What’s love got to do with it?

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Sunday, I had the honor of attending a wedding of a long-time friend. Our last names started with S – so our lockers were next to each other throughout high school. It was a small girls’ school. Alphabetical was as complex as it needed to be. So with a “Hi my name is,” a friendship was born.

Yes. That’s a prairie blouse and braces. I loved that shirt. I think I took this photo on a self timer. I can vaguely remember us trying to maneuver like that in 7 seconds or something. I know I printed the photo.

I can tell you that like many friendships that begin in adolescence, we had ups, downs and somewhere in-betweens. Sometime after I graduated from college, we lost touch for a stretch.

One New Year’s Day, I was at mass, and the priest made some comments about how and who we love, and asked us who we were missing most in our lives, blah, blah. It’s all a blur. I walked out of there and knew that I had to find her and reach out. So, I did. She reached back. I remain grateful. That was at least a dozen years ago. Time flies.

Over the years – long separated by many miles – we’ve laughed and shed tears. And have been there for each other. There’s been sickness and health, life and loss, grief and joy and a little of everything else that finds its way onto the colorful spectrum of this dramatic comedy we call life.

So, in what seemed like the blink of a very teary eye, 32 years of friendship happily brought me to that moment: witnessing two lovely people recite their carefully planned nuptials, surrounded by the people they love. Together they’ve already faced some trials – the kind that separate the men from the boys – and have emerged victorious. And they are indeed warriors: ready to tackle the world together. Beautifully. Lovingly. Thoughtfully.

I found myself moved to tears countless times. The beauty of the bride. The glowing pride of the groom. The happiness of their families. The joy of friends. Children singing and dancing. Beautiful vows and the groom stepping on a glass. Carefully chosen food. Cake pops and custom cocktails. A serenade by a close friend. Toasts with depth. No detail was missed. It was all so very personal. So very lovely.

I soaked in the surroundings and said a prayer of thanksgiving as I watching my friend thoroughly enjoy her day. And I didn’t – for a split second – take a moment of it for granted. When her youngest brother (who once stood in my kitchen and assured me – only a handful of years ago – that he probably wasn’t the marrying, fathering kind) sat next to me glowing and sharing lovingly about his wife and sweet baby daughter, I was officially a goner. (Especially since we had prayed for him very specifically with that in mind.)

On top of the palpable joy, there was fun. That girl knows how to throw a party. Although I am most often one very upbeat, happy, more-than-slightly goofy woman, I don’t really break loose and have as much fun as I should. (The irony of that statement in this case is that I wanted to dance more at the wedding, but my back is still making me pay for the “fun” I had sitting with my 10-year-old in the front car of wicked roller coaster two weeks earlier. Fun gets those annoying ironic quotes because once the memory of the joy of the ride was more than 10 days old – and my back was still killing me – “fun” officially got pummeled by pain.)

I brought my camera to the wedding but left it in the car. I really didn’t want to see the day through a lens. A few times I uttered that I was going to go out and get it, and Richard looked at me like I was nuts and told me to relax. I snapped a few sweet Instagram shots to share with friends and family. My parents were so pleased to see them – texting me thanks for sharing and cheering her on. My mom called early the next morning to get details, to gush over the beautiful the bride was and tell how handsome her new husband is and how gloriously happy they look.

That’s because they are. It’s the real deal. I can’t wait to see the official photos. The few I’ve seen are really beautiful and clever.

So what’s my point to this rambling? Life is a gift. Time is a treasure. And real friendship is so completely worth hanging on to. So do it – if you don’t already.

And if the question is: What’s love got to do with it?

The answer is: Absolutely everything.

Princess me some smarts

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Glowing after Princess Camp

I will admit – I had a few pangs when Lillian received the gift of Princess Camp for her birthday. As a completely non-princessy girl turned grown-up, I’ve been hell-bent on protecting my daughters’ intellect, and even after all these years of parenting the fairer sex, I sometimes can’t wrap my mind around where princess fits into the equation. Even though we’ve watched princess movies, have had princess birthday parties and all, I just can’t help myself from exercising a certain level of restraint when it comes to cartoon royalty.

But I took a deep breath. Because Princess Camp IS Lillian. And it was a sweet and thoughtful gift from my parents.

The first day of Princess Camp.

“Mom, this isn’t regular SCHOOL!” She told me on Monday as I offered her a skirt and shirt when dressing to leave. “This is PRINCESS camp! Get me a puffy skirt!” she demanded, finger pointing to her room. I obliged and did as was told.

She announced her nervousness on the chariot ride there (in the Dodge Ram Van). But also decreed that it would not stop her, and she knows now – from experience – that it is normal to be a little nervous when faced with something new. I guess it’s just something princesses deal with regularly entertaining heads’ of state and prince charmings and all.

We arrived and joined the other princesses in training. I’m not sure, but I think Lil actually floated in. Ready with a curtsy and a regal bow, the princess trainers welcomed her with joy, she glanced back – only once – and gracefully sashayed into the training room, eager to learn the proper ways of a real-live fairy princess. Her smile and wink conveyed confidently, “You’re free to go.” So I did.

On the ride home, I asked her if she enjoyed herself. “I had a fantastic time!” She declared. “And I even made a friend!” She reminded me of her initial apprehension and how she took a deep breath and overcame it. And like a wave of a fairy godmother’s wand, my intellect suddenly swallowed the experience whole.

And I got it.

Living in a princess world is a wonderful place – especially if it helps you come out of your shell, conquer your fears, make new friends and learn new things – all with the added benefit of being sparkly.

A perfect princess curtsy.

By the end of camp, I’ll admit, I shed a few tears. I watched with joy and embraced the confidence that pretend continues to give my sweet angel of a girl. My dad came to watch the final princess parade, and a smile never left his face.

“What a great gift!” I thought. For her, for him, for me.

Later in the day, I received a call from Helen telling me she just got a great new job: As a PRINCESS for children’s parties!

(True confession: She gets to be my favorite princess. Belle has the best songs,  she’s smart, a book-worm and doesn’t care about her hair.)

And twice in one day, I realized that being a princess actually pays off – in so many wonderful ways.

Two princesses in training – and two princesses extraordinaire – at Rhythm-n-Jump Dance Academy.

“…on my birthday.”

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That was Lillian’s tag line for many comments … on her birthday.

“Henry is being obnoxious, which is completely unnecessary … on my birthday!”

“Tell him to stop annoying me. I cannot tolerate it … on my birthday!”

And, when I heard her arguing with her brother, who quickly accused, “Lillian started it!” Her calm and oh-so-logical response was, “Oh no, I didn’t. Why would I start anything mean … on my birthday?”

Presents! She is so easy to shop for and enjoys every little thing.

On Friday night, I kissed her forehead as she snuggled tucked in for bed. “This is the last goodnight kiss I get to give to you as a five-year-old,” I whispered.

She sighed in sweet anticipation of the next day, when she would (at long last!) turn six. She’d been counting the days since May. And then, once she discovered she was going to celebrate her birthday along with her baby cousin’s baptism at the house of one of her most favorite people, she was beyond excited.

In the morning, I announced her first six-year-old kiss, and she beamed eager to accept it. I could see the wheels turning as she contemplated what the day would hold. I wondered if she analyzed herself the way I did at some of my early birthdays. I can distinctly remember thinking: I don’t feel any different. Or look any different. I worried I was missing something or that the whole birthday thing was a sham.

Hula-hoop success!

It really was a spectacular day. There were minor melt downs associated with hula-hoops and Shrinky Dinks, and little and big boys’ hands on newly acquired birthday gifts. I’m sure if you had just unwrapped a Princess Celestia My Little Pony and your brother was trying to cart it off, you might get a little weak-kneed yourself.

The number of declarations that this was her “best birthday ever!” far outnumbered the “worst birthday ever” claims. I think she only once slammed her door in disgust, which makes it a banner day.

Can she do it?

… yes …

… she can!

We enjoyed the fabulously tasty and beautiful Pink Elephant cupcakes, and she and the other children swam, swam, swam.

Now, just humor my moment of reminiscence. That change that happens between five and six seems to me almost unfair. In that year’s time, I’ve watched my little girl – as I have the three children before her – change so dramatically. She’s become more connected to reality, and her sense of humor has morphed into that of a 10-year-old boy (thanks Henry!) more than I’d like to admit. Her face has changed. Her features aren’t as soft, and reveal many more angles and much less baby fat, even when compared with photographs taken just a few short months ago.

I don’t know if it’s a sign of wisdom or desperation, but I feel a vigorous need to cherish the nuances of each stage the children are sprinting through. Perhaps since our oldest is now 20, I have a living, breathing reminder of how very, very fast it all goes.

Oddly though, even as I write this, I’m not a documenter. I don’t scrapbook or take much video. Unlike the example set by my parents, I sadly don’t have a library of beautifully arranged leather photo albums filled with only the best snap shots.

But when I look into the eyes of my children, I try with my might to save fleeting glimpses of their hearts – hoping that I if I collect enough morsels of those sweet love memories, I will have an abundance to feed me when they are all grown.

Fleeting morsels

Every single time we exit the van, Lillian runs to the swing that Richard hung in our front tree. She jumps on and quickly returns to her cherished dream world: chattering to herself, head back, hair blowing. Richard and I have many times watched and wondered what memories she will keep of doing that.

As I watch her – toes pointing to the sky and eyes gazing into the leafy green – it is my hope that she too gathers morsels that will sustain her when time and the stuff of life eventually forces her feet (at least occasionally) to be firmly planted on the ground.

Shout!

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If you’re wondering how Cliff is doing with his speech, the answer is GREAT! He’s really talking and communicating. He still has his moments of gibberish, but hey, don’t we all?

The newest development in his language is the fact he says nothing quietly. Or remotely quietly. He has so much to say that he just pretty much yells it. And everything he says starts with an attention-grabbing: “Mom!” just to make sure I’m paying attention.

“Mom!”

Mom!”

“MOM!”

Add that shouting “Mom!” to all the other times I hear “Mom!” in a day, and well, I just  may lose it. (Even as I type the word in this quiet corner, my ears are ringing at the thought of it.)

In honor of the screaming, I give you this version of Shout, sung by none other than Lulu. Yes, the same Lulu who sang (and starred in) rather sweetly “To Sir With Love.” (Or if you went to Tuna Tech, that would be “To STAR With Love.”

I know my son has the shouting down, now he just needs to learn the wiggle.

The black-eyed pirate who loves Jesus

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The resident pirate wearing a little faith scapulin from romanticcatholic.com.

After the first of the year, I decided to diminish my participation in music ministry at our parish. The main reason was Cliff. In an effort to spend as much time as I could working on his speech challenges, it meant that I really couldn’t spare the hours of weekly practices and commitments. The byproduct has been that without all the weekly commitments, we’ve branched out and enjoyed a few occasional trips to some of the beautiful historic churches in Detroit.

Today, we visited St. Josaphat’s. It was hot, and attendance was rather sparse. The homily was solid, and the music was good. The organist has a fantastic singing voice. The acoustics in church (oddly) aren’t that great, though. And he sings without a mic. Which I don’t quite get. He even announces the songs by sort of hollering them from the choir loft. And it’s hard to pick up what he’s saying. In part because he also tends to give somewhat extensive instructions (“We’ll sing all four stanzas of the song and only sing the refrain at the beginning and end”). That said, they’re always pretty familiar traditional choices and a joy to sing. One Sunday during Lent, he sang after communion John Stainer’s “God So Love the World,” and well, I thought someone was going to have to peel me off the floor. It was gorgeous, holy, meditational and spectacularly resonant, even with his back to the congregation as he played (beautifully, I might add) the organ.

We’ve gone to noon mass there a few times since March. The pastor is young and energetic and is responsible for that church as well as two neighboring churches. And when I say neighboring … I mean neighboring. One (Sweetest Heart of Mary) is barely more than a stone’s throw away.

When visiting St. Josaphat on Palm Sunday, I had to remove Cliff from the sanctuary and hang out in the vestibule. It had something to do with his pointing out all the many paintings and depictions of Jesus in the church and wanting to discuss them. In full voice. And since he is a boy with whom we do not want to discourage talking, it was just better to take his need for conversation elsewhere.

That’s when we saw it: A tomb with a life-size statue of Christ. Complete with crucifixion wounds. Cliff – at the time – would often say, “Jesus died on the boss.” (To which I would inaudibly come back with “and the E Street Band” before modeling the correct pronunciation of the word “cross.”) When he saw Jesus in the tomb, he declared, “Jesus died in a box!”

I did my best to try – in three-year-old terms – to explain what it was that he was seeing. That it was a statue, wasn’t scary and was for a display to help people understand the story of Jesus dying and rising.

His first instinct was to gently touch the wounds on the statue of Christ.

He couldn’t stay away from it. I quickly snapped the above photo with my iPhone. I was moved by my son’s compassion for a statue that I believe many three-year-olds would find a rather unsettling. When mass was over, he made sure Richard and the other children saw it.

On Good Friday, we visited Sweetest Heart of Mary. It  had a similar statue and a tomb as part of a rather elaborate display. We examined it with Clifford hoping it was a least a step in helping him put the whole Jesus-in-a-box experience in context. We ended up going back there during Easter so Cliff could see the empty tomb.

Richard shows Cliff that Jesus isn’t in the box any more.

I was surprised today at St. Josaphat when I saw that the tomb was again tucked under the stairs to the choir loft (or bell tower – I’m not sure where they lead exactly). I assumed it would be put away somewhere. However, instead of being exposed, the statue was covered with a white sheath of some sort, which to Cliff was very unappealing. He wanted to see Jesus again. I was grateful the statue was covered; it was easier to pry him away and take him into the church.

True to form, during mass (sometime after the Offertory and before he got a shiner from knocking his head on a pew) Cliff’s loud monologue about Jesus dying on the cross (which he pronounces perfectly, now) began.  He started to point out all the paintings and statues of Christ in the church. Finally, he motioned to the back of the church and announced in full voice that, “Jesus died in a bag. In the box. But he’s alive.”

We’re getting there. I think.

Black eye a la pew.

Time out

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What? Me worry?

It’s hard to believe it’s been four months since I posted. I had to put myself in time out. Actually, I led a Lenten prayer group for moms, then planned Vacation Bible School, and all the year-end school stuff – and working. As I type that, it reads a little bit like a litany of excuses. And is, sort of.

There’s a bit more as I’ve been sorting through all kinds of things. Pondering, thinking, praying, reading and pondering more on some of the nuances and occasional heartache of what it means to live in this world as we know it. I know, that sounds pretty heavy duty.

And I guess it is – because it made my little stories of daily life seem insignificant. Rest assured, our family life is strong and everyone is well. It’s all much more big-picture than my little nest. But in the insightful words of my dearest friend – “it must be exhausting living in your head.” And, I will admit, sometimes it is.

But I’m back. Perspective has been granted (thank the Lord!). Life goes on. And all is good. Because God is good. All the time.

Scenes from a Sunday

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Sunday was a glorious day – in spite of a moment of complete failure.

Richard made breakfast. French toast, fresh fruit, sausage. And as always, he makes the best coffee. Perfection from a coffee press with bit of Godiva chocolate powder.

We headed downtown to mass at Sweetest Heart of Mary. Since I have tried hard to reduce some of my singing obligations, one of the by-products is that we can occasionally visit some other churches (although we miss our own when we don’t attend).

We decided to make it our mission to be sure the kids have an opportunity to attend mass at some of the old gorgeous still-operating Catholic churches in Detroit. We want them to learn a little of the neighborhood histories and about the folks who worshipped at them – especially in light the upcoming mergers, clustering and looming closures.

The pictures above are from Old St. Mary’s in Greektown.

But wait, you inquire (somewhat perplexed), weren’t you going to Sweetest Heart of Mary?

Let me just say that nothing says “you-Spring-ahead failure” louder than swinging wide open the huge center doors of a big old (full) church for 10:30 mass on a Sunday morning only to catch the eye of the celebrant as he recesses with his crew full-speed-ahead – to full organ music – right in your direction. Mass was over.

That’s when Richard looked at his phone and queried, “Why does my iPhone say 11:27?”

Don’t worry. It only took about .005 second for Richard and I to inhale the stench of our collective stupidity. A wide-eyed glance at each other, an about-face and a brisk walk of shame back to our vehicle made it almost seem like it never happened. The only breadcrumbs we left  behind were in the vapor trail of Lillian’s endless questioning (which I can only assume eventually dissipated).

By 11:32, we were headed across the freeway and closer to the river for noon maas at Old St. Mary’s in Greektown.

Mass was lovely. The homily fantastic. The priest used my favorite St. Augustine quote and said we were born with a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by Jesus. Two things I say in my St. Mom’s U program. So … it felt like Kismet. If you can call it that. (Probably not.)

The music — an a capella schola standing off to the right in the front few pews — was very nice. Some lovely voices, a nice blend and the acoustics were accommodating. Grant it, we were only four pews from the front so the sound was clear and full where we were. Kind of an interesting mixed bag of mass parts. But it was nice. So, as much as I was hoping to hear that beast of an organ, no such luck.

There are some interesting grotto spaces at the entrance to the church. I’m not going to lie: the kids thought they were creepy. Okay. And while, I’m being truthful: so did I. There are kind of scary statue heads of Christ and a few other less-than-settling images. I’m not sure if something can be equal in kitsch, charm and being the stuff of nightmares – but that’s where I’d put a few of the scenes in the grottos.

And, since going to one church and being completely embarrassed at another apparently isn’t enough for us, we also stopped at beautiful St. Joseph’s.

The organist was the only one left following noon mass, and he graciously let us in for a few prayers and photos. At our next opportunity, we’re going to go to mass there. It seems completely untouched by time. Richard and I are hoping to attend some of the Solemnity of St. Joseph Day activities on Monday if we can.

So, failings aside (which are always abundant anyway) all in all, our scenes from Sunday were sweet.

Embrace your inner girl

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My daughters and I were invited to a bridal shower – the first of my college friends with a child getting married. A lovely young woman with an excellent head on her shoulders … and one seriously beautiful head of hair. (She’s a hair-stylist. And obviously a good one. A quarter of the women there had their hair done by her, and there wasn’t a questionable “do” in the bunch.)

MC couldn’t come, but Helen was able to meet me there from school. It was an hour trip for each of us in opposite directions. I was looking forward to spending a few hours with her while celebrating the upcoming nuptials of this dear bride-to-be.

I was so eager to see my friend – it’s been too long since we’ve been in each other’s presence. (It’s funny – and sad – how an hour away might as well be the moon when life is so jammed-packed.)

I was looking forward to greeting her family and meeting the two little ones who have joined them through foster care. I was glad to share with her husband the story of our friends with five adopted children (soon hopefully six!) all through the foster care system.

When we arrived, it didn’t take long to notice that everything was just so completely perfect. Sparkly. Pink. Coordinated. Thoughtful. The best kind of party.

Every young woman, middle-aged woman and even older-aged woman had perfect hair. (I can admit, I was thankful that I put in a little extra effort on my generally unruly mop.)

The girls were all so fashionable and lovely. (And I’m sorry for saying girls. They are young woman. I know. But most were maybe a year of two older than Helen. I’m not ready to give up saying “girl” just yet. Being PC comes later in motherhood for me, I guess.)

Helen too was also acutely aware of the cute. She (admittedly, like me) is always a little apprehensive to embrace the sparkle – a trait not inherited by either of her younger sisters – they both thoroughly enjoy all that shines and twinkles.

She informed me that she texted her boyfriend and told him about all the pink and all the pretty.

His reply: Have fun and embrace your inner girl.

Smart kid. Good advice. And I can say she did. (And so did I!)

The food was casual and just right. The menu consisted of the Detroit original J.L. Hudson Maurice Salad, rolls, little stuffed pastry appetizers, tasty warm meatballs (turkey), chocolate-dipped this and that, drinks with frozen raspberries and mint leaves, glass jars filled with pink and white candies  and a fabulous array of cupcakes. All was all a very girlish and quite a bridal delight.

We had a lovely time. And I’m sure I looked like a nut job taking photos of the food with my iPhone. But I’m used to that.

And wait, did I say cupcakes? Yum!

Speak up(date)!

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Well, more than a month into visiting the Baby Whisperer, and all is moving along just swimmingly.

We’re still all diligently working as a team on this (Montessori school included), and the results are evident. Cliff has improved in both his speech and language skills markedly. I’ve demonstrated that I’m going to do everything in my power to help him speak, and – much to my joy – so has he.

Through the process, I’ve discovered that my little guy is one serious worker. As much as I’m obsessed with practicing words and sticking my fingers in his mouth to help him make certain sounds, he’s proven he’s up for the challenge and is willing to keep trying, trying and trying. I am so proud of him. We’ve already graduated to modeling three word sentences (which is much easier for me than two), and he has fewer moments of complete gibberish. And many, many moments of successful communication.

Today the Baby Whisperer said she’s not concerned that he has an expressive language disorder, because – based on his progress – he does not. I’m not the slightest bit concerned about that either. Every day he tells me something new. And every day I’m quite sure it is the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard. Yesterday, as I was pulling the van into the garage, and he noticed the toddler bed in the rafters and said, “Hey, that’s my bed!” You can be darn sure we got out of the van, and we studied that bed. We discussed every little thing about it. Its color, how it got up there, if he thought it was heavy, and the fact that now he is a big boy – something he proves to me more each day.

Well, I wanted to share the good news. Thanks to all the folks who’ve asked about the progress. We still have a ways to go, but we’re off to a flying start. Speaking of which, I have to fly so Cliff’s and I can brush his teeth while we sing the theme song to Spider man with new and improved lyrics … we sing “ka, ka, ka – ka, ka, ka.” Beautiful music to a this mama’s ears for sure.

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