I know you read this from time to time. I also know you don’t want me to gush over how awesome you are. I will keep my mouth shut, but only for today!
You’re finally a teenager.
I know you think you’re grown, and you probably don’t want to listen to my advice, but trust me…I wish someone would have given me some solid advice. Non tried. Meemaw tried. The problem is, when you turn in to a teenager, you stop listening and you only hear. Don’t do that. Listen. Even when you don’t want to. Because someday, Meemaw will be gone…I’ll be gone…Ronca will be gone…and you’ll be sad that you didn’t listen more.
Boys are dumb. They stay dumb until they’re 25 (it’s truly a magic age. After 25 they can be tolerated again). Basically, they like girls and sports and eating and watching movies. Keep that hard exterior that you have now. It will serve you well in the dating world. Don’t give away your heart too easily…broken hearts suck. Just like boys until they’re 25. By the way, you can’t date until you’re 40 (kidding…mostly).
Education is valuable. I know that right now all you want is to be a chef. I think that is a fabulous idea, but get a degree anyway. Someday, when you’re running your fancy restaurant and doing a show on the Food Network, you’ll thank me for that degree in ____________.
Try things. Go places. Create adventure (don’t try drugs though. I will kill you.).
Be friends with everyone. Don’t try to join the “in” crowd. Those kids will only lead you down a path of judgment. You will never learn the value of true friendship (friendship that transcends), and really, clothes and shoes do not make a person any more valuable. Besides, someday you’ll be 35, sitting at your table, reading your Facebook feed…and the “in” crowd will be selling used cars, divorced, and still just a judgy as they were then. And you will be able to laugh knowing that you got the better end of the stick!
No matter how big or small you think your troubles are, remember that you have parents who love you and will listen to you whenever you need us. Don’t ever be afraid that something you have done/want to do/regret is too much for us to handle, or that we wouldn’t care. If you just need us to listen and not give advice, one of us will be able to do that, while the other may have a hard time. I bet you can guess which is which…
Just keep swimming (literally and figuratively).
With all my heart, I love you, J. Happy Birthday! xoxo
5 years ago at this very minute…
… we had no idea what our lives were going to turn in to.
… Non was holding my hand.
… Jack didn’t have a feeding tube.
… J was grumpy because she wanted attention.
… we lived in Savannah.
… our friends and family were all with us.
… we were so happy—blissfully naive.
… it was a Tuesday.
–and with the signature of a judge, our son was ours. Ours.
It really was Jack’s Big Day.
And it always will be.
Look at how many changes happen in the blink of an eye. So much has changed us–there by shaping who we have become. It’s a good day to reflect on how quickly the tide changes, and how grateful we are for each and every person who stands by us, fighting for our Jackpot. Thank you…from the bottom of our hearts.
I don’t know if there was, or will ever be, anyone who took Christmas as seriously as Non. She would decorate her tree, place her nativity under it, and then set out to be Cookie Baker Extraordinaire while making sure we were all treated fairly.
When I say fairly, I’m not even close to joking.
Non has 5 grandchildren. She would tell us that she loved us all the same (I know the truth, wink wink), and we would argue with her over how she loved ME best (or my brother or my cousins…). She would make us cookies. Each one of us would have the same shaped cookie with the same general amount of sprinkles on it. No one ever got an extra scoop of ice cream (except her dog) unless everyone was OK with it.
However, when it came to gifts, she totally took the cake! NO ONE could do up Christmas like Non. No one ever made my Dad cry from laughing like Non.
For example, one year, to be fair, all the boys in the family got The Amazing Roller Ruler. 4 men, opening The Amazing Roller Ruler and trying to act like they enjoyed it. Another year, we ALL got slippers shaped like animals (I think my brother still wears his).
Yet none of that even holds a candle to the year…
Picture this—the happy family sitting on the floor, lounging on chairs and couches after a gorgeous Christmas meal. Non begins to hand out gifts to her family. Everyone opens and oohs and aaahs over each other’s new sweaters, sweatshirts, and socks. And then, my youngest cousin opened a loaf of bread. You could have cut that loaf of bread with the silence in the room!
Non looked around and told us how G loved that particular bread and she had some extra money left to spend on her ($1.35) so she got her bread. Non then produced baby food jars full of pennies for the rest of us–just to be fair!
This year, it’s very bittersweet. I know she is happy (truth be told, she’s probably telling everyone how to decorate the trees in Heaven) but I selfishly miss her more and more. I wish she was here when I had a question or just needed to hear her voice.
Someone will have to get a loaf of bread this year…
Usually, by this point in the year, Non was in her glory. She would get up early in the morning and work tirelessly…baking cookies. She would mix and stir and roll and cut until she had every square inch of her house holding boxes of cookies. I’m not even kidding. She would stuff her freezer with them, hide them in the attic, and store them in closets. All this preparation for the Christmas season. She presented families with plates of cookies for years, as a selfless act of love.
And heaven forbid if each cookie presented to us kids did not have the same amount of sprinkles on it…
This year is rough, I’m not going to lie. I miss her like crazy, and I am not sure how to go about moving without her. I mean, I’m still finding socks stuffed in casserole dishes from our last move!
And, much like my mother, and her mother before her…I love Christmas. I love to decorate. I love the smells. I love the food. I love the traditions.
I have a deep and abiding love for advent wreaths, chocolate Christmas countdown calendars, and snowmen.
This year is different. Everything I own is in storage. We think that we sold the Christmas tree at a yard sale last year, but none of us can truly remember if we did or not. I haven’t bought many Christmas presents, because I don’t know where I’m going to be living. I feel disjointed. And being the somewhat neurotic creature of organization and routine that I am, I then feel guilt. Guilt for not doing the right things or being the right mom…
Anyway, let’s not go there right now…I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
Friday, Jack had a procedure done to see what is going on with his g-tube. He’s been complaining that it hurts a lot, and I’ve had all sorts of trouble replacing it (which is not typical—I’m a super tube changing rock star!).
He wooed the nurses with his long eyelashes and dimpled grin. He took his IV like a champ, while we talked (and only one little tear escaped his eye) about his desire to grow up and be a StormTrooper. We kissed and whispered ”I love you” to each other over and over as the anesthetic took over his body.
Then I barfed in the waiting room (I’m sure you’re all super shocked by that).
Dr. GI came out and sat with me. We talked for a good while. He said his tube looks great. But the rest of his innards are a little wonky. He showed me places on Jack’s esophagus and stomach that have ulcerations (which he biopsied). He also biopsied a lesion in his small intestine. This was totally not at all what either of us expected—but Jack has always been our little enigma. If the answer is to be black or white, Jack will find a way to make it orange.
It’s a talent.
So, we now wait.
And I know, somehow, that in all this waiting—for the move, for the results, for my life to get back to “normal”—I am learning to be more faithful, more patient, more humble.
But, dang…it’s hard.
A year ago, I told Non a big secret…the truest desires of my heart. I then told Sebi and we promised each other to make it work.
We stepped out in faith and trusted God to do the rest.
This is the truest love story….and it began with Non.
We decided to sell our house. We figured that the smart thing for us to do would be to sell our current home and look for something with one floor (especially in light of Jack’s uncanny ability to roll down the stairs head first on an almost daily basis). We rented a truck, emptied out our house of all the non-essential and began our life of paper plates, plastic silverware, and paper towels. The troops were restless in the beginning, because they missed their “stuff.” But we found other things to do…we went for walks, played games, and danced to loud music at noon in our pajamas!
Unfortunately, we couldn’t sell the house. Due to the lovely state of the housing market, our house has dropped in price dramatically, and we would lose money to sell it. So, we resigned ourselves to stay. But we left our stuff in storage.
In August, Sebi had an interview for a fancy job in a large city. This would have put us very close to Ronca, the Brother in Law, and the nieces. We were pretty sure he was destined for greatness….but we had the wind put out of our sails. I cried. A lot. I really wanted to be there…where Jack would have more choices for his care, there are more specialists, more opportunity. J could swim year round. We’d be a whole and intact family.
(enters: the mourning period)
This is not where the story ends, though.
(this is like the Ewoks saving the day in Star Wars…)
There was word from the Boss that there was another job on the horizon. Sebi interviewed and prepared his case as to why this would also be a good option.
You see…after six years of living in Savannah, we are finally going home.
Schmoo. Ronca. Mel. Beloved. The Withag’s. Angela. The family that we made when we were there just us. But now, we go home to that family, and our family. My parents are there, as is my brother. For the first time since we’ve had Jack, I will be able to have help if I need it. We are just over the moon about this…albeit stressed! We have a few weeks in which to find and secure housing, so if I’m not here, you’ll know why.
Two By Two (this might give you a clue…)
Fort Hopeful is headed South! It feels good to finally be able to say this all out loud…I’m SO not good at keeping secrets!
Non liked kids. Non liked chocolate. Halloween was the best of both worlds!
When my brother was little (like toddlerish), he was pretty obsessed with Return of the Jedi. My mother decided to make him in to an Ewok for Halloween. I remember that there was a lot of furry fabric, a screaming brother, and Non came to help. The year I broke my arm, she and my mom wrapped me in toilet paper to be a mummy.
However, this recent snow fall in the area of my homeland had me remembering…
There were years when we first had to put on 5 layers of clothing and a snow suit. Then, you fit all those clothes under a plastic Scooby Doo costume (come on, don’t you remember when costumes didn’t cost a billion dollars and they were plastic with masks?). Non was the only person in the universe who had enough patience to gently slide us in to the costume while simultaneously stretching the plastic so it wouldn’t rip.
And then…she’d go. She didn’t like the kids that dressed up ugly, and she didn’t like kids being bad or mischievous.
42 weeks without her…and it still hurts.
I’m telling you, the woman had SuperPowers. She could make a dollar stretch to Egypt and back and she’d still have change. She could fashion a prom dress out of a pair of old curtains that would make all the “in” girls jealous. But, her most superior skill was in the kitchen. She would bake cakes and treats that rivaled Hershey.
I did not get that gene.
So, I read that October 8 is National Pierogi Day. I decided, of course, to produce home-made (with love) pierogies for my family. I made the mashed potato and sauerkraut fillings to precision. I made the dough using the precise methods that Non would have told me to do. The problem was in…the recipe.
I have an entire book of recipes that Non would write down for me and send in letters once or twice a week. I have her Chicken Divan and her Pot Pie, her sand tarts and her pecan tassies…all because we talked food for hours on the phone. Well, once she recapped her frustrations with All My Children, we’d move on to what I was cooking and if I had actually gone to the store.
Some of these magical recipes are spot on with their measurements, others…were Nonified.
I have one that reads:
One handful of flour. Half a palm of baking powder. A Couple shakes of salt and pepper.
Do you see where this is going?
My poor pierogies…basically, I made playdoh. Really, really bad playdoh.
Oh Non…I wish your SuperPowers would help me!
Or, I wish I was independently wealthy and could order in all the time!
Today, I’m 35. If you know me, it’s no secret to you that my birthday is one of the Most Anticipated Days of the Year! I usually have a count down started by March. One of these years, I’m totally going to make Sebi good on his promise of a parade….with a dancing bear. Or something.
This means, I no longer be lumped in to the 18-34 demographic, which essentially makes me old, right?
5 years ago, today, we received a call inquiring if we would be interested in adopting a baby boy who was waiting for us up the road a piece.
My, how time flies. How hearts change. How love grows. How loss hurts.
When I was a little girl, and even when I was in college, Non would take us out for our birthdays. It was our special day. One on one with the Nonnu. We’d hop in her car (license plate IAM NON) and most often head to the local mall. Seriously, in Mayberry, there weren’t many other options.
Many times, we’d wander from store to store. She’d grab my hand from time to time, and I never felt ashamed or embarrassed. Her hands were so soft and tiny. I have never felt skin as soft as hers, and I never will again. We’d just hold hands and talk and wander through the mall. She let ume pick out a gift (more often than not, it was a clothing item) and then she would take me for lunch. Anywhere I wanted to go—it was my day. I remember one year, my cousin chose to go to Hardee’s, much to Non’s chagrin! My brother often chose weird places too, like McDonald’s.
My favorite spot…the A-Frame. It’s an A-frame house that’s been converted to a restaurant. They have other menu items, but the only thing ever ordered was a cheesesteak sandwich. We would share one, along with a bag of chips, and talk.
If I was especially nice, she would drive home the long way, which allowed us to drive up the hills to where you could see the leaves beginning to change color and the apples ripening in the orchards. Then we would arrive home to spend time with all the family eating cake and sharing laughs.
I adored our time together. Every single moment of it.
So, I’m going to be here…waiting for the parade to start…remembering my Non, my cheesesteak, and enjoy my family. Because, that’s what she would want me to do.
Non-i-licious was the premier chef. She made Martha look like…(well, I take that back. Non had a huge love for plastic flowers (circa 1964)).
This is the woman whose vegetable soup is legendary in most of Pennsylvania, and a portion of Central Florida. She worked as a butcher and as the school lunch diva. She could literally take any remnants from the fridge and make something delicious. For crying out loud, she could take bread, meat, and cheese and make a sandwich that could make you cry!
After S and I got married, she began to send me recipes. When she stayed at my house, she tried, really tried, to teach me to cook.
I, unfortunately, lack the patience to sit there and measure stuff to the exact level and make homemade pie crust. I much prefer Heather’s Patented (only not really) Dump and Dine Technique. This technique is quite elaborate. You dump the ingredients in the crock pot and turn it on. 8 hours later, there’s dinner!
Non, I’m sure, is weeping in heaven for my lack of cooking skills. She is probably asking JC and all the saints to send me some cooking ju-ju. I’m not a complete disaster (I mean, I can boil water), but I’m not at all good. My most famous claim to fame is salad dressing. And a crock pot chicken recipe that I invented–which I have used to “cater” a wedding and several church dinners.
However, I recently hit the trinity. My third worst cooking disaster ever (actually, now that I think of it, it’s my fifth).
1. When we were first married, we ran out of aluminum foil, so I put plastic wrap on top of pork chops. I placed said pork chops in the oven. When I opened my oven, I could no longer find the plastic wrap. I phoned home. My father answered the phone and laughed at me for 20 minutes. When he caught his breath, he told me not to eat them, or else I’d kill us both.
2. Turkey, 2010.
3. Ham, 2010. After Thanksgiving, I figured I was done with turkey for a while. My parents were coming for Christmas, so I got a ham. It was funny, you know, when I opened the ham at 5 AM to put it to cook—I thought maybe it smelled a bit off. By the time my parents arrived at 7 AM, my whole house smelled a bit, shall we say, rancid. My dad helped me move the bad ham to the back yard, where it froze solid and stuck to the inside of the pan (for a very long time–we were a hit with the neighborhood cats).
4. 2 weeks ago, I decided to make fancy chicken for dinner. Fancy means I actually cook it in the oven instead of the crock pot. So, I took the chicken out of the freezer and popped it in to the microwave to defrost. Funny thing about defrost on the microwave—you have to actually push it to make it work. So, rather than pushing defrost, I hit cook, and literally blew up the chicken. I’m not talking mild popping sounds…I’m talking I BLEW UP THE CHICKEN (like blow open the microwave door…).
5. Finally, I think this one is the nail in the coffin of Heather’s cooking career—I burnt dinner in the crock pot. I literally forgot the food was in there, and…well, you can actually make jerky in the crock pot.
Poor Non….she totally tried.
My baby girl. A long time ago, I struggled to keep you inside me long enough to keep you alive. You always want to be first…to get something done before everyone else. You weren’t supposed to exit until mid-October. You chose your own birthdate instead.
9.9.99. Unique…just like you. Then: teeny tiny. Now: 5’6″.
So, today you’re 12. TWELVE. Where has the time gone? It seems like yesterday that I tried to kill you with a jalapeno (it was an accident, OK?) and you tried to eat the cat. What about the day I had to go to school because you drew a hippo on your desk with a Sharpie (because your teacher wouldn’t let you bring Boo Boo to school)? We’ve had Abba karaoke dance parties with your cousins, and held each other to cry when we lost Non.
Other things haven’t changed—you still eat bananas like we have a tree in the yard. Even as a baby, you had me read to you for hours on end…and now, you sit and read and read and read to yourself. You’re so empathetic and extremely helpful (seriously, I don’t know any other twelve year olds who can help change a feeding tube without batting an eye). You’re funny—so funny (you have the sense of humor of your Popeye….very punny!). This life we were given to share has been such a blessing!
Now you’re entering this whole new phase of life called puberty.
I know, I know–we’ve talked about it ad nauseum. You know the very graphic details of what is going to happen, but you don’t know the secrets to it. There will be days when life won’t be fun. There will be moments of anger and moments of heartbreak….but you have to go through these moments on your own (we all have to). Life is not perfect. Make the best of what the day brings you.
Puberty: It’s not fun. It’s not pretty.
YOU are amazing. WE will get through this together.
Some kids, they don’t get along with their Mom when they go through this puberty bit. I’m thankful (oh so thankful!) that you talk to me about everything….that you may not always be happy about what I ask of you, but you do it…that you remember that family is best. I could do with a few less eye rolls and a lot less trying to get the last word in on anything I say (in case you want to work on that).
And speaking of family….thank YOU for showing me what it means to be a True Mother. There are Mom’s out there who don’t care, who use their children as pawns in a twisted game, who manipulate. You taught me to stand up, fight, and prove to everyone that a Mother is the person who would do anything (really…anything) to protect her child(ren). I will never regret making sure that you and Jack are protected from as much ugly as I can (unfortunately, you never know when Ugly is going to call you up and ruin your day!).
Welcome to the next phase of your life, my sweet girl young lady.
I am so proud of you…YOU….the J-bird.
Just grab my hand…we will do this together. Always.