Wednesday, December 30, 2015

our sergeant major

My mother called this morning to tell me that her big brother, our Uncle Bernie, passed away this morning.  From all the stories that I've heard through my mother, as far as brothers go, Uncle Bernie was one of the greats.  He was the third in line of nine children, and for her entire life, he absolutely adored my mother who is number nine.


Uncle Bernie doted on my mother when she was a child, and fiercely supported her during the painful divorce from my father.  Because of his kindness and compassion, Unk Bernie will always have a special place in my mother's heart. And my heart, too.

I've written about Uncle Bernie before here and here and here and here and here.

Legend has it, he was the youngest Sergeant Major in the history of the United States Marine Corp.  He enlisted when he was a teenager, during World War II, and because of his work ethic, tenacity, and fiery spirit, he rapidly moved up the ranks and achieved Sergeant Major by the age of 21.   He was at the infamous Battle of Guadalcanal and has long had the reputation of being tough as nails. 

When I introduced him to Charlie, many years ago, at his daughter Jackie's wedding in 1992, I told my then boyfriend that my Uncle "was a former Marine." The words hadn't even completely left my mouth when my uncle sternly corrected me, "Young Lady, once a Marine ... ALWAYS a Marine!" 

(Thank you Uncle Bernie ... I've never made that same faux pas again!)

When he first ventured in to the world of personal computers nearly two decades ago, Uncle Bernie's email address was SgtMaj21, and he'd often forward jokes, stories, or various anecdotes with a sentence or two about how much he was enjoying this "new technology!" We swapped emails for the next few years, and I'm honored that my then 83-year old Uncle left a comment on my very first blog post in 2006.

Uncle Bernie and his beautiful wife, Aunt Lorraine, had eight children themselves and after the triplets were born, they sent me a lovely note to express how proud they were of triplets in our family, and to warn me ahead of time, that they'd be bragging about them on our behalf.


During his time in the USMC, he was stationed in San Diego for a while, and would tell me how much he loved the brilliant blue sky against the rugged desert mountains.  He once told me the story of a plane that he took off from Coronado Island that crashed very soon after lift off.  He and the pilot parachuted to safety, but the plane is still somewhere off the coast, in the depths of the Pacific.

Uncle Bernie is one of the greatest generation.  He was a great Marine, a great brother, and a great Uncle - who was the inspiration for my brother Frank, to enlist in the Marines as well.  But more than any of that, he was a great husband and a great father and I know this because his family is solid and that doesn't happen by chance.

Tonight, it is my heart felt prayer that our fiery Uncle Bernie's spirit is once again united with his beloved, Lorraine, and his daughter, Andrea. While we will mourn his loss, we will also celebrate the amazing life that he has led ... an abundantly full and predominantly healthy life that spanned 93.5 wonderful years.


Semper Fi, Uncle Bernie.  I've always been so proud to be your niece and have often bragged on your behalf, too.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

the texas polar bear plunge

When I went on my solo-house hunting trip to Texas this past June, I assured Charlie and the children that I would find a house with a pool.  As luck would have it, our pool has an adjoining hot tub and I'm happily surprised at the amount of use they receive.  Even as the temperature has continued to drop, Charlie swam in the pool, nightly, through October.  But now that the air temperature is in the 50's range, and the pool temperature is in the low 60's range ... we haven't been using the pool at all.

Until tonight. 

After sitting in the hot tub for all of five minutes, the boys decided that they would jump in to the pool which was frigid cold, and swim one full lap.  Charlie led the charge, followed by his two thrill-seeking sons.  Here's Henry paddling and kicking as fast as his little limbs can manage:


Meanwhile, the girls stayed in the 103 degree hot tub because while we love a challenge, we're not totally crazy.  And given the option of being miserable and cold ... or happy and warm, we unanimously opted for the latter.  Must be something about the XX chromosome.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

it came upon a midnight clear

This time of the year is always magical.  But this year, the lights are a little brighter ... the songs are a little merrier ... and the feeling is just a lot more holy.

All the pathology reports are back and the right side tumor was negative.  My healing is progressing - slowly but surely - and I'm grateful for family, friends, and joy.   I've been like George Bailey, smiling from ear to ear, hugging my children and husband at every possible moment, and winking at the heavens every time I hear a bell ring.

"Atta boy, Clarence. ATTA BOY!" 

When my mother was here, in between working with the children on their knitting...


And playing games of Connect Four ...


Mom took on the task of wrapping all of our December books for us while the children were in school.


Each night this month, we've read a page from our Advent book, and unwrapped a Christmas book while the excitement has been steadily, steadily, growing.


Last year at this time, William and I had "the talk" about Santa.  And this past October, as I was tucking the girls in to bed one night, they asked about Santa.  They'd already had several questions about Jackson the Elf (including why they found him in our Virginia closet this past summer before our move?!), and after hemming and hawing, I told them the truth about the Man in Red, just as I had told their brother.

I also let them know that although William knew, Henry didn't and it was very important for us to preserve the magic for him.

Even though the older kids KNOW the truth, the girls choose not to BELIEVE the truth, about Jackson or Santa, which is 100% fine by me.  If they want to keep writing letters to Santa, and excitedly hunt around the house each morning for the Elf alongside Henry, I'm more than happy to oblige.

Now before I go any further, it's important to mention that last year we put the triplets in braces.

I'd seriously debated putting Elizabeth in, because she was still sucking her thumb and I didn't want to put for the effort (or money), if she wasn't committed to having straight teeth.  But she promised me.  Crossed her heart and pinky swear'd and all of that.  No surprise to anyone (least of all me), she didn't give up sucking her thumb, because she couldn't function without Bunny.

So this year the braces came off, and the thumb is still in and I'm again reminded how the wise do not trust their children with a secret, nor make deals with said juveniles.  I've also been frequently encouraging Elizabeth to try and go a day or more without Bunny and thus, thumb sucking.  Because the only time she sucks her thumb is when she has Bunny.

So this week, Jackson the Elf - who let me remind you, the triplets know is not real - hijacked Bunny.  When we woke up on Sunday morning,  as I posted on Twitter, Jackson was perched way on top of the kitchen cabinets, with Bunny in his clutches.  We laughed and laughed, thinking how funny it was that Bunny would get a ride to the North Pole and meet Santa.

Everyone laughed, including Elizabeth.

Jackson our Elf-on-the-Shelf has taken a hostage. Looks like Bunny is going to the North Pole...!
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I'm thinking how great it would be if Bunny appears at the bottom of Elizabeth's stocking on Christmas morn, smelling of peppermint and wearing a little red scarf.

I've got it all planned out. 

But the next day, when Jackson appeared on a chandelier still clutching Bunny, it wasn't funny anymore and Elizabeth wanted Bunny back.  Now. Now. Now.

On Monday, Henry sneaks in to our bedroom closet and discovers (almost) the entire unwrapped present stash which had been hidden beneath blankets.  Fortunately, we intercepted him before he gave a FULL REPORT to his siblings. We immediately sit the children down and talk to them about the excitement and anticipation of Christmas, the element of surprise, and the feeling of magic.  Much of that will disappear if they are sneaky, so please let's not ruin the surprise, or we'll have no choice but donate all those toys. And they'll get coal.

Charlie takes off to bring Henry to a birthday party, and I'm home with the the trio and we're sitting down at the table, beneath Jackson (and Bunny) to work on math.  While I'm all for sleeping in, and watching movies, and playing nonstop ... I'm also an advocate for keeping their minds sharp.  At least a few times during their break from school,  I'll have them write in their journals and work on IXL.  (If you have children and haven't yet discovered IXL, discover it now ... it's the best online math program I've found!)

William and Carolyn plow through their math, no problem.  Elizabeth, who was off to a good start and is fully capable of doing her math, starts to slip.  She becomes distracted and wants Bunny back. Her bottom lip comes out, as I'm telling her that first and foremost, legend has it we aren't supposed to touch the Elf.  Also, she promised me she'd stop sucking her thumb if we put her in braces and more than a year later - she is still sucking her thumb.  And then the tears start to roll. And roll.  

And roll. 

I'm probably going to do a dismal job of explaining what an overly dramatic tween is like.  But if you have - or have ever had one - you might understand.  This may come as a surprise, but my Elizabeth, my precious sweet child that I adore more than life itself,  is one of the most overly dramatic tweens that has ever lived.  At least,  she eclipses and then repeatedly orbits her identically aged tween siblings. As I've previously conveyed, one of her nicknames is Loki, because of the chaos she will intentionally cause.

I know there is a reason behind this irrational behavior, and I'm working on that tirelessly. The cure involves a lot of one-on-one time, patience, and love, love, love.

You know, the key ingredients to parenting, or life, in general.

But there we are on Monday, the Winter Solstice - the triplets and me.  Christmas music is playing in the background, cheery sparkling lights are on throughout the house, the smell of pumpkin spice muffins fills the air.  Carolyn and William have finished their math, and are writing to their Compassion friends, and Elizabeth is now on the brink of a seizure because her Bunny - which she knows is safe, and will come back to her, is currently in the clutches of a fictious Elf, above her.

After a few minutes of trying to logically work through the situation and fairy tale consequences, my patience meter - along with the patience meters of William and Carolyn - was tapped out.  I reached up and grabbed Jackson off the chandelier, and pulled Bunny out of his arms as a look of horror swept across Elizabeth's face.

Handing Elizabeth Bunny, I took a deep breath and said, "Elizabeth, how else would I get Bunny down if I didn't touch Jackson? You knew that this would happen...."

She throws her hands over her face and continues to cry, "YOU RUINED THE MAGIC! YOU RUINED THE MAGIC!"



The one who is slowly recovering from brain surgery and has done everything within my ability to make this Christmas a special one?? 

Suspecting that I might be trespassing in the parental fail zone from which there is very seldom any return,  I had an out of body experience and watched in disbelief as a mother who looked just like me went in for the field goal and dropped kicked that Elf across the living room.

Mrs. Clause shoots ... and scores.

After a brief stay in the Elf hospital, Jackson is back to work today, Bunny is MIA, and I'm reminded how fiercely human we all are.  Thank goodness for apologies and forgiveness.

And every so often ... egg nog with a little spot of brandy.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

hark, the herald angels sing!

I've held off on updating my blog for the past few weeks because:

1) Recovering from surgery has really taken it out of me...


2) I didn't have any news to share because the pathology report wasn't back yet. 

But today at 5:09 PM, my doctor's office finally called ... after we've called them every single day for the past six days because the results were supposed to be in last week ... and I was told that the preliminary pathology report shows that the tumor they removed was benign.  They're now sending it off to other laboratories (Baylor and MD Anderson) to confirm the results.  

While we're waiting for those reports to come back, and hopefully validate the initial results, I'd like to take a quick moment to reflect on the past few weeks.  


My sister Eileen flew in on Monday, two days before the operation, to lend her moral support.  It was so awesome to have her here, not just because I love my sister and appreciated having her nearby ... but also, she totally helped the children prepare for their 5th grade Science benchmark test.  She also helped with Math. And Social Studies. And Language Arts. And laundry.  She deserves not only a Sister Award, but an Awesome Angel Aunt Homework award. 


Also, before I completely forget, I need to memorialize how when we arrived for surgery on Wednesday morning, as I was signing in, the receptionist looked at Eileen and Charlie and said something to the effect of "How nice it is that both of your parents are with you! Will they be remaining here during the entire operation?" 

Once I gained my composure from the long pause, followed by the hilarious outburst of laughter at my sister and husband's expressions ... I was reading and initialing my surgical orders, which indicated that I needed this brain surgery procedure because my symptom was, and I quote, "Tumor causing giddiness."  

I looked at Eileen and Charlie and said, "Hey Mom and Dad!  Who knew giddiness was a medical condition?!"  Funny moments abound! 

The surgery went well, the right side tumor came out with no apparent problem - and post op, I actually scoffed at the month supply of narcotic pain medication and anti-nausea medication that they prescribed for me.  Being the daughter of a pharmacist, and sister of two pharmacists, it's probably odd that I'm so opposed to taking medication unless absolutely necessary. 

Let's just say THANK GOD Charlie had the prescriptions filled, because within two days - once all the meds they'd given me along with my anesthesia were out of my system - I was a pill popping fool.  And then I was a napping fool because narcotics tend to make you very, very sleepy.  I can't say I remember a lot other than my wonderfully soft pillow between November 20 and December 10th.  

Yes, I know, I know it's not yet December 10th ... but I suspect even this time will be a blur to me because I'm still on pain and anti-nausea medicine. 

Scrolling through photos that the children took using my phone, I see that William polished off a half gallon of egg nog and is preparing himself for Bachelorhood.  


And I do recall hearing that Henry's adorable little soccer team won their final match. 

Henry's team photo

As of this writing, I'm feeling better, but my ear is troublesome.  The incision was behind the entire length of my right ear; and from what I can tell, they cut it and flipped the whole lobe over to make a 2-inch incision through my mastoid.  My ear lobe is numb, and I 'm almost completely deaf.   I've kept a cotton ball plugged in to it, because although I cannot hear - there's a weird painful pressure whenever it is exposed. 

Also, it pops all the time.  

But the popping is from the inside of my head. And it's loud enough that if I put my cheek next to yours, you can hear it.  It sounds like fireworks.  CRACK! POP! CRACK CRACK PZZZZZ! 

When I sleep at night, if I roll over on that side, the sound and feeling of it wakes me up because even the slightest pressure on the ear makes it sound like I've got Pop Rocks jammed in my ear canal. That in turns wakes Charlie up because I can't contain myself from saying, "COME ON! THIS IS SO GROSSSSSS!!" 

The doctor says my hearing should return in a a few months once the swelling around my auditory nerve subsides, and the popping noise should cease within 6 to 12 months as I continue to heal.  While that is a bit of an inconvenience, it's not totally miserable. 

Actually, it is ... who am I kidding?!

But after receiving my results today that preliminary reports show it as benign, I can assure you that any attempt at curing me of "giddiness" were tremendously unsuccessful. 
Within the next few days, I'll post photos of the past two weeks with my wonderful Mother Mary, who flew in and helped me convalesce.  Moms really are the best, and I'm so blessed to have one of the Greats.  I'm also blessed beyond measure to have so many friends that I've met through this blog who have been sending me an abundance of prayers and encouragement.  

Gosh darn it...  I love you guys!   xoxoxo