You Wanted to Stab Yourself

There comes a certain point in time when we don’t like to admit our age. We can fight it or hide it as much as possible, but unless we completely avoid our children, the truth eventually is revealed. When standing next to your thirty year old child, it is impossible to cover up the lie by more than a few years.

I look at the three of you and reflect upon what delivered you to where you are today. Was it a specific plan, an accident, or a very circuitous route? I decided to look in your memory boxes for clues—two of which still reside here. Today I opened Jamie’s.

Jamie, you are the only one whose career was planned at a very early age. Except for a moment in first grade when you wanted to be a dentist, you always wanted to be a teacher. (Maybe the dentist was a decision arrived after seeing Santa’s elf Hermey in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.) In all the class assignments where you wrote about what you wanted to be when you grew up, the answer was always “a teacher.” Sometimes it was because you wanted to help kids learn while other times it was all about the chalkboard.

It took time and persistence to become a teacher with “the class I always imagined,”  but you never gave up that dream. I am proud that you enjoyed teaching in poor districts where you felt you made a difference but I also know how difficult it was to work where the supplies  and sometimes the support were limited.

You have a great work ethic and I know how much the children and parents appreciate your efforts. You have great ideas and want your students to excel and enjoy your class. Watching and listening to you discuss your day reminds me of a time when you were not so happy about your assigned teacher. It was at the end of second grade when your report card came with the name of your third grade teacher included with your grades. You were not happy. You said you wanted to stab yourself! But it turned out she was a great teacher, so I encouraged you to tell her.

I hope that someday you get a letter like this from one or many of your students. While it made your teacher laugh, I know she was happy with your honest sentiments.

Third Grade Letter

Third Grade Letter

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Road Trip with the Wee Ones

Road trips with children today are as easy as plugging them into a DVD where they can watch their favorite movies for hours. An alternative or additional form of entertainment is the IPAD, which enables the kiddies to play a plethora of games. As you all recall, this is not what we did.

When you were 10, 8 and 5, we embarked on the trip to Memphis where Daddy was working at the time.  With a lot of careful planning, our travels were quite fun and not at all the disaster I envisioned.

I purchased several organizers with multiple pockets which we filled with games, maps, books, and snacks. We had several cassette players so that you could listen to music and books on tape. I recall that Kelly recorded herself reading a few of Casey’s favorite books that were not available at the library or bookstore.

We made bingo boards so that you could see who could get three-in-a-row of items such as cows, churches, horses, bridges, and signs viewed outside the window of our minivan.

I printed up pages and pages of maps, which I filled with colored shapes placed stategically throughout the maps, so that when one of you said, “Are we there yet?” I could answer that we were at the yellow triangle on page two (of at least fifteen) or the red square on page eight. Those maps worked quite well in enabling you to get a picture of exactly where we were and stopped those pesky questions.

Then there were the competition games like the Alphabet Game, which required each person to go from A to Z by locating each letter of the alphabet on a sign, building or license plate. The only rule was that no two people could use their letter on the same sign as another.

We also played a name game, in which one person would say a name, such as Mickey Mouse, and the next person would take the last letter of the name (“E” in this case)  and have to use that letter as the first letter of a new name. So Mickey MousE could become Eddie MunsteR, who could become Richard NixoN, and so on.

“Who am I” was a guessing game of twenty questions where each person would ask a yes or no question until one of us guessed who their person was. (“Am I a boy?”, “Am I a cartoon character?” “Am I younger than twenty?”)

We would play our games until tired or bored and then move onto individual quiet time for listening to our music or reading/listening to books.  You know my favorite was, and still is, the License Plate Game. You have all stopped playing that game long ago while I continue playing it today—everyday. I have two APPS on my phone so that I can find all 50 states in any order while simultaneously looking for them all in alphabetical order. You know that is definitely a subject for my eulogy someday, so someone should always know what states I am currently seeking. (You can  check my phone for that anytime!)

Our trip was broken up by our visit to Washington, DC, Dollywood, and the Great Smoky Mountain Park. We met Dad along the way after our tour of DC, and I believe the Dollywood and the Smoky Mountains were on the return trip.

I am imagining this adventure gave Grandma and Grandpa some uneasiness like it would if any of you embarked on a similar journey with your children. Thankfully I did have a cell phone, but it wasn’t at all smart. Still, despite its inability to do anything but place a phone call, I was able to call for directions when we got hopelessly lost on Capitol Hill.

You were all very good travelers, but I am definitely patting myself on the back for all the genius planning that made it such a success! Now I am ready to take that road trip to California!

To a Child- It’s an Amazing World!

We just returned from our trip to New Jersey to visit Grandma and Jamie. Everyone, including me, thought we were crazy for driving there with a two year old for only the weekend. But he was a good traveler and led us in songs which helped when the radio reception was poor in the mountains. He taught us that Old MacDonald had a lot more than just cows, horses and ducks on that farm. We learned he had a monkey, elephant, and train (“with a choo-choo here and a choo-choo there”). I think he may have a career as a DJ, and he definitely has a mind of his own. If he says his farm has an elephant, then by golly, there is just no arguing with that boy!

He notices everything. When we passed a farm, he provided us with a narration of what animals he saw. He enabled us to look at life through his tiny viewfinder. Every empty green pasture was a golf course to him. He commented on the trucks and cars we passed, and when he saw a yellow leave fluttering to the ground he said, “Look! It’s a butterfly.” I suppose all children are this observant. After all, the whole world is an empty canvas to them. Grandma’s first comment upon seeing Kelly shortly after her birth was that her eyes were open and staring at everything around her. This made me wonder if I had made a similar comment after Bryce was born, so I looked for the evidence.

I made a huge commitment when Bryce was born, which is going to haunt me for the next twenty years. I decided to write a journal, which I began while we were all waiting at the hospital for him to be born. My intent is that I will give it to him (and now all subsequent grandchildren) when they graduate high school. So I peeked back on that first day nearly three years ago to see what Bryce’s first day was like.

We arrived early in the day, but Bryce apparently had plans of his own regarding the date of his birth. Here are a few excerpts from that very long day.

We are sitting in the waiting room with Gigi and Granddaddy and eleven other grandparents also anxiously awaiting the births of their children’s babies. It is a cool, rainy day here in Charleston—not at all like the bright sunny day earlier this week when your mom and I took the last walk on Folly Beach. The sky was bright blue that day and the sun was so brilliant, but there were very few people around.

Many hours and several trips to the cafeteria passed.

…It’s almost 9:30 now. Aunt Casey had to leave. We moved the cars because they are locking all the doors in the hospital except for the Emergency Room.

…The waiting room has cleared out. All the other parents waiting with us became grandparents. They visited the new babies and went out in the rain to get take-out for the new moms and dads. Where are you Bryce?

…T-minus 15 minutes until midnight. I guess your birthday is going to be February 8th. We are not happy and the waiting room is very cold.

None of the four of us grandparents-to-be would leave no matter how long it would take. We were in it for the duration.

It’s tomorrow. Grandpa is on his third nap, Granddad is yawning, and Gigi is playing on her IPAD. (You probably don’t know what that is.) I wonder what your world is like.

…The hospital is quiet. The cleaning staff is mopping the floors, and we are still waiting. Your poor mom must be exhausted.

Kelly, you did not realize that this was just the beginning of how much energy your son would sap from you as he grows and becomes more active and full of endless energy.

Finally! We got called to the nursery to watch you get weighed and measured. … What a cutie—and so alert. You looked around the room taking in your new world. Welcome!

So there you go, Kelly. Your son was just like you—full of wonder of his new world. I think all new babies are like our little man. Everything is amazing to him and he loves sharing his excitement. Why do we have to lose that wonder?

Part of Your World

You all loved watching The Little Mermaid and saw the video over and over and over. One Halloween, Jamie asked to be Ariel, so out came my beloved sewing machine so I could make the costume for her. She even had red hair in a can.

I remember the three of you and Carly dancing and twirling and belting out the tunes in our living room. Clearly you were all fans.

I wanna be where the people are
I wanna see, wanna see them dancing’
Walking around on those – what do you call ’em?
Oh – feet!

Now let me change the subject to a related one—vacations at the Jersey Shore. For several summers, prior to medical wastes washing up on the beaches (relocating our vacations to the South Carolina beaches), we rented that great beach house on Long Beach Island owned by Mona from Verona.

I am not certain of the exact time, but at least one year was 1995, because I distinctly recall the O.J. Simpson trial being broadcast. Most of our days were spent lounging on the beach, burying each other in the sand and swimming in the ocean.

There is no question that you all remember the story I am about to tell you, but this will be news to your children, who I hope will one day be familiar with The Little Mermaid. What I believe happened was that Aunt El and Uncle Jim were on the beach with the kids. A man nearby was busily creating a sand mermaid. When he spoke, his very deep voice sparked a certain familiarity with Aunt El. In Aunt Ellen style, she told Uncle Jim that he must speak with him. Uncle Jim clearly loves her, because he did it. He said something to the effect, “My wife thinks you are a crab.”  The man responded, “I am.”

It turned out the man was Sam Wright, who was the voice of Sebastian the crab in The Little Mermaid movie (Incidentally, girls, Mr. Wright was born in nearby Camden, South Carolina). He very graciously gave each child a personalized  autographed picture of himself. Maybe that was the beginning of Jamie’s hobby of meeting celebrities.

Mermaid 1        Mermaid 2

The Final Postcard: Their Wedding

I am sad that I stopped sending the postcards to Grandma. This is the letter she sent to me after my final postcard in response to the questions:

1. What was your wedding like?

2. What kind of party did you have after the wedding and who came?

Dear Karen

Your father didn’t tell me about converting to the Catholic religion. It was a surprise to me. He went through the process in Texas before we were married. He had been baptized at St. Cyril’s in Boonton because there was no Russian church in the area. So that made it easy for him. I was surprised because keeping a secret was something he wasn’t good at.

 Our wedding was very small, fortunately, because he didn’t know when he could get home. We had immediate families only. Small ceremony, no mass, at 11 a.m., Mt. Carmel. His brother didn’t like the time so he didn’t come. He gave me a lot of grief over the time.

We had dinner in Denville—a place your father and I liked. It was very nice. We went back to the Birch Street house for wedding cake. I remember my mother writing out a check for the dinner. It was under $100. We went away for the night and left for Texas the next day.

 So fifty-seven years later, here I am. This is it for now.

Love,

Mom

Grandma wore a yellow dress for the occasion. Although all her siblings had more traditional ceremonies, with big wedding parties and traditional wedding gowns, I think that was really what Grandma wanted. She never liked big fusses made over her. That has always been her way.

I am surprised at my Uncle Pete. After all they went through trying to become a family again, and all the effort Grandpa made at getting him back from Russia, I feel it was a slap in the face for him to complain at all about the wedding. He should have kept his mouth shut and came with a smile on his face. I do not understand Grandpa’s family.

Grandma & Grandpa- April 21, 1951

My Grandma & Your Grandparents

My Grandma & Your Grandparents

Grandma and Grandpa's First Home- Killeen , Texas 1951

Grandma & Granpa’s First Home- Killeen, Texas

Laugh Track of Life

What if life were like a television show, replete with canned laughter and music? While watching one of our favorite sitcoms from the 80’s—Family Ties,which was Michael J. Fox’s big break—we noticed the abundance of loud, annoying laughter. It was the laugh track.

That got Dad and I discussing what life would be like if we could add bursts of giggles, chuckles, and full-out belly-shaking, eyes-tearing laughter to our own lives. What if we had an instrument the size of a key chain that we could engage on demand?

When you were little and amused by the smallest joke, the ability to ignite a burst of laughter would have caused you to laugh even more. You learned to play hide and seek, and our “inability” to locate you tucked behind a curtain with your tiny feet peeking out from the bottom would always invoke a tiny chuckle, which would be even better if only we could add the family laugh track. Dad says he would love to be able to signal the time to laugh with the special device when I just don’t get his jokes.

The laugh track is an obvious segue to background music. Girls mean drama. Casey even had a sign in her room signifying that—“Drama Queen.” Everyone with a daughter knows it’s true. When you were little and you all would come home and explain what mean or unfair thing had been done by a teacher or classmate, it would have been nice to be able to turn on a piano or set the violins playing.

Kelly created this scenario when she made our “Moving to North Carolina” movie. Our farewell party with our longtime friends from New York was accompanied by Billy Joel singing “New York State of Mind.”

We had a real estate agent that did not understand the meaning of the word “No.” While the moving company was at our house and every room was in shambles, she just showed up with two clients. I told her no, and went back to cleaning. When I took a break from my work, I discovered her opening closets and decending into the bowels of the basement. Kelly’s video showed me locking the door as “Evil Woman” played in the background.

As I climbed the rickety stairs to our attic, cleaned the bathrooms and chipped off layers of thick ice from the garage freezer, “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go” played on our sound track. The video continually flashed to scenes of Jamie and Casey lounging on the sofa. Really girls?

While Dad and I stayed late into the evening as the van was being filled with our furniture, our clothes, our memories, and our lives, the three of you were at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. You walked throughout the neighborhood accompanied by a live band (no need for the fake laugh track that day). Practice night for Boonton’s drum and bugle corps was that evening, so you all marched down the street to “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”

Aunt Ellen somehow talked her way into Aunt Marian’s former home, so you were able to show us where we had those Thanksgiving Dinners for twenty-five aunts, uncles, and cousin; the family room where the kids watched “March of the Wooden Soldiers;” and the living room where the aunts sang together after dinner. It was a treat reliving those days. No soundtrack needed there. The conversation was better without it.

As we approached the “Welcome to North Carolina” sign, “Carolina Girls” was playing as you all sat in the back of the car. Your lives as Jersey girls had come to an end. The move was real. We were on the road to becoming Southern Belles.

Dad pulled into the little village in our new neighborhood, and suddenly Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, was belting out “Little Town, It’s a Quiet Village.” I remember being excited at exploring our new home and town—Chapel Hill—but at the same time scared and incredibly guilty for making this move at this time in your lives.

The moving van pulled up in front of the house. The driver was a nice guy named Jack, so “Captain Jack” played in the background. This time, I put you all to work unpacking.

It has been over eleven years since leaving New Jersey. Three of us have stayed, but two of you have begun your lives in different states—Jamie in New Jersey and Casey in Maryland. I miss those days of being able to see all of you and our friends and family often.  So that song, is “The Way We Were.”

We don’t get to have the laugh track or the music in the background. But when you are with Dad or me, there is always the threat that something will happen which will make us break out in song because there really is a song for just about any occasion.

Twins

Twins were not unusual in our family. Both of my grandmothers had twins. Grandpa’s oldest sisters were twins as were Grandma’s youngest brothers. Grandma’s great Uncle Jim had twin boys, and her great Aunt Johanna had three set of twins. (Oy and Ouch!) As a Gemini, I was convinced history would repeat itself with me, but fortunately that did not happen. At one time, prior to having any children, I thought it would be fun. After the birth of one, I saw the light.

When my Grandma’s mother was expecting her boys—Uncle Bob and Uncle Don—their birth was a secret. Back in those days, I guess you just didn’t talk about those kind of things with your children. In fact, my grandmother did not prepare Grandma for growing up, so when she got her period, she was convinced she was dying.

Aunt Marian did not learn she had two more brothers until a neighbor informed her. Apparently it was very touch and go after they were born, and my grandmother almost died. She went into kidney failure and was given the last rites by a priest named Father William Palazzo. At the time, Aunt Marian did not know that she would one day marry the nephew of that priest.

Having twins during the Depression years was very difficult for my grandparents. They were very poor but too proud to accept money from anyone. Her friend Mae, who married a very successful businessman, gave my grandmother the gift of home delivery of milk, which was a present she could not refuse.

My twin uncles led parallel lives. They both were married in 1956, just seven weeks apart. They each had two boys and one girl born during the same years—1957, 1960, and 1963. Both Uncle Bob and Uncle Don even worked for the same company.

They did everything together, including having heart attacks at the same time. Uncle Don went first, going to St. Clare’s in Denville before being transferred to a hospital in Newark.  Uncle Bob awoke with chest pains after visiting his brother in Denville, and when he was admitted, some of the nurses believed Uncle Don had returned. Talk about being close!

My research has found no other twins in the family for sixty years, when the great-great granddaughter of Grandma’s Uncle Jim Carey gave birth to twin girls in 2006. Fraternal twins, which is what Grandpa’s sisters and Grandma’s brothers were, is a genetic trait, which is more likely to occur in women in their early thirties. So although it has not happened very often, I am just warning you all of this.

Uncle Don and Uncle Bob

Uncle Don and Uncle Bob