Friday, September 9, 2016


I remember this day so well. It was the end of summer, 2011 on the shore of Lake Michigan. The wind was whipping through my hair and within a few minutes, Jack was asleep in my arms.  I wondered what he thought as we stood at the edge of that great lake.  It seemed so big and he seemed so small and I can remember the feeling of his tiny hand clinging to my shirt as he slowly nodded off.

This morning was Day 3 of Kindergarten. We got to school early and walked over to the playground, Jack in his new Sketchers Memory Foam sneakers ("they give me good memories") and his Pokemon backpack on his back. I saw his dark brown eyes dart around at the throngs of kids running and jumping.  We walked around the edge of the playground in silence until he whispered "there are a lot of big kids here."  We decided to wait near the door for the bell, his hand slowly slipping into mine.  We walked to his classroom, put his backpack and lunch away and just as I was about to leave, the tears started spilling onto his cheeks.  "Don't leave," he whispered.  We walked out into the hallway and I knelt down to his level and just like this photo taken 5 years ago, he rested his head on my shoulder, tiny hand clinging to my shirt while tears dropped onto my hair.  I rubbed his head and kissed him. "I'm not good at kindergarten."  "You will be," I assured him.  I walked him back to his seat just as his teacher came over to give him a pep talk while I walked out of the room.  The confident boy we picked up and dropped off at preschool last week had been replaced by a wide-eyed and fearful boy and I couldn't help but feel like I had left him on a vast shore all alone.  The excitement of the first day of school had been replaced by a new awareness of everything that had changed.

A happy first day filled with excitement
We've been through a lot of firsts with Jack.  As our oldest, every one of his firsts is also our firsts as his parents.  We go through every transition together, none of us completely knowing what to expect or how to feel.  Sometimes I feel so ill equipped to see him through something new because I'm right there with him, trying to sort it all out and just hoping I'm not messing it up in the process.  

A few weeks ago I heard the song "Closing Time" by Semisonic on the radio.  I hadn't heard it in years. I learned some time ago that the song was actually written about the birth of a child. The lyric that stuck with me was this one- "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end."  I have to remind myself that our track record for getting through new beginnings is 100%- first teeth, first steps, first day at daycare, first day at preschool, a new brother, a new house and soon, another new brother.  I remember the first day baby Jack and I toured his first daycare.  Those little brown eyes darted all around then too. Daycare was a huge beginning, kindergarten is daycare's end.

I told Trevor that we both need to buckle up for the autumn that lies ahead.  This little family has been through so many changes this year and more are coming.  "100% track record" is my new mantra.

But this week has come with a lot of unexpected joys- spending all day Tuesday with Jack since kindergarten started Wednesday.  I took him out to breakfast after we toured his classroom and met his new teacher.  At breakfast, he played barista requesting that I swirl together Vanilla and Pumpkin creamer.  I proclaimed it was absolutely delicious (to his great delight).

Wednesday was another morning spent together, getting him ready for his first day, buying him his favorite donut and standing nervously with the other parents around the edge of the classroom as we watched our babies become students.

I know that with time he'll get his sparkle back about school.  He will make friends and find a love of learning.  At the end of every day this week, he's had more happy memories to share than tough ones. He's growing and changing right before my eyes.  Before too long, he'll be one of the big kids that look so intimidating to the kindergartners. I know all of this because he's our kid.  He's the oldest child of two oldest children whose firsts were also their parents' firsts.  Oldest children who found their way through life whose track record of getting through tough stuff is 100%.

But my favorite image of Jack from the summer of 2016 was taken by his dad on a field trip his preschool took to Western Michigan University.  The field trip was to a geological exhibit, but Trevor and Jack took a detour to the massive auditorium on campus where Trevor used to work.  Trevor captured this image of Jack up on the stage and while we'll never know what he was thinking in this moment, the image of my confident and thoughtful little boy brought a tear to my eye.  I've kept this image close to my heart this week as the perfect illustration of how capable my boy is of facing big things. Tonight I told him that I knew he was going to be ok because he's my kid and I make brave, strong, and clever kids who will be awesome at kindergarten.

There will be so many new and vast shores, wind whipping, sand shifting beneath his feet and I won't be there for all of them, but I won't need to be.  Jack has always known and will always know, that I am always behind him every step of the way. For all the beginnings and for their tearful, bittersweet, and inevitable ends. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Push Away the Unimaginable

Alexander Hamilton is having a moment these days as his political life is center stage in the ridiculously popular Broadway show Hamilton: An American Musical.  In one particularly heart wrenching moment, Hamilton and his estranged wife reunite after the tragic and sudden death of their son. Their post-tragedy life is narrated in the song "It's Quiet Uptown".  Hamilton's sister-in-law opens the song:

There are moments that the words don't reach
There is suffering too terrible to name
You hold your child as tight as you can
And push away the unimaginable
The moments when you're in so deep
It feels easier to just swim down.

If you are lucky, you will never find a tragedy that strikes your family covered by the media, leaving you wide open and vulnerable to the opinions and assumptions of the world wide web.  I lived through that in February when I lost my cousin Len, his wife, and their four children in a tragic accident in their home, a carbon monoxide leak that swiftly and quietly took each of their lives.  

It didn't take long.  It didn't take long at all for the internet comment sections to explode with armchair quarterbacks who unequivocally asserted that such a tragedy could never, would never happen to them and they couldn't imagine how it could happen to anyone for that matter.  They couldn't comprehend, probably refused to comprehend that the names in the article were people who had an extended family and friends who would replay every moment that led up to that night; how any one of them would have filled that house to the brim with carbon monoxide detectors, would have swept up every person in that house during that storm when the winds howled and the lights went out and brought them to their own homes where there was light and warmth and safety.

I have seen the same thing play out in the news when a 4 year old climbed into a gorilla enclosure at a zoo, when 5 cyclists were quite literally mowed down and killed by an erratic driver in my hometown, to a much larger scale when the gun control debate roared back to life after the Orlando massacre, and most recently when a 2 year old was taken by an alligator at a Disney World resort beach.  One common refrain...

Not me.  Never me.  Someone else.  I'm smarter, savvier, more diligent, more alert, more prepared than [ ]

And then we collectively push away the unimaginable...

If she had kept her eye on her son.  If only the cyclists had been on a trail.  If only more people had guns.  If she had read the signs.  

If only he had installed a carbon monoxide detector.  If only that generator had been outside.

If only.

Social media and media in general has been made available to everyone, but I don't think it's designed for everyone.  I've seen my friends grow increasingly anxious and nervous about how they work, how they parent, how they love their spouses, the world around them, the dangers, the risks, the pain.  I worry about that for myself too.  To this day, since Aurora, I have never been able to sit in a dark movie theatre without scanning the room for the nearest exit and who looks out of place, who's sitting alone, who shouldn't be there.  And here I sit, 22 weeks pregnant with another child I'm bringing into a world that no longer offers me a peaceful night at the movies.  What business do I have bringing more life into this world?  A child that I'll fear for in a zoo or on a beach in Florida or farther into the future, in his elementary school, on a bike or in a club?  That's the soul of a woman, isn't it?  For centuries we've brought babies into worlds filled with war, inequality, slavery, violence and life keeps on flowing and we do our best to equip our babies for what's ahead and then we let them go.  Women have been doing the unimaginable since women have been on earth.

In October when this baby boy comes, I will have successfully divided my heart in three pieces and sent it out into the world where I am no longer guardian of it.  Becoming a parent seems like the most unimaginable task you could undertake and parents who have lost children like my aunt and uncle would do and have done anything to prevent anyone else from going through that same pain. Whenever I see my uncle, I look into his eyes.  They've changed.  I see him searching for joy in whatever place he's in and when he finds it, and he laughs, his eyes crinkle up at the sides and the sound of his laugh fills the space with the spirit of his son.  He tells Len's story with every laugh, every goofy joke, and every hug.  When the laughter subsides, the glimmer in those eyes fades and I can see him shift and adjust to once again be the soul of where he stands and simply be present for all of us in his company. He steels himself, braces himself for the wave of grief that may crash upon him at any moment. But he stays present, he stays in the moment because for the moment he allows himself a bit of joy.

I imagine my ancestors spending nearly the whole of their lives in the same small village or town, being sheltered from anything going on anywhere else.  Current events were limited to the square footage of that space. Tragedies were balanced by the fact that most days were uneventful, boring even.  I fast forward to today.  If you look for it, you'll find tragedy in every second of the day.  The internet has exposed us to every sadness, death, war, and inequality and when we let them all in it quite literally envelops us in despair.  It's crippling.  The moments when you're in so deep, it feels easier to just swim down.  I don't blame us one bit from trying to distance ourselves from tragedy. Our brains can't possibly process the sheer volume of sadness this world throws at us.

It's here that you might expect me to tell you to go out and look for the goodness in the world, go find the heartwarming stories, look for the helpers.  Make no mistake, when you look for the bad you'll find it and when you look for the good you'll find that too.  But what if you stopped looking for either?  Look for only the good, you'll forget that people are still suffering, the world is in need; look for only the bad, you'll forget that the world is filled to the brim with caring people influencing change.  My advice?  Stop looking for either. Wherever you are, be like my Uncle Phil.  Be the heart of that space and hold that space with the people who share it with you.  Then build strong and sturdy boundaries that allow you to stay informed, but keep you grounded, prevent you from being crippled by fear or delusion. Turn off the TV, set down the phone and go put your bare feet in the grass and remember that you are a passenger of this earth in this time, for better or worse and do your part to make it better.

This weekend, we'll take our boys to the drive-in movie theatre to see Finding Dory, we'll do a normal family thing on a normal night surrounded by other families escaping to the movies. Hopefully for the span of time we share together, we'll all forget about the sadness, about the pain that wraps this world up like a thick black cloak.  We'll hold space together under the stars watching a movie together.  As the sun goes down, Trevor will point out the constellations to the boys, we'll look for shooting stars, I'll look for signs of my cousin, I see them everywhere.

In the movie Finding Nemo, this sweet and brief exchange sums up parenting quite perfectly:

Marlin: I promised I'd never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm. That's a funny thing to promise.
Marlin: What?
Dory: Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

We can't promise our children that nothing will ever happen to them without preventing anything from happening to them.  So we do our best, we love them, we teach them and then we let them go. Unimaginable?  Yes.  But we do it and life keeps flowing on.

And we all just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

When I See Me in You

When all you want is to be snuggled
I see me in you.
We share a need for closeness and affection.
We want to be sure of those we love.

When we sing together at night
I see me in you.
You have a song in your heart,
And we both love The Carpenters.

When you strut around in your Darth Vader cape
I see me in you.
It's the complex characters we love
Which is why I married dad.

When you cheer up your brother
I see me in you.
Our glass is half full
And we're always willing to share.

When you eat chocolate ice cream
I see me in you.
We get most of it on our lips and chin,
Sweet Wooly Willies.

When you do funny voices
I see me in you.
The world is your stage
And you live for applause.

And then there are days when
I see you in me.
When I battle you with light sabers
Or find Easter Eggs that you hid.

On the day you turned 3
I saw me in you.
Shyly clutching my face while we sang,
Reveling in adoration.

If you ever lose yourself,
You will find you in me.
In my smile, in my laugh,
In my chocolate covered chin.

I know when I'm lost
I will find me in you.
My tiny harbor, my sweet guidepost,
My amazing reflection.

Monday, February 22, 2016


Last year, I blogged about the loss of two dear friends, taken far before their time was done on earth. Writing helped me process and helped me grieve.  On February 21, my father called me sobbing.  His first words were "I have terrible news."  He asked if I was sitting down.  I told him I was.  Through tears he told me that my beloved cousin Leonard, his wife Heather, and their 4 beautiful young children had passed away due to a carbon monoxide leak in their home over the weekend.  I can count on 1 finger, the amount of times in my life that I have burst into tears.  I have wept over the loss of those I love, but my body has always taken time to process before tears could spring into my eyes.  But on February 21, I burst into tears.  My entire body shook so hard I almost dropped the phone.  Len. Len is gone.  Len's family is gone.  My uncle discovered them.  Unfathomable does not come close.  Through the fog of grief, I have to remember the Len I knew, the Len I grew up with, and the Len who loved me with a devotion only known to big Italian families like ours.  This is my Len.

Leonard was one of my first best friends.  I've said that a lot as I've memorialized him, but it's true.  Memories of him stretch back as far as I can remember.  As children we were obsessed with The Mickey Mouse Club.  I was Annette and he was Cubby.  We would watch old black and white episodes of the show in my tiny house in Redford.  We would lay under a long, wooden coffee table with a blanket draped over it.  Our own little fort.  Afterward, we'd pretend we were Mousketeers and sing and dance around the living room.  There are recordings of us singing together.  Two of his greatest hits were a song about Spring and a song about a Skunk.  Leonard clearly loved nature.

Len and I were named for our grandparents and in many ways we were carbon copies of our namesakes.  Len was goofy, full of jokes and puns just like our grandpa and I was (am) a spitfire like our grandma.  We spent so much time together as kids growing up outside of Detroit, #1 and #2 of what would eventually be 23 grandchildren.  

We were ring bearer and flower girl in our aunt and uncle's wedding.  I remember twirling around my grandparent's house in my flower girl dress.  Len was less impressed by his tiny gray tuxedo.  When the big moment came and we stood at the end of the aisle, ready to walk down, Len was frozen.  Some combination of cold feet with a dash of stubbornness kept him standing still at the end of the aisle.  So I did what any spitfire named Nancy would have done, I physically dragged him down that aisle. Refusing to let go of his arm, I got that boy to the altar, all the while keeping my beautiful navy silk flower wreath perfectly attached to my head.  10 years later, that same aunt and uncle would ask us to be godparents to their son Joseph.

Len was a renaissance man, at once, incredibly gifted in all things tech, like his father, but also absolutely content growing up in his family's country home on beautiful tree-filled acreage, far away from any city.  Every fall, their family would host a hoe-down with a huge bonfire, tractor rides, and of course, buckets and buckets of pasta.  Len greeted each cousin, aunt or uncle with his signature bear hug.  He would smile with his whole face at the sight of you.  He was soft-spoken, humble, and loving.  Was?  Can I really be talking about Len in the past tense.  I can't.  He is all of those things.  He is all of those things.

In high school, little Annette and Cubby took to the stage.  In a great coincidence, Len and I were both cast in the musical Bye Bye Birdie in our respective high schools a year apart.  He played Albert and I played Rosie. I remember making the drive from Holt to Linden to see him. He was wonderful, of course. After the show, he pulled me onstage and we did a duet together from the show. The song was "Rosie" and one of the lyrics is, "Now my life is rosy, since I found my Rosie." He changed Rosie to Nancy and we sang and danced together just fumbling through made up choreography. That's Len. Even in his big moment, he made it about family. He wanted to multiply the joy.  

Len and Heather's story was one filled with love and mutual admiration.  As the story goes, Heather's sister Rhonda met Len by chance.  He was wearing a T-shirt with a Bible verse and believing him to be someone with shared values, she asked him if he was single.  Thinking Rhonda to be quite beautiful, Len was all too happy to answer "YES."  She quickly pointed out that the question was on behalf of her sister. To Len's great joy, Heather was her identical twin sister so by nature, also incredibly beautiful.  Len was the first of us to get married.  Len getting married was big.  All of a sudden we were grown ups!  His wedding day was beautiful and Len was beaming.  I promise you, this time, nobody had to drag him down the aisle.  

Heather is a woman who I admire so much.  As a working mom, finding role models can be hard.  Heather managed to foster a career as an ultrasound technologist while raising 4 gentle, loving, and playful children.  She was a perfect match for Len.  They complemented each other in the most beautiful ways.  Theirs was a love that brought so much joy into the world.  Luke was the second great-grandchild in the family (after my sweet nephew Tommy)  I remember holding him at Christmastime sitting next to Len on our grandparent's couch while Len just beamed.  Len and Heather (Leather, as they affectionately referred to themselves) loved their children with a strong devotion.  We all celebrated each new Quasarano that came into the world because a Leather Q was one to celebrate.

Memories swirl around my head- our family cruise in 2002, less than a year after Len married the love of his life.  Along with my brother Tom, we all explored San Juan Puerto Rico together.  I remember standing on the shores of the beach with Len, our toes buried in the sand.  Len gazed out into the surf, the picture of someone whose happiness had been hard fought and hard won.  Len's childhood was complicated.  All of ours were.  But Len's tenacity at carving out and sustaining his own happiness is what drove him to be the man he was, the man we loved so greatly. 

Spring is just around the corner.  Last weekend, in fact, was quite beautiful; our first glimpse into the season that waits just on the other side of the gray.  I mentioned one of Len's favorite songs was about Spring.  The song, which we always called "Your Feet Go Skipping" went like this:

The air is warm and the sky is blue,
The leaves are green-yellow because they are new!
Your feet go skipping, the birds all sing,
The whole world is happy because it is Spring.

Those 4 little lines capture the absolute essence of Len's spirit.  His was one of great optimism and faith.  His warmth, positivity and love of life was contagious.  He is in the background of so many of my most cherished childhood memories.  My little thumb-sucking cousin grew up to be a man of faith, of joy and of great talent.  He prided himself on being a man of God.  Let me tell you, if God is anything like Len, we are loved and cared for more than we could ever imagine.

I also mentioned that he was fond of singing a song about a skunk, which goes like this:

I'm a little stri-ped skunk
Sleeping under someone's bunk
No one likes to sleep with me
'Cause I'm stinky as can be!

And there you have it, the other side of Len.  The goofy, boyish side of him that loved a good or bad pun.  He would sing this song and we would giggle and wave our hands in front of our noses imagining a poor stri-ped skunk stuck sleeping on the floor.

Spring is a season of hope.  God knows we need that now.  Len, I will look for you in the spring.  I will look for you in the playful, rowdy squirrels who dig through my grass and stuff their cheeks and I'll look for you in the green-yellow new leaves.  I will look for Heather in the blossoms about to poke out of the ground into the light.  I will seek out your children in the laughter of my own as I look at them with new and grateful eyes.  I will look for you and I know I'll find you all.  Your very essence is entwined with my own.  Look out for me too, sweet cousin.  Nobody in the world will ever greet me the way you did- eyes sparkling, arms outstretched with a loud and joyful "NAAAAAANCE!!!!  Cousin!!!!" 

I think you always knew how much I loved you.  How proud of you I am.  Your happiness was the result of all of your hard work.  The legacy of your family will live on.  Your light, your joy, and your spirits live on long after you're gone.  I will see you all on the other side sweet, sweet family.  Kiss your namesake for me.  I know he's holding and kissing the grandchildren he never got to meet in this lifetime.


 PS- Thank you for sending the sunshine just now.  It started pouring through our windows.  I wasn't sure how to stop writing, how to say good bye.  You showed me that I don't have to.  You're here.  

Hi Len.  

Friday, January 8, 2016


9 months later, there you were,
my 5 pound warm and wriggly baby.
I never knew 9 months could go by so quickly.
You were a speck of a person, so tiny and delicate,
you fit right into your dad's hands.
You were my muse, the gift which unlocked
a sea of emotions and thoughts.
You were my heart.
12 weeks later and back to work,
my heart felt outside of my chest for a long time.
I never knew 12 weeks could go by so quickly.
You were stronger then, but still so small,
you fit into the crook of my arm.
You were my motivation, the reason for my success
and the one who I longed to be proud of me.
You were my inspiration.
1 year old and a birthday celebration,
with a single glowing candle for a wish.
I never knew 1 year could go by so quickly.
You were strong and sturdy, eyes darting all around,
out of our arms and onto the ground you sprang.
You were my joy, the simplest love I'd ever known
and the benefactor of all my wishes and hopes.
You were my dream come true.
2 years old and a cyclone came to town,
with your mischievous grin and constant motion.
I never knew 2 years could go by so quickly.
You were fast and eager, racing across hardwood,
when crawling gave way to sprints.
You were my curiosity, the mystery I tried to solve
and the puzzle I longed to piece together.
You were my jolt of energy.
3 years old with a new brother by your side,
when the laughter and tears were multiplied by two.
I never knew 3 years could go by so quickly.
You were stubborn and tenacious, lost in your daydreams,
when the world was your kingdom and you were its king.
You were my pirate, my superhero
and I saw new worlds because of you.
You were my imagination.
4 years old with a pebble in your pocket,
and a smile that lit up a city block.
I never knew 4 years could go by so quickly.
You were playful and sensitive, articulate to your feelings,
whether your days were "fun" or "rough", you always let me in.
You were my companion, my buddy,
whose smile made me believe that everything would be alright.
You were my compass.
5 years old on the shore of a great ocean called life,
standing with an open heart and a dazzling mind.
I never knew 5 years could go by so quickly.
You are brilliant and wise, so capable of everything,
I stand in awe of any part of you that is me.
You are my baby, my firstborn, my loveliest prize,
who makes time stand still and sail rapidly all at once.
You are my Jack.

Footnote, January 7, 2016, 8:00am...
In the blink of an eye we are standing outside of the car, parked outside your preschool in the wintry air.  I scoop you up and hold you.  You let me.  We stand there frozen in the early morning light.  Your feet touch my shins but your head nestles into my neck.  You're silent which is rare for you these days.  So in silence we stand there on the snowy curb.  I whispered in your ear, "I'm so proud of you my boy, I'm so very proud of you".  I remember that same head full of hair nestled into my neck 5 years ago for the first time.  We stand there holding space until your brother yells out from inside the car, "MamaMamaMama"  And the silence is broken in the best way it can be.  I set you down on the ground, we go to get Will and all three of us walk into school, an ordinary moment in an extraordinary day.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Goodbye Southern Avenue

2015 was the year that Nancy sold her house.  The house that was a physical manifestation of all of her hard work; her professional accomplishments; her sacrifices as a working mom; and her heart.  It was the home to her children.  It was a welcoming space where everyone who entered became family.  It was a house filled with music and memories.  Not many people could appreciate what leaving that house meant for her.  Of course it was time to go.  The house no longer suited her needs and it was time for a new family to come make new memories and play new music.  Not many people could understand what it felt like for her to see the For Sale sign posted up in the yard, and when an offer came in, no one knew why she resisted before signing that offer.  No one could truly understand what signing that offer meant.  No one could, but I can.

The Nancy in that story isn't me.  It's my grandma who sold her home this summer after decades of love and life filled those rooms.  Now her namesake is processing all of her same emotions, sorting through bittersweet feelings of what leaving this house means.  Today is the last day that this house belongs to me.  Tomorrow at 11am we close on this house.  What a fitting word- "close".  That's truly what it is.  It's a closing of a chapter, the closing of one door to make room to open a new one.

It was the summer of 2006.  I was succeeding professionally and personally.  I had met the love of my life performing in a show and was gaining recognition and promotions at work.  I was months away from finishing a Masters degree and life was good.  In Kalamazoo, a new program called the Promise had been announced.  Any student who went through KPS for their entire education would receive a full scholarship to any public Michigan university.  I realized that my life was in Kalamazoo so maybe it was time to put down roots.

I fell in love with my house the minute I saw it.  The same can be said of my husband.  I knew I would marry him the night we met.  I've never been one to overthink much in my life and my house was no exception.  The sweet Cape Cod with the stone front had a cherry tree and Japanese maple in the front yard.  The house I grew up in had stones out front and it took me back to those days, riding my bike out front of my childhood home.  I told my mom I found my "mini-Woodworth".

After entering through a front storm door I was greeted by an arched wooden door painted green.  I swore Bilbo Baggins would be on the other side of that door.  It was a magical door.  That Thanksgiving, Trevor and I would take our engagement photo in front of it.

I walked the rooms and just knew it was my house.  In the late summer of that year it officially became mine.  I was a homeowner.  There is no way to distill 9 years into one blog post.  If you've been to my house, you know that it was a house filled to the brim with laughter, love, and happiness.  I think in some ways it was always just my house.  Trevor came along to look at houses with me, but it was my purchase alone.  It was a house to my tastes.  Eventually he moved in and a few years later we added two giggling, rambunctious boys.  We knew after Will was born that the clock had started ticking on our time there.  Our neighborhood is one of the most beloved places for people to buy their first home in the area.  Our neighborhood is for people starting out or starting over and we are neither of those things anymore.

It was for sale for 6 months before we got an offer.  I'm grateful for that time to enjoy one last summer on our little corner lot watching the boys play outside and watching Jack ride his bike around the driveway.  We hired a friend to take photos of us inside our home to freeze this moment in time- this transition summer between living in the house that was mine and moving to the house that will be ours.

In a sign that was too incredible to miss, we received an offer on this house on November 11, 9 years to the day that Trevor proposed to me.  If I was waiting for a sign that a new chapter was beginning, this was it.  As grateful as I am for how fortunate we are to be living this life, my heart is filled with the heaviness of this great transition.  Today this house is mine, tomorrow it belongs to someone else.  

Everything I love most in this world is coming with me to the new house, but the view will be forever different.  I have walked through the rooms in my house slowly and carefully, just like I did 9 years ago.  If I close my eyes, I can hear the laughter that filled these rooms, like during the engagement party we held which also served as a housewarming party.  I can hear our dear friend Linda reading aloud from a book written in the 1940s on "how to make love", a primer on love and dating.  Linda's gone, but in my living room, I can hear her laughter.  I direct my view to where our chaise lounge used to be placed and I can see my friend Adam crouched on the floor eating Taco Bell and watching YouTube videos on my old laptop.  He's gone too, but in my living room I can hear him again. The living room walls are the same color they've been for 8 years when Trevor surprised me by painting them while I was away on a work trip.  In the dining room, the floorboards creak the same way they did almost 5 years ago when I paced them back and forth while timing the contractions I was having before Jack was born.  When I'm in my bedroom, I can look out the window to where there lilac bush is planted.  It exploded in blossoms on the day we brought Will home from the hospital.  In my basement, I can trace the place where Jack took his first, tentative, steps.  In my kitchen I can remember crowds of friends standing around at cast parties discussing how amazing we were that night or all of the missteps we noticed.  The view is going to change and I fear that those memories will be harder to recall when I can't be in this sacred, special place anymore.

Feeling all mixed up, I called my grandma today.  I told her I was moving.  "That's so exciting!!" she rejoiced into the phone.  She recalled for me all of the moves she made when my dad and his siblings were growing up.  Decades later, she can recall those spaces.  If she can recall them, then I know that I can too.  My grandma's house may have served as a monument to her success, but we know that monuments fall.  I think if you asked her, she'd say that hearing that her namesake has achieved the kind of personal and professional success that has allowed her to have choices in her life and make her mark on this world is the real legacy.

I will miss this house more than I could have imagined.  I walked the space today and on Wednesday when we say our final goodbye, I'll take some video to show the boys someday.  While walking around the house I traced my fingers over the walls.  I went to the front door where the first memory I have of this house took place.  I hugged it.  So help me God, I hugged a door.  I hugged my door and cried.  My tears dropped off of my cheeks and soaked into the door. My tears are now buried deep into that old wooden door.  This house and I are forever linked, forever bonded.  This house sheltered this little family for 9 years, how can I be anything other than grateful for it's walls and doors..  

Thank you house.  Thank you for being the setting of the most incredible decade of my life; thank you for the shelter; the warmth, the coziness.  Thank you for your creakiness, your charm, your stones and your trees.  Someday I'll bring the boys back to your front yard.  I'll tell them that we're standing on holy ground.  This house was their first house, the place where they learned to walk and talk.  It was the place where I became Mrs. Stefanick and Mama.  But for now, it's time for a new house and new memories.  It's time for a house that's ours.

The new house has a Japanese maple in the yard just like the one we're leaving behind.  Soon, the new house will also have our love and laughter.  Soon the new house will be our new home.  I can't wait.

Monday, June 29, 2015

This Moment Brought to You by Shelby Offrink

Photography by Kerry Lake
Do you see the little boy wearing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sweatshirt?  That's 4-year old Jack.  Underneath that sweatshirt is a beautiful button up shirt in muted shades of gray, green, yellow and blue- a shirt carefully chosen by me to coordinate with the rest of our outfits for family picture day.  That morning, Jack wriggled and writhed around our bed as we attempted to get him in that shirt.  As a compromise I told him we could go to his closet and pick out a different dress shirt.  It wouldn't be as perfect, but I could let that go.  When presented with two options for alternative dress shirts, he wanted nothing to do with either of them.  Instead, he reached into his closet and pulled that sweatshirt off of the hook and said "I want this.  I want my turtle sweatshirt."  When faced with this dilemma, every parent has to sigh a deep sigh and ask "Is the juice worth the squeeze?"  But for me, the answer was pretty simple.  For over a year now, the answer has been so very simple.  "Ok baby," I said. "You can be a turtle for our family pictures."  And later, when he wanted to hold his Avenger's sticker book in every shot, he found no protest with me.  Because, dear friends, when given the choice to have a smiling turtle in your photos or a crying gentleman, you pick the turtle.  You choose to let your child's heart sing for a little while.  I want a family photo that freezes us in this moment in our lives, this amazing period of joy and frustration.  Our house is on the market, we've had unexpected car repairs and illnesses to address, and our children are little balls of chaos and unfettered energy.  Life is very complicated, but it's also a tremendous gift.  Life is a tremendous gift.  And that's why the moment you see captured in that photo, and so many more have been brought to you by Shelby Offrink.

I met Shelby in the offices of our HR department at work.  She had come in to talk to someone and somehow we struck up a conversation about farming, organic vegetables and food labels- because clearly that's what happens in HR offices in case you didn't know; we like to solve all the world's problems in this line of work.  Shelby was brilliant and I love being around brilliant people who can teach me things.  I was leading a training program called SEEK- Stryker Employees Exchanging Knowledge that sponsored all sorts of guest speakers to come in and do "lunch and learn" style classes on a variety of different topics.  I asked Shelby if she'd like to do a course on food labeling and what it all meant.  Shelby put together a class called "Organic and Grass Fed and Cage Free, Oh My!" that was filled with her perfectly sarcastic sense of humor.  She opened up her presentation by saying "There is a lot of label generated confusion when you walk into the grocery store. Today I am going to probably confuse you a little more (pause)  (laughter).  But the goal is that by the end, you are a little more educated about what this stuff means to us and to our environment."

Shelby and I stayed in touch over the years, making plans to get lunch together when we could.  She was the only person who would go eat sushi with me at lunch.  Funny side note- she always gave me the tomatoes off of her salad because her amazing palette couldn't handle a non-organic, store bought tomato.  The girl truly walked the walk in all that she was passionate about.  I saw her briefly after she moved back to Michigan shortly after the birth of her second daughter.  We had a sushi date on the calendar that was canceled after she got a diagnosis that the back pain that she had attributed to sciatica was actually an incredibly rare and incurable form of cancer -  stage 3 glioblastoma of the spine.  Shelby fought with every fiber of her being.  The cancer spread to her brain and still she fought.  Her husband Ben's Hodgkin's Lymphoma which had been in remission came back and they fought together.

I watched Shelby's story unfold over the past year and a half.  I would read updates about her setbacks, her little victories, and her indomitable spirit.  I considered the little things that caused me frustration throughout my day- messy kids, cars that broke down, deadlines, bills to pay, and the litany of inconsequential distractions we all slog through over the course of a week or month or year.  I began to think about how desperately Shelby and Ben would love a child's ear infection to be the worst part of their day.  How they would long to only worry about paying for a minor car repair.  I thought of those things and I got nervous.  I got nervous that I was wasting precious time with my babies and husband worrying about trivial nonsense.  I was losing my children, not literally, but it was growing harder and harder to see them  through the noise and the fighting and battles of will.  So I bought a ring.

A fundraiser for Shelby came out in the early months of her fight.  Beautiful beaded rings whose colors were selected by her and made by an artist who donates portions of her proceeds to fund cancer research.  When the ring came in the mail I wore it every day.  The sight of it reminded me to take in a deep breath of the life-giving air that surrounded me and to feel grateful.  I wasn't always perfect at it, but I have paused in gratitude more in the past year and a half than I ever have in my entire life.

Jack and I, both wearing our Superhero rings
Shelby passed away last night, and now her positive, beautiful energy is scattered everywhere.  It certainly lives in me.  The family photo at the top of this blog post was taken yesterday morning, Shelby's last morning on earth, in the form that we all knew and loved her.  The smile on the face of my son belongs to Shelby Offrink, Ben Offrink and their daughters Maeve and Hazel.  Their story, their bravery, and their love were the only things that made me pause that beautiful Sunday morning, look my son right in his pleading brown eyes and say, "Ok, baby.  You can be a turtle for our family pictures."  I will forever look at his face in this photo, his joyful, jubilant (and yes, victorious) face and say a silent prayer to my friend Shelby thanking her for that smile.  

I asked our wonderful photographer Kerry to capture us as we are at this time in our lives; who we are in this moment.  I know now that what she captured was the legacy of Shelby Offrink in my life.  What I hope to share with anyone reading this is to carry on Shelby's legacy in every moment you pause to reflect about how grateful you are for this life; this messy, complicated, beautiful life.  In those moments when you let your 4 year olds leave the house looking like turtles or princesses or wizards because it makes their hearts sing, do that for Shelby and dedicate the ensuing smiles and laughs to her spirit.

Our family photo captured us in this moment and in this moment we have nothing but gratitude.

If you are able, please consider a donation to a trust that has been set up in Ben and Shelby's daughters' names-