Thursday, June 30, 2011

Game of life: Tag...

Tag you’re it…

Ever feel like you are always IT? The past few weeks, I have had trouble putting my finger on the exact feelings I have been struggling with and then this morning it hit me. I am stuck in the game of life tag game and I have been unable to tag anyone else.  I am IT.

I am the oldest out of 6 kids and the first person my Dad would call for when he got home when my Mom was not home. The first words always out of his mouth when he came home from work were…”Where’s your mother?” When it was apparent that she was out of the house the next sentence out of his mouth would be “Where’s Annie?” I guess my mother was also it. Maybe I should have had a first clue when my baby sister Jean’s first word was my name, in a hollering tone, “Ann!!”

I do think there was a brief period in time that I actually got to tag someone else when I lived alone. I could tag the dog Opie. This lasted about one year then I married ever since then I have been IT. Maybe I tag myself in some situations and have created a vortex of being it. Kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy of female guilt. You know the type, Oh, I will do it because the response or action was not fast enough or the way you wanted. So you gave up and tagged yourself.

I am not sure if anyone else can now be tagged because I have enabled so many of the members of my family I seem to be the default button for their lives. Mom will do it. She can handle it. She can find it.

I am sadly not even sure I want to tag anyone else because I wonder if I was not it would they still want me around or need me? So I guess I am stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Damned if I do and Damned if I do not. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Remembering Maggie

My little sister Jean and Grandma Peggy 

Brave little Maggie.

I have had the profound good fortune to have my life fabric intertwined with strong vibrant women with amazing stories. Many people may think I make this stuff up about my relatives but if you know me and my family you know, we may shine the brass of a story a bit but the real luster to us are in our dents and scratches and are all mostly true.

My Gram was one amazingly strong wild Irish lass. As a prepare my eldest son to take a journey back to Ireland this summer for a school trip, I am trying to in vain to remind him how his own great grandmother Peggy made this trip in reverse almost 100 years ago to this country for a new life. Tom is a sweet, kind son who has sensitivity and an open warm soul. He is however a sixteen year old who has the gift of omniscience and obviously is burdened by an overbearing intrusive mother. Join the club kid, we all have that type of mother in this family. It is this type of mother that could collect her meager belongings in 1919 leave her home town for the first and last time for a new unknown foreign country alone. She was not only brave but a bit fearless. I can remember asking her when she was still with us if she was scared and she said a little but she was just too na├»ve and stupid to be scared. She really had only 3 choices: stay and marry a local, become a nun or leave.  She chose to leave.

My Gramma Peggy was known as Maggie Kneafsey and was born in 1900 in County Mayo Ireland. She lost her parents in her tales when she was 7 and 8 but when I did a little digging in records it may have been when she was 10 and 11. Her parents were illiterate farmers in Ireland who scratched out a hard life for themselves and their 8 children on a small farm by the river Moy. She went to school for a short time and learned the basics.  After her parents passed away, she was taken out of school to work on the farm and was raised by her eldest brother Michael and sister Bridget. She was a bit of a hellion and had a spirit that drove her to be internally busy always. She fretted and was a worrier and planner. We call it “being Peggy”. She left for a better life to the US at 19, worked hard for a German businessman who leapt from his office after Black Tuesday in 1929. She won a 20 dollar gold piece in a step-dancing contest in Chicago and she caught the eye of a Canadian Railroad man name Morgan O’Neill who was devilishly handsome but a bit of a womanizer and a serious drinker with a bad temper. She once cooled that temper dumping a pot of boiling peas on his head after he came home with a bit too much drink.  She raised 4 children with Morgan until his death in his 50’s. She went to morning mass, was a devout Catholic and whether she had sinned or not without fail went to confession every 2 weeks. She worked rosary beads like no other and was the fastest novena in the Midwest. My strong pangs for the need for faith I am sure are rooted in watching my Gram and taking her to Mass. Gram learned to cook from her Canadian mother-in-law and made a killer Date nut cookie. Although no one would describe Peggy as a beauty, her personality and no none sense approach to life, people and her faith made her one of the most beautiful stunning interesting people I have known. I could only hope to be half as interesting and strong as she. 

When I was 6 weeks old my Dad moved my Gram into our home after she was left a young widow with my Uncle Joe still in the home. Joe was headed out soon for the army and my father wanted to provide a place for his mother. She was a little woman who stood maybe 5 feet tall with pearl white hair, steel blue eyes, creamy skin and sweet little cotton dresses and shoes that looked like she stole them off of Minnie Mouse. She shopped Evergreen Plaza long and hard for that uniform of sensible shoes and cotton cap sleeve dresses for the summer and long sleeve housedresses for the winter and fall with a cardigan. Never in my entire life did she ever wear pants or go without stockings. It was shameful to have “Naked legs”. Her hair was white as snow, curly and always kept short. She wore White Shoulders perfume used cold cream and always wore just a touch of powder and the same shade of petal pink carnation for years.  She had a fine sense of style was proud and always a lady.

She could be a force to be reckoned with, had a glare that could melt steel and was a fierce protector of her children and grandchildren. Her temper was legendary. She once defended me after my Dad came home with a bit of the drink and teased me to tears. Gram came to the rescue and never have I seen my father so humbled and sorry when she shook her little crooked finger at him.  I remember her words that echoed in the large hallway as she let him have it. I can still recall her brogue scolding him as if I was that 13 year old to this day, “Jack, you are a better man than this! Shame on you for making that little girl cry. You are acting just like your Father with Mickey.  (His older sister) You are a better man than that. Shame on you.” As she walked away she clipped those Minnie Mouse heels on the tiles leaving an echo that scratched wounds in your heart.

She was the center of our gyroscope as a family. She was the one all her children, grandchildren, sisters and family ran to for sage advice and comfort. Although she was not one to display affection openly if a hug was offered she would hold you tight and you know there was love and strength in her arms. Once my Mom came to her upset that a woman she was friends with at church had ignored and acted dismissive to her. Gram in her usual blunt force trauma honesty said to my Mom, “Don’t pay her any attention. Your ass would make her a good Sunday face.”  Comments like that floored us all but she was our rock.

After Gram left us at 94 it was the last time the whole family was together and our family has lost a bit of its center. We are a bit of a wobbly gyroscope banging into walls without her. We have scattered ourselves all over her new land but are still bound together by her brave fearlessness in our hearts and souls. 

It is my hope that when my eldest son travels back to Ireland and sees the places she came from he will help establish a bit of that center in himself to the connection of his past and the brave little Maggie who ventured far to give him a chance at being here today. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Know Thyself ... gift or curse?

Know Thyself to be wise, the unexamined life is not worth living.”

To understand and know yourself is a completely ongoing process for me but seems for my Jack he seems to understand himself and the world around him more clearly than most adults and it makes me wonder; is his gift of self-awareness a gift or a curse?

As a parent you go through so many emotions on a daily basis in no particular order and on random repeat:  joy, sadness, doubt, angst, frustration, anger, loneliness, dread, fear and astonishment. Jack has the talent of taking his observations and distilling them down to profound little glib quips that make me breathless. The most soul shaking was when he was about 3 maybe 4 and he looked up at me and said, “I waited a long time for you to be my Mommy.” This left me dumbfounded. Had this little imp been waiting for me or have I been waiting for him?

He exasperates me daily and many times he is the most incessant being either in constant motion or constant speech. My Dad a kind, soft and profound little Irishman, said to me one day after spending an afternoon with my young son and his namesake Jack, “You know it is a wonder that he just doesn’t collapse after all his talking.”

So when my husband took Jack for a father/son bike ride then a movie, I was more than happy to welcome the silence, solitude and time to catch up on the 15 tons of laundry my family has managed to accumulate this week.  Somewhere between the 3rd load of towels and a first pass through Mount filthy whites my men returned. I asked my little man Jack how was the film; he gave me a thumbs up and ran off to play in his homemade Tardis and Dalek in the basement. (Doctor Who references) My husband came in and I asked him how he survived the day. He was happy and thought that Rio was one of the best-animated features he had seen. He then went on to explain a bit about the movie how many of the featured cartoons were grounded in little love stories about the animated animals. He then explained how after the film he had asked Jack how he liked the movie. Apparently Jack had a lump in his throat and said it was an okay movie but asked rhetorically why all the characters in love in the film had to be straight? Upon retelling this, my husband’s head hung low and was a bit overcome with emotion. As I type this, I too am filled with mixed emotions and some sorrow about isolation for my Jack.  I get that Disney or Pixar is not ready nor is society willing to introduce openly gay cartoon characters so my kid can relate but… even with my sense of adult understanding about the media’s need to feed the masses entertainment that is accepted by most of society, I am saddened that my little boy will not see anything he can relate to about falling in love or give him a film he can watch over and over and fall in love just as the characters did. I cannot tell you how many times I watched, Cinderella,  Ice Castles and Ladyhawke and imagined myself in the roles of the leading ladies with the handsome men swooping me away.  This kind of breaks my heart a bit. I know things are changing and with Glee and Modern Family. There is hope and Jack watches these and feels connected. So there is some bright light at the end of the tunnel for him.

It just makes me wonder about his sense of self, intelligence, confidence and courage to be Jack. Although his self-understanding is a wondrous thing it can come at a high cost to his happiness. When I was a little girl the concept of self-perception and societal judgment was never a worry for me. I could see me reflected positively in society in the bedtime stories, movies and books I read. These children were like me and I know I felt comfort in being part of the club. Jack is not in this club, he often tells me how he feels alone and no one is like him and he is worried he will never find another person like himself ever. He is sure he is the only openly gay little boy in our town and already even before junior high school is isolated.  Even though I have surrounded him by many of my friends and family who are homosexual and tell Jack things are better the older you get, I worry about his isolation. His intelligence is a gift; his self-awareness is a gift and he is my gift.