What’s in a name?

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Grandpa, I always liked having your last name.  It was hard to change it when I got married.  As my maternal grandfather, I shouldn’t have had your last name.  But I guess there are some benefits to having an unwed teenage mother after all.  Sharing your last name made life a little easier for me in school.  I never had to awkwardly explain why I didn’t have the same name as you and Grandma or my mom.  Our last name, although not one of the “old” names in our little town, meant something.  People knew who we were, they knew to whom I belonged.  For a child who oftentimes didn’t know where she belonged, that meant a lot.  Granted, it wasn’t always a good association thanks to my notorious uncle, but I tried to make it become something better than it was before.  People eventually knew who I was – what I added to the value of our name.  

It’s an odd thing, giving up your maiden name when you get married.  I was happy to do it – it was important to Andrew and it was romantic and symbolic to me.  But it takes a toll on your identity.  I was no longer the girl who was going to be famous and change her name ever so slightly just to make it easier to spell and pronounce.  Nor was I the girl who would trick an upperclassman into believing her absentee father was an NFL player, or a late-night talk show host sidekick.  I was just a girl who still referred to herself as her maiden name in moments of frustration or exasperation, but nobody knew me by that name anymore.  I find myself fascinated with our name.  I’m intrigued with our ancestry, although not to the same extent as you.  I love thinking about my distant relatives, an Irish-English couple who came to America during the potato famine.  I miss having that moniker.  Seeing your name in an obituary and on a headstone makes me miss it even more.

Beyond our surname, you were a fan of nicknames.  Do you remember what you called me and my younger cousins for years when we were little?  Princess, Pumpkin, and Pooh.  Pooh was the most fitting, for that baby girl was truly a tiny teddy bear, full of belly laughs, dimples and cheerfulness.  She is like that to this day – one of the most good natured, funny and kind people I know.  Pumpkin worked well too – what better name for an autumn baby with ginger hair?  It really only scratches the surface of Pumpkin though.  There’s so much more to her.  I hope you saw it.  But me – I was “princess.”  Was it because I was firstborn?  More likely because I was a prima donna?  High maintenance?  Was I somehow special in a way that your daughters were not?  I think there’s some truth to that.  It makes me sad and confused to think in that way, but there’s something to it, isn’t there?  I was different.  I don’t know…maybe I’m making it all up in a desperate attempt to understand why some people got the worst of you and I got the best.  We can talk more about that later, but please, for now I hope you understand that I know I got your best and I thank you for it.  I will take the sobriquet “Princess” with gratitude, because regardless of how or why you chose it, you treated me as such.

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Regrets, Part One

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Grandpa, I wonder if you could answer this question.  Is it possible, really possible, for a person to reach the end of his life and have no regrets?  I suspect the answer is no – at least unless you’re a sociopath.  Assuming one is not a sociopath, I think regrets are a part of our lives here.  They range in intensity, in meaning, in purpose, but we all have them.  I think the trick is to recognize them, to try to mend your ways if possible, and to ask forgiveness where it’s needed.  My regrets?  I have a lot already for my 39 1/2 years, but I’ll just share the few that have to do with you. There are lots of small ones that we can talk about later, but I need to get the biggest one off my chest.

IMG_1305You should have walked me down the aisle.  My father had no business doing that. Everyone knows it and I’m sure there were people who are or were angry with me for it.  But a young girl who always hoped for something more in life – attentive parents, doting siblings, a step-mom who didn’t act her age – it was what I dreamed of.  My relationship with mom and D has always been so complicated, so fraught with hurt feelings, with the sense of abandonment, with the complication that a kid in the 1980s would naturally have with a gay parent.  To suddenly have a parent who, I thought, saw me for who I was, was intoxicating.  Let’s be honest: I was a great kid.  Sure I had a few indiscretions, but my father swooped into the life of a 16-year-old honor student, show choir member, musical lead actress, multi-instrument playing overachiever.  I was the kind of kid (and this has carried forward to adulthood) who could not handle having anyone be angry, upset or disappointed in me.  I was the total package.  I had everything that my dad didn’t have in his step children or his other biological children.  I was already raised.  There was no work for him to do.  And you and Grandma did a hell of a job.

By the time Andrew and I got married, my dad had been a part of my life for 6 years.  There would only be 4 good years left.  If I had known, what would I have done?  Well, I wouldn’t have believed for a minute that he would walk out of my life again, so I’m sure I wouldn’t have done anything differently.  None of us saw that coming.

The amazing thing about you, Grandpa, is that I know you would never have left me.  You had an extremely challenging relationship with your seven children, we will talk about that later, but even when they walked out on you, you waited, and you were there when they came back.  They may have come back for Grandma, or for money, or for help of some sort, but it didn’t matter.  You were there to give the help.  Please understand that I am not putting you on any kind of pedestal or claiming you to be a saint.  We both know you were not.  But in your later years you tried.  I know you tried.

As the whole family stood at your bedside the night you left us, Grandma said what I have always felt but never said out loud – you were my daddy.  You were the only one who deserved to be with me on my wedding day.  And for that, I am really, really sorry.

Bedtime

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You’ll enjoy this.  Every night, almost without fail, we have to fight with the boys to get ready for bed.  I don’t know how many times I repeat myself “Get undressed. Leave your brother alone. Put on your pajamas. Leave your brother alone. Brush your teeth. Leave your brother ALONE!”  It won’t surprise you to know that Evan is the primary instigator.  He plays the role of little brother with zeal – he’s the quintessential pest.  Evan’s devilishness can come out really at any time of day, but he really turns it on at bedtime.  He’s ruthless.  He’ll run around naked, take Landon’s things and run with them, he talks back and laughs when we get angry.  In short, he’s a little bit terrifying.  Landon, on the other hand, also slips nicely into his role as big brother at this time of day.  He’s annoyed by everything Evan does.  He gets grouchy, selfish, and mean.  The best part?  They sleep together.  Every night.  Landon gets anxious at night and Evan crawls in to bed with him to make him feel better.  One night when Evan was sick I put him in his own bed and Landon got a little teary, saying that it “just doesn’t feel right” to not have Evan with him.  Not even 10 minutes earlier they can be at each other’s throats, but when it’s time to sleep, they are best buddies.  Whether they admit it or not.

Dear Grandpa,

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I have thought about writing this letter to you since May.  My 5280Mommy blog was for you and grandma.  And now that you’re gone, that blog doesn’t seem to make sense anymore.  It is nice to read through my thoughts and experiences as a new mom of two little boys, and I loved blogging our trips to Japan and Argentina for you.  But now that you’re not here, I don’t have anything to say there.

The hardest part of losing you is not knowing how to reach you.  It’s impossible for me to believe that there is really no way for me to find you.  You must be somewhere, right?  But I can’t find you.  Not in the sunrise or sunset, not in trees, or lakes or rivers, not anywhere in nature actually, not even in Minnesota where I think you must be.  I think I could probably at least sense you if I go downstairs and turn the pages of the stamp collections you left for my boys.  Or the books that I took from your office and your vast collection in the basement.  But you wouldn’t be able to hear me there.  And so I am here.  Writing this to you and praying – even though neither you nor I really believe in praying – that you will see it.  Could I possibly be right?  Could these letters to you fly across the universe to wherever it is that you’ve gone?  I’m not sure, but I’m not sure it matters, so long as I’m talking to you.