing Grandma would never be able to come to his house for any birthday, but at the same time, I was happy and so touched that he wanted her at his party. He has spent so little time with her, yet he had felt a connection. When I brought him home, I told Kelly to ask him who he wanted to come to his party, and he said it again–“Grandma Jean.”

He first met her when we flew up when he was just four months old and then again twice the following year for Jamie’s shower and wedding. Most recently we drove up last fall, and he spent time with her at the nursing home and Uncle Mart’s house. Each time, the interactions between the two of them has been limited. Grandma is quiet now while Bryce revels in lots of activity. I figured he would remember playing with Jamie’s cat, or running in the yard with Uncle Paul or going down the slide with Jamie at the park, but it was Grandma he mentioned ahead of any of them.

I worry about my relationships with any children that Jamie and Casey may one day have, so this made me feel better. Out of sight does not necessarily mean out of mind. I want him to remember my mom—his great grandmother. Maybe he will. This is another reason I am writing these stories.

Grandma Jean and Bryce- October 2015

    Grandma Jean and Bryce- October 2015