What I found in the armoire

For a long time now, I’ve kept much of my professional paperwork in a wooden armoire in the dining room. And by “kept” I kind of mean “haphazardly stacked,” by the way. It’s a really cool vintage wooden armoire, in which I stored my clothes when I lived in New Orleans– and it was never a great receptacle for paperwork. Being really cool as it is, the armoire has a false bottom; and since it’s been filled (read: “crammed”) with my paperwork, I haven’t opened it in a few years.

I spent yesterday clearing my paperwork out of that armoire- sorting, organizing, etc.- and it turns out to have been exactly five years since I opened the false bottom. Because the only thing in that secret space- which was otherwise totally empty and clean and smelled like warm old wood, putting me instantly back in New Orleans- was a stack of cards. Now, I am notorious for not caring at all about greeting cards. I have been known to flip over a card, read the price, and say to the giver, “Listen: next time, just put the card back and give me the $3.99.” Also, I have no recollection of putting them there, so it was like: what are these?

They were sympathy cards that I received for my dad. Not the cards people brought to Dad’s service, and not cards which went to my mom: these cards had been mailed directly to my house by the givers. I sat on the floor and read them all. “Your dad was a great man,” one said.”Not many families have the spirit and love of your clan,” another said. My friend Ann’s parents wrote the sweetest note, referring to themselves as “your Minnesota Mom and Dad.” The notes went on and on:

“As a fan of your blog, I couldn’t help but be a fan of your dad.”

“A nickname from Ron himself was a coveted gift!”

“Even though so much time has passed, please know that I am here for you.”

“Behind his no-nonsense signature expression, Guido exuded warmth and light.”

“Ron and Joann deserve all the credit in the world for creating and nurturing such a loving, honest, hilarious, close-knit family.”

“We are so grateful to have witnessed your father’s love.”

During those devastating first few months after Dad’s death, I felt as though I was constantly wrapped in a hug by people who loved us. I felt that again yesterday- sitting in a beam of sunlight on my dining room floor, smelling New Orleans, and reading heartfelt words about my beloved Dad. No wonder I kept them.

I put them back in the armoire. Maybe I’ll forget they’re there- and then some day, years from now, I’ll have the bittersweet pleasure of stumbling across them again.

 


    I won’t wash it.

    In my parents’ house where I grew up, there is a little closet in the bathroom we always called “Dad’s bathroom.” I used to be fascinated with this closet as a little girl; tall and very narrow, it contained a series of shelves that went all the way up to the ceiling. Dad kept his work clothes in there. It was also a great place to hide while playing hide and seek; I remember sitting in the bottom of that closet many times, with Dad’s jeans and sweatshirts and socks piled on the shelves above my head, surrounded by that very specific Dad smell: Kirk’s Castile soap and machine oil.

    Not long after Dad died, I went into that bathroom to discover that Mom had cleaned out the medicine cabinet. I immediately turned around, my heart beating fast, and opened the closet door. I was afraid she had cleaned that out as well. Instead, there it was as always: sweatshirts and jeans piled on the shelves, the smell of Kirk’s Castile and machine oil wafting out. I was so relieved. In the years since, I have gone into that bathroom every single time I’ve been at Mom’s house, and opened that closet door and just looked at Dad’s stuff, surrounded by that very specific Dad smell. Who knows why, but that closet became my comfort object.

    Yesterday, Mom and I were doing a little cleanup at her house, to prepare for out-of-town guests. Suddenly she was walking out of that bathroom with an armload of Dad’s clothes. “Let’s get these out, to make room for towels,” she said. And this is such a good thing, you know? For Mom to be able to separate Dad’s memory from Dad’s things, and to use her home in the way that works best for her- instead of living in a museum every day. “That’s awesome, Mom,” I said, and I went in and helped her unload the shelves, all the way to the top. We put all his stuff in my car so that I could take it to Goodwill, the closet now full of towels and smelling like fabric softener.

    When I drove home, it was like I was sitting in his closet, completely surrounded by the scent of Kirk’s Castile and machine oil. I walked in the door, found Dave, and I covered my face like a child and sobbed for five minutes. It’s amazing, how important these little touchstones become, isn’t it? I texted my siblings the whole story and used this gif to illustrate how I drove home. You can laugh, by the way; I’ve discovered that grief is frequently quite funny. Behold me, driving the car filled with Dad’s clothes:

    …And although my siblings all laughed, and we all agreed it was a good step for Mom to take, I also said, “I won’t donate anything until you all have the chance to come and see what’s here.” And Jill said, “I’m crying, and I want to see his jeans with the rolled-up cuffs,” and I know exactly what she meant and how she felt.

    It’s all on my dining room table. Cammy put on a sweatshirt of Dad’s and said, “Can I have this but not wash it? It smells like Papa.” I hugged him, smelling Kirk’s Castile and machine oil. “Yes, you can,” I said.

    “I won’t wash it.”


      Happy birthday, JJ!

      This is still what she looks like in my mind.

      This is still what she looks like in my mind.

      Yesterday, my Addison Julia turned 11 years old. This is completely shocking, because I just had her the other day. She was very excited about her birthday and woke up very early- which wasn’t that fun for her, since there isn’t much to do at 6am- and she was happy and chatty and animated all day long. Not unusual, obviously.

      Addie J reminds me to slow down and be present now, rather than focusing on what’s next. I think of her as my little one, so I was surprised, this year, to hear her teachers using the word “leader” to describe her. But then: maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Addie, in her low-key way, certainly does like to express herself. For a couple of years now, she has been experimenting with short hairstyles of various extremes (she’s currently working an undercut bob, probably my favorite so far). She absolutely will not put on any piece of clothing she doesn’t like– and what she does like, she confidently wears regardless of anyone’s opinion (case in point). Addie is in that fleeting sweet spot between little kid and big kid; she’s interested in makeup and iPhones, but she still loves stuffed animals and Moana. She has a talent of making people around her feel happy and accepted, just as they are. No wonder she is a leader.

      Addie has made me a happier person since the day she was born. She came into our family as a wonderful surprise- the best surprise I’ve ever had- and it is my privilege to watch her grow into herself. (It’s really cool that, out of all the children in the world, Dave and I actually got the best three. That worked out really nicely, didn’t it?) Happy birthday, JJ. I’m crazy about you.


        David

        davidI am sitting at the kitchen table, typing, while Dave works in his office. I can’t make out the words- I can only hear his gorgeous deep voice, which has only gotten deeper and more gorgeous over time. When he is working in his office and I am working in the kitchen, the low baritone of his voice underlies everything I do. Side note: I never called him “David” until recently. I called him Dave, mostly; and sometimes Davy Gravy- the nickname his nieces gave him; and Gravid. But not until his 5-year-old niece Lila started solemnly addressing him as “David” did I pick that up; and now, even that has morphed into “Da-VIDD–” I guess because my family simply cannot call people by their given names. But I call him David now, too. It feels like a nickname.

        Dave (or David, or Da-VIDD) has a birthday today. The kids went out by themselves to buy him gifts with their own money, which he is saving to open later tonight. For now, he is working, the low rumble of his voice serving as my background music as it has for the past twenty years.

        Twenty years ago, I fell in love with him with my whole heart. Today, my heart is precisely three times bigger than it was then, and there is a huge scar in the center of it- and I still love him with my whole heart. Happy birthday, David. Thanks for being awesome.


          In which Dave buys me lots of cake.

          Yesterday was a long day for me. Busy and at times kind of difficult. On my way to my Monday evening yoga class, I sent Dave a text, listing all of the things which were following me into class despite my best intentions. He responded, “Sounds like the universe is trying to figure out how much you can carry. [Middle finger emoji], universe! Let’s have cake!”

          Then I came home and discovered that Dave had gone out, after our quick text exchange, and bought a slice of every kind of cake he could get his hands on at 8pm on a Monday night: white layer cake. Italian wedding cake. Chocolate cream cheese. Red velvet (my perennial favorite). Even carrot cake.

          I was recently discussing someone’s new beau and remarked that he seemed like he would be fun out at a bar, but didn’t seem like a guy I’d be comfortable sharing a mortgage with. My friend laughed her butt off, and said that was true but it was also not exactly the kind of yardstick I used to measure by when I was single. I mean, she’s not wrong: I was 24 when I met Dave, and I went out with him because I thought he was fun. I didn’t know that, twenty years later, he was the kind of guy who would buy me 6 pieces of cake to help me flip off the universe- but I am so grateful that he is.

          Love you, buddy. Thanks for being awesome.


            Gabby, our Happy Tornado, graduated from 8th grade this week (so she gets one more entry dedicated to her. Then I’ll probably move on to other big news I’ve been holding back for about a month now. Stay tuned). I could tell you about her two years of straights As in her accelerated classes, or that she recently placed in an Irish dance competition while dancing on a sprained knee. I could tell you that she asked me to reserve A Tale of Two Cities at the library this week, so that she could read it for pleasure now that school is out. I could tell you how she has the most amazing thick cloud of hair- half curly and half straight- and the most beautiful hazel-green eyes. I could tell you about her confidence or her determination; that she is a fierce competitor; how she is, and has always been, joyfully and exuberantly open to what the world brings. Any of those things tells you a piece of who she is- but maybe just a piece.

            Earlier this evening, I told her not to leave her shoes downstairs. Gabby- who had been crossing through the entryway- stopped, turned to me, and stood very still. Her expression was all imperious disdain. She looked me in the eye and said, “What I do is not up to you.”

            Then she exploded into giggles, picked up her shoes, and said, “I’ve been waiting for TWO HOURS for the opportunity to say that!”

            It’s a quote from the new Wonder Woman movie. That sums her up pretty nicely.


              Gabby is graduating eighth grade.

              This is from preschool; I used a photo from this series on Gabby's graduation party invitations. She still makes that exact face.

              This is from Gabby’s preschool graduation. She still makes that exact face when she’s plotting something.

              Gabby saw that photo while I was typing. About ten minutes later, she texted me this.

              Gabby saw that photo while I was typing. About ten minutes later, she texted me this.

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

               

              Next week, Gabby will graduate and move up to the high school with her brother. I’ll be interested to see how that goes… not because I worry about Gabby, but because she has been a whirlwind of Gabbulosity her entire life. Good luck, high school. Here are some facts about Gabby, which you might be interested in learning before she walks your halls:

              1. People tend to get swept quickly into her orbit. Example: Gabby went to her very first haunted house last fall. During the thirty minutes she stood in line, the cast fell in love with her, nicknamed her “Gabbulous the Fabulous,” and invited her to work there- a reaction to Gabby which is actually not that unusual.
              2. She founded a Creative Writing Club at her school this year, and wrote a poem which was accepted for publication in a student work collection. (Come over and ask me about it- the book is currently on my entryway table.) Needless to say, Gabby intends to join the CWC in high school, and possibly take it over.
              3. Yesterday, we were walking to the car with the scent of lilacs in the breeze. Suddenly Gabby remarked, “It smells like pollen and allergies out here.” She tosses off one-liners like this all. the. time. Be ready for that.
              4. Gabby has no patience for anyone’s BS. Last summer, she confronted a girl about things she had been saying about Gabby. Please note: Gabby wasn’t so much upset about the content of what was said; she was angry that anything had been said about her at all. Anyway that other kid- maybe overcome with guilt, or maybe trying to gain sympathy, who knows- started to cry. This did not work on Gabs. She told me later, “I was enraged at the first tear. I was like, ‘You did something to me. Why are you crying?’ ” –Which is an excellent question, if you think about it.
              5. You may think that Gabby has grown out of her habit of Irish dancing everywhere she goes. This is inaccurate. Good luck with that too, high school.

              Gabby is a bright, talented, happy, confident tornado of a person, and every day the world is richer (and a little crazier) because she is in it. She is looking forward to high school and fully intends to make that school her own. I can’t wait to watch.

               

               


                It’s not the Stanley Cup.

                Cam was refereeing youth lacrosse games all day yesterday. He’s learning a lot from this experience, I think- sometimes all goes well and it’s a civilized game, and other times it doesn’t go as well and he has to deal with angry players or coaches or parents. He gets the opportunity to develop his already-impressive people skills, is what I tell myself when someone on the sidelines yells, “THAT WAS A TRIP!!!!!!!” (Otherwise I might walk over to that parent and say something like, “That’s my son, and he is doing his best to keep your player safe on the field. So I would appreciate it if you would gain some perspective and quit screaming like an asshole.” Also in one case yesterday I might have added, “And put out that cigarette.”) But most of the time, it’s fine. Parents and coaches and players are just there to watch the kids play. One exception from yesterday stands out for me, though, and I’m still uncomfortable about it.

                At Cam’s last game of the day- with a group of 10-11 year olds- one of the coaches was loud and blustery. This doesn’t bother me; in fact, at first I laughed a little at his, “Do you guys realize you’re playing a game right now?” As the game went on and his team racked up more and more points, winning handily, his angry behavior only increased. “LAZY!! YOU’RE LAZY!!!!! WHY ARE YOU EVEN HERE?!” he screamed when the other team scored their first goal. One of his players slipped and lost the ball; he yelled, “GET OFF THE FIELD!!” and the player subbed out, guilty of slipping on the wet grass. When the halftime whistle blew he screamed, “GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW!!” The boys trudged to the sidelines, where I could occasionally hear his angry tones from where I stood. He went on and on, berating and belittling the boys as the halftime clock ticked on. One of the parents nearby said mildly, “I don’t think my son would be allowed to play for this guy.”

                At that point, this coach’s team was winning by 4 goals.

                During the second half, one of their players slid in the mud and hurt himself. Cam and the other ref stopped play and spoke to him for a second, and then both referees walked him toward the sidelines. Cam had his arm around the boy’s shoulders, which is very unusual. The coach stomped onto the field and met them before they could get to the sidelines. The adult referee paired with Cam said something to the coach, and he responded to the boy: “SUCK IT UP!” They had another few moments of conversation, and then the coach steered the kid right back into place, and play continued.

                Then I understood: Cam had his arm around the player because the boy was afraid to tell his coach he was hurt. This poor kid knew he would not be allowed to leave the field.

                They won the game by something like 8 goals. I guess you’d call it a success.


                  Happy Mother’s Day!

                  Knuckleheads.

                  Knuckleheads.

                  We have had a busy weekend! On Friday we celebrated my niece Emily’s 21st birthday- but not too late into the night, because we left the house at 5:30am the next morning for Cameron’s lacrosse tournament. Which his team won with ease- the championship game score was 10-1. Dave and I attended a work event when we got home, and brought back food for the kids (including cake. This makes us heroes).

                  This morning I got up around 5:20, in order to make breakfast for Cam before he went off to caddy. There is a row of tiny animals, made out of clay, on the kitchen countertop- as well as the phrase “Happy Mother’s Day!” on the kitchen chalkboard. Everyone else is still asleep, the dog included. It’s going to be a gorgeous sunny day and I’ll see my mom and my family today. Today, I am grateful for all these people, my favorite people in the world. Also for the sign on the chalkboard, and the little clay octopus and snake and puppy on the countertop (the octopus in particular is pretty bomb). But mostly for this amazing boy and these amazing girls- three gorgeous fireworks who light up every day of my life. Thanks for being the best, guys. I am a better person because of the three of you.


                    Happy Easter!

                    Run, kid. Bunnies don't have tentacles.

                    Run, kid. Bunnies don’t have tentacles.

                    In a few minutes, the kids and I are headed to my mom’s to color Easter eggs, and I cannot stand the Easter holiday. I know I’ve told you that before; there’s just something lame about it and this tradition is one of my least favorites. So, in an attempt to not be such a crank, I”m listing a few things that make me happy:

                    1. Dave just reloaded my Starbucks card.
                    2. Gabby let me cut about 6″ off her hair.
                    3. Cam is in the top 5 on his team for offensive points.
                    4. The J and her friend won a spot in the talent show.
                    5. Cadbury Mini-Eggs. (Not Creme Eggs, those are gross.)

                    May you not spend tomorrow in a state of, “Ugh, I don’t like ham or jelly beans and I can’t remember where I hid all these damn eggs” like I probably will. Have a good weekend!

                     


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