updates with parenthood

I loved the 1989 movie Parenthood. I would categorize it as a movie that I loved when it came out (I was nine) and love even more now that I’m a parent – especially since I get the jokes (which, side note, OMG – why was I allowed to watch this movie when I was 9??). In the theme of the movie, here are updates on the recent happenings in the K Family… in no particular order.

On family…

Justin(3 year old son): Who’s that?

Gil (Dad): It’s my kid brother, Larry, your uncle. Don’t give him any money.

Justin: I won’t.

My youngest sister Sarah turned 21 on September 27.  I remember when she was born calculating how old I would be when she hit important milestones in her life. I figured out that I would be 32 when she was 21.  I remember thinking two things, first: “WOW… I’ll be old!” and second: “I won’t be relevant any more! How could I be 32 and cool?”

Oh, dear, sweet, young Emily.  You are as relevant and as cool at 32 as you were at 21. That’s not saying much, but it’s OK. Have a cocktail, toast your sister and color your roots.  I mean seriously, is that fairy dust or sparkly grays?

 

On marriage…

[Gil has been complaining about his complicated life; Grandma wanders into the room]

Grandma: You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster.

Gil: Oh?

Grandma: Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride!

Gil: What a great story. (sarcasm)

Grandma: I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

… A few moments later…

Karen: I happen to LIKE the roller coaster, okay? As far as I’m concerned, your grandmother is brilliant.

Gil: Yeah if she’s so brilliant why is she sitting in our NEIGHBOR’S CAR?

We live on a roller coaster.  Frank is home, Frank is gone.  Some of the hills and loops are familiar – kids to sitter, kids to doctor, kids home, go to work, leave lunch on the counter at home.  Some of the twists are new – new projects, opportunities, moving homes, and so on.

I love our roller coaster.  I love that there is an element of juggling involved in our lives and I love when everything goes smoothly.

Our roller coaster makes me appreciate quiet Saturday nights like this one, where I can spend some time writing.

I used to think I was a merry-go-round kinda girl at my core. Until there was Frank; Frank makes the ride worth it and taught me how to love the roller coaster.  After ten years of marriage on September 19, I’d pick the roller coaster every time. T M, A.

 

On parenting… 

Frank (Dad): You know, when you were two years old, we thought you had polio. Did you know that?

Gil (Son): Yeah, Mom said… something about it a couple of years ago.

Frank: Yeah, well, for a week we didn’t know. I hated you for that.

[Gil looks surprised and hurt]

Frank: I did. I hated having to care, having to go through the pain, the hurt, the suffering. It’s not for me.

One of the hardest parts of parenting is not what you have to do for your children – it’s learning to accept what you can’t do for your children. We do our best to set a good framework, provide rules and boundaries – but every now and then something crops up and they are the only ones who can handle it.

We are rapidly hitting these moments – potty training, going to play school (Pre-pre-school, essentially), and generally redirecting them when they are misbehaving.  Parenting is an art and a science and a test in parental patience, will-power and self-discipline.

But it is so worth it.  The girls make jokes now – with each other and with us.  The play together so nicely much of the time and I am surprised by the few times they need a parent to step in and break up a disagreement.

Ellie is a gentle soul with alpha baby tendencies.  She does not like stern reprimands and apologizes almost to the point of fault.  She will certainly stand up to her sister and has mastered the screeching scream as a method to scare Carrigan away from a beloved stuffed animal or toy. I wasn’t feeling well the other day and Ellie was persistent in her questioning, “Mom, are you OK? Do you need medicine? Do you need to see the doc-tor?” She asked these questions with her curly red head cocked to one side and her eyebrows raised in serious concern.

Carrie is hilarious and gregarious.  We were getting ice cream – her favorite treat – and she walked into the ice cream store like she owned it.  She said hello to everyone, investigated the toppings and ice cream selections, requesting sprinkles like an old pro. And that’s the way she is – she walks into a room and says, “Hello friends! How’s it going?” with a big, confident smile on her face.  She has started striking poses with one hand on her hip – which is incredibly funny! She has a sensitive side that is tough to navigate; she will throw up a wall if she wants to ignore your request and is genuinely sorry when she’s done wrong.

 

on life…

Frank: Gil, you have a good memory. Uh, was it yours or Helen’s or Susan’s wedding I got drunk at?

Gil: It was all three, Dad. Congratulations.

Frank: Well, which one did I punch the band leader?

Gil: That was mine. We have photos. I’m having them blown up for the commitment hearings.

And in conclusion…

I am constantly re-learning the meaning of family.  It’s a lesson that evolves and morphs and changes, but the result is always the same for me: family is both the people I was born stuck with and the people I choose to be stuck with. Family is always worth the time and the fight and the energy.

wednesdays

It is Wednesday night in the suburbs of Chicago.  Specifically, it is 7:45 p.m. on a Wednesday night – the time when the somewhat late Chicago commuters are briskly walking to their cars in a twilight parking lot.  Late, but not too late to kiss the kids good night.

But I am not a part of that fray.  Maybe in a different life.

But not this one.

In this one, I am lying on the floor of my twin daughters’ room.  Sprawled, almost like a bad crime scene.  I am dressed like a mullet – half loungewear on the bottom and half work attire on the top.

It is dark.  It is dark because the heels of my hands are pressed on my eyes, rubbing methodically.  I hear two sets of feet running down the hall.  One set stops at the door and one set stops next to my head.  I slowly remove my hands. I see a bottom.

A clothed bottom.

Which, as a parent of toddler twins, a clothed bottom is about all you can ask for when presented with a derriere in your face.

This particular derriere belongs to Ellie.  She is in position to do a summersault.  She turns her head to look over her shoulder to make sure I’m paying attention.

I flip her and land her on my legs.  She hops off.

“Again!” she pronounces.

Carrie has returned from her adventures in the hallway.  She is holding Super Pickle: a plush pickle that used to belong to Frank when he was young, but who has now come into favor with Carrie as her new stuffed best friend.

“Pickle, Mama! Super Pickle!”  She makes Super Pickle fly.

Ellie is at the door now, about to embark on an adventure.  She turns to me before she departs and I hear her say, “I want some socks Mama!”

I furrow my brow.

“Socks are in your closet, Ellie.”

She furrows her brow.

“I want some SOCKS Mama.”

I lay my head down on the floor again and replay the words over and over in my head.

“Socks?”

“SOCKS!”

Carrie understands, though.  She goes to the door to leave as well.

“I want some socks, too, Mama!” says Carrie.

“Socks?”

“SOCKS! I want some socks.”

“Socks?” I ask again.

Carrie repeats herself at least a half dozen times.  She is so emphatic about the words, she is drooling, but somehow looking at me like I am crazy the crazy one.

And then I realize what she wants.

Snacks.

Never, ever have my children pleaded fervently for footwear.

I should’ve known.

We are down the stairs and snacking within seconds and my children are relieved.  They were probably wondering if they had a remedial mama and subsequently wondering what they will tell the other kids on the playground.  I can imagine the scene at the top of the slide:  The girls huddled with two of their best slide-riding buddies, whispering, “We asked for snacks and she kept saying socks. Do you think the Park District has a program for her?”

I want to explain to them that I can’t read lips and even a southern accent is difficult for me to understand. Nothing else major is wrong with me, I want to explain to them.  Well, nothing too major.

But, there are some surprises better left for when they are older.

So they have some puréed fruit and I sweep the floor and we all three consider entirely different lines of thought.

Ellie counts to ten.  Then says her ABC’s. And then congratulates herself on her tremendous accomplishments.  I tell her how smart she is, but it is just icing on the cake.  Girlfriend is independent.

Carrie investigates the shapes she can make squeezing the fruit on the table until I stop her.  She may be boisterous and tough seeming on the outside, she has a big, sensitive heart.  After I take away her fruit and firmly (but nicely) admonish her for dumping it out, I hug her and squeeze her.

Back up the stairs we go.  Snuggles. A round of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” More snuggles.

It’s hard to believe they were ever tiny.  It’s hard to believe that Carrie’s weight actually dipped a little below 5 lbs in the NICU before she came home.

I remember living through the moments with them, listening to them breathe while they slept on my chest, and I thought, “I will never forget how tiny they were.”

And while I know they were tiny, I can’t remember it.  I can’t imagine it.

If you’ve seen the twins lately, they are little girls.  They rode their first carnival rides.  Ate their first carnival food, even.  #ParentsOfTheYear #OnlyOrganicCarnivalFood #BAHAHAHA

My parents and their parents and their parents all warned me.  “You will age.  It goes so fast.”

And I remember just not comprehending it when I was younger. I knew I’d age, but for some reason I thought time would always be ahead of me. But now, there are 32 1/2 years of time behind me.

My peers are noticing this reality, too. Many have especially commented on the kids’ music today. And the clothes. And the catch-phrases. Sometimes they don’t hear themselves saying the words.  Sometimes they do.  And then they repeat themselves – just to hear it again. The words are eerily familiar and yet, the words are not their own.  The words are those of our grandparents and great grandparents saying, “I told you…”

I tend to believe that the ones who have gone before us would also tell us a whole lot of other things about life. How precious it is.  How fragile it is. How you can’t ever really know the first two things until you’ve lived it for a while.

I look at the little girls tucked into their beds. I know how it happened that they are not little babies any more – how they grew up.  I know that it happened over a series of Wednesday nights, much like this one.

Wednesday nights here are like driving through downstate Illinois. Fields and fields of corn, as far as the eye can see. Fields that seem to stretch on, all the way to forever, until you pull off the highway at your destination and you realize you’ve traveled 300 miles without ever noticing it.

We are a long way from where we were.  I’m glad we have a long way yet to go.

twins turning two

DSC_0639 Twins 2 DSC_0315 DSC_0076Today the twinsters are two.

TWO.

Like every parent that has come before me and those that are surely following after me, I am in awe at my ability to keep the children alive. And, not only alive, but like, PROGRESSING. Whoa.

I mean, seriously, if you had seen what had happened to the cactus my in-laws gave me before they were my in-laws, you would’ve doubted my parenting skills.

I guess that’s my way of saying that I probably don’t deserve the credit for this amazing feat. You see, most days I rely heavily on the expanded Team K to get through the week. From the fabulous Miss Cathy to the remarkable Grandmas Sandy and Gigi, and a wide range of family and friends that love our girls to pieces.

And of course, none of this would be possible at all without Frank, a Dad extraordinaire who transitions from road warrior to cuddly papa bear in no time flat. Not only does he love playing with his girls and delights in everything they do, but he also pulls his weight when it comes to laundry, dishes, dinners and the like.

We are blessed!

And here we are, two years after the birth of the twins.

Throughout the day, I found myself glancing at the clock and remembering back to what I was doing at that time two years ago.

Waiting for Frank to arrive.

Realizing we were minutes away from meeting our babies.

Hearing their cries for the first time.

Holding them in the delivery room.

Listening to the lullaby playing over the intercom as they wheeled me to the twins’ isolettes in the NICU.

Snuggling Ellie and Carrie for the first times.

Marveling at their tiny perfection.

I understood when parents talked about time flying, but I didn’t understand. Now, looking at our girls, I am amazed at how surreal it all is. The moments on the day of their birth seem to be as real and immediate as they were when I first experienced them. And yet…

Miss Elliana is a little love. Fiesty and emotional, she can be compassionate and demanding all at once. She wants snuggles and independence simultaneously. She knows all of her colors, makes a valiant effort at counting and her ABCs. She puts together sentences and has definitive ideas about how she would like her day to go. The challenges of being two wash across her face in waves throughout the day – wanting and craving independence, but still needing snuggles and lots of boundaries. She has a sweet sense of humor, giggling at little jokes that she makes up with her sister. She loves to sit at her little desk and color. She loves books, especially Goodnight Gorilla, The Going to Bed Book, On the Night You Were Born and Gossie & Gertie.

Miss Carrigan is a dynamo. Like her sister, she struggles with the two year old dilemma of wanting to communicate but being limited in her ability to do so. Carrie is most likely to sit with you and snuggle or read or pet your face. But, she is a bundle of energy waiting to be released. Fearless at the park or in social situations, she seems to have controlled any fear she has about new things and dives in head first. She loves her dolls and her binkies and her shows on TV. Carrie has a soft, kind heart, even when she’s battling the intense urge to be an alpha baby. When Ellie cries, Carrie asks, “What’s wrong with Ellie, Mama?” She loves to be tossed in the air, loves to do summersaults, and dances like everyone is watching.

They don’t always play together, but they always seem to be aware of one another. In the mornings, if one wakes before the other, they are usually eager to see each other. Carrie usually wakes up first and cuddles with me in the morning. When she hears Ellie stirring in the next room, her little head will pop up, “Sister? Sister?!” and Ellie will respond in kind.

When Ellie is misbehaving, all I have to do is say, sternly, “Elliana!” and she will stop abruptly. Ellie loves verbal affection and doting and takes any firm redirection very personally. Conversely, Carrie will blatantly ignore us. Her favorite act of civil disobedience is putting her foot up on the table at dinner. She has earned more than a few trips to time out, but always seems to understand the error of her ways and seems to be genuinely reformed… for the time being.

All in all, even with the challenges of turning two, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s hard to admit that the girls are no longer babies. Heavens, they haven’t been babies for over a year. But when it seems like yesterday I was holding them in the NICU, it is a particularly jarring sensation to see little girls in the place of my tiny babies.

Happy birthday to my little ladies, Elliana and Carrigan. You are loved.

This much, always.

a love song

Ten years ago this month, Frank and I enjoyed our first Valentines Day as a couple.

It was death defying.

No, for real. Frank had a test flight in a multi-engine plane and there was an issue with the cowling (skin) of the plane. As they were taking off, the cowling came loose and was dangerously close to taking out one of the engines.

Yada yada yada… They safely landed and Frank came over to my parents home, made me a delicious dinner and continued his tireless pursuit of my affection.

The next day, Frank and I had a meeting with our pastor to talk about our relationship – resulting in Frank’s second near death experience in less than 24 hours. Unexpectedly for Frank, our Pastor suggested (oh em gee!!) that we get married.

A few hours later, after recovering from nearly passing out, Frank decided that (and this is a direct quote) he was “as ready as I’ll ever be” to get married.

Which, to me, either meant he was committed to a life of bachelorhood or he was ready to lock this relationship down.

Fortunately for his sister (he was “crashing” with her for 18 months), he meant the second option.

Ten years later.

I find my heart racing when I think of how these years have slipped by. We have filled the time – and while I’d like to think we’ve filled the time well – the slippery, fluid nature of time consumes the background of my consciousness.

I think – “em! Be more present!” and I think – “observe! Commit this to memory!”

I think of the things I’ve already forgotten. Memories filed carelessly in “misc” that only come back to me when enjoying time with old friends.

And I think of the things I’ll never forget – singing 3rd Eye Blind with Kate and Jamie while driving in Kate’s Bonneville – the lyrics to “Long December” because that song became my anthem when I got my drivers license – the first time I met Frank – driving in The Blue Ox with the irreplaceable JLN – seeing my babies for the first time – how my mom smelled when she came home from a fun night with friends – the sound of my dads car cruising into to garage after a long day at work.

Time marches on in only one direction. Something about entropy and other physics shenanigans. Much smarter people than me are far more fit for that concept.

Regardless…

I love time travel stories. I’ve loved them since I was a young girl and my dad read “The Time Machine” to me. I love the idea of moving through time the way we move through space.

And yet…

If given the opportunity to go back and change something, I don’t believe I would.

There is something pure and authentic and genuine about our “one wild and precious life” – and living it as such.

The beauty of writing and blogging is that I do have an opportunity to write into the future – to send myself and my husband and my children a sort of message in a bottle. A way for them to know me now, without the benefit of a time machine.

Next month is my ten year anniversary of blogging. While it started out as the musings of a young 22 year old me who spent more time contemplating area malls, calories in salads and Diet Coke preferences, I hope that it has become for my children and my husband an illustration of me becoming myself – and the mother and wife they will remember.

This life that I am living – it is my love song for them.

Christmas in pictures… with a score card

Anyone who tells you they aren’t keeping track of who is winning in this game of parenting is a liar.

I’m keeping track.  And based on the results of this Christmas season, I don’t think I’m playing for the winning team.

The game? Parenting.  The goal? To raise your children.  The obstacle? They will try to raise you.  Every time a parent is able to maintain peace and present a unified front, parents get a point.  Every time a child successfully demolishes that facade? Point to the child.

For Christmas, we are scoring a few key areas:

  1. The Christmas Card Picture (2 possible points for execution and final product)
  2. The Christmas Outing (3 possible points for execution, most remaining Christmas Spirit and photographic evidence)
  3. Christmas Presents (2 possible points for sustained delight and photographic evidence)
  4. Official Christmas Festivities (1 point for attending church, 1 point for ensemble’s attire, 2 points for general outcome, 3 points for photographic evidence)

Total Possible Points: 15

Winner must win by at least two points.

Let the scoring commence.

The Christmas Card Picture: Twins 2 points

Shot 20

Shot 1

Shot 1

Shot 15

Shot 450

Shot 450

It took three separate photo shoots on three separate days, relocated furniture, bribes and a counseling session for mom and dad, but we finally captured this shot:

 

"Who, us? Difficult to photograph? No!"

“Who, us? Difficult to photograph? No!”

The thing is, I would’ve split the points evenly since we did get a cute shot, but the reason the girls look so angelic is because they are looking at us saying, “Mom, we live in a world that has sanity, and that sanity has to be destroyed by babies with attitude. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Dad? We have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for your sanity, and you curse your interrupted sleep. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what we know. That the toilet, while alluring to us in so many ways, probably distracted us from coloring on your walls. And our existence, while occasionally cute and snuggly to you, ends sanity. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want to be insane, you need to be insane. We use words like poopoos, uh oh, binkies. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent dismantling your sanity. You use them as a punchline. We have neither the time nor the inclination to explain ourselves to parents who cuddle and snuggle under the blankie of the very crazy joy that we provide, and then question the manner in which we provide it. We would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, we suggest you pick up a binkie, and stand a post. Either way, we don’t give a hoot what Christmas pictures you think you are entitled to.”  Not kidding.  Even with angelic faces, the soundtrack playing behind their innocent eyes was definitely Col. Jessup.

 

The Christmas Outing: Twins 2 Points, Parents 1 Point

First of all, kudos to Frank because he scored us our one point.  Frank went into the Christmas outing with an expectation of insanity.  His expectations were met and therefore, his Christmas Outing experience did not damage his overall sense of Christmas Joy.  The remaining points were awarded to the twins.

Between packed aisles, mobs of people at 9 a.m. and the veritable cornucopia of crap that comes with twin toddlers (diaper bags, coats, hats, binkies, bottles, snacks, etc, etc, etc), maneuvering through the store formerly called Marshall Fields was a hot, sweaty challenge.  Santa was on floor five.  Walnut Room, floor seven.  Christmas Tree viewing? Floor eight.  Elevators were cramped with 10 people and a double tandem stroller.  We eventually ditched the stroller and introduced the twins to the escalators, which they enjoyed.

The folks at the store formerly called Marshall Fields packed us all into a table with about four inches between us and our neighboring table. Which is fine if it’s not a brunch buffet and everyone doesn’t need to get up to get their brunch.  But guess what?? It’s a BUFFET!  Squee!

All in all, my siblings and my dad helped maintain the general Christmas spirit and even the twins were happy to scarf down “cake” (muffins… which, really, let’s be honest? Breakfast cake.)

Unfortunately, what you are about to see is the best picture from the three that we took.  And therefore, proof that the twins did win two points, fair and square:

Say "WHAT?? Where??"

Say “WHAT?? Where??”

Christmas Presents: Parents 1 point, Twins 1 point

The proof is in the video. I’m gonna go ahead and give myself credit for the amazing kitchen set that I put together.

But then, the nod goes to the twin to the all-out hysteria when Ms. Ellie did not get 100% dominance over the shopping cart they received as a gift from Aunt Cathy.  That hysteria can be glimpsed at the end of this video.  I stopped filming when it went to crazy-town levels.

 

Christmas Festivities: Parents 3 points, Twins 4 points

First, we got a “gimme” point because we did go to church.  And it was relatively uneventful and we even went to Chipotle for a traditional Christmas burrito bol.  I think Jesus would’ve approved.

I also gave us a “gimme” point because we were all dressed for Christmas Day.  We were even dressed in somewhat coordinating outfits.  Point.

I’m also going to say that we split the difference on the general Christmas experience.  While the girls certainly gave us a run for our money, we retaliated with an appearance by the big guy in a red suit.

Ellie: "Hey, someone is at the door!"

Ellie: “Hey, someone is at the door!”

 

Ellie: "Um, OMG! RUN!!"

Ellie: “Um, OMG! RUN!!”

You can even see that Ellie’s cousin Josh is a little horrified as well.  Score!

Emily: "Hey Frank, capture the Christmas magic! Quick!"

Emily: “Hey Frank, capture the Christmas magic! Quick!”

Frank and the twins playing on Christmas Day.

Frank and the twins playing on Christmas Day.

They look so sweet and innocent playing the organ, but this mama knows better...

They look so sweet and innocent playing the organ, but this mama knows better…

Me? Plot to take over the world? Never!

Me? Plot to take over the world? Never!

Final score?  Twins 10, Parents 5.

 

all you need is love…

It was much easier for me, when I was younger (and dumber), to determine what would make a marriage work.

When I was 22 years old, I would’ve told you, even if you didn’t ask, that a marriage required love. Squishy, delightful, schmoopy love.  Also? I would’ve told you marriage required an investment of time and hard work, but only because once I heard someone say that and I found something oddly romantic about this puritanical angle to long-term relationships. I would’ve told you that marriage required mutual sacrifice (mostly on the husband’s part… thus mitigating the “mutual” part).

Now?

Lots of scientists and philosophers and people generally smarter than I have created an entire cottage industry on why and how and who and when and where marriages work best.  There are endless top 10 lists of things that promise predict the seemingly inevitable demise of your union.

Smash the wedding cake? BAM. Divorce.

Pick a the wrong first dance song? BAM. Divorce.

Does your spouse wash their hair first in the shower while you wash your face first? INCOMPATIBLE! FAIL!

When Frank and I were getting married, though, we were high on LOVE. Every element of planning the wedding was a beautiful adventure on our way to our storybook wedded bliss.

There we were, traipsing through this loveland, la-la-la-ing our way to September 19, 2003 when BAM, we walked faced first into the sliding glass door of our pre-marital conference at church.

Picture this:

Emily and Frank, young, thin and in love, holding hands and sitting amongst other engaged couples.  Eight round tables were placed throughout a large conference room with eight couples per table (plus or minus). We looked at the other couples seated with us and glowed at them – you are like us! we are like you! we are in LOVE! yes! And the other couples looked at us and said back, “stop looking at us like that.  You’re creeping us out.”

At the front of the room was a podium and an earnest professor-type opening up our session in prayer and sharing wisdom and trying to impart the mechanics of marriage on people who were more interested in the difference between a fresh fruit cake filling and a jam cake filling.  Decisions, decisions.

We embraced this conference – we were determined to get an A+ in pre-marital counseling.  We were overachievers.  We were in love!

The conference director said, about halfway through, “OK, raise your hand if you are over 25.” Nope. We were 22. “OK, raise your hand if you have college degrees.” WINNER WINNER! Our hands shot straight up. “OK, raise your hand if you make over $50,000 per year, combined.” Nope.

“If you do not have two out of three of these items in your favor, your marriage is more likely to end in divorce.”

Frank and I sat in stunned silence. Did we fail at marriage before we began?  How is that possible? I have no idea what else what they said at the conference – I was still trying to figure out if we could get extra credit in order to make up for the two of the three we missed.

Originally I thought it was kind of like that summer before my freshman year that I took a keyboarding class and got a B+.  I started my  high school career knowing that I could NEVER be a valedictorian… or a court reporter.

And there is something freeing in that – you know, knowing you won’t be the valedictorian. Or a court reporter.

But the part where I got an F- in your premarital counseling class has less of a silver lining.

Fast forward nine years: we have, so far, defied the odds.  We have our moments, for sure.  We’ve traversed bravely some of the things often described by marital experts as potential marriage enders.

Is there really a magic recipe for a marriage that works and a marriage that fails?

I really don’t know.

Tonight, in a moment of top-of-the-mountain reflection, I watched my brother and his bride rehearse for their wedding.  All while watching them practice walking up the aisle and learn their roles in the ceremony, I was thinking about what I wanted to tell them – what I would wish them to help ensure a long and happy union.

Do I tell them, “Never go to bed angry.” Or do I tell them, “Never say Divorce.” (woops. I said Divorce. Woops. I said Divorce again. And again. I’m in trouble.) Or how about, “If you’re the wife, lower your expectations and if you’re the husband, step up to the plate?” (yikes.)

Upon further reflection…

It just seems that marriage is like flying an airplane.  There are all these logical reasons  an airplane flies. Lift and drag and speed and atmosphere and blah blah blah. (Can you tell I failed my aviation ground school?) But when I see a plane or a bird gliding through the air successfully, doing what it was made to do, the only real explanation that makes any sense is the one that my pilot husband gave me: Pure Freaking Magic.

A lot of people miss the magic.  They are caught up in the mechanics and the science and the logistics – and they miss enjoying the moment.  A party planner who never dances at his parties. A writer who never reads his books. A painter who never sees the art around him.  It’s easy to do the same thing in marriages – to amass “stuff” and to check checklists – and never savor the relationship.

But, oh, the moments where I stopped and wondered at and drank in the magic of it all: lazy Saturday mornings, long car rides, dreaming of our future, holding our babies, lying under the Christmas tree and holding hands on the way to somewhere exciting. How we met and fell in love and stay in love and live in love – that is simply Pure Freaking Magic.

When my brother brought Lauren home, we knew he was a goner.  You could tell it in his eyes and his smile.  It was magic.  And when Lauren laughed heartily and genuinely at his jokes? That, too, was magic.  Pure. Freaking. Magic.

My hope for them is that they marvel at what they have, all the days of their lives.  And that when they see an airplane flying or a bird soaring or a humming bird floating that they would be less concerned with the details and more enthralled with the Pure Freaking Magic of it all.

To Andy and Lauren: I wish you a marriage full of magic and wonder and joy.

PFM, always.

Love,

Em

a prairie home companion

alternatively titled, “a love song for my children.”

I love talk radio.  I love conservative talk radio.  I love liberal talk radio.  I love post-Hawks games sports talk radio.  I love morning talk shows and will frequently change the station when they play music.  I adore news radio of all kinds.

But there is something absolutely magical about my childhood Saturday nights at 5 p.m. in Chicago.

At 5 p.m. on Saturday night, the self-deprecating Minnesotan Garrison Keillor, accompanied by a jaunty pianist, would open up the stage of “A Praire Home Companion,” a lovely radio show that often featured tales of Garrison’s beloved Lake Wobegon

Listening to APHC is like being thoroughly ensconced in some of the most treasured aspects of my childhood.  Growing up, we mostly listened to APHC on the way to Saturday night Catholic Mass, and some of my strongest, most delicious memories, are of Garrison’s steady, deep voice rumbling through stories of Guy Noir and News of Lake Wobegon.  Our family’s red minivan bounced along the tree-lined streets of Palatine, the same streets that brimmed with my own family’s 50+ year history of growing up and growing old in this town.  Sunlight filtered and danced through the large oak trees we drove under, a faint smell of barbecues pre-heating wafted through open car windows and Garrison’s narrative rose and fell over the sounds of my family chattering along the way to mass.

I especially recall Garrison’s folksy duets with guest singers and song writers: a perfect soundtrack to a lush summer day.

Tonight, on the way home from a day with Frank’s family at the Lake, I turned on NPR and heard the familiar sounds of my beloved APHC.  The first strains of the piano accompaniment sent me straight back to those wonderful evenings driving to Mass.  I turned the volume up, hoping that the sound of Garrison’s rambling stories, always punctuated with his deep, inhaling breaths through his nose, would bury themselves deep into the girls’ psyche.

See, those Saturday night family trips to Mass are, for me, the epitome of an American childhood.  We worked outside all day on nearly every Saturday – mowing, trimming, watering, and planting – and then we would wash up, put on clean cotton shirts and skirts, and go to Mass.

The church I grew up in, was a dark, cavernous space, but it was not unfriendly – not at all – it was a holy and happy place for me.  On Saturday nights, our parish allowed the worship director to use guitars and folksy versions of our favorite hymns.  We always left church on Saturday nights with light hearts – and hungry stomachs.

Usually Garrison’s show was still going on when we left church.  While we drove somewhere to pick up dinner, we’d listen to the News of Lake Wobegon, smiling as Garrison deftly wove together stories of Lutherans and casseroles and young people making their way in life.

And always, always, Garrison finished his broadcast with: “That’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

Then, the jaunty pianist would send us all off into the proverbial sunset, happy and satisfied that somewhere in the world, there must be a Lake Wobegon. And more importantly, there seemed to be an implicite promise that there would always be a Lake Wobegon – as long as their story was told.

One day, maybe my children will hear the sound of Garrison Keillor’s voice intimately narrating a story about the stoic midwestern folks up in Minnesota, and that they will feel what I feel: that our stories and our legacy and our love continues on in the people we love, long after we are gone.