My Caitlin and the new Caitlyn

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Well, she really isn’t mine, she’s my 7-year-old granddaughter and next to her mom and aunt, my favorite person in the world. Thus, for some reason I was particularly psyched the transgendered Bruce Jenner came out to the world yesterday as Caitlyn, because despite different spelling, the name is analogous with someone very special.

My Cait slept over the night of the famous Sawyer/Jenner interview and she only joined me watching it near the end. I hadn’t asked her mom if it was okay for her to watch it, but my heterosexual married daughter who works, has two sons and Cait, actively participates in the city’s LGBT rowing team, in fact, she’s on the board. A few months ago she told me a long-term goal is to establish a suburban LGBT community center where kids can take part in sports, get tutoring, make friends, talk to therapists—all in a safe environment that they wouldn’t even recognize as “different” just because the kids feel different.

Talk about special. I couldn’t be prouder although I take no credit. When Cait’s mom was born, I felt like she already knew all the rules. She slept through the night right away, even crawled to her crib if we didn’t get her into bed early enough. She’d wake about 8:30 am and nap between All My Children and General Hospital—three hours where I could satisfy one of my biggest vices: soap operas. Cait’s mom is my oldest, the one I was least experienced to parent. I’m sure I spoke way too early about boys, birth control, drugs, drinking, all the scary topics I addressed as easily as talking about Lindsay Lohan in “The Parent Trap,” mostly as she sat in the backseat and we headed somewhere. Now I estimate in an earlier life she probably lived  until around 17 or so because when she reached that age she started acting like a normal vs. an all-knowing teen. Since I wasn’t an experienced mom, I didn’t pick up on that nuance until in her early 20s she told me she was pregnant and keeping the baby.

They didn’t marry, but moved in together. They didn’t last as a family unit, but tried. He moved away and sadly died unexpectedly a little over a year ago. Caitlin was devastated; daughter’s love dads just because. Fortunately, Cait’s mom met a man who loved her and Cait equally, married and have had two sons. Cait loves being an older sibling. She misses her dad, yet has nothing but love and respect for her stepdad, sometimes even calling him “dad” now, but only when their family is alone together.

Regardless of the circumstances, I can’t imagine a world without Cait. It’s so much brighter because of her. Right now she’s about three feet of pure love. She doesn’t resent her new brothers six and seven years younger and all the attention they get; she’s never jealous about what others have. Like her mom, she seems like this isn’t her first go at the world.

She had lots of questions the last 20 minutes or so of the Sawyer/Jenner interview, and I talked to her just like I once did her mom. “He wants to be a girl, grandma?” she asked. “Why?” I said, “Listen to what they’re saying Cait. The blonde woman is trying to find out why, too.” After a few more whys I asked, “You know Caitlin that it doesn’t matter what we look like on the outside, it’s how we feel on the inside, right? He looks like a man but has always felt like a girl. So why shouldn’t he be happy and be a girl?” I told her there were lots of boys and girls of all ages going through the same feelings, but we’re learning from him what it’s like.

She saw him pick out his favorite little black dress, talk to his sister and heard his mom. “Is it going to hurt anyone, Grandma?” she asked. “He’s going to have some operations so he looks more like a girl, and he might be sore for a bit, but it doesn’t seem to me that he’s hurting anyone. I don’t think we can make anyone else happy unless we’re happy, do you?” I asked her.

She thought about it for a minute or so, then concluded, “You’re right Grandma. I’m sad if you’re not happy.”

These are the moments that make me feel like the luckiest person in the world. People may grow tired hearing me talk about my rock star daughters and now rock star grandchildren. But as long as they’re spreading all this greatness, I’m going to keep talking. The world needs more of it, and I’m surrounded by an abundance. Let the new and 7-year old Cait’s be reminders that there’s so much beauty, love and compassion in the truth. Simply revel in the things that do us no harm.

Even a friend’s published work is an unbelievable experience

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The other day my girlfriend Emily Thornton Calvo picked me up from a doctor’s appointment. My husband was leaving town so he could only drop me off. Both daughters were working. For some odd reason, Emily actually had an hour break in her otherwise insanely busy schedule. And this, mind you, is post treatment for both cancer and leukemia. Look no further than Emily for an example on how to live life past the fullest, making over-doing it look like a vacation scenario.

As we headed home, she reached into the backseat and handed IT to me. Her New Book! Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd is a compilation of her insightful, eloquent poetry honed over decades of life-transforming experiences and more recent watercolor artwork, both of which present a sample of beautiful in the otherwise crazy world we inhabit. If you’re a Poetry Slam supporter, you must know her work through her Sunday evening readings at the Green Mill Lounge. Her artwork is already so spot-on, she’s had several successful art shows, too.

She’d been talking about putting the two together into a book for a while. Recently she revisited visual art through watercolors, and I am proud to have one of her masterpieces on my wall. Emily’s no rookie, having already published two other books with a co-author, so she’s well awareLCOA of the time and challenge of taking the traditional route to publish her latest creation.

Therefore, in 2014 when Emily applied for an individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events and the Illinois Arts Council, it’s really not that much of a leap to believe she won the grant. As a result, Lending Color to the Otherwise Absurd became her latest masterpiece within one year, self-published through the generous support of this Arts’ program.

I held the book. I propped it up between the shift and dashboard to stare at it. Then I held it again, until we reached my front door. To know Emily is already a gift. To understand and access her vision of life in various stages is such a huge and special expression of the world  that only her words within the pages of this book begin to articulate it.

I can only hope to one day have a book of my own, capturing so many universal truths, to share with others. This creates a standard tough to achieve, but still worth the effort. To journey through all the physical, emotional, wonderful and agonizing experiences my friend has conquered, and to capture them with such presence of mind, is a rare talent. As is Emily.

The book will be available in print and electronically on Amazon and on her website, emilycalvo.com, later in October. It’s a holiday present no-brainer just as it’s a must-have for anyone searching for some sanity in this otherwise crazy world we call home.

I’m so happy and proud of you, Emily. And so honored to call you my friend. Congratulations!

Those Short Summer Breaks

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I have a princess visiting over this and next week. She’s everything one imagines of royalty: beautiful, poised, self-confident, someone you’re proud to say you know and be seen with. Of course, as is also true of royalty, she can be high maintenance. She prefers to be served her favorite food on her schedule. She counts on her wardrobe clean and at her disposal. She enjoys books read to her, arbitrary trips to her favorite stores, mani-pedis and at least one person with or near her at all times.

Those who know me have already guessed I’m talking about my six-year-old granddaughter, Princess Caitlin. There’s a three-week gap between camp and first grade. Her mom, the original princess and my oldest daughter, Jill, has taken off the third week. She’s excited to get her pix1354681652941daughter new supplies and wardrobe for the start of school, 12 years that neither of them realize zip by in such a distorted span of time it defies any normal understanding we have of days and years.

After all, it was only a few years ago we were preparing Caitlin’s mom and aunt for grammar school, then high school and finally college. And now they’re out in the world doing remarkable things without holding our hand or calling us for permission or even advice. So when Jill asked the family if anyone might be available to watch Caitlin during the two weeks between camp and her week off, I didn’t hesitate to ask for every one of those days.

Caitlin grows more independent by the minute. She prefers Justice, a clothing story, over toy stores, Buffalo Wild Wings over Chuck E. Cheese. She’ll ask for Nutella and crackers too close to dinner time. She has known every word of Olivia Helps with Christmas for at least three years, but she asks me to read it to her all the time. And if I step out of the room for more than a few minutes, a sing-song, “Grandma where are you? Are you coming back?” is routine.

Sure we’re spoiling her. But she’s a loving, caring, kind little person who somehow also knows this time together is special and doesn’t expect everyday life to be as accommodating. At the same time, her grandfather and I know all too well that being able to make this remarkable little girl content so easily is a finite ability. Happiness will be more complicated, her needs something only she can find a way to achieve.

Thankfully, Jill agreed to let us revel selfishly in the little time we have left to soak in all that is Caitlin, fighting over our own time to spend with her. Soon enough we’ll revisit paddy cake paddy cake and Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with our new grandson while Caitlin follows her mom and aunt out into the bigger world where greatness awaits her, too.

The G-Word

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Hundreds of emotions rushed through me when my daughter announced she was pregnant with her first child. Her health, age, future, childbirth, anything a mom can fret about simmered within me throughout her pregnancy. The biggest surprise, though, was the difficult time I was having accepting the reality that I was old enough for grandparenthood.

If that doesn’t prove “youth” is relative, I don’t know what does. As if I couldn’t have passed for a grandmother without my daughters having children. I’d already had practice. My stepson had three handsome kids of his own who I adore. I spent a great deal of time with the oldest when he was young, and it remains among my greatest experiences. Gus is the first little person I didn’t give birth to who enjoyed being with me as much as I loved being with him. Nonetheless, he’s a reminder my husband is older than me, and another Grandma rightfully ranks first in all their big hearts. Bottom line: I avoided the “I’m-a-grandma-now” reality check.

Daughter #2, Niece, Daughter #1, aka Mom, and Cait

Like the teenager who knows everything, I was an early-in-my-50’s mom who still had much to learn but didn’t think so when daughter #1 announced her daughter was due in September, 2007. I was abuzz with busy―baby showers, learning the latest in all things baby, and calling friends, most of who held their Grandma comments to themselves, although I could see the smirk in their eyes.

My daughter allowed me to be with her when Caitlin arrived. I was overwhelmed remembering all the love and happiness greeting my oldest when she was born. My parents and I spent years staring at her, awake or asleep. My youngest daughter, Caitlin’s new aunt, joined us in the birthing room soon afterwards, and I remembered how excited my mom and dad were at her arrival, especially my dad who’d finally slowed down enough to revel in all things infant and toddler. Every mispronounced word worthy of a story, told repeatedly. Then in came my niece, and I relived the joy my grandmother, mom, dad, sister and I felt when she made her debut―the first girl born near enough to hover over since my birth.

I held Caitlin close for a few minutes, introducing her to these women whose blood she shares. I told her about the long line of strong women preceding her, a tribute to those who instilled a love so powerful that those remaining were present now. The notion of missing even the first few moments of this new life unthinkable to each of us who instantly became part of her story through no choice of her own.

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Grandma and Cait

What an aha moment for this mom. Just when you think you’ve experienced all the great stuff in life―job promotions, marriage, rock star kids, beautiful homes, and even the significance of surviving the big 5-0―it’s not a leap to believe any big, magical milestone moments might be behind you.

Silly, inexperienced me. It took a year before Cait could say “Gamma.” Now that she’s getting ready for 1st grade, she can pronounce, spell and read Grandma as her mother, aunt and great-aunt did before her. And, I learned that just when I thought there were no longer any more big life lessons left,  being a grandmother is perhaps the most definitive life-affirming experience.

Caitlin and now her little brother multiple infinitely the profound love I felt when I gave birth to their mom. I don’t think either my very tired and hard-working daughter and equally exhausted niece can process the concept of so much love. Nor can my youngest who will be a terrific mother after she ventures down the many paths still before her. They have plenty of time. But this mom, who’s more motivated than ever to stay healthy to experience her baby’s babies, too, alternately laughs and cries at that naïve 50-something woman who feared the thought of being called Grandma.

It’s only when we stop learning new things every day that we genuinely have something to fear.

The Benefits of Children Duplicating

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Recently I asked my oldest daughter if her oldest child, 6-yr-old Caitlin, could stay over one more night. I adore Cait like I love her mother. She said “Yes,” and I continued, making sure she didn’t mind her dad and I consistently stealing her away. They have a 3-month-old son now, and she said, “No, we don’t mind at all. But I hope one day you’ll do the same with Patrick.” The “Of course,” was out before she finished the sentence. I don’t get to see much of Jill now, or at least not enough of her. It dawned on me as we spoke how much I appreciate her reproducing since she is so busy with her own life now. Aha—the very core of why grandchildren are so wonderful: duplicating so grandparents can still hold on to our kids! So I thanked Jill for that, and, naturally, she laughed, reassured I am becoming a crazy old woman 🙂 Interestingly, her daughter looks, acts and feels just like Jill’s younger sister and our only other daughter, Jackie. It’s irony at it’s peak. They’re eight-years apart, and she thought a baby sister was great for Jackie’s first maybe three weeks. Jill then caught on we all wouldn’t be spending the future staring solely at her anymore. Not until they became adults have they learned to love and appreciate each other. I. Am. So. Relived! Cait sees the likeness with her aunt as well. When Cait was three and four she’d nab pictures we have around our house of Jackie, thinking they are her. Not that we don’t have dozens of her everywhere, too. I’d come home and hear them arguing over them, and the fact that “Pox,” (Papa X, my husband’s ‘grandpa name’ as translated by Cait), is Jackie’s dad and Cait’s grandfather. Cait wasn’t going to share him any more than Jackie. Two stubborn girls, aunt and niece, mirroring each other to such an incredible degree. Incredulous, even scary. Blood is thick. The capacity to hold people together as family  astounds me. I’ve written before about my family of origin all being gone, so watching future generations fascinates and holds so much meaning to me. Not only is Cait like Jackie. But Jackie has so many of my mom’s characteristics, I’ve noticed. How I wish my daughters remembered my parents. Their love for those two girls underscore their infinite love for me. They taught me more about love in their way-too-early passing than I would’ve learned in a long lifetime with them. That fact gives me no solace. But I can’t dwell. I hear my mom’s “knock it off” from wherever she is. Yep, blood is thick and omniscient.

My Heart Will Be Your Shelter

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On Wednesday and Thursday I had the all too rare opportunity to care for my new grandson, Patrick Xavier. As I sat in my daughter’s apartment, I recognized for the first time she’s creating a home like the one in which she grew up. Books everywhere. Family pictures lining the hallway and on other horizontal surfaces. Candles and “stuff” that obviously have meaning for my 6-yr. old granddaughter as well as my son-in-law and daughter.

It felt beyond validating. I love every minute she lets me into her world. I felt so comfortable sitting there, and looking around I realize part of that is because her idea of home has only changed location.

With a kindergartner and 3-month old, the apartment has its own heartbeat―so full of life and love. Tough to keep neat with both parents’ working so I am more than thrilled to be able to help a little, folding laundry, emptying the dishwasher and anything else I can find.

While doing so, I noticed a sign her husband made for their wedding. They did a lot of DIY stuff, and it all held special meaning, but I hadn’t noticed this before.

It read: “My heart will be your shelter.”

It touches me to my core. What a beautiful arrangement of words creating such a loving, thoughtful promise to my daughter. And in so doing, it comforts me, too. I know he is a genuinely kind man. But I don’t know many men who would take the time to create it and then put it into writing for all the wedding attendees to see.

I’m so proud and so happy for my daughter. She’s in the tornado season of her life, thus she can’t yet see how blessed she is―not that she’s complaining. She’s doing a terrific job; she’s simply tired. I think back on all I did while raising two daughters, and I’m amazed at the energy it took. Raising a family is not for the older crowd or the weak of heart.

But sharing some of those moments, seeing some of her past worthy enough to be replicated, and watching what a wonderful mother she is are priceless gifts. Thank you, honey, for sharing them. Happy Mother’s Day. You’re doing a wonderful job, and I hope I’m around when you have the time and breathing space to look back and know for yourself.

I have a younger daughter, too. Her future is no less limitless; they are both rock stars, and each make my life complete. You’ll hear more about her on this blog, too. But this seems most appropriate for Mother’s Day.

And by the way, although I never thought of putting it on a sign, my heart will always be their shelters, too.

There’s no place like home…

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There are only two young women who can beat Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz” in reciting that line with the conviction of every single one of their cells. They are my daughters. They miss their childhood home, surrendered to the audacity of their growing up and out, and leaving their parents in a Very Big Building with bills reminding them regularly of the upside of downsizing. (Wow! I’ve gotten pretty good at turning the complaint around 🙂

Clockwise from left: Papa, 661 South Ave. in Sycamore,

Mama and Jönköping, Sweden in the center

Anyway, I’ve decided that’s not true, or rather, they’re not alone. I must add my mom, her cousins, my Grandma and her siblings, and myself, who feel the same about my great-grandparents house in Sycamore, IL. As Nassau Ave. is to my my daughters, South Ave. in Sycamore is to my family of origin. Those lucky enough to have grown up within the walls of those homes each love them as much as any other member of their families.

Only a few from the South Ave. era remain to vouch, but agree they would. In fact, my mom had a picture painted by our neighbor, and it sits above my great-grandma Mama and her husband Papa, and the town he immigrated from in Jönköping, Sweden. They follow me in all of my homes. And in so doing, they’re a daily reminder that without question homes are where our hearts are, not where the buildings are built.

We’ll have more addresses between then and now. They’ll all hold important memories because they’ll all have the benefit of our family and our love―captured slices forever only ours to reminisce. But that lesson comes with hindsight.

What lingers to my daughters from their youth in Norwood Park and mine in Sycamore are the magical moments of childhood. I know that for sure for many reasons. But a big one is because no matter that we moved, when one of those beautiful young women come “home,” plops down on the comfy chair, and sighs, “it’s so nice to be home,” that moment and my heart overflow with more love and gratitude than one can imagine is containable even though we’re not on Nassau Ave.

Yes, I know they’re expressing relief from a long day or week, and they may not think they mean it literally, but I know one day they will understand it wasn’t Nassau in Norwood Park. Just as my mother understood it wasn’t just South Ave. in Sycamore, but the lessons we learned there.

Rarely a day goes by when I don’t realize just how smart my mother was. Her asking our neighbor, Nancy Cassato, to capture memories by painting that home on South Ave. becomes a brilliant reminder that our memories and all that is so meaningful truly reside in the heart, not solely in a building.

The picture Mrs. Cassato painted keeps not just Sycamore alive for me. I look at it and always also think of our neighbor and her family and those memories that are no less as enchanting and hold even more recollections of wonderful times. Not from within the walls of 661 South Avenue, but ones that began from there, where that love was first nurtured. Home is where the heart is heard.