The Family That Naps Together…

The Family That Naps Together…

Every family has its specialty. It’s something unique that runs in the family. For example, some families boast a long line of musically-inclined people. Others have a bevy of captains and generals and run their families like they’re all in the military. Think Captain Von Trapp and his whistle (although his family was into belting showtunes, too). Continue reading

I Remember Mama

I Remember Mama

I Remember Mama (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Item 1:  Whether or not you’re a mom, no doubt, you’re somebody’s child, which is why I’m hoping you’ll check out a post I submitted this week to the Huffington Post. I call it,

The Best Mom, Probably

Why? Because my son, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t want to go out on a limb and call me the best mom in a text he sent me to wish me a happy Mother’s Day. No doubt, he was afraid I might get an inflated ego over it.

Of course, little did he know, telling me I was “probably” the best mom was enough to drive me crazy and I set out to discover what exactly he meant. I first wrote the post when I started blogging, but it’s perfect for Mother’s Day, so, please read it–and comment!

My son, during a trip to Venezuela, with Tia Olga, who passed away earlier this year.

Item 2:  This time of year, it’s easy for me to get all teary-eyed and start waxing poetic. This is because I lost my mother 18 years ago this month. Plus, I’m a romantic at heart and, as such, I’m prone to getting sentimental at the drop of a hat.

For years, my mother and I had a Mother’s Day tradition of watching I Remember Mama, one of our favorite films. (FYI: Turner Classic Movies usually carries it around this time.) It’s sappy as all heck but don’t you dare make fun of it because to me, it’s such a tear jerker. If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about. It’s got everything–pathos, humor, suffering, a cat that dies then comes back to life, a crazy uncle who yells a lot, and a mysterious boarder who’s into reading. Add to that, a hard-working, ready-to-sacrifice-all-for-her-family kind of mother. It’s classic!

I Remember Mama, made in 1948, stars Irene Dunne as the matriarch of a Norwegian family, living in San Francisco, circa 1910. It is narrated by Katrin, the eldest daughter and an aspiring writer (Trivia: She’s played by Barbara Bel Geddes–Miss Ellie from the original Dallas series!). Here’s how Katrin introduces her mother–and the reason I start blubbering as soon as I see the opening credits:

“For as long as I could remember, the small cottage on Castro Street had been home. The familiar background was there; Mama, Papa, my only brother, Nels. There was my sister Christine, closest to me in age, yet ever secret and withdrawn — and the littlest sister, Dagmar.

“There, too came the Aunts, Mama’s four sisters. Aunt Jenny, who was the oldest and the bossiest; Aunt Sigrid; Aunt Marta; and our maiden Aunt, Trina. The Aunts’ old bachelor uncle, my Great-uncle Chris — the ‘black Norwegian’ — came with his great impatience, his shouting and stamping. And brought mystery and excitement to our humdrum days.

“But most of all, I remember Mama.”

Item 3: My mother had five sisters and one brother. Now, only one sister, Tia Livia, remains. Tia Olga, the second to youngest, died earlier this year. She was kind and gentle and deeply spiritual. She was the only one who never married nor had children. In her final years, living in Venezuela with no income of her own, it was the nieces and nephews who took care of her, making sure she had all she needed. I sent her what I could, including chocolates from the states and the latest issues of Reader’s Digest, one of her favorite magazines that she enjoyed reading in English. I loved her so much and miss her dearly.

Item 4: One of my favorite bloggers is Deborah Batterman. She writes honestly and with humor, and has a knack for making me laugh. In a recent post on her blog, The Things She Things About, Deborah wrote about her mother and how she once phoned Deborah, when Deborah was living in New York City, from their home in New Jersey, and left the following message on the answering machine:

“Close your window, there’s something coming from Jersey.”

Reading that made me fall over in a heap of giggles. What was coming from Jersey? Sounded dangerous and wicked! Well, you’ll have to read Deborah’s blog to find out more.

Deborah has also written a collection of essays titled, Because My Name is Mother.  Laced with humor, tenderness, and a bit of nostalgia, you’ll find these stories quite enjoyable, and, best of all, they’re now available for Kindle for only $0.99! A bargain, if you ask me, and makes for a great Mother’s Day gift for just about anyone!

Back to Item 1: It’s the not knowing why my son said I was “probably” the best mom that gets me and, frankly, I can’t stop thinking about it. In any case, though I might “probably” be the best mom, one thing’s certain: I know I’m the luckiest mom, for I have two great kids.  Kids that I never took to the tanning salon, nor left naked in the car while I ran errands. So, Josh and Sarah, if you’re reading this, you’re welcome. I didn’t torture you and that, if you ask me, ought to deserve more than a “probably.”

But, Readers, I’ll let you decide. Read my story in the Huffington Post, and then be sure to let me know what you think!

So, Happy Mother’s Day!

Now, how about you? What do your kids do to show you their love?

The Road Taken: Readers Weigh In

In last week’s post, Key West Redux, I mentioned that I needed to take a break from The Road Taken series, because I wasn’t sure where I was heading. I asked for your input and two of you offered it. I found this very useful, so thank you, Bella and Debbie. I’ve included your comments and questions below and, after giving it a lot of thought, I’ve added my responses, too.

Debbie:  As for your Rick saga, would it work to delve into your mixed feelings at going back home, wondering if you’d done the right thing, waiting for G to say or do something that would make you question your choice even more?? Just trying to help!

MTW:  Not really, because, at the time, I didn’t have mixed feelings. I never doubted, for a moment, that I was doing the right thing by parting ways with Rick. Hindsight is 20-20, after all, and I didn’t have the benefit of hindsight then. It was still early in the marriage and much was yet to unfold.

My brother said G was a cross between actor Alan Alda and...

The way I saw it, I hadn’t been married long enough. In my heart, I believed I needed to give my relationship with G a chance. I balanced the knowledge that Rick was a gorgeous, romantic adventurer with a shared love of writing, against the fact that I already had ties with G, who I considered to be a good guy, with a great sense of humor.

My brother used to say that G reminded him of a cross between Alan Alda (think, M*A*S*H) and the comedian, David Brenner. I think he was right. G was affable, intelligent and witty. If you recall, it was his humor that first attracted me to him. What’s more, in my estimation, G had the advantage, because he had already made a commitment to me through our marriage vows.

...comedian David Brenner.

Bella:  Regarding The Road Taken, I’d love to read about your emotional state when Rick exited the picture. Did you feel despair, regret, blame your marriage for standing in the way? What prompted G to go from loving husband to philandering jerk? Did you see the signs? But more importantly, once he exited the picture, how did you pick up the pieces? Would you have taken him back once you knew of his infidelity? I want to know!

MTW: When I said goodbye to Rick, my emotional state was one of quiet sadness, which I revealed to no one, then. I felt an ache in my heart, coupled with the knowledge that I had to go forward. Yes, I felt bad about Rick, but I felt worse, feeling that I had neglected G (although he wasn’t around much at all during this time, because of his studies, so if I did neglect him, he never let on).

What prompted G to go from loving husband to a philanderer? Good question. I cannot pinpoint “the what,” but I think it was a series of things and of moments. Looking back, I have a recollection of a time he actually tried to warn me about a dark cloud hovering over our future.

He had just completed his doctorate and we were about to move across country for his new job. My plan was not to find work right away, but to stay at home for a while with our newborn while enrolling our oldest in kindergarten. G looked me in the eye and said that if I went ahead with this plan, he would surely lose interest in me. That, as a stay-at-home mom, I would become uninteresting to him. Surprised at first, I actually shrugged this off, convincing myself he didn’t mean it. I would show him I could be interesting and yet not work. It was our children that I’d be taking care of, after all. Well, he turned out to be right. Within two years, we’d be seeing the beginning of the end.

There were about 12 years between Rick and the demise of my marriage, and how I picked up the pieces after G exited is a whole other story. A series of You-Will-Not-Believe-It moments. One devastating shock after another.  I lost my way for a while. I lost the will to eat. I hit rock bottom. It was one of the darkest, most difficult periods of my life. But I’ll get to it, in good time.

In the meantime, these comments have given me food for thought. Please continue to weigh in, and I will work on the next installment of The Road Taken.

Remembering My Father

Today was my father’s birthday. He would have been 99 years old. In honor of the anniversary of his birth I’m thinking of pineapple upside down cake.  For that is the cake my mother would bake, year after year for his very low-key birthday celebration. It was his favorite kind of cake and it soon became mine, too.  How I looked forward to my father’s birthday, just to have a slice of that once-a-year cake, lovingly made for a one-of-a-kind dad.

Circa 1978. From left: My father, Regina, Rafael, my mother, Cesar and me.

And if I learned anything from my father, it’s just how important family is. He loved us with complete devotion and indulged us whenever he could. I’m pretty sure he would have given us the moon if he had figured out a way. And yet, as good as he was as a father, he could also be at times exasperating, frustrating, and impossible.

When he died, almost 17 years ago—and just five months after my mother’s passing—a cousin put it like this:

“Your poor mother. Your father only gave her five months of peace. Now he’s up there with her, surely giving her a hard time again.”

What’s done is done and it doesn’t matter now.  My father is gone and we are left with genuine appreciation for what he did for us, and the legacy he left behind. My brother, Cesar, has put his feelings to words, summing up a life worth living in a way that has humbled me, and given me pause. For me, it is a good reminder of what I once had and I find myself comforted by his remembrances. Cesar writes:

This is how I remember him.

He moved his family to the U.S. to take care of Jose Enrique (my father’s son from his first marriage), who needed hip surgery as a young boy. Because of my father, Jose Enrique got the best medical attention in the world.

He took a job in the States to be with his family.

He loved having us sing in the backseat of the car.  And he would take great pleasure taking us to the beach and then seeing us play on the trampolines, which we passed on the way home.

He attended and studied, and put himself through New York University—at the age of 52.

During that time, he studied the rules of baseball so he could volunteer as an umpire, just so Rafael (our brother) and I could play Little League Baseball.  I think we played Little League for four or five years with my father ump-ing the whole time.

He put four kids through college; three of them attending expensive, private universities.

I remember my father driving to Boston, to pick up Regina (our sister) from school, loading her stuff in the car and then driving back to Long Island in the same day.

I remember my father, at age 70, standing on a ladder on top of the inclined roof of the garage, painting the house.

I remember my father, at age 74, driving an hour and a half to my house in Westchester so that he and my mother could visit their granddaughter.

I sincerely hope there’s a heaven and that they got there ok.

Happy Birthday, Papá

Farewell, So Long, It’s Been Swell

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room:  I am getting old. I have an expiration date.  Which is why I’ve launched my Farewell Tour.  Which really means I’m trying to do all the things I didn’t get to during the first half century of my life. It also means I’m returning to some of my old stomping grounds to recapture life as I remember it.

Some people would say, “Monica, that’s not a Farewell Tour you’re on, that’s your Bucket List.”  But “bucket list” sounds so provincial, so bargain basement. Call it what you will, but I’m on my Farewell Tour, which started in Europe.  I  had never been to Europe, not even during college when it was all the rage to “find” yourself by backpacking across the continent while smoking pot.  Which probably explains why I didn’t find myself until sometime in the last decade.

Our European tour would not have been complete without a visit to Florence, Italy.

So facing 50, I booked my European tour with my daughter. And there was no way we were going to do this trip backpacking.  It would be hotels all the way, and I was leaving this trip up to the experts. We signed up for a posh tour that took us from London to Rome and I’m so glad we did. It was truly a wonderful trip!

During the 16-day journey, we got to know and spend time with our fellow travelers, who hailed from all parts of the world (Canada, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and of course, the U.S.) and who were just as nice as can be. We were like goodwill ambassadors from the U.N. enjoying a pleasant romp through Europe. Each day, we’d rotate our seats on the bus so that everyone had a chance to get a nice view and we all smiled and said polite things about the scenery and the weather. The Saudi family pretty much kept to themselves, but when the day of departure arrived, we all huddled for a big group hug and bid each other a tearful goodbye.

Other items on my Farewell Tour:

Taking my daughter twice to New York, including once during the holidays, which is the time to see the city, if you ask me.  We saw six Broadway shows during the first trip, but only got to see one on the second, due to an untimely strike by the union representing the theater production crew. This forced the cancellation of most of the shows. I blubbered like a colicky baby when we took a behind-the-scenes tour of Radio City Music Hall, recalling all the shows I’d seen there, as a kid from Queens. I also got a thrill seeing the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade live and in person, from a very prime locale (thanks to my friend, Mandy).

I sobbed during my Farewell Tour of Radio City Music Hall. Such memories!

I attended my college reunion. Though I didn’t remember anyone, I got all misty-eyed while walking through the hallowed halls of my old alma mater.  I also fell into a heap, climbing the steep hills of the campus. If you ask me, they really need to provide golf-carts to help us decrepit alumni get around campus.

We took a trip back to the Northwest–Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, where I spent the early years of my adulthood, under the cover of rain clouds. It was absolutely divine to reconnect with old friends—and visit the Pike Place Market again.

My high school reunion. This was the first and perhaps the only high school reunion I’ve attended. Very eye opening, too. First of all, as it turns out, everyone has aged, including moi. Bottom line, I probably should have made a point to go to my reunion earlier, as, at this age fewer and fewer go, and our class size was small from the start. But thanks to Facebook, I’m in touch with quite a few of my high school classmates. So in some ways, everyday is a reunion!

Perhaps, best of all, was making two trips back to Venezuela, with my children who’d never been there before. It gave them a chance to meet their relatives and discover a bit of the Latin side of their heritage.

I still have many more stops to make on my Farewell Tour, but I think I’m off to a good start. I hope to return to Europe, perhaps to Vienna and Prague. Madrid and Barcelona, too. I’d also like to see my family in Caracas again, and, perhaps, take a cruise to Alaska.

Not all on my Farewell Tour is about travel. I’d like to one day write a book, and spend time with my grandchildren, assuming my kids settle down (though they should know, I’m in no rush for this one). I figure my Farewell Tour is going to last a long time. At least, another 30 to 40 years. So I can wait. In the meantime, I’ll just keep adding to my tour. After all, I believe in long goodbyes.