Oh, dear blog. You have not been forgotten, although you have certainly been neglected lately. I’d apologize, but I have good reason. I was planning a wedding and a honeymoon and over-thinking everything.
We had a handful of our favorite people in one place and I have never had a better day. There were so many loved ones and we had a chance to chat and dance and toast and inhale green chile and homemade tortillas and gingersnaps with all of them. It was an overplanned, anxiously executed dream come true.
There were lots of great handmade details that were important to our big day. I made 100 jars of marmalade as the favors, painted the cake toppers and stitched the ring pillow. The invitations were handmade and printed on vintage handkerchiefs. My mom sewed a bow tie for Nelson and made our chuppah — which was a wedding ring pattern I love. A girlfriend’s mom made my bouquet and the boutonnieres. We had friends recite poetry and help read a blessing. My grandmother’s begonia was tucked in my bouquet, and I wore her sparkly necklace that I’ve adored since I was a girl. Another girlfriend’s mom made our guest book. Others brought cookies for the dessert table. I baked a small cake.
I’ll post more photos as I can about our special day, but here are few for now:
More to come. In the meantime, I’ll be writing thank you cards, which I hope to finish before Christmas. And moming, which makes my heart so happy and full, my cheeks hurt.
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- Celebrate!, Family
When I was 11 or so, a new family moved to the corner house on our street. They had one tow-head toddler who couldn’t say Kelli, so he called me Ki Ki. Soon, another baby boy was on the way. The parents and my parents made fast friends. I spent many, many summer days with tan lines and blood shot eyes chasing those two little boys, and my younger brother, around the pool.
The scent of burning charcoal briquettes immediately takes me back to these happy days. Our parents would grill and lounge in the shade and we would squeal and play and be utterly exhausted by the time night fell. (In retrospect, this was a brilliant parenting strategy.)
In time, I became the babysitter. I’d watch the two boys regularly over the next few years. I loved the brothers like they were my own. I read their favorite books to the point of memorization. I rocked them goodnight and gave them baths. I watched Aladdin on VHS tape approximately 10,000 times. I helped teach them to swim.
In 1994, I left my family (and theirs) to study in Mexico for a year. I was 14 and communication home was expensive. I’d call home on Sundays, and sometimes sneak a call to my dad at work. He’d always accept the charges. It was on one of those calls, when I stood at a pay phone in the foyer of the Mexican high school library, that my dad relayed the bad news. Gently, he told me the younger of the two neighbor boys was sick. He’d been sick for a while and they hadn’t been able to figure it out. Finally, they knew. He had a form of pediatric cancer and was off to Minnesota for treatment. His mom left her job and was living in the Ronald McDonald house.
I cried the tears of a gulping teenage girl whose world view had cracked, and was 1500 miles from those she loved most.
My mom helped watch the older brother, still just a little one, and my parents together kept an eye on their dad, who must have been out of his mind with grief and potential loss. The details of those days and months are not clear in my memory. What I do remember is returning home six months later and the youngest brother was still alive, in recovery, everyone back at home. When I went to visit, I realized that while he was alive, he was still dealing with the repercussions of having cell-altering chemicals and radiation at a tender age of growth. His color wasn’t right for a long time, his skin black and gray. And my last memory of him as a kindergarten student a few years later was one where he used a walker, dragging a foot behind him.
But he was alive!
The years rolled on, and soon the family was off to the Pacific Northwest for work. Their house sold quickly. I don’t remember ever saying goodbye. I do remember feeling like a piece of my childhood was packed in their moving truck, tucked between the towels that always smelled of chlorine and the tonka trucks. During the next 20 years, I spent more than a few hours looking for their family online with no luck.
Imagine my utter shock when about six weeks ago, laying on my mat in silence before a yoga class, a woman leaned her head next to mine and said, “KELLI!”
It was their mother. By sheer coincidence, after more than a decade of living elsewhere, we are neighbors again in an entirely different neighborhood. I hugged her with a ferocity that I think scared us both, and told her through tears how I’d searched for them. How was her youngest son? I asked it hesitantly, wondering all these years if the cancer had come back.
“Oh, he just graduated college. He lives with us! He’s great.”
He is great. That weekend, I got together with their family. Their eldest son, now a PhD candidate in northern California, was home visiting for the weekend — again by chance. We sat and reminisced, and I soon realized that while it was so important to my childhood — the time we’d spent together — the boys barely remembered me. They were more than ten years younger and their memories, of course, were those of little ones: blurry at best. But they did know of our family from the stories their parents had repeated, and I hugged them like an older sister would.
It was, and remains, a wonderful set of coincidences that brought a friendship together again.
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- Arizona, Faith, Family
This weekend I attended a women’s retreat in the woods of northern Arizona. (I have several posts in mind after participating in the intensely emotional getaway.) One of the greatest gems I took away from the weekend was hearing a woman describe her struggle to daily pour love unconditionally into her family — and how she knew she was called to do so anyway.
This has been my unexpected struggle. Let’s have a real, honest talk about being a parent. Whether you birthed, adopted — or in my case, inherited your kid(s) through a relationship — being a parent is every stupid Hallmark cliche. It is the most rewarding job. It is the most thankless job. It is hard. It is sweet. It is agonizing. And you really do feel like your heart is living outside of your body when you watch a 16 year old drive away for the first time and you can’t catch your breath.
(Or I was just having a panic attack. Either way, I still say countless prayers that kid is safe, and everyone else around him is safe, and they are all wearing seat belts and no one is texting or distracting the driver and on, and on, and on.)
Being a “step” parent has not come naturally. Actually, it has been a really difficult. I came into these kids’ lives in their early teens, when our brains return to the selfishness of toddlers, only now demanding spending money and independence, not bedtime stories and candy.
We’re all in this for the long ride of being a modern family — where at events we sit with their mom, her husband, their step-brother and collectively work to entertain his two-year-old adorable daughter. I love these two kids, and yet I’m hesitant to call them mine. This weekend, I was asked 100 times by other women, “Do you have kids?” Sometimes I said, “Yep. Two teenage step-kids.” And other times I stumbled along with “Uh, I’m helping my boyfriend raise his teenagers.” Or “My boyfriend has kids.” I want to claim them. I want to tell everyone who asks that yes, these kids are mine. I do their laundry and pack their lunches and cheer for them at soccer. I tutor in Spanish and bake their birthday cakes and know their favorite bands and how to make small talk about Nickelodeon programs and Disney stars. I know they love Bernie Sanders, so I pay attention to his speeches.
What I don’t want to do is have their mom somehow overhear me calling these kids my kids. That’s what stops me. She birthed them. She is co-parenting them. She is a good mom and I don’t want to step on her toes. I feel like an interloper claiming territory that isn’t rightfully mine.
And when they are in the throws of being teenagers — it is “stupid” to make a bed, and “stupid” to be on time and “stupid” to practice piano — I want to put on my running shoes, grab my dog and walk away as quickly as possible before muttering how they aren’t mine. They are both wholly lovable and entirely annoying on any given day — which I’m fairly certain is the definition of “teenager.”
In those moments of sheer frustration when I know they would be listening to me if I was their mom, anger takes over my control panel and my emotions boil over in hurry. And in those sweet times when they give me a hug unexpectedly or want to spend time together, joy rules. I beam and nearly fall over from patting myself on the back and how well I got this.
It is a parenting roller coaster. It can be scary and make me scream and my stomach hurt, and I just want to be let off the ride. And it can also be the most thrilling, awe-inducing, joyous ticket in town — which, I am now fairly certain is the definition of “parenting.”
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