Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Sharpest Lives

This is the way to wake up on a Tuesday morning.

Give me a shot to remember
And you can take all the pain away from me
A kiss and I will surrender
The sharpest lives are the deadliest to lead
A light to burn all the empires
So bright the sun is ashamed to rise and be
In love with all of these vampires
So you can leave like the sane abandoned me

My Chemical Romance

Sunday, December 25, 2011


I don't know why children get sick on holidays. I only know that I love my son more than my own life and his suffering is killing me. I will clean up gallons of vomit and dozens of terrible diapers. I will lay awake at 2 am on Christmas morning listening to his constant whimpering downstairs with his father. And I will never stop hurting until he's well again.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ho fricking ho

I don't know how I feel about Christmas this year. We have an insane schedule as always, and I have a sort of resigned determination to pull it all off -- the tree-decorating, gift-buying, gift-wrapping, card-sending, cookie-baking, tray-making, driving-celebrating-driving-naptime-driving-celebrating nightmare that is this holiday.

It must all be accomplished. In a handful of days. With a toddler.

So far, it's been a bumpy road. I put 1,862 lights on the Christmas tree, plugged it in, and the middle of the tree was dark. (It is no longer a "Christmas tree" but a "Fricking Christmas Tree.") I baked two batches of cookies, decided I need to go on a diet, and gave them all away. Of course, now, Saturday I'm in charge of bringing cookies (as well as sausage, cheese, and crackers) to the first of many Christmas parties to come, and have a window of only a few hours to bake, do laundry, and wrap presents tonight, since tomorrow night is earmarked for light-seeing with grandparents.

Ho fricking ho, everyone!

Diaper tree courtesy of Fletch

Monday, December 5, 2011

Have you ever seen a more photogenic couple?

If the answer is "no," you have my pity.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I won't say goodbye.

Dear Grandma Katie,

What can I give you now that you're gone?

What would you have wanted left behind – what crumbs along the path you walked, for me to pick up as I follow after you?

Your body will be buried tomorrow. Small bird bones, paper skin, you won't take up much space. It isn't you contained in that coffin, anyway. That cruel body with all its limitations... you deserved better. You deserved to sprint and climb and tie a pair of shoelaces on a pair of healthy feet. You deserved a better ending than the prolonged deterioration that stole every good bit of life from you.

You had 86 years, and it still feels like you were robbed.

Our religion would say that we deserve nothing. That death is the price for sin. That it's all in God's hands, and we should be grateful for all that we have. I have much, so it's easy to be grateful. You had much, too, and still I wish I could have fixed you.

Selfishly I worry that the small, vacant place you left behind in that horrible bed will one day be mine.

What can I give you now that you're gone? What did you want for me? I can drink milk. Wear socks and undershirts. Eat vegetables. Stop sitting on my feet. Put meat on my bones.

I can teach my son the way you taught me. Read with him. Sing him "You are my sunshine," and tell him who sang it first.

I can hold my husband's hand, and remember to have fun. I can always have a jar of candy or cookies for visitors. I can love and be honest and try to be a good Christian, while still being true to myself.

Please don't leave me. Don't let me forget how you used to laugh. How your frail hands felt. How you walked without bending your knees. How you folded napkins and washed pink plates by hand and stored faded tupperware in the oven and the microwave. The smell of your pantry closet – I had forgotten all about that closet! The Cheerios would be on the top shelf, the Macaroni and Cheese one shelf down.

I can barely remember your voice. I've forgotten so much already. Don't let the skeleton of you be the last thing to stay with me.

We spent years saying goodbye to you, thinking it would be a blessing when you were finally relieved of your pain, thinking it wouldn't be so hard. But death was the only thing that could open this door to the past and force this longing for something so far gone I can barely remember.

A day with you, 15 years ago. That's what I want. A video of you. Why didn't we record anything? A few poorly lit photographs is what I have left. A necklace, a candy jar, a birthday card with your shaky handwriting. It's so little.

Life is so little. Love is so big. You were big.

I won't say goodbye. It isn't the right word.

*  *  *  *  *

This is something I wrote for the pastor, who wanted information on Kathryn before the funeral.

My grandmother was big. I don't mean her size, as physically she was always a tiny thing. Perhaps that only emphasized her bigness, the way it came in such a small package. Stubborn, loving, opinionated, faithful, concerned, tough and caring, her personality packed the punch her body didn't.

I'm glad there isn't a dictionary definition for a person's life, glad she can't be narrowed down by the tasks that made up her days as a homemaker. But among the washing machine and ironing board, filling the plates and then cleaning them after, wiping dust and making beds, she was the master. Every task had a right way -- her way -- to be done, and woe to those who would do things differently. (You'd get whacked by a very weak, very arthritic arm.)

She'd spent much of her life perfecting these tasks to her liking, and earned the right to wield control in her domestic domain. I think of her when I make my bed with hospital corners, when I note that my creased pants should be ironed, when I make cookies from scratch with "Matlock" or "The Bold and The Beautiful" on TV, when I read a devotion or prayer book, when I wear an undershirt or buy socks or use a hand-stitched coaster. (Prepare for a scolding if you're not wearing an undershirt.)

A deck of playing cards always will remind me of Kathryn and Leo. Before arthritis robbed her of playing cards, there were times when the whole family would get together for a few hands of Spades. When I was small, we would play Old Maid and Grandma sang me songs, pushed me on the swing, and read with me. When I was a little older, we would play Gin and she would worry that I was too thin.

"What's the matter, don't you like it?" is a common dinnertime joke, because if you only ate one helping, that wasn't enough, according to her. Later in life, when she struggled to feed herself, I remember Jeremy exacting his revenge by filling her plate with ten times more food than she could possibly eat, and amid her protests he said, "What's the matter, don't you like it?"

Grandma could take a joke, and she could dish it out. Other running jokes had included her crooked toes and fingers, and her buck teeth (which always showed biggest when she laughed). Andy was twice her size and the two of them mutually picked on each other -- her that she couldn't get her arms around him, and him that he would pick her up. I'm so sad that I can't see her laugh.

She was quirky. One of her more memorable traits was her vocabulary of words and phrases, which we always planned to put into her own dictionary. Words like "futzel" (speck), "globbling" (poking/tickling/grabbing), and "popo" (butt), and phrases like "saint vitus dance," (ants in your pants), "has more [blank] than Carter's got pills," "made in the year one," and "cox's army." Messes were "like Ikey Schotz's closet" (no idea who he is). If she dropped something or lost her balance, you'd hear a fast, high pitched, "Whoop oop oop oop oop."

It's impossible to think of Grandma Katie without also thinking of Grandpa Leo. One was not really whole without the other, at least in my lifetime. In some ways, he was her comic relief. He'd drop something or do something ridiculous, and she'd be there to scold him ("Le-o!"). For every frustration or disagreement, there was twice as much laughter. I remember their hands, his spotted with age and hers bent with arthritis, resting on each others' knees. I know little of their private lives, but what I saw of their long marriage makes me hope for the same.

She knew what a good Christian woman was, and she wanted to be one. She was naturally honest, and she never hesitated in her generosity. She passed these traits to my father, and I hope to me. If my son is ever to know the kind of woman she was, it will have to be through the values and character that continue on in us.

[previous post on Grandma and Grandpa's house]