An October anniversary in mid-July

For reasons beyond me, Mitzi, upon waking this morning, chose to not to watch her usual shows (Trading Spaces: Boys Vs. Girls or Avatar), but instead put in mine and Ray’s wedding video.

The thing about our video is that it’s long and unedited.  We decided not to hire “wedding videographers” and instead hired a couple of my brother’s cinematography colleagues.  We wanted two cameras shooting everything, to be edited later into a cool streamlined narrative of the day, hopefully by my brother who is immensely skilled at that sort of thing (it being part of his job, and all).  Ten years later we still have only the raw footage (though to be fair to big brother, he has yet to edit his own wedding video from 1997).  So, there’s not one, but two tapes, each over four hours long.

And the first tape rolled all morning.  The kids watched all of it, to varying degrees of interest.  So did I, because watching one’s wedding video is something one usually only does once a year, on the Anniversary, when reliving the Big Day is something one is more likely to think about.

It was bittersweet.  Ten years has brought an awful lot of changes to our lives, mostly for the better, but there is a tinge of sadness as well, seeing the faces and hearing the voices of those no longer with us.  I smiled and let tears fall when it came time for me to dance with Grandpa, while watching an animated conversation with Grandma as she offered me the wisdom of her lifetime marriage, while seeing Uncle Nick dance with my cousins and laugh with Uncle Frank.  There were the faces of couples broken by divorce.  Faces of friends who have drifted away.

But the sweet — oh, the sweet was delicious.  The readings by my aunts at mass; the beauty of my bridesmaids, heart-close all of them.  The song my cousins Checka and Maria sang, accompanied so beautifully by Maria’s husband John on his guitar. Ray’s teary face throughout the ceremony (which I assume was from joy, rather than horror at marrying me).  The speech by Mark, Ray’s best friend, who is the reason we found each other.  Ray serenading me at the reception.  Dancing with my father.  Laughing with friends.  The October beauty of the day, leaves glowing in splendid fall hues in the sparkling sunshine, and, later the cloudless night glittering with stars as our guests danced and ate and drank and spilled onto the porch to soak up the weather and revel in the glory of the happiness Ray and I had found.  It was even sweet to remember the way that, despite my admonitions (“I don’t care if it is the World Series!”), Ray’s cousin smuggled in a wireless TV so everyone could watch Ray’s beloved Yankees win.

Remember feeling more beautiful and perfect and right in a way I’d never felt before.

The kids were curious, exclaiming when they recognized family members, asking about people they didn’t know.  Strangely, they didn’t recognize their dad.  He wore his hair different then and I guess today it’s a little more gray and he looks ten years older.  Or at least, that was my theory until I said, “Well, how come you know who I am?” and without a beat, Cooper said, “‘Cause you’re the one in the white dress!”  (I guess even they noticed my hair is two shades darker, my body 30 pounds heavier.)

Watching the video, remembering that perfect October day ten years ago. was a fun respite from the oppressive July heat.  It makes me wonder why we don’t watch that tape more often.

A wedding is just a ceremony — albeit a profound one — but it’s one day, a party, a joyous occasion.  A marriage is harder, filled with not only potholes and tragedy and struggle but also with boundless joy and infinite moments of simplicity and desire and hope.   It’s often too easy to forget where you came from, you and that guy holding your hand on the shabby couch, easier to be smothered by the bad stuff that every life has, no matter who you are.

The wedding video.  Put it at the top of your queue, instead of the latest Netflix release.  Remember why you started this journey in the first place.

No matter what day the calendar says, any day can be your anniversary.

Drowning in stuff — how to let it go?

I will admit it.  I’m somewhat of a pack rat.  It’s not that I save any old thing, just things that are meaningful to me.  And for the past 8 years that includes kid stuff.  For them, I save almost everything.

When it was just one or two kids, it was harmless enough.  I’d save stuff like a bib my aunt embroidered for Mitzi, Cooper’s first soft baseball, baptism gifts, mementos from birthday parties.  And I even got a lot of it into scrapbooks.

But then life kicked in, and brought two more kids, and suddenly I was inundated with more stuff than I thought possible.  I’ve gathered items for Ellie and Joanna’s someday-scrapbooks (yeah, who has time for that?!), put aside drawings and crafts and schoolwork and special tokens from beloved relatives.

And with bigger kids comes more schoolwork.  I can’t bear to throw any of it away.  As it comes in, I pile it into my “to-be-filed” section of my office, which is actually a floor space between a wicker trunk and bookshelf.  Today, that pile towers over 2 feet.  I definitely need a secretary.

But I remember how fun it was to look back through my own stuff that my mom saved — it still is, frankly, even seeing those report cards that always glared a C in handwriting.  And I know that it makes Ray a little sad that he has virtually nothing from his own youth.

So I save it all for the kids.  Someday it will collect dust in their own attics.

I know I have to pick and choose — I’m running out of space and we’re just getting started!  But how?  How do parents out there choose what, if anything, to save?  How many crayon drawings by your 3 year old (and we know how many reams a preschooler can color in one rainy afternoon)?  How many spelling tests?  How many shakily-written stories with stick figure illustrations?

I need help!  If my sister were nearby she’d come over and give me some tough love about decluttering.   My mom, having spent many days cleaning out her own parents’ attic, would probably join in.

Sentimentality is wonderful, helping us to remember the past and those with whom we’ve shared it.  But when is it too much?

Please, give me advice!

Getting Ready for Christmas

It comes without ribbons!  It came without tags!

It came without packages, boxes or bags!

So it was for Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, and so it is for us all.

I am so not ready for Christmas.  As usual.

img_11031On the other hand, what does “being ready” mean?   Having no funds, I had little shopping.  I decorated as much as I could, to be festive.  Exterior lights were hung, as was fresh garland and wreaths.  My kids are too young to have expectations.  Everything is fabulous to them.  Which is part of why I adore them all so much.

We hosted a party this weekend for our neighbors, which was not only a success but had the added benefit of making me finish things on time.

I don’t know.  I remember my mom being better at this stuff, more on top of it.  I haven’t finished our Christmas cards yet, which will be New Year’s cards for some of you out there.

Did I lose a weekend somehow?

We are going to Mom’s tomorrow after dinner for the holiday; what is not done by lunch tomorrow will not get done.  I just hope I remember to put everything into bags.

But I’ve tried to embrace the holiday spirit.  I love it.  I really do.  I want to have more fun with it, less of the stress of the to-do.   I ache with the memories of my own growing-up, with La Famiglia holidays that included Santa’s workshops, Andy Williams, and manicotti preparation.  I saw none of the stress or effort my Mom put into the tasks that yielded such memorable results.  Today I want to be with my family with little or no hassle, and am saddened by the reality that my wish is foolish.   These holidays — Christmas, for my family — have become a hassle.   Now that I’m in charge I realize the stress that my magical childhood white-washed.   I worry about what to cook, what to buy; the party I’m hosting, the party I’m missing (ouch, my dear cousin’s annual caroling extravaganza with my amazing auntie at the keyboard); the packing, the planning.   I pinch myself and wonder, when did this become MY job?  When did I become the grownup?

Today, with the kids, I let it all go.  My sisters-in-law and I agreed that this year, instead of a cousin gift exchange, we’d do a cookie swap, in which each child make some cookies to be given to each of his or her ten cousins.  Each kid bakes cookies; each kid gets a cookie from each of his or her cousins.  We all want to foster the “giving not getting” tone of what we believe Christmas ought to be.

So today was baking day.  I decided that rather than making 4 different recipes, each of my children would get a cookie cutter and make a pattern of sugar cookies.  We had gingerbread men, stars, trees and bells.  But by mid-afternoon, when baking had finished and decorating was to begin, it was a free-for-all.   I made four or five bowls of colored royal icing.  All four kids slathered it on to whatever cookie was close by, their own shape or not.  In the background I spun such nostalgic CDs as Nat King Cole and Tony Mottola.

The funny thing was, I was tired, but not stressed.  Even though I had just this morning paid to have the house cleaned, the sight of neon blue icing stuck to my kitchen walls didn’t upset me.   The fact that Cooper’s bells soon ended up more of a dirt brown than any festive color didn’t bother me.  The kids had a great time.  Cooper poured confectioner’s sugar, mixed water and added drops of food dye with the intensity and precision of an MIT professor.  Mitzi waxed poetic about “abstract” Christmas trees.  Ellie and Joanna could barely smile for the stiffness of icing on their cheeks from repeatedly licking the bowls.  I literally hit clean up.  The results…palatable?  Who knows.img_1109

But the process….about as close to the Christmas spirit as a Mom could hope.  It was great fun, for all of us.  Almost what I remember of my own Christmases.  Not without conflict or stress or a much-needed cocktail for the grownup in charge, but imbued with a heart-wrenching sense that this is the stuff our lives are made of.  This is life, messy or not.

Now, if only I can get that florescent green icing off of my ceiling before 2009.

Summer Nights

Once upon a time, my favorite thing about summer was not the day spent at the beach or pool, lifeguarding, getting a killer tan, hanging out with my friends, flirting with the boys.  Nope.  Those things were pretty good, I’ll admit, but my favorite part of a summer day was later.

Oh, I loved cleaning up after a day in the sun.  A cool shower, lots of soap, all the while thinking about the night to come.  A new tan revealed, new clothes donned, new hairstyle perfected.  Few things were better than getting ready for going out with my friends, preparing for the adventures still unwritten, the time when everything was new and still to come.

It’s not much different now, here on vacation.  Sure, the nights are less hedonistic and the clothes not quite as cool, but the feeling is the same.  The expectation of a beginning.  Turning the page to chapter two of the day — Night Falls.  We get home from a day at the beach, shuffle the four kids into two different bathrooms for cleanup.  They settle down with Cyberchase and goldfish crackers while the grownups take their turns in the shower.  Washing my hair, the feeling is still the same as it was at age twenty-two – peace and hope, possiblity and abandon.

After we have gotten into our comfy clothes (ah, the sad by-product of a near-decade of marriage, comfy clothes versus hot fashion), Ray and I gather the kids on the back porch, in that perfect fading afternoon summer sunlight.  We are too tired to do much else than officiate their games, but they are blessed with boundless energy.  They set up bocce games in the soft grass, arguing shrilly about whose turn it is to throw the pallini, dictate convoluted new rules so all four can have an equal chance at scoring.  Two turns into the match, it’s over.  Tree climbing takes center stage, followed by rope jumping.  Meanwhile, Ray has brought us cheese and crackers, a couple of beers, and we settle into deck chairs to watch our brood explore.  Inevitably they notice we have food and they descend on us, devouring our small cache as neatly and easily as an army of ants on a sandwich crust.

Neither of us want to get up to prepare dinner, though it is late and we are risking meltdowns from at least the two littlest.  The Cape wind rustles the trees around us, carrying with it the faint scent of the beach a quarter-mile away (or is it the towels I laid to dry over the deck railings?).  Hydrangea and geraniums catch the last sun rays in their soft petals.   We decide to grill chicken and steam local corn, call the children over to shuck the cobs.   They chase Ray over to the grill where dinner sizzles, and circle him and the driveway on their scooters, while above us the sky turns the color of a new bruise.  A summer night has arrived, cool and crisp, arriving easily, not unexpected and not unwelcome, much as an old friend does on his way through to somewhere not far from here.

I remember the nights of my youth, decadent, free, full of possiblity and beauty.  These summer nights are not so different, but more.  So much more.