The Greatest Gift

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Not a day goes by that I don’t miss my mom. The lingering scent of Chanel No. 5, a reference to Gone with the Wind, a sip of scotch and water and now baking Christmas cookies—those and a million other prompts bring her top-of-mind even though she’s been gone nearly two decades.

I think of how much she’d love her great-grandchildren. She adored our daughters for the too short number of years she knew them. She was as wonderful a grandmother as she was a mom. My niece who has a handful of years over my oldest daughter remembers her the way I do. To share memories of her with my niece is priceless. She’s a reminder that those recollections are real and not just exaggerated reminiscence of the years when I, too, had the title of daughter.

Everything I know about being a mom and a grandmother are from lessons I learned from my mom. She had a huge heart, and she shared it mightily and without condition. Maybe that’s because she was so close to her mom, my grandma Toto. Toto left her husband when my mom was very young. He hit her, once. She wasn’t going to wait and see if there was more to come. Instead, she got a job in the men’s department at Sears Roebuck & Co. on States Street in Chicago and kept it over 25 years, eventually transferring to a mall in the suburbs when she moved in with us. One day my mom and Toto went downtown to cash in some of the Sears stock she’d been accumulating. It happened to be on a day the stock split. My mom and I got new cars, my sister a down-payment for a house. And Toto still had money left. They laughed about that day all their lives. Sharing it was never in question. It’s what they did.

My mom and Toto lived together most of their lives. During the war when all the husbands and dads were gone they had a studio apartment on Hampton Court in Lincoln Park. After that, Toto went back to Sycamore to live with her mom, my great-grandma Mama, until she got ill. Then they both moved in with our family in the suburbs of Chicago.

“Room in the heart, room in the home” is a saying I grew up hearing and my family exemplified day in and day out all of my life together with them.

Sometimes I’m sad my girls didn’t get a chance to really know my mom—and my my dad whose heart was just as large. I know they’d understand me better. And I’m sure they’d have a clearer idea of what I miss so much some times, particularly around the holidays. But then they too would feel that big hole in their hearts, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

It’s bittersweet to be blessed with such wonderful family only to loose them too early. Yet, I wouldn’t give up the memories and the lessons I learned from Sycamore and Glenview for anything. Funny how life works. Their loss is indescribably painful, but everything about their lives was soothing, healing. I was blessed to be born into that family and the cousins who remain are powerful reminders of my great fortune.

I only hope I can do justice to those who filled my life with so much compassion and helped guide me into my future with such a strong moral compass. While the first to admit they were far from perfect, they were the first to offer all they had to those they loved. What more can we ask from our parents? As if that alone isn’t an incredible gift. Now as a veteran parent I understand I lucked out big time. If I can be half as missed and memorable I’ll have succeeded. Even at that measure, those are huge shoes to fill.

Maybe that’s why not a day goes by when I don’t miss my mom and dad, Toto and Mama, and all the others who loved and laughed and made the most of every day they had.

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.