family

I’ll Always Remember the Good Parts

A couple weeks ago my mom, sister and I took a trip to Arkansas to visit both my cousin Brittney and her family, as well as my great great Aunt Evelyn who just recently turned 97 years old.

Usually when I go on a trip, I like to blog about it (check out some examples here and here) but when it comes to Arkansas, I tend to just let it lie. Not because the trip is boring or not worth sharing, but because it always seems to feel different than any other trip, making it hard—if not impossible—to find a way to write about it. In a way it feels like it’s not so much a trip as it is a step into another world, one that I couldn’t explain to someone as well as I could show them.

Our past couple trips to Arkansas, while fun and the exact breath of fresh air I needed, have had a bit of sadness attached to them. With my Aunt Evelyn’s health declining first slowly, and then quicker than we could keep up with, we saw our trips change from spending afternoons reading on her porch, to sitting at her bedside in a nursing home. For these trips, rather than staying at my Aunt Evelyn’s house, we’ve stayed with June, a childhood friend of my mom’s mom, and her husband, Jim. This alone has balanced the scales of the trips, filling them with as much laughter as they had gloom.

This past trip, after being warned by June that Aunt Evelyn had fallen not once, but twice in the last few days, and that her cancer had spread to nearly every part of her body, we took a few extra breaths on our drive from Brittney’s to June and Jim’s, knowing that this trip would be somewhat of a goodbye.

Upon arriving at June and Jim’s, we all exhaled, because at least for the moment, we were home. In an instant we were laughing, almost too hard to walk. They greeted us at the door and we dropped our things, unable to peel the smiles off our faces. It was almost 6 o’clock when we got there, so it wasn’t long before we were back on the road, headed out to dinner at one of June and Jim’s favorite restaurants. June sat next to me in the backseat, cracking jokes and nudging my elbow whenever she made a snarky comment just out of Jim’s earshot.

At dinner, we talked about our trip to Brittney’s. About her husband Scott, their five year old son, Landon, and their two and a half year old daughter, Nora. We talked about the three days we spent with them; about the slow mornings filled with Nora’s singing and Landon’s giggling and dancing and soccer ball dribbling; we talked about the day at the waterpark and the evening at the comedy club; and we talked about the afternoons on the couch talking or napping or laughing or just simply being.

The next morning, as we slowly got ourselves out of bed to the breakfast table and then out of our pajamas and into real clothes, we took another collective breath. My mom, my sister, June and I loaded up in the car to go see Aunt Evelyn, all of us the slightest bit nervous, even if we didn’t say so. When we got there, we found Aunt Evelyn asleep in her bed, so asleep it took two nurses to finally coax her awake to eat, even though she didn’t want to. I sat in a chair in the corner of the room, watching her slowly bring the world into focus, my mind flickering from the woman I saw in front of me, to the woman I’d sat beside in her living room watching reruns of Judge Judy.

As an adult, I’d never seen Aunt Evelyn without pain. She was always moving slow, her back keeping her slightly hunched and most content in her chair in the living room. But there were moments when it seemed to dull. Like when my sister made her favorite cookies in the kitchen and she giggled in her chair, excited to have three too many. Or when a story we told reminded her of a memory she carried. The three of us could never get enough of her stories. Both the good ones and the bad, the happy and the sad. Aunt Evelyn had lived a long, oftentimes hard life, and had spent many years living on her own, ruminating, reminiscing, and understandably burying a lot of memories.

As I sat in the corner chair, watching my Aunt Evelyn’s eyes squint and her brow furrow, I saw fear and confusion, pain and exhaustion. Then, for a moment, it passed. June cooed at her and Aunt Evelyn smiled in recognition, saying, “Hello June,” almost sarcastically, before softening her eyes and smiling at the sight of my mother, “Gina.”

But just as soon as peace settled in her eyes, the pain was back. The nurse sitting at her side offered her a bite of each helping of food on her tray, and Aunt Evelyn begged her to stop, hating every bit of it. Then, her eyes shifted again, this time into anger. She looked up at June and my mom, perhaps embarrassed, perhaps ashamed, perhaps longing for that woman I pictured sitting by my side in the living room watching reruns of Judge Judy.

“Get out,” she said. It was stern, but calm.

At first.

Then it was meaner. Louder. Fiercer.

“Get out of here!”

On the drive back to June’s we were all quiet, all bearing wounds that we didn’t want to talk about. Knowing what we knew about her health, we knew that could very well be the last time we would see her, and it was hard to swallow that as the last time. But just as I was able to picture her how I knew her, how I’ve known her, not in that bed but in her chair, in her house, in the hundreds of old pictures—some from stories I knew, others from those I might never know—I made a promise to remember her that way too.

On our flight home, my mind flashed with memories of trips we taken to see her. And even though there were hard parts, sad parts, bad parts strewn in, I clutched desperately to the good. To the funny and beautiful and indescribable. I hoped she knew I’d remember those parts most. And I’d visit them as easy as we did our weekend at Brittney’s as we sat across the dinner table from Jim and June. No matter what, I would always hold on to the good parts. Both today, tomorrow, and (if I’m lucky enough) seventy years from now, when I have my own chair in my own living room with a pair of great great nieces sitting by my side watching reruns and making me cookies.

Why You Should Always Say Happy Birthday Early

From everything I’ve read, it seems it’s very bad luck to wish someone happy birthday before their actual birthday. Apparently it’s too wishful of thinking, or something. A “don’t catch your chickens before they hatch” type of deal.

I get it.

A birthday wish, if it were to be defined, is essentially a two-word celebration of the anniversary someone was born, right? It’s you saying, “hey, congrats on surviving another year. I hope this day that specifically signifies the anniversary of your aliveness is joyful, yo.”

So technically if you offer this congratulations before it is appropriate, you’re lying to the would-be birthday boy or girl, because technically they haven’t yet accomplished what you’re congratulating them for. And since lying is not typically a good basis of friendship, love, or whichever noun best describes your relationship to the would-be birthday boy or girl, it probably is better/more polite/overall less dangerous to wish them happy birthday on their actual birthday, rather than say it early and ignore all the aforementioned risk.

But I’m going to do it anyways.

You see, tomorrow is my sister’s birthday. Not today, tomorrow. And while I would like to follow protocol because I don’t enjoy lying to my sister and I would, in fact, like the day that specifically signifies the anniversary of her aliveness to be joyful, yo, I would also like to take a moment to be selfish. Because while wishing someone happy birthday is primarily for their benefit—to give congratulations and yo and all of that—it’s also a way to celebrate your enjoyment of the existence of the congratulations and the yo and all of that. So when it comes down to it, the anniversary of their birth is joyful for you because it means that you have had the opportunity to enjoy another year of their alive-ness.

So really, a premature birthday wish is a just selfish birthday wish. It doesn’t care about the formalities. All it cares about is the truth. And the truth is, I’m happy you were born, Natalee. I’m happy you were brought into this world and I’m happy you continue to live in it alongside me. And even though I can’t technically celebrate another year of your aliveness for another 24 hours, I basically celebrate your aliveness all the time, so the formalities don’t really matter that much, you see?

Happy birthday, today and everyday! May they all be joyful, yo.

My Top 10 Christmas Movies (List-cember #1)

Hello and welcome back to the second annual List-cember!

In case you missed it last year, I dedicated my December to posts centered around lists. Some were Christmas themed, some weren’t, some will be returning for a second edition this year, some won’t. Regardless, I’m excited to bring you the second installment! I hope you enjoy and I hope you give me opinions on things you’d include if you wrote one of these lists. I’m all about the input, people, give it to me!

To kick us off, I’ve got somewhat of a controversial topic: Christmas movies. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about people during Christmas time, it’s their devotion to watching what they consider THE BEST Christmas movies. And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about these kind of movie watchers it’s their tendency to debate over why they think their Christmas movies are THE BEST. Now, I’m not here to debate, really, I’m more just standing here with my list and a white flag saying, “these are my opinions, and I totally respect yours.” But if you have a Christmas movie you love that I didn’t include, please let me know. Because if there’s one undeniable fact about Christmas movies, it’s that you can never watch too many.

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10) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

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I’ve really only seen this movie a handful of times, but it’s one of those that I constantly forget how funny it is until I watch it again. It’s Chevy Chase in his prime and it’s one of my dad’s favorite movies, which makes it that much better.

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9) The Year Without a Santa Clause

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This is a classic from the 70s where Santa wakes up with a cold after Thanksgiving and decides not to deliver presents that Christmas. Instead he sends out two of his elves to figure out if anyone still cares about Christmas or even believes in Santa anymore. I realize that the way I’m describing it makes it sound totally depressing but it’s not. (At least not all of it.) It’s got cute characters and catchy songs that I’ve been singing my entire life, so if you haven’t seen this one, I highly recommend you check it out!

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8) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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This is another classic that’s undeniably adorable. We all know the story of Rudolph and how he saved the day—or rather, Christmas Eve night—but this gives us some backstory on the little guy, including his friendship with an elf named Hermey and his run in with the Abominable Snow Monster of the North (no relation to King of the North, Jon Snow.) Fun fact: There is a point in the movie when Rudolph yells, “I’m cuuuuuute!” and my family quotes this approximately 30 times a year.

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7) To Grandmother’s House We Go

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If you were anything like me as a kid, you were OBSESSED with the Olsen twins, so it’s really no surprise that the girls’ Christmas film holds a firm place in my top 10. In this story, the girls overhear their mom saying she needs a vacation, so they sneak onto a UPS truck in the hopes it will take them to their grandmother’s house. Mind you, the girls are only about six years old, so this causes some panic among multiple parties, but it’s undeniably cute and makes me smile every time.

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6) The Grinch

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I can already cross this one off my “to-watch” list this year because my roommates and I watched it while decorating our house the other day. It had actually been a few years since I watched it and I forgot how good Jim Carrey is in it.

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5) It’s a Wonderful Life

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This is one of those movies that always makes you think a little bit more about how lucky you are to have what you have, especially during the holiday season when the general mindset is focused what you want. I think it’s an important one to watch each year, if only to hear Jimmy Stewart yell, “MARRRYY.”

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4) A Christmas Story

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I take it back, this is probably my dad’s favorite Christmas movie. We’ve undoubtedly watched this movie upwards of 20 times in my life and we still laugh at all the same parts. Recently, I got a flat tire and I thought of the scene when Ralphie drops his infamous F-bomb, and while I’ve never had much of a dirty mouth, it still made me very grateful my mom rarely bought bars of soap. Fun fact: my family actually owns two bb-guns like the one shown in the movie and we break them out every Christmas to shoot old ornaments. Additional fun fact: no eyes have been shot out…so far.

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3) Love Actually

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I’ve been trying to stop myself from getting cheesy and saying I actually love this movie, but, well, anyways. I do love this movie and I watch it every year while I wrap presents. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry and it gives me all the warm fuzzies. Also, Hugh Grant’s dancing scene is one of my favorite things that’s ever happened in a movie.

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2) Elf

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At this point, it has to be almost impossible to make a Christmas movie that can hold up among the oldies, but Will Ferrell managed to do it a few years back—woah, I just googled it, and this actually came out 14 years ago, yikes—and I think it will forever be regarded as one of the best Christmas movies ever made.

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1) The Family Stone

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I know, I know, this one has got to be a little bit of a surprise for most people. As far as I know, my family is the only one that consistently watches this EVERY year, sometimes more than once during the Christmas season alone. But it is undeniably my favorite Christmas movie and probably one of my favorite movies of all time. I don’t even know what it is about it, maybe it’s just the place it holds in my family’s heart. But we laugh and laugh and cry and cry every year as if we’ve never seen it before and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Congratulations & Thanks, Little Brother

Yesterday my little brother graduated high school.

*takes a moment to process this*

At 5 o’clock, the school staff ushered us in single file. I walked passed smiling siblings and proud fathers and anxious mothers; aunts and uncles and cousins and teachers; girlfriends and boyfriends and best friends. I knew almost none of them, and yet I knew how they felt when they woke up in the morning, and I knew how they felt walking in the school gates that afternoon. We all shared the same look in our eyes. We all had those smiles that were hard to suppress. We were all so proud.

For me, it was strange more than emotional. As the ceremony started and tissues were shuffled through the audience, I couldn’t help but sit silent, thinking. How is it, I thought, How is it that the infant who used to laugh when I tickled him, the toddler who used to call me “Supergirl”, the boy who used to wake up early to watch me play video games on Saturday mornings, and the teenager who used to ask me for a ride to karate class, how is it that they’d all grown up into this man that stood before me in a cap and gown? How had they become someone I look up to, that makes me laugh, that is my own personal superhero?

As the name of each student began to be called, cheers came in bursts around the audience. Families and friends stood and shouted, hoping to showcase their pride and spread it outward. We were no different. When my brother’s name was called we waved our fists and wooed our “woos”, hoping to let my brother know we were proud of him, and to let the crowd he was ours. And as dozens of other families followed suit, I began to realize why I didn’t feel sad so much as dizzy.

Yes, it was crazy to think that my baby brother, the boy who, over the years, has led people to believe he was my son (which we took advantage of and pulled pranks), my stepbrother (which made no sense because we are essentially the same human), and—after a colossal growth spurt—my boyfriend (which, ew), this boy was graduating high school and could now legally drive, vote, and serve jury duty. Yes, this was off-putting, but not sad. For I had known the baby who grew into a boy who grew into a teenager and then into a man, and seeing him take this next step forward was like accepting an invitation to meet the man he will soon become.

So as the caps began to fly, my heart began to swell. The dizziness had been overtaken by anticipation. I walked through the crowd to find my brother and gave him a big hug, anxious to tell him of all the things I know he’s yet to accomplish. I wished him “congratulations” but what I really meant was “thank you.” Thank you for letting me be a part of your world, and thank you for offering me a front row seat to watch you conquer it. May the future only hold good things for you, crazy things, preferably things that include pizza and In N Out Burger. May you always be brave enough to be yourself and kind enough to let others do the same. May you never stop letting me call you Bub, and may we never stop taking this picture.

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