12

Happy Anniversary.

12 years - 8-19-00

I’d like the next 12 to be filled with more laughter, love, and just plain old fun.

12 years!!!!

New Years & Golden Hearts

Some years on New Year’s Eve my parents would have friends over. They would go to the hockey game (the Red Wings ALWAYS play on New Year’s Eve) and then they’d party. As I got older sometimes I even got to go to the game, but mostly the adults went, leaving us with a sitter. Upon their return, they would put us to bed upstairs and we could always hear the drinking adults downstairs laughing and talking…getting louder as the night wore on, until eventually we fell asleep.

But when I was much younger, little enough to still be sleeping with a stuffed animal or blanket, I remember my parents taking my brother and I to our grandparents home – a good hour or two away from where we lived. We’d spend the weekend with my grandmother and grandfather.

These weekends were always a bit special, and I can trace just about everything I love and adore back to those special two days in a row in Lexington, Michigan.

My grandfather would take me out to his garden, and show me his cucumbers and tomatoes. Which somehow became the best pickles I’ve ever eaten and the best tomato sandwiches ever made.

My grandmother would read and eat her hard candy and open gifts. Gifts my parents would pack but also gifts we grandkids would make throughout the weekend. You see, her birthday was December 31st. Which meant not only did we get to celebrate a New Year but also a birthday. If I found a wrapper in the trash? I’d color on it and it would become a birthday gift for my grandmother. If we found a pretty rock outside on our walk down to the lake? Yup…gift for grandma.

Just before midnight every New Year’s Eve my grandfather would get out some orange juice in fancy glasses and we’d get ready to toast grandma and the New Year. I also remember her blowing out a single candle on a single piece of cheesecake she made herself. My grandmother’s cheesecake was amazing, so I’ll give her a pass on making her own cake on her birthday. And of course none of us have been able to duplicate it…no matter how hard we’ve tried.

Then, at night, I’d sit on her bed with my cousin and watch her take off her clothing very carefully. And I would watch her put on her pj’s very carefully. I can distinctly remember her always asking for help with her necklace. As a child I just assumed it was so special and precious she needed help taking it off so it could go in that special jewelry box she had on her dresser. The one she would sometimes let me open and I would marvel at the jewels and trinkets inside. Many times I would be poking through that jewelry box while my grandfather removed the necklace around her neck.

I must have seen this ritual at few dozen times as a child. And I always wondered what was so special about that necklace.

It wasn’t until after her death I realized what was going on. Like me, my grandmother had horrible pain from an auto-immune disorder. Her’s was rheumatoid arthritis. Yes, I have it along with my Lupus but as her life went on she became crippled from the disorder. She had trouble unclasping her bra. Taking off her clothes. And that’s why she would take her time getting undressed all those nights on her birthday. As a child it all seemed like some elaborate game of dressing and undressing.

And my grandfather would always help her take off that very precious necklace, not because of its significance, but because of the pain she felt just trying to unclasp the hooks.

Or was it both?

I still can see those orange juice glasses toasting my grandmother and the new year. I can hear the clink as we said Happy Birthday and Happy New Year all at once, chaotically and with as much excitement as any kids allowed to stay up late could do.

And now as I hold that precious locket attached to that necklace I think I know better. Or at least I’d like to think I’ve romanticized my grandfather helping her take off that locket, and the many years of toasts.

My Dad tells stories that are typical of that era. Of my grandmother raising five kids while my grandfather worked, of course, for the auto industry in Detroit. My Dad talks about his great  grandparents in the home cooking and smacking him with a frying pan. And then he mentions how different his father treats his grandchildren, as opposed to how he treated his own children. There are tales of grandma sending kids to get grandpa from the local watering hole…and things I just can’t fathom from the sweet man I knew who always bought me jewelry with my birthstone and made sure my basketball team had chocolates before every game.

So in my young mind, my grandfather helping my grandmother remove her locket every night was an act of sweetness, not of necessity.

Their’s was the era of separate bedrooms, where I cuddled with my grandmother and she sang me songs to sleep, while I could hear my grandfather’s radio coming from his room. Always listening to a baseball game or the news. And when we weren’t in bed, they still shared separate interests as my grandmother would string her gum wrappers together to make me a necklace or attempt to knit or crochet. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for her, given the pain I now know she had and I certainly know how it feels. My grandfather would remain in his room listening to that radio..always the radio…or cooking for us. I always wanted my favorite, Czernina, and I can remember smelling it simmer all day as my grandmother read tabloids or used her crippled hands to make some magical bracelet or crown for my head.

But I will never forget that nightly ritual…watching my grandfather carefully remove that locket from her neck. Kissing her cheek goodnight. Never her lips. Kissing her cheek goodnight and then retiring to his radio and single bed in the room around the corner from hers.

Years after my grandmother died I remember my other grandfather, my Mom’s Dad, attempt to get my grandpa to join him on one of his adventures. It was a cruise or a senior’s excursion of some sort, and my grandfather would refuse. Waving his hand he’d say ‘no…no….I might have done that with Helen but no, now I just want to watch the news and go to bed.’

And so it went, and continues to go, with my grandfather never having wanted to do much after my grandmother died. He would come to my brother and I’s games and shower us with affection…but that’s where it ended.

He told me he was just holding on until my high school graduation, then he would be joining my grandmother. Then he said he was just holding on for my brother’s graduation. My cousin’s. My wedding. My bother’s college graduation. My cousin’s. Then he said he was just waiting for my son to be born. We named him after his father, my great-grandfather. And for this he was appreciative and then typically told us maybe he gave us the wrong spelling.

Then he was only holding on for my daughter to be born. And when she arrived, early, we gave her a Polish nickname that meant ‘Helen’ and his silence was all I needed to know how much it meant.

So every New Years this is where my mind wanders. To my grandmother. Her birthday. That locket. The one I now carry with me at all times because it was what I was given upon her death. The one I watched my grandfather remove every night I ever stayed in their home, or they stayed in ours. The one my husband held to take this photo, and I couldn’t help but notice his wedding ring and her heart of gold.

My Grandmother's Locket

Happy New Year.

Let Me Count The Ways

It is, again, the wee hours of the morning and my mind and medication have me awake.

Since I have the ear of so many of you who suffer from a chronic illness, I felt it time we talk about that thing no one ever wants to talk about when it comes to chronic illness: living daily as someone you love suffers.

Living. 

It’s all very taboo to talk about this, although I’m not sure why. Probably because it’s so intimate. Because it’s so personal. But let there be no mistake: chronic illness will change everything.

But just like everything else, it’s how you handle that change that makes all the difference in the world.

Aaron and Hala

(photo by Megan Hook Photography)

I am thankful my partner is my best friend and I can talk to him about what ails me and what sustains me. He still rolls his eyes in all the right places and doesn’t hold back when I need to be kept in check. Something a good partner will continue to do when you are laying in a hospital bed, your own bed, or just at home bitching and moaning about taking your pills and injections. You don’t get off the hook because you are sick, in fact, you might get that eye roll a tiny bit more often because he knows damn well you know better than to be pulling whatever crap you are trying to pull as staying healthy is what is most important.

I am thankful he is patient and kind, even when my steroids make me otherwise. ( I type that with one hand as I open a pill bottle with another, knowing that I need to keep this mood in check before the rest of the family wakes up and comes downstairs. This way they don’t find me in a puddle of tears and tissues OR scowling and banging hard on the keys of this poor, beat up laptop…weary from having words shoved in and out of it as my emotions tug and push and pull. )

But I am forever  in love with this man who has put myself and his family first as we battle this long-term war together. Having him has made all the difference. 

As the tears fall on my keyboard I am letting go of my worry about the future, about our time together, about just how many more test results or lab work ups or doctor sit-downs we can take.

I have no fear. 

He is by my side through better and worse and that makes all the difference. I will never have to do this alone, and I will never have to face this without holding his hand. Or hearing his laugh. Or giggling as I lay with an IV in my arm while he sweet talks the nurses into bringing me my drugs early.

Don’t let your disease or disorder fool you. It WILL try you and your relationship in ways you never envisioned when you heard that first diagnosis and muttered ‘pfft, we can do this.’ Time ticks slowly as you wage war, and wears you down. What I wouldn’t give to have the last 18 months back to be lived as a healthy person, just as thankful for those by her side. Or to know then what I know now, so I could prepare.

But when those dark days come, know they are only temporary…even if temporary means months. Know that they will pass…even if passing could means years. Know you will come out the other side stronger, smarter, and with a much bigger appreciation for the person who was your primary caregiver, your cheerleader, your biggest fan, and your biggest worrier and warrior.

I wish you all such a partner as you wage your war, because I know I am one of the lucky ones. And if I can find room somewhere between our son and our daughter in our big ‘ol bed, I’m off to lay my head on his chest and soothe the fight in my body for just a bit longer with his heartbeat. Only he has that power…because I gave it to him long ago and not once has he wavered, and not once have I dreamed of taking it away.

Ok, maybe only a few times when he insisted he push me a bit too fast in the wheelchair just to see if we could go downhill at TOP SPEED or his repeated attempts to show my ass to the world out the back of my hospital gown.

I love you, Aaron. 

If it’s any consolation they should drop my steroids back down next week and if you are lucky I might not be so marshmallowy. But don’t get your hopes up.

Smooch

 

11-years Later

11 years tomorrow
On the day of our wedding my Aunt offered me my choice of two handkerchiefs as my something old, something new, and my something blue. She had a blue bow and she was going to pin it to whichever of the folded, white pieces of fabric I chose. One was a new and delicate lace. Stunning for a tiny piece of cloth. She had picked it up at a store for the occasion thinking I would want something more striking than the other she offered. This one was a bit less sophisticated. An inexpensive fabric with large lace as a border. She explained to me that it was her mother’s. And it clearly was special to her.

She assumed I wouldn’t pick the worn handkerchief, opting for the more presentable, new one. But seeing the look in her eyes I knew she was secretly hoping I would choose her mother’s. A woman I barely remember but had very fond memories of. For a split second I considered the new handkerchief. It was sleek and perfect. But I instead chose the handkerchief you see above, the one already filled with memories and love. The one my Aunt didn’t want to assume I would want, but hoped I would carry down the aisle.

Wearing a beautiful diamond necklace given to me by Aaron as my something new, my Aunt pinned the blue ribbon to the handkerchief and then left another Aunt to present me with something borrowed. I proudly wore my Grandmother’s watch, loaned by my Aunt, on my wedding day. Another family heirloom filled with love and years upon years of ‘in good times and in bad’ between my Grandmother and Grandfather.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start my marriage to Aaron. Surrounded by family, friends, and the memories of the marriages and love that made up my heritage. My something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue represented so much. The relationships I watched as a child filled with hardship as well as celebration, and never, ever, lacking in love. The thoughtfulness of my Aunts, the promise of an amazing future from my husband-to-be.

11-years later and I have a better idea of what those small trinkets meant and why they were an important part of our start as man and wife.

It’s no secret we’ve had a tough time lately. ‘In sickness and in health’ isn’t just a saying in our home, and my husband has taken that vow to heart. Not only has he been my support and my strength, but he has embodied everything I hoped walking down that aisle, trinkets in hand, 11-years ago.

I’m not sure everyone can say that about their spouse. Recently we’ve watched as friends divorce and it’s been difficult to see the pain and fear in ending what was supposed to be forever. It’s made me grasp onto Aaron and bury my face in his chest, thankful for our friendship above all. Knowing it’s what sustains us over time and when things get hard. Of course friendship only goes so far as well…and that’s where the love comes in. It’s a balance of the two and how they intertwine that helps over the years, because we can always fall back on being the best of friends.

A love has evolved over the years. And grew stronger as I grew weaker, and as I relied more and more on my partner.

Which is why when I think back to those tokens given to me for our wedding day, I think about how perfect they were. And how thoughtful. It was like receiving the strength and wisdom of my grandmother and my great-aunt, along with the promise and hope and love of my husband. And even now, 11-years later, I hear their voices when things get tough, and all I want is to comfort Aaron or our children.

Not a day goes by that I don’t remind myself just how lucky I am to have found my perfect partner in life. A man who has carried me though the good times and bad on his strength alone, for which I am forever grateful. And I hope I show my love and appreciation enough.

11-years later and we still laugh before bed. The giggles always vibrate the entire mattress and shake my whole body, making me laugh even harder.

11-years later and we still dance in the kitchen, either while cooking or simply cleaning up. Always instigated by my smooth yet white husband who grabs me and holds me close while we sway.

11-years later and he is STILL the one I most want to tell everything, or the FIRST one I want to tell any news.

11-years later and I love him more each day, and hope to see a million more days with him by my side.

11-years later and I still feel surrounded by those memories and those lessons of love that enveloped me while walking down the aisle, and embraced us both as we walked up the aisle as man and wife.

Happy Anniversary

The Coupon Hottie of the Suburbs

He did it!!!!!!

My hottie husband has all the check-out girls at our grocery store smitten.

They giggle and bat their eyelashes when he pushes his cart down their candy-laden aisle. They fight over break time and who’s turn it is to bag his produce.

Bag his produces. I’m not kidding. Barf.

They even gossip about his ‘spendy’ wife and how his family would be broke if she did the shopping.

Yes, you read that right. The women at my local Ralph’s actually gossip about me and I caught them red-handed.

I was innocently picking up a few things for dinner when I overheard two check-out girls and a male customer-

Oh, yeah…my wife usually does the shopping and I don’t know where anything is around here-says the man wearing a suit and tie.

We have a guy that does the whole families’ shopping! He comes in every Sunday with his coupons and his list- says the brunette ringing up the man while she pops and cracks her gum

We call him the coupon hottie – says the college aged bagger with a giggle

He says he can’t let his wife do the shopping or they would be broke- says the brunette who is now about to get an earful

Enter the wife.

Does he have dark short hair? Glasses? Always brings his canvas bags?

Yes! That’s him! You’ve seen him before?

Every day. I’m the wife who would make the family broke if I did this more often

Silence.

More silence and glances back and forth.

Continued silence and a very nervous check-out girl very quickly scanning my items while trying not to make eye contact with me.

You see this isn’t the first time I’ve heard the Ralph’s groupies fawn over my husband. I had gone in once before with our canvas bags and the bagger chick actually recognized our SXSW bag and asked if my husband was the ‘Coupon Hottie.’

After she explained how girls fight over who’s turn it is to ring him up, she giggled and offered to tell me even more about what they say about my spouse.

As if hearing he had a nickname wasn’t enough.

I declined with a smile and told her maybe another time. As fun as it would be to tease my man when I got home, I had heard enough to prop up his ego for a lifetime.

I will be the first to admit I married a hunka hunka man, and I will also admit how very lucky I am to have a husband who does the grocery shopping, laundry, etc. But what irked me most about my encounters with his groupies were their secondary remarks as they drooled-

My husband doesn’t lift a finger around the house, are you kidding me? He would never shop for the whole family.

My husband doesn’t even know where the tomatoes are let alone how to buy a pork roast.

My husband hasn’t ever seen a coupon let alone used one.

My husband …. My husband…

…you get the idea.

For as many women as I know who talk a good game about equality and gender roles, there sure seems to be a whole mess of you who married men stuck in the 50’s.

I realize it wasn’t just Aaron’s good looks that had these women in a tizzy, it was the coupons, the list, and his ability to live up to the idea of equality every Sunday at register seven. Often times he brings the kids, further showing them what a great, hands-on Dad he is…and that he isn’t the type of guy to dump his kids on a babysitter or on Mom when he’s forced to do the shopping or some other household duty.

Granted my husband has taken on more since I have been ill, the majority of these errands and chores were done by him from the start. We both work. We both take care of the kids. We actually do share the household tasks. For real. He probably does way more dishes than I ever do, cooks more dinners, and definitely does more loads of laundry.

And this is just one example of why I married him…because he didn’t just talk the talk, he walked it by supporting his strong, career wife by making her a mother and changing just as many diapers, folding just as many shirts, and emptying the dishwasher just as many times.

He also does it without laying guilt on me. He sees it as his responsibility just as much as mine. It’s his job to raise the kids, scrubs the pots and pans, and go to work to bring home a paycheck. And since I have been sick, he’s pretty much turned into a superhero, doing all the everyday tasks as well as taking the kids to riding lessons, birthday parties, and everything in between.

Yes ladies, he’s my coupon hottie, spending his Sunday clipping the newspaper and buying extra paper towels when they are on sale and knowing exactly which Ben & Jerry’s to bring home to his wife.

But I think I might do the grocery shopping around here more often…if only to keep the mob of check-out girls in line. ;)

2011

Today my husband taught me how to live again.

Screw you 2010!!!! @aaronvest is safe and on the ground with his family

Having spent 2010 in and out of the hospital has left me in a constant state of fear. Fear the kids are suffering. Fear he is suffering. Fear of being a burden. Fear of dying. Fear of living as a sick person. Fear of not being able to work. Fear of not being able to … fill-in-the-blank…

So, as he does, our patriarch made an example of himself and jumped out of an airplane.

If you know him, and know us, this works perfectly. Despite my usual bravado, I rely on my best friend and partner in life to keep me grounded. He knew this terrified me, despite the two of us having jumped together before. He knew I was terrified something would go wrong. And why wouldn’t it? EVERYTHING has gone wrong in 2010. Tempting fate with a skydive seemed like asking for trouble.

But he stood firm. And I stood tall. Gifting him the jump for his birthday to show I would support him, even if I was against it. That I would make sure he got his jump, even if it was the last thing I wanted him to do. After all, we do things for those we love that we might not do otherwise. We want to make them happy. We want to give them everything their heart desires. We want them to have it all- regardless of our own feelings.

I have proof of that laying next to me right now. My sweet puppy that came into our lives this year during the worst of times. The dog he swore I’d never have. The dog I so desperately wanted but knew I’d never get, because he really did not want one. The dog that sits here now, snuggled against my side, wet nose on my knee.

I’d do anything to make this man happy. He’d do anything to make me happy.

So off to the airport we went. And out of the plane he fell. On the ground I fretted. And fussed. And fidgeted.

And then…nothing went wrong.

His words?

We Win.

2010-

You took my organs. You took my confidence. You took my livlihood. You took my sanity. You took my normalcy. You nearly took my life.

It’s over. You are done.

I’m still here. I’m taking everything back…keep the organs. Think of them as my parting gift of a bloodied year that tested us in every way imaginable. But it’s ok…

We Win.

I am going to live again.

Thank you, Aaron,  for reminding me how to live. How to live with meaning, with fun, and without fear.

Birthday Wishes: A Love Letter To My Husband

Tomorrow is my husband’s birthday.

Last year at this time I was dragging him to Vegas for an epic birthday party, complete with a suite and lots of booze. It was as if we knew the upcoming year would test us in so many ways and be so hard that we needed to let off some steam.

This year is different though. I will struggle to bake him a cake, as Lupus has made lifting my arms tough. The kids will make him home-made cards, and he’ll attend a work party for something totally unrelated and I’ll wait up for him to get home so I can kiss him goodnight.

Since his birthday last year he has taken the reigns of this household and become a superman of sorts. Juggling kids, work, and a very sick wife.

He’s managed it not just with ease, but with what he likes to call ‘style and grace.’ He has brought me bags to the hospital of mismatched socks, the wrong underwear, and lotion I didn’t even know we had under the cabinet. But damn if he didn’t try to get it right. He’s made sure the kids were properly dressed for school, even if the kindergartener insisted on wearing two different shoes and the 2nd grader refused to have his hair brushed.

He’s cooked us all dinner while playing silly games. Clucked like a chicken at the table to make us all laugh while Mom was in pain. And read, and read, and read out loud to us all as we cuddled in yet another hospital bed.

In this year I have seen many things. I have seen friends step up to aid my family, I have seen others retreat from the fierce reality that was our lives. But more than anything I have seen this man I married, this scruffy, once long-haired, punk rock boy… be the man he is destined to be.

He’s the guy that gives his wife airplane rides.

Its possible Aaron and I have gotten out of hand tonight

And then tells her how beautiful she is with an orange spa mask on her face, meant to calm the zits popping up from steroids and too much medication.

He’s the guy that insists we all cluck like chickens at the dinner table, and eyes me mischievously when he announces the Icelandic chicken goes BJORKBJORKBJORK.

He’s the guy that promises to spoon feed me pudding in my invalid-ness and whisper how much he still loves me, no matter what. And then write me this:

I will love you in a house.

And I will love you with a mouse.

And in a box.

And with a fox.

and when your funky.

and when I’m drunky.

If I get nothing else this awful year, if I get nothing else ever in this lifetime… I want my husband to get his wishes and dreams. No one deserves them more. And I am grateful every day for the amazing man by my side. Who I’ve watched come into his own over these past 15 years.

It’s sort of lame to say I’m proud of him…because I’m not sure pride is the right word.

I feel like I am witness to a great man. A good man. A man who values his family, and his friends, and his wife. And lives up to expectations where so many others fail. So many times we are disappointed by people. He’s not one of them. And I can confidently say after a year of hell, he never will be one of them.

So many times he could have easily and rightfully buckled under the pressure that was our year. Not only did he stand tall, but he rocked it. He managed to take care of the kids, the house, his job, and his very sick wife with laughter. Lots and lots of laughter. And love. Lots and lots of love.

When people come to visit our home, many of them leave saying the same thing:

There is a lot of love in that house

And they are right.

And it’s because of him.

Happy Birthday Aaron. My love. My hero. My husband. My Superman. My everything. May this next year bring back booze and parties and fun and even more laughter. And I’ll try to throw in hookers and donkeys and blow…but in the meantime I’ve arranged for you to go skydiving on December 31st, 2010. Because we’re ending this year by defying death.

Fitting.

Once Upon A Time …

There was a bride…

Getting ready

She was filled with hopes and dreams and wishes…

Vows

Vows were made. In sickness and in health. In good times and bad. The cake was cut. And the bride and groom set off on their life’s journey.
1st dance
Together.

The good times came. So did the health. The bad times came. So did the sickness. A life was built. A family grew.

He loves her...but you can see the evil there...

Together.

10 years have passed since the bride had every hope and wish and dream in her heart as she walked down an aisle.

TEN.

And she can say, without hesitation or doubt…All her dreams have come true.

Can't say we're ever at a loss for entertainment around here

Happy Anniversary honey. I love you.

Smooch.