I Made it, I Did

Today is the last day of the #write31days challenge. If anyone is reading this and read all of my posts, you know far too much about my family and my life. My apologies.

If you had any favorite stories, please let me know!

Tomorrow is the start of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I’ve got about 1/3 of a novel to complete and edit in that time.

I loved using this writing challenge as practice for next month, and I’m excited to get started tomorrow. I will probably pop in and share tidbits, if that’s kosher.

Hope you all have a wonderful Halloween – kindly save me any Take 5 bars you might come across!

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That Time the Hubs Was a Rockstar

As most of you know, my fantastic husband is a musician, which is indirectly how we met. His band, Juniper Lane, often hung out at an open mic night where I ended up singing a few times. It was there that we first became friends.

Several years and two children later, Juniper Lane won a contest to be among a few finalists from which Coldplay would choose an opening act for their Verizon Center show.

YES. Coldplay. Chris Martin. Yellow. The Scientist. Commence the squeeing.

I had a six-month old at the time of the show, and he’d really never been left for more than a few hours, but come ON, my husband would be opening for Coldplay, so I packed my breast pump in the cutest bag I had, piled on the black eyeliner, and we all headed downtown for one of the most surreal nights of our lives.

The first funny happened when we got there. Apparently, when you tell the security guard you need to get in because you’re playing tonight, and you literally have your instrument swung over your shoulder, they are suspect. And when you’re so flipping excited that you are opening for one of your musical idols that you can’t wipe the smile off your face and loudly declare, “I AM OPENING FOR COLDPLAY WHICH WAY TO THE DRESSING ROOM!” they may or may not consider calling for back up.

But we eventually proved ourselves truthful and headed in.

There was a lot of waiting around, a lot of wide-eyed wonder, a soundcheck, and some visiting with Coldplay’s drummer who is a lovely man who tolerated all of our star-struckedness and even signed all the things for us. I wasn’t allowed to tag along to the official food area, but hubs did eat dinner at a table next to the band, which is kind of fun as well.

Some other famous people were milling about backstage, like the Foo Fighters drummer and Kate Bosworth, I think. I say I think, because I wasn’t the one who spotted them, having spent a solid amount of my time in the back of the dressing rooms, pumping. But I guess that is what happens backstage at giant rock shows? Famous people just come walk around?

When my husband’s band played, well, it was ridiculous. I don’t think my wordy little self has any words to capture the metric tonne of pride one experiences when you see the person you love getting to live out a dream. It’s nothing short of amazing. I think it’s probably better than having your own dream come true, if I’m being honest.

Although it didn’t catapult the hubs and his bandmates to instant fame and fortune like it should have, it was an amazing celebration of all they had worked toward for so many years. And in addition to having that amazing experience, all of our children will certainly drag this story out to impress their friends for years to come.

And when your kids think you’re cool, that may be more valuable than any record deal. Close, anyway.

just my hubs, rockstar extraordinaire.
just my hubs, opening for Coldplay. as one does.

My friend, Aeryn Gillern

The first time I met Aeryn Gillern, he walked into a study room in the mens’ dorm where I was cramming for a midterm with some friends. He was wearing a full length nightdress, an actual nightcap, and carrying a candlestick. He looks like a very manly and handsome Wee Willy Winkie. He swung open the door, muttered something about having a productive evening, slowly passed his disapproving eyes over the three of us,  and dashed out. I remember being equal parts alarmed and amused.

Aeryn was a memorable character that I had seen around campus and town. He used to ride his bike to and fro, dressed impeccably with starched shirts and an interesting armband, the meaning of which I never did learn. His posture was flawless, even on his bicycle. He would have been a shoe-in for the part of Rolf if The Sound of Music film was ever re-cast. For the first couple of years on campus, I don’t think we ever spoke to one another, although I would see him from time to time in classes and on the rare occasions I made it to the gym, he was always there, headphones on, laser-sharp focus on his fitness routine. He was a bit of a mystery character – very reserved, stately, and not one for casual conversation.

It wasn’t until my semester abroad in Austria that I got to know Aeryn. As there were only about a hundred of us, it was impossible to avoid getting to know on another to some extent. But with Aeryn, I was happy for the close quarters. We took Austrian folk dancing lessons together, and we sang in the Latin Schola choir together. He was a fiercely loyal friend. I remember one time being asked to sing a part by myself, and feeling extremely self-conscious about it. One of the other choir members poked a bit of fun at me, highlighting just how quivery my voice had sounded. Aeryn stared him down, and in his booming baritone declared, “It’s called vibrato.”

Aeryn guarded his personal life closely, and it would several years before he was fully open with me about his reasoning. But even when I was a nineteen year-old spaz of a girl, he looked after me and tried to help me understand some of the world that my sheltered upbringing had left out. I didn’t even fully comprehend it at the time, but Aeryn came out to me one early Spring day as we sat on a bench outside the Kartause, our Austrian campus. There on the lawn of this centuries-old Carthusian monastery, bundled under our wool coats, he was trying to help me sort out my confusion about a mutual friend. I distinctly remember his tapdancing around the word gay, never uttering it in fact, as he went to great lengths to explain just how he was able to empathize with our friend. I still have no idea why my fiercely-private friend shared so vulnerably with me that day, but I am honored he did.

At Mic & Joe's wedding in a rare capture of that smile
At Mic & Joe’s wedding in a rare capture of that smile

Aeryn only let most people know him at arm’s length. If you look through photo albums of our semester abroad, for example, there aren’t that many pictures of him. He didn’t come out to the pubs, he rarely traveled with any of us unless it was part of the school program, and he was fond of turning up his nose at most of our adolescent antics. Once, on the bus trip back from Rome, he even convinced our friend, Libby to take some Nyquil, pretending he thought she had the sniffles, but really just hoping she’d konk out and stop pestering him.

It would be years before all of the pieces fit together in that particular puzzle of his guardedness, but just as they were coming together, my friend disappeared. He hadn’t answered my latest email, and I wondered if I’d somehow offended him with my intrusive questioning. I only wish that had been what happened. I wish that he was just giving me the silent treatment, but sadly I would learn months later that he was really and truly missing.

The last time anyone saw my friend Aeryn was eight years ago today.

Today his mother, Kathy, stands vigil in Vienna, taking cold comfort in being close to where her son last stood. I wish I could be there with her – that I could kick down some doors and get answers for her.

But above all else, I really just wish that my friend were still here, still making me laugh, still making me think. While his last email to me was a bit of juicy gossip from our old stomping grounds, (he always had the dirt!) his second to last email started like this:

Greetings! You know, it just occured to me today, I like you! Not in that kind of way, but in the sense that I like hearing from you by e-mail and I look forward to the chats we have on line. It is funny, we have ekpt up with eachother for a good while. That's it. It just popped into my head today. Just let it go to your head, I know, I am wonderful, but, I am already taken!

Miss you, friend. You were one in a bajillion.

Great Great-Uncle Gigs

Although he died decades before I was born, Uncle Gigs is a legend in our family. My dad thinks his real name was Owen, but regardless, Uncle “Gigs” Gallagher was my grandmother’s uncle, brother to my great-grandmother Rose Greenhalgh, nee Gallagher.

When my grandmother and grandfather married, they did what was the usual for the time and moved in with relatives. Several years passed and a couple of their children were born before they were able to afford their own rental, and when they could afford it, the understanding was that they would now become a safe landing for poorer relatives.

Gigs was one such relative. A house painter by trade, he often took long sabbaticals from his job to attend to his first love: drinking. He was without a permanent residence, and would also on occasion cause a public disturbance so he would have a warm place to sleep at night. In the county jail. But the warden caught on to Gigs’ strategy, and would make him spend the day painting his own house in order to “earn his keep” and sleep in the cell.

And so it was that Gigs ended up doing long stints in my grandmother’s basement. His reasons for being relegated to the basement were two-fold: one, there was limited space upstairs, mostly occupied by small children who shouldn’t be disturbed by a stumbly drunk man, and second of all, because Gigs wasn’t exactly in complete control of his bladder after a few beverages. This led to some awkward encounters later on when my aunts were of dating age. There were a few times where their dates had arrived to pick them up and were treated to a display of Gigs’ half-bare backside as he ascended the steps to actually make it to the bathroom. Apparently, Gigs always managed to button just the one side of his union suit, never both, never neither. Always one cheek left embracing the breeze.

At some point, Gigs met a woman who swore he had married her. Gigs denied any wedding, but given his penchant for moonshine-induced holes in his memory, no one really knows who was in the right. But she had followed him back to my grandparents’ house, and he ran ahead of her, instructing all of the children to keep her out. She managed to barrel past everyone, however, and was chasing him around the dining room table for a bit before giving up.

Gigs wasn’t living with my dad’s family when he died, but his funeral was well attended by a myriad of people from many walks of life. Rest in peace, great great-uncle Gigs. You’re a legend.

This is Great-Grandma Rose. Gigs was her brother. I wonder if he looked like Mrs. Doubtfire, too.
This is Great-Grandma Rose. Gigs was her brother. I wonder if he looked like Mrs. Doubtfire, too.

Bringing a Boy Home

I have no idea what I was thinking, I really don’t. Perhaps it was my feeble attempt at ripping the bandage off all at once, or maybe I never stopped to consider the potential for disaster. After all, I’m the girl who still gets in the pool one excruciating inch at a time, even though I know, I KNOW, that diving in is a far better, far less traumatic, plan.

So when I brought my lovely WASPy boyfriend of a year home to “meet the parents,” why I chose to do so at an extended family gathering is beyond me. In retrospect, the fact that he didn’t ditch me and run screaming back across the Potomac should have eliminated any doubt I had regarding his investment in our relationship. The man was clearly all in.

When you grow up in a large family, the noise expectation at parties is different. When twenty-some people are all chatting at once, there’s really no quiet possible. I remember my husband trying to escape to the living room for a moment, only to be dragged back by the barking orders of my elderly aunt, requesting him to “Get you ass in here.” She really just wanted to know more about him, but I could tell my amusement wasn’t helping matters.

And later when we tried to take a break by offering to walk my four year-old nephew to the park, the little guy bristled at his intrusion and required a talking to before acquiescing. That was the moment the sarcastic, “Ready, Freddy?” phrase was born in our home. It seems four year-olds aren’t keen on sharing their aunties.

It took another year and a half before my husband introduced me to his parents.

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I Fell Into a Burning Ring of Fire

I woke up this morning to the death stare of a 10-month old. My husband scooped her up, changed her, and let me rest for a few more minutes as I’d gotten up about half a dozen times to feed the little monster. It was too loud to sleep any longer, what with the other three greeblies fighting over the last two frozen waffles, so I tossed on my Nutella-stained Star Wars sweatshirt and dragged myself downstairs in search of coffee. The steps dropped me into the living room, where my #3 greeted me enthusiastically with, “Mama! Now we’re all here, a family!” She was draped over my husband’s lap, the little monster snuggled in his arms, and the other two played on the floor nearby.

I patted my husband’s head and wished him a happy anniversary. At first, he was puzzled, and said, “Wait, today? I thought that was tomorrow?” and I wasn’t the slightest bit annoyed. How could I be? Today’s schedule included two soccer games, a play rehearsal, a costume meeting, Girl Scout cookie pick-up, buying and delivering ten bags of ice for tonight’s Halloween party at the school, and of course, wrangling them all for said party which we’ll attend together instead of getting a warm meal in a quiet restaurant with cloth napkins.

When we were the well-rested, fresh-faced twenty-somethings in our wedding photo, what I just described would have made us cry. More than likely it would have sent us running in opposite directions. We weren’t going to be those people. When vacationing with my family, we’d celebrate our relative freedom as tiny children ran around like miniature tyrants. This would not be our fate, no sir.

In a couple of days, we’ll escape for 24 hours. While we’ll have the wee one along due to feeding requirements, it will be a well-deserved and long-awaited break from the chaos of our daily lives. It’s funny how it took twelve years for us to get to this place – most of the time it seems like the blink of an eye, but I am glad it took that long to work up to this. The silly boy and girl who registered for three different types of wine glasses and a game table were not cut out for a day like today.

Happy Anniversary, Babe.
Happy Anniversary. We’re every bit as crazy today.

So This Is How It Ends….

Twelve years ago, I was scrambling around town and dealing with the last minute details of wedding planning. Bridesmaids’ gifts were wrapped, Groomsmen’s gifts were also wrapped, (couldn’t exactly trust my intended with that one!) and I was on my way home to have the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.

It was a perfect autumn evening, and while getting ready at my parents’ home was a cluster of unimaginable proportions due to the sheer volume of people, I somehow managed to somewhat pull it off and arrive to the church on time.

We held the rehearsal dinner at the now-closed Sly Horse Tavern, in an upstairs room with a brick fireplace and intimate decor. Everyone had a lovely time and a lovely meal, and I sent my soon-to-be husband off with his friends to a Travis show at the 9:30 Club and dragged my sister and a couple of friends out for one drink before attempting an early night so as to get much-needed rest.

never have hot russian friends
pro tip: don’t have hot friends.

In spite of the many out-of-town family members staying with my parents, my mother took care to preserve a room for me. She had put flowers in there, made up the pull out futon couch with an added air mattress, and laid out fresh towels and soaps. It was a lovely effort, which no doubt took away from the time she needed to get ready herself.

Unfortunately, however, the air mattress had a bit of a slow leak, and that night, when I attempted to get comfortable and fall asleep, each of my tosses and turns deflated it a bit more, until I was rolling atop a thinly-draped plastic sheet. Freezing cold. Shaking and freezing.

Around 2:30 AM, I gave up. I grabbed one of the blankets and headed downstairs in search of a sleeping surface. I stumbled into the den and found another pull out couch, but this one had my brother in it along with the German Shepherd. At that moment, the warmth of a dog was tempting, so I scooted him over and climbed in. Blessed warmth and sleep at last.

It wasn’t long before I heard a persistent tapping at the louvered doors. In a loud whisper, my nephew declared, “We’re hungry! We need breakfast!” It was still pitch dark in the room, so when I dragged myself out to the kitchen and squinted at their angelic faces, I figured I’d pour them some cereal and crawl back into the covers.

But then the dog was up, and then the nieces awoke and needed food, and that was the end of my rest.

I couldn’t help but think, was that really the last of my single nights? Seriously? To say nothing of the fact that I was supposed to look “the best I’d ever look in my entire life” less than 12 hours later.

If ever my daughters marry, they are staying in a hotel the night before.

Free-Range Parenting: European Edition

Living overseas is an amazing experience for anyone, but particularly for children. And getting to live on an American base offers a “best of both worlds” situation, which was the case for our family during my second half of elementary school.

As civilians, there were actually two cultures to learn: the military one and the German one. For example, each day at 5 o’clock meant stopping in your tracks no matter where you were for the playing of Taps and the flag lowering in the square. I had never seen a gun in real life, yet I was now walking to school alongside soldiers carrying impressively large firearms. Hilariously, the elementary school shared a fence with the firing range. On the one side, the playground equipment, the other side, target practice.

As these were the days before internet, another country was a mysterious thing indeed. There were fashions we’d never seen, like track pants, strange pronunciations of familiar words, like AHDIdas and CAPreeSOHnah. And there were strange foods such as whipped cream without sugar.

My parents were definitely more relaxed than my generation when it came to letting us wander about, and I know a good portion of that was the times in which we were raised. But when I think back to some of these memories at age 10, I can scarcely believe it. Recently, my best friend from sixth grade was in town and we met up for brunch. Her parents were also there, and we all told stories of those years spent on base and the crazy adventures we had.

Lara and I loved riding our bikes around, and since base was only a measly square mile, we’d often ride through the MP-guarded gates and out “on the economy,” as it was called. In the summer months, we’d bike up to the outdoor pool, which would cost about two Deutschemarks entrance and then another mark or so for an ice cream. We wore no helmets, we had no cell phones, no one made sure we applied sunscreen or monitored us from the water’s edge to prevent our drowning, and we possessed only enough language skills to say “Einen Erdbeereis, Bitte,” and of course, “Danke!” when handed a strawberry ice cream cone.

As we rode along the bike path to Vaihingen Freibad, we had to cross through a tunnel. Under the Autobahn. It was a popular place for graffiti, and I learned some fascinating words as well as saw some new symbols. I was wise enough to not ask my parents what they meant.

I know we were safe. I know we were prepared. But I can’t help but be horrified at the thought of sending my own nearly-10 year old off in the same fashion. And I know my mother would be, too! But I guess if you can play on the see saw overlooking the Rod & Gun Club and survive, what’s a little bike ride?

lara's birthday party
lara’s birthday party – my outfit, man.

Seventeen Years Today Since I Lost My Dad

My mother died a few weeks before my third birthday. When my dad passed away from smoking-related cancer, I was a few weeks shy of my 23rd birthday.

Twenty years provides a significant perspective.

For starters, I barely remember my mother: I have a sum total of two memories of her, in fact. My dad, on the other hand, while he didn’t raise me, occupies a much broader space in my memory. A couple of months ago, I wrote about my dad giving me away. The story was met with an overwhelming amount of support for which I was grateful. It was a story about what it was like for me, a child at the time, which led me to think about the fact that all of us parents were at one time children. Our own children obviously didn’t know us then, but the truth remains that a lifetime existed before we became mom and dad in the story.

I distinctly remember thinking how long ago and far away the childhoods of my parents were from my own. The stories they told were imagined in black and white in my mind to further support the nostalgia of it all. There were world wars and poodle skirts and scary nuns all rolled up into some ancient tale of yore. It might as well have been a hundred years instead of thirty. When I look at my children and realize this is how the 1980s must seem to them, it is impossible to comprehend, considering it feels like last year to me some days. Which is how my parents must have felt about an Eisenhower presidency. Strange.

Today marks seventeen years since my dad died, and instead of remembering his as my dad, I wanted to share a little from that first of his lifetimes – before marriage and children and all that I knew of him firsthand.

Aloysius Joseph Morson was born in 1938 to Mary Agnes in her home. She was 38 years old, considered well past childbearing norms for the day. Although he was her third son, she had previously been unable to pass on my Pop-Pop’s name, as he wouldn’t allow it. But Pop-Pop was a trucker and not present when my dad was born, so Grandmom finally got her wish.

Baby Brownie
Baby Brownie

My dad had a couple of nicknames when he was little, the cutest of which was Brownie, for his super dark brown eyes. This one stuck with him into adulthood, then shortened to Brown. He was Uncle Brown to his many nieces and nephews.

no smiles for school

As a little boy, my dad got himself into a bit of trouble both at home and at school. You can even see the impishness in his eyes in all of the photos. I have no doubt his charm saved him from half of the punishment, which is typical of youngest children as well. My dad was very smart, but school wasn’t for him. I’m certain the nuns and priests who taught him had their work cut out for them, including then-Father, later Cardinal O’Connor, who drove my dad to school. They were all probably relieved to not be parents after having such a student in their classes.

my dad with his dog, Mike

As a child, my dad loved animals. He had a pet chicken called Cluck-Cluck that lived in the backyard. At least he thought he had a pet chicken. Cluck-Cluck was destined for the dinner table, a fact that led my dad to steer clear from poultry from that meal on. There were always dogs and cats for pets, however, and they seemed to gravitate towards my dad.

My dad and his brother, the father who raised me, were best of friends. they were only a year and a half apart, and a full decade behind the next sibling up, so their adventures were often combined. Unlike my dad, however, his brother was much more responsible. I like to imagine they balanced each other out: one keeping the other out of far greater danger, the other helping to keep things fun and interesting. Double-date stories are some of my most favorite of the pair. My dad enjoyed telling on his sainted brother, including one particularly ridiculous moment when they showed up for a blind date with a pair of nurses. As the legend went, the father who raised me took one look at his intended date who was less than attractive, and had jumped a fence and run off before my dad knew what had happened. My dad laughed until he cried while recreating the cries of, “I’ve got to gooooo” as his brother escaped off into the distance.

My dad was a thoughtful dreamer, for sure, and he wrote my mother little cheesy love poems. They were as heartfelt as they were terrible. I have to admit, it took a lot of guts, considering the talented writer my mother was. He definitely lived to make her happy. And as cheesy as it sounds for me to say, I hope the two of them are together again, living out the life they never had time for before she died, leaving him heartbroken after four short years.

I miss my dad everyday. I wish he could have met my babies and been their Grandpa. But today I remember all the silly stories of his boyhood. And when I look at my son, who carries my dad’s name in his own, I will practice an extra dose of patience for the little charmer with the twinkle in his eye.

When Your Best Friend Wins a House

Do you remember that show, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? Hosted by that dude with the silly name and the crazy hair? Some thought he was hot, but not me. I found him icky. Actually ran into him at a benefit in NYC last year. Turns out I was correct: Creeptown, USA.

Alas, I digress.

So I’ve known my Kim since we were sixteen years old. (Please pretend that was 10 years ago) And as fate would have it, we both ended up living in Northern Virginia at the same time. She with her sweet baby while her husband was deployed, and I with my husband, around halfway through my first pregnancy. Which is when Kim entered a contest and was selected to receive a house. On a reality show.

Home Team wasn’t nearly as fancy as that ABC version, and while we weren’t building a sprawling estate from the ground up, Kim and her new family would be provided a home with a bit of equity and some new furnishings. Instead of creepy Ty and his bird nest hairdo, the host of Home Team was none other than Troy McClain, runner-up on the first season of The Apprentice.

Of all the random situations we have found ourselves in over the years, this was definitely the most glamorous and exciting. Kim didn’t know she had won, she was told she was a finalist, but the producers were busy organizing our little group of friends to rehab her new house in a matter of a long weekend and surprise her with it.

The plan was this: Kim would host us all at her apartment for a party where the television crew would interview us under the guise of “getting to know the finalists.” We all had some snacks that evening, met the crew, and without Kim’s knowledge, made plans to meet up the next day for furniture shopping. Both Kim and her husband’s families were also brought in for the sneaky bits.

I was just coming off my permanent IV for my pregnancy, so I wasn’t much help in the light construction department, but while some were moving toilets and painting walls, I got to tag along on Home Goods runs with the production team, picking out candles and the like. Much more my speed anyway.

After three extremely intense days, Kim arrived at what she thought was a filming location but was actually her new home. It took a bit of time for it to sink in, but we were all there waiting, grinning from ear to ear, and excited to be a part of this amazing gift. The show had even set up a satellite link for Kim’s husband to talk to her all the way from the Middle East.

HOME TEAM!
A SMASHING SUCCESS, HOME TEAM!

When the show aired, I think only a handful of people saw it, and while it was an awesome concept, Home Team didn’t last more than a few episodes. But our Kimmy and her family got a house, we all hung out with a reality TV star who was more than happy to indulge us with a “Troy McClain” impression, and everyone came together and had an awesome time. A job well done, I’d say.

the team hanging out with troy.
the team hanging out with troy.