A few people have asked me what the highlights of 2009 were for me, so I'm gonna go for a top ten list (which is really mostly just a gratitude list.) I am a very fortunate woman. So without further delay, here they are in no particular order.1. Getting married. Up until a few years ago I never saw a second marriage in my future. I was married for 25 years to my first husband, and after our divorce I knew that though I needed to be single for a while (turns out it was 2+ years), I definitely did not want to spend the rest of my life "alone." Going back into the dating scene after a 28-year hiatus meant that I hadn't had a date since I was 19 years old. I remember one day, after having moved through a whole lot grief, uttering a really spur-of-the-moment prayer. I said, "Hey, could we perhaps just skip the whole singles scene? If it's in the cards for me to find love again, would it be too much trouble to let us find each other sooner rather than later?" I didn't necessarily expect an answer, and I certainly didn't expect an affirmative one. Enter: Craig. Wow. Never in a million years did I dream that I would find a man who was such a perfect fit for me. We joke sometimes that we are TOO much alike. Those who know me well can attest to the fact that I'm wacky, adventurous, weird, and often irreverent. Craig is moreso. I knew I had found my male twin the day he went shopping with me and disappeared, only to come sauntering up to me with gangster clothes on (over his clothes) grabbing his crotch and talkin' smack. He makes me laugh like no other. We both love music and the arts in general. (We have a game we play most every time we get in his truck, which has satellite radio. We shuffle through the stations and try to be the first to identify the artist of the song that happens to be playing. To put it mildly, we're pretty competitive. You get one fist bump if you identify it correctly, two if you identify it before there's any singing. We once played this for two hours straight while we were traveling, and would've continued if we hadn't reached our destination.) We have many of the same spiritual ideals and struggles. We both have a dark sense of humor. We place a high value on family - especially our six kids. We're both extroverts, love people, and also love our solitude. We are fond of good coffee, fine wine, cooking together, independent films, a handful of TV shows, and have a desire to travel and see the world. He is without a doubt my best friend. We got married July 3rd in his brother's backyard in Long Beach, with all of our children and grandchildren present (which was a feat to get them all out there!) Then we went on a weeklong trip up the California coast, stopping in Big Sur for a few days, and on to San Francisco. The whole experience was wonderful. Speaking of marriage, I not only found the love of my life, I also got…
2. Three new sons. Okay, technically they're "stepsons," but I agree with the oldest one when he says he's not a fan of the "step" label. They're awesome. For those who don't know, my three girls and Craig's three boys are nearly the exact same ages. And yes, we're aware that we're the Brady Bunch. Anyway, Brandon, Nathan and Cameron all have vastly different personalities and their own unique takes on life. Knowing them has enriched my life tremendously. Like their dad, they make me laugh a lot, and have introduced me to cool music, interesting people, and…drumroll please… Bon Qui Qui. (Thanks, Cameron.) One really wonderful thing has been to see how much they love their dad, and how much he adores them. In today's world, that's not terribly common. Oh - almost forgot… this means that my children now have brothers, and my granddaughters have more uncles. They think that's way cool, and so do I.
3. My mom's courage and fortitude. She has been fighting ovarian cancer for nearly three years, which is certainly nothing to celebrate. But her resilient spirit is definitely an ongoing source of inspiration to us all. It has been a horrendous road. She has endured hair loss, nausea, and a host of unimaginable side effects from the different courses of chemo. She has been in and out of the hospital, weathered pneumonia, and recently suffered a fractured knee, stitches and a possible broken nose as a result of a fall. And this was all just in the last month! Throughout it all she has managed to live her life to the fullest. She has been a part of family functions and celebrations (and was even able to make the trip to California for our wedding!) has enjoyed many different activities with friends, and even worked full-time up until about six months ago. She has struggled mightily but has a strong determination to live the life God gave her. I love her a lot, and am so glad she has fought so thoroughly and nobly. Thanks, mom, for showing us the true meaning of courage. I look forward to 2010!
4. The birth of my second granddaughter. Haven Kathryn Kelley Hauck was born on February 4, 2009, and I got to be in the operating room when she was delivered by caesarean section. I couldn't watch the procedure (for fear that I'd come unglued at the sight of someone slicing open one of my children) so I sat on a stool behind the drape, holding Amy's hand and talking to her as they brought Haven into the world. Her husband, Johnny, was behind the drape too, but he stood up and watched the whole thing! Haven weighed in at 11 pounds, two ounces, the exact same weight as Anna, so Amy and I now share the record. She is such an incredible gift, and I'd describe her personality as equal parts sunshine, wonder, and holiness. I love her fiercely, and I think she gets that. On Christmas Eve I was holding her and Amy held her hands out to take her from me. Usually she immediately leans in to her momma, but this time she turned away and clung to me. My jaw dropped; Amy and I were both stunned!! I couldn't have felt richer if you had given me all the gold in Fort Knox.
5. Watching my oldest granddaughter morph from baby into little girl. Where to start with this little genius? Piper is the cutest toddler on the planet. She has gone from cherub-faced baby to long and lean toddler, and has acquired some pretty impressive skills in the process. I will never forget the day she finally said my name, which was like hearing all the symphonies in the world gather for one resonant chorus. She's got personality pouring out of her, and is showing signs of having a few unique quirks (which delights me to no end because that means she's at least in part a little like her Gia.) On Christmas morning as we were all chattering away, she started with me and worked her way around the breakfast table: "Hi Gia. Hi Gia. Hi Gia…" She kept on until I finally put my conversation on pause and said hello. "Hi Happy. Hi Happy. Hi Happy…" "Hi Teenie. Hi Teenie. Hi Teenie…" etc. When she came over on Halloween to trick or treat, we walked outside to a full moon and she pointed up and emphatically said, "BALL!" (but now shouts, "MOON!") She loves the movie "UP" and is extremely affectionate - even known to walk up to strangers, lay her head down on their knee, and pat them sweetly. She dances to the Sesame Street theme, loves to torment our cat, and runs to hug me when she sees me. I won the lottery with this kid. She is rocketing toward her second birthday.
6.Three beautiful girls. I blinked and they were grown-ups. I am so proud of each one of them, and have deeply enjoyed their friendship and company this year. As a mother it makes me so happy to see them moving toward their dreams and goals. If I were to list everything that I admire about them it would take pages and pages. So I'll try to keep it compact and concise to avoid droning on and on (which I'm happy to do if you want to give me a call.) Amy: She's a new mom, but continued her quest to earn a graduate degree. Even though it's sort of cheating, I love talking about my daughter, the college professor (she's a T.A. at UTSA). Amy is also really involved in the lives of college students, and regularly has a kitchen full of kids who need hot chocolate, a kick in the pants, or a compassionate listening ear. She's simply one of the kindest people I know. This year I have loved seeing how much motherhood agrees with her. Mandy: My middle one never ceases to amaze me. After being one of the millions of Americans who were laid off from their jobs in 2009, she found a way to return to school while being a full-time mom. (Warning: I'm about to do one of those parental boasting things.) She made straight A's her first semester back, and is heading into another full load in the spring. Out of all my kids she got the keen crackshot business sense that is certain to take her far, wherever she may be headed professionally. She is an amazing mother, and Piper adores her. Can you tell I'm proud? Anna: if I didn't love her so much I'd kick her little butt for getting to spend some time in Europe this year (while I've never been.) But she worked hard for it, and totally deserved the amazing time that she had. Among other things she held down her job at the UT History office, and has been a professional violinist with the Temple Symphony. She is without a doubt one of the most creatively gifted people I know, and though it's been an exhausting year in many ways for her, it does my heart good to see that she consistently chases her dreams. In many ways, I think they chase her.
INTERMISSION: Yeah, I'm aware that the last three entries read a bit like a braggy Christmas letter, but anyone who has children and grandchildren understand that if there's anyplace to gush, its here. Don't hate.
7. My family. I love my sister and my brother. A lot. It's been a hard year for all of us, and I wish it hadn't been. But it's really brought us closer. I'm well aware that good sibling relationships aren't a given, which makes me all the more grateful for the many times we've been able to laugh and cry together. They are two of the most caring, kindhearted people I know, and I am incredibly fortunate that I get to be their sister. Beyond that, I'm really thankful that my dad has been in good health, and that he's tearin' up the road in his beloved vintage Jeep pickup truck. And on July 3rd I got another family… Craig's! Some people tolerate in-laws; I hit the jackpot with the Jenkinses. I truly adore them all and am looking forward to spending the rest of my life getting to know them.
8. A new sister. This could be an essay in and of itself (and probably some day will be.) But for now I'll keep it somewhat brief. I knew I had another sister out there somewhere, and in 2009, with my husband's help, I found her. But that didn't mean that I was brave enough to contact her. It was my sister Leslie who encouraged me to send her a message on Facebook - the introvert compelling the extrovert… go figure! So with knees knocking I went for it, and I am SO GLAD I did! Laurie is my "sorella maggiore," which simply means that she is my Italian big sister (age, not size.) I knew that contacting her was a risk - I'd heard wonderful stories about people finding long-lost biological relatives, but I'd also heard just as many horror stories. Mine turned out exceptionally well. Laurie is absolutely delightful, and I have loved every minute of our emails and phone conversations. It's mind-boggling how alike we are even though we've never met (other than on Skype.) We have tentative plans to meet in person in 2010, so stay tuned…
9. I made it through the hardest semester I've ever had in college. And I only have ONE MORE TO GO! I'm finishing my degree in English, Writing and Rhetoric, and love, love, love what I'm doing. But I'm very tired of being a student, especially amongst twenty year olds. When I went back to school in 2007, I was in a class with a girl who hosted my youngest daughter at a slumber party when they were in the fifth grade. The humbling part is that I had to work hard to keep up with her. Take note, all of you old folks who are considering a return to college. It ain't as easy when you've lost twenty more years worth of brain cells (yes, I said ain't.)
10. I love my church. That one sentence has the ability to conjure up a thousand different images in a person's mind. Go ahead and throw them all out. Journey Imperfect Faith Community is by and large comprised of people who are burned out on organized religion, and just want to learn how to love people the way one might hope God would. I have a long way to go. But I have never in my life felt like I fit in a spiritual community the way I do here. Here's a clue about the church: awhile back they put out a bumper sticker that said, " Journey IFC: Love. Healing. No B.S." I knew I was home when I looked up one day and saw an Anne Lamott quote on the wall.
Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2010 is the year that your wandering hopes and dreams make a U-turn, and head straight for the center of your life.