The Years Fly By

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IMG_0025Today we celebrated my grandson Patrick’s first birthday. Of course first birthday parties are for family and friends; they’re a big hoopla and for a long time I didn’t understand why so many of us continue this rite of passage. But today it all became clearer.

One of my daughter’s long-standing friends, Stacey, was talking about how fast the year flew by, recalling how lucky a handful of us were to witness Jill giving birth to Patrick at home. My niece Nikki and her family were there. She was a bridesmaid at Jill’s wedding, and it was fun to see her reconnect with Stacey and another friend/bridesmaid, Nora.The opportunity to visit with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, two people I love dearly and simply don’t see enough, meant so much, too. They know Nikki and commented on how her kids are growing so quickly.

From Jill’s wedding through the pregnancy to Patrick’s arrival last February much changed among her friends and family, be it new jobs or new bosses, heartbreaks, more kids and any number of events that occur in such rapid succession when you’re in your 20s and 30s. In the older demographic that my in-laws and I represent, the change isn’t as frequent, but when it occurs it’s significant. We recently moved and that process filled a lot of the last year. They’re busy with a two-year-old and she’s a teacher—two huge challenges, especially if you’re dedicating your life to teaching students in the Chicago Public School system.

Birthday parties for one-year-olds are for friends and family who are busyFullSizeRender in the day-to-day of life but relish the chance to reconnect with those they love. They give us pause, allowing us to acknowledge, appreciate and catch up with the people we care about, to get a glimpse of their expanding worlds.

The year did fly by, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to recap those months. Patrick won’t remember, but everyone else in that room this afternoon will. Now I get it.

He Speaks for Himself

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His babble is adorable. His tears are heart-rending. One look and you go through every emotion in the most overwhelming way. Need I say more? Now this is how to start your week!

 

Patrick@9Mos.

Patrick Xavier Gattorna 9 whole months today!

p.s. it is also an excellent source for a writer with writer’s block. But now back to my homework.

The Endless Gift from Birthdays

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My granddaughter Caitlin turned 7 last week. The same week she started first grade. I’m not sure if physicists simply are keeping it on the QT, but unquestionably the world is spinning faster than ever. No way are there a full 365 days in a year anymore; time flies by way too fast to follow the traditional 12-month calendar.

Last week we celebrated at Wrigley Field. My daughter Jill and her husband outdid themselves. They treated us all to the Cub’s game. My stemanriques@wrigleypson and his three awesome kids joined us. My beautiful niece Nikki, her husband, their youngest daughter who looks so much like her mother that I still have goosebumps, and their son who’s six-months younger than Caitlin, came quite the distance to be there. Grandma and Grandpa G and Uncle Joey were there too. Our youngest daughter and her beau weren’t Cait:Avabecause I’m convinced they’re on a mission to redefine Type-A tendencies to the point wjason:brynleehere those of us who have them look like slackers. But that’s for another post.

We grabbed some pizza  and cake afterwards, and I’m sure we were all passed out before the 10 pm news.

But, as my avid readers know, my daughters are rock stars, so today Jill took Cait and four other little princesses for mani-pedis and then dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. We always had great birthday parties for our girls. Jill’s outdone us already. But I don’t believe it’s a competitive thing. Last weekend was family, and I think Cait caitmanipediwas fine with just that. But I know my daughters, and I can imagine Jill deciding Caitlin had to have a celebration with her friends, and that’s what they did this afternoon.

Having children is a lesson on the infinite nature of love. I felt it for Jill. When I was pregnant with Jackie, I was actually scared I wouldn’t have enough love left. How absurd does that sound? And how exhilarating to learn love is infinite. But as the years pass, we’re tired and frantic trying to raise a family successfully, pay bills, and those love lessons get lost in the chaos. Then along come grandchildren. My love for Caitlin reminds me of the love I have for my daughters and overwhelms me all over again. I love Nikki and her children, Chris and his kids just as much. I simply just don’t have the opportunity to spend as much time with them.

That has to change. This gift of infinite love is nothing to recall occasionally. It’s something we must revel in every moment and every opportunity. The value in and beauty of life exists in that which all the money and success can’t buy. It comes from a heart with the ability to contain inexhaustible compassion.

You Know, We’re Just Passing Through

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In the history of the universe, or at least the galaxy as we perceive it, we’re molecules hurtling in and then out of life in a blink. Sure we’re a big part of the world to family, friends and others we interact with. But on a planet of over 7 billion, only a relative handful remain internationally renown for centuries, and that takes into consideration cave paintings and Gutenberg’s press, which allowed us to communicate fame and infamy in the modern world.

No immediate family remain who were the center of my universe when I began my journey. Thankfully there’s extended family I rely on. Still, I work hard to keep my original family alive in my heart and memory because they continue impacting my life. I wish the family I created could know the ones responsible for me. Maybe because of the Depression and World War II, my grandparents and parents seized their days so meaningfully. They’re often called the Greatest Generation, and the title is well-earned from my perspective. Acutely aware of the past, they nonetheless lived and reveled in the moment. I remember them partying, dancing and celebrating with gusto while working hard to create a better world for those they brought into it.

What strikes me more as the years pass was their selflessness. I learned of incredible sacrifices they made, rarely through their admission but from others. I’m talking about single decisions that were daily life-altering acts of kindness and compassion done because they were the right thing to do, no matter the hardships or lifelong consequences. I’m not talking about the courageous men and women who defend our country every day, rather regular people like my mom and grandmother who lived together in a studio apartment during The War. For as long as I remember, they each recalled what sound like desperate days as some of the greatest of their lives. My grandma remembered food lines. My mom, graduating high school and losing all the boys to the war. But their stories were of perseverance and making the most out of horrible situations. It wasn’t sacrifice then; it was life.

That doesn’t seem as commonplace today. We weigh decisions that might impact our life more heavily. Many seem to have surrendered the greater good for their own. Look no further than our country’s political dysfunction. Locally and globally, think about the hardships of the masses, be it economic or health-related, and the apathy and even open hostility toward those suffering. There’s famine, genocide, disease, environmental chaos—all sorts of atrocities happening among the 7 billion around the globe, and it feels like finger-pointing and victim-blaming trump humanity. The bigotry, racism, entitlement, insensitivity and downright viciousness that flood news cycles leaves me sad and disappointed.

My point? We are just passing through, and I think we should find out why and pursue it with the same zeal as my parents and so many of the Greatest Generation. Our passions and making the most of what we have are the greatest motivators. Following them make us better friends, parents, colleagues. They make us better human beings because we’re happier doing what we love. More important―call me naive―I believe we’re happier when we’re doing the right thing. It’s easy to be a cynic, complain, pass judgment on others as if we’re the standard to which others should hope to become. Despite what we may believe, we’re not going to remain top-of-mind to others very long. Gutenberg, Edison, and other inspirational, religious, political and humanitarian icons are the exceptions.

It’s rare to leave a lasting mark on the world once we’ve passed through, and even harder when those who remember us join us wherever we end up when we complete this life. Maybe we can’t change the world, but we can make our small piece of it safer, kinder and even happier by appreciating what we have and the uniqueness of those around us. What’s to lose by giving it a shot?