The Space Between

I have lived in Tennessee since I was seventeen years old. Eleven years ago, I packed everything I owned into a hideous behemoth of a blue van and moved here with my (then) boyfriend with tears in my eyes – tears of relief, tears of gratitude, tears of joy that I was finally getting away from my mother and her poison.

Through the years, I’ve missed my family in the vague sense that I always knew it wouldn’t be long between visits. I was so busy with work, with life, with having fun, that I never really slowed down enough to absorb and fully feel the physical distance between us.

And then came Nellie, the flurry of giggles and curls that changed my life and the lives of everyone with whom she shared a bloodline. My funny little girl with the half-smirk. My little Hobbit. My dad and stepmom came to meet her for the first time when she was around 6 weeks old. It was truly amazing to hand my father his first grandchild and see the look on his face as he held her. My brother came about two weeks later and – not to put words into his mouth or speak for him, but I’m pretty sure this is a safe assessment – it was love at first sight.

When they left, I felt an ache for them that I hadn’t ever felt before. Becoming a mother made me so aware of the passage of time, so painfully alert to the fact that with each tick of the clock we are, all of us, getting older. Suddenly the physical gap separating me from my family became a gap in my heart as well. I began watching from afar as they celebrated holidays, attended weddings, welcomed new babies into the family. I clicked through pictures on Facebook of wedding showers, Easter dinners, and read e-mails from my dad telling me all about how he and my brother went golfing the weekend before.

When Nellie and I went up to visit this past June, it was wonderful to just be in the same room with my dad and brother, to watch them enjoy Nellie and play with her. I realized that they were missing out on so much of her life, and that I was missing out on them being able to hug her, sing to her, cuddle her, and love her whenever they wanted. And that hurt. I struggle to nurture as much of a bond with them as I can via phone calls, texts, and e-mails but it’s hard. I just miss them.

This is not to say that I want to pick up and leave our life here in Tennessee behind. I love our life here. Our friends, our jobs, our home is here. My husband’s family have become my family, too, and they cherish and dote on Nellie like crazy. They have always welcomed me into their arms and I love them. If we were to take Nellie away from the love she has with Josh’s parents, it would break everyone’s heart – mine included.

It is still hard to not have the family whose blood you share near. It’s hard to watch your child grow up knowing your family but not really knowing them. There is a peace that comes with being in the company of those who have known you since birth, those who are made of the same genes as you.

I wish there was a solution. One that would make everyone happy, one where every one of us could be together. Technology helps keep us connected but when people you love are far away, the physical distance  manifests as a sense of hurt and longing that no amount of Skyping can fix. And sometimes, that just sucks.

Reasons My Family Is Weird.

My family is weird. I have always known that I’m a little odd, and my husband can be a bit offbeat but now that we have a little mini-us, it’s becoming more and more apparent as time goes by. Here are some reason that my little family of three is weird:

  • My daughter’s favorite movie is Coraline. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a little girl who journeys to an “other world” where she has an “other mother” and “other father”. Everyone in this world has buttons sewn into their eyes. The “other mother” turns out to be a horrid creature called a Beldam who wants to sew buttons into Coraline’s eyes and eat her.
  • Her second favorite movie is 9. 9 is a post-apocalyptic type movie featuring weird creatures made out of burlap sacks and various mechanical parts.
  • As a result of her watching 9, we sometimes play “Run From the Bone-Cat” which involves her yelling, “RUN 9!” while we reply “RUN! RUN FROM THE BONE-CAT!” while growling fiercely. Sometimes we play this game in public places.
  • We’ve heard ourselves uttering the phrase, “No, Nellie, don’t put River Tam in your mouth” while she is playing with our Firefly figures.
  • When telling your daughter’s daycare teacher that you put not a star at the top of the tree this year, but an action figure Fantastic Four Thing with a drum wrapped around his body it elicits a look of confusion and you realize that maybe you should have just kept that to yourself.
  • Nellie can point out and name every member of the Avengers plus several other Marvel characters.. With the exception of Ms. Marvel. That one she calls “Mama”, which is just fine by me.
  • Nellie will toddle over holding a copy of Treasure Island, wanting you to read it to her.
  • On Old MacDonald’s farm on any given day, you will find a cat, a goose, a duck, Spider-Man, a shoe, a shark, a “9”, Coraline, the Lion King, and jingle bells.
  • She calls the moon “Sister Moon”.
  • She got that interactive Jingle husky dog book as a Christmas gift and when we asked her what the dog’s name was, she replied, “Hades”.
  • She is actually Luna Lovegood.

photo (10)

I love my weird little family.

Thicker Than Water

Over the weekend, my older brother D and his girlfriend E drove down from Wisconsin to visit. The last time my brother saw Nellie was in March when she was about 8 weeks old. It’s always nice to have members of my family come to visit me, but the visits go by so quickly that once they leave, it’s almost surreal. Like it’s hard to believe they were actually here. But of course, they were here.

Whenever a family member of mine visits and then leaves, I find myself looking around at the aftermath and feeling wistful & sad. A glimpse of a Chinese food takeout box brings back memories of the night we sat around the table laughing and eating. The leftover chili that my brother made reminds me of the three of us watching the Miss America pageant on TV and making fun of it for two hours. I think about our trips to Starbucks, and E pushing D into a huge pile of snow at Rock City.
It brings to mind the old quote, “Don’t cry because it’s over – smile because it happened”.
I always forget how refreshing it is to be around my blood relatives. I love my in-laws and they are family to me but there’s just something about surrounding yourself with people who have known you since birth. People who share your DNA. People who fit into a place in your heart and soul like only those you’ve grown up with can. I’m an odd person. I have an odd sense of humor and when I’m with my family, it’s like I make a little more sense than usual. I only get to see my blood relatives once a year – if I’m lucky – so I cherish the time we get to spend together.

I find myself looking back and feeling happy that it happened, but sad at the same time because I know it’s going to be months before we get to have fun times and make new memories again. It’s harder since I’ve had a child. I want my father and my brother to be a part of her life as her other family – Josh’s family – are. I want them to be around for her birthdays, for holidays.. And just because. I haven’t mentioned my mother, and that’s because she and I have a pretty strained and complicated relationship. She lives in Chattanooga but as I said before, our relationship isn’t great. Maybe another day when I have a lot of emotional energy & the fortitude to go into it, I will. Let’s just say I don’t crave her company like I do my other family which is frustrating, because she lives so close.

I have my family here in my husband, I do have a blood relative here, of course… And that’s my Nellie. My daughter. She’s more a part of me than any other person on the face of the planet. She possesses a piece of my heart and more than just a little bit of my soul. When I get to feeling sad, or lonely, or longing for my Northern relatives all I have to do is look into those eyes, gaze upon the chin dimple that she inherited from me and realize that she is my blood. She’s my everything. I still miss my other family members terribly, but she helps soothe the sting quite a bit.

My Heart.

September 8th, 1994

16 years ago today, my grandma Nellie – my daughter’s namesake – died. She was in my life for ten years. She taught me how to play the piano, and the harmony to my first of many songs.

Show me the way to go home
I’m tired and I want to go to bed.
I had a popsicle ’bout an hour ago
And it went right to my head.
Wherever I may roam
On land, or sea, or foam
You can always hear me singin’ this song:
“Show me the way to go home”.

It wasn’t until later in life, when I saw the movie Jaws, that I realized that she changed the words from “I had a little drink” to “I had a popsicle”. My grandma Nellie had macular degeneration and for as long as I can remember, was blind. She loved Shirley Temple, and musicals. She is the reason that I adore the Pirates of Penzance. She liked to say things like, “oh for cry eye!” and “Oh GOSH.” I don’t remember what her voice sounded like. I remember her just enough. Somewhere in a box in storage pressed between the pages of a book, I have a flower petal from her coffin.

Grandma, I wish you could have met your great-granddaughter.

Me & Nellie Rose // Grandma Nellie & niece Kathy

Even 16 years later, I miss you. I would have loved to have known you as an adult. This song always reminds me of you.

Absence

Today was my mother in law’s day to watch Nellie while I worked and while Josh slept (he works nights for the time being). She called me yesterday to let me know that her daughter had invited her and my father in law over to their house to celebrate her husband’s birthday, and that they were going to eat around 5:00. The drive to my sister in law’s house takes about 45 minutes, so I wouldn’t be off work in time to pick up Nellie. My mother in law wanted to know if it was okay if they took Nellie with them, and brought her back by the apartment when they were done.

I said of course, have a good time.

I got home and spent a little time with my husband, and once he had gone I informed my Twitter friends not to expect to hear from me for the duration of the evening. I finally got my hands on a copy of Dead in the Family and was going to spend any spare time I had reading it as I’d been eyeballing it all day at work after it was given to me. I settled in on the couch and began to read. I devoured the first twenty pages relatively quickly when I felt compelled to put the book down.

I looked around my apartment. It was silent, save for the whir and hum of the dishwasher. It’s nothing new for me to be sitting in silence in the daytime in our home; generally on weekends when Josh works I’ll put Nellie down to nap and just chill out while they are both asleep. But this time it was different…. This was the first time since my daughter was born that I was utterly alone in this apartment without the presence of my husband or daughter.

I was inspired by Sookie’s love for coffee, and brewed myself a pot. I settled back onto the couch, opened my book and immediately put it back down. I wrapped my hands around my mug and gazed around thoughtfully. I realized that in both my husband and daughter’s absence, this place feels completely different. It sounds completely different. Even though they are quiet while asleep, their presence buzzes; they are there, and I can tell it. It’s something that I never noticed until they weren’t around. I feel Nellie’s absence specifically; I’m used to Josh not being here in the evenings but not her. She is always here with me.

It’s not a bad thing, perse but it’s definitely.. Off. Something is amiss in the apartment.. The chubby, giggling, curly-headed essence of my daughter is not here and it feels weird.

I felt compelled to blog about this while the feeling was still fresh in my mind. Even now as I type, I am listening to and feeling the empty space that she normally occupies.

Needless to say, while I enjoy the spare time to relax and not worry about tending to someone else’s needs, I am thoroughly looking forward to when she is returned to me and I can give her a big hug, and a kiss.

She has filled an absence that I never even knew was there..

Namesake



My late grandma, Nellie Kay with her daughter (my aunt) Linda.



Nellie Kay and daughter Linda

Natalie Anastasia & Nellie Rose // Nellie Kay & (niece) Kathy

Family Dinners and The Start of a Tradition?

Last night we went over to my in-laws’ house. I am very, very blessed with amazing in-laws and my mother-in-law (MIL) has been nothing but amazing and sweet to me since the day Josh brought me home to meet his parents. Yes, I am aware of how lucky I am.

My MIL cooked one of her famous meals that is usually reserved for holidays; chicken and dressing, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, corn, cornbread. Now believe me when I say my MIL’s cooking is responsible for about half of my weight gain. Her food is amazing. I never, EVER liked dressing/stuffing until I tried hers. She cooks the chicken (or turkey) and dressing together and it’s moist and delicious. Her mac and cheese she makes from scratch; she uses big, round noodles and about 4 different types of cheese, and then SHE BAKES IT. Needless to say when she asked us over on Tuesday I almost hyperventilated I was so excited.

Josh’s brother, Steve, has a daughter from his first marriage and she’s 13. She usually comes and stays with my in-laws for a week in the summer and a week around Christmas. She was there, my sister-in-law and her son were there, my brother-in-law Tim was there and we were there. We all had a good time eating my MIL’s delicious food, and just cracking up and having fun. I love being around my husband’s family; they have a dynamic and a closeness that I just love. Anyway, after we were through eating and were sitting there miserable, my MIL comes in and says she has something for me. She’s holding this black jewelry box, and says that she was going through her jewelry (I don’t remember what for) and she came across this. She had completely forgotten that she had it. She opened it up, and it was a small gold necklace with a charm in the form of a crawling baby. She told me that she had worn it when she was pregnant with Josh, and wanted me to have it. I smiled, and took it of course and was extremely touched. It made me so happy that she gave it to me, and I’m wearing it now.

I got to thinking, if we have a son and he gets married, I’d like to give it to his wife when and if she gets pregnant. And if that doesn’t happen, perhaps I’ll give it to our daughter if we have one when she gets pregnant. I was just very touched by the gesture. She’s always been thoughtful like that to me.

Drawing ever-closer to the second trimester. I got to thinking this morning about how I can’t wait to feel the baby move. I wonder when it’ll happen…. I’m thinking that I’ve got a ways to go still since I have a retroverted uterus. We’ll just have to wait and see, and be patient.