Birthday Wishes & September Daydreams

When my daughter was born I watched her constantly, amazed that this marvelous little being was related to me. She seemed too perfect to be mine to love and protect and like many new parents, I worried that I might mess it all up. I muddled through those early weeks on a rotation of feeding, diapering, and adoration, tempered only by new mother fatigue and fear.

She was only two weeks old when this picture was taken at a local department store. I had a camera of my own then and a decent level of skill so I’m not sure why I thought a posed portrait like this one was necessary. I’m glad I have it now and not just because she looks so darling, but because it brings back some interesting memories of that day.

It was my first trip out with Miranda on my own as her dad was at work and I put the new unused stroller we’d received as a gift into the trunk of the car to make our outing a bit easier. It came in handy while we were waiting our turn at the mall and all went well with the photo session until we made it back to the car.

After strapping a now hungry and slightly fussy newborn into her car seat, I went to work on the stroller to fold it up and put it away. Here’s where I learned an important lesson … what goes up with ease does not always go back down the same way especially if you don’t read the directions closely, and sometimes not even then.

I struggled for what seemed like forever and Miranda’s fussiness turned quickly into wails with a volume that seemed impossible coming from a baby weighing about as much as a small cat. It became a tug of war with me pushing levers and yanking on different parts of the stroller trying to figure out how to make it close and I was practically crying myself before I worked it out by accident and was surprised and relieved when it folded up as easy as bending paper.

A few weeks later when this photo was passed around to family and friends, someone remarked that with so much hair and her big-eyed cuteness, she looked more like a baby doll than a real baby and gave her the nickname, ‘Fake Baby.’ Remembering how disheveled and weepy we both were about twenty minutes after the photo was taken I thought, ‘Fake baby my foot!’

Today marks 25 years of loving the little baby doll of my dreams and there’s nothing fake about her, she is always just as she seems.

Happy Birthday, Miranda!

You can find more sweet Miranda stories if you click on the posts written on September 14 in the previous years. 8:03 will always be my favorite and can still be found here.

You Look Like Me

My sister Margaret was born within a few weeks of my second birthday. She came into the world at a difficult time in America. Born at the end of September only a few weeks before the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred in October of 1962, she was barely six weeks old when our family life blew apart in a way that could never be repaired. While the rest of the world was still catching its breath after the compromise between Kennedy and Khrushchev, our lives were spinning off in terrible directions that we would not be able to control.

A year ago today when I wrote the post Peanut Butter & Jelly for her, I offered a bit of insight into the challenges we faced as children. If you take a moment to read that post, found below the baby bracelet, the rest of this will make more sense.

Margaret was blond to my brunette with blue/grey/green eyes to my brown ones. Growing up no one ever questioned that I was our mother’s child having her hair and eye coloring in addition to a bit of her overall look. Margaret however, took after our father’s side of the family with her fair coloring and light eyes.

It must have been so obvious to our mother who still maintained throughout Margaret’s early years, ” I don’t know who you look like ”  saying it in a way intended to keep her at arms length even more than she did with her other behaviors. Never a warm or loving woman, it was one more way she found to inflict pain on someone she should have loved and protected.

I wish I could have stated what was so obvious back then, but we barely knew our father’s family and they were all but strangers to us when we finally had a opportunity to spend time with them in the summer of 1970. Children don’t always see things as clearly as adults and we certainly don’t always know the right thing to say.

As Margaret and I age, the physical differences are shrinking, I can’t look at my hands without seeing hers and although our mouths have a slightly different shape, the laugh lines around them look the same and we share a worry line right between our eyes that is always there when we’re trying to solve a problem. We both are short waisted although she has me on height and if you were to hear us laughing together you might have trouble telling us apart.

Margaret is and always has been, courageous and talented. She is a woman of many skills with an attitude that defies the possibility that what she wants is not within her reach. As someone who can design and build just about anything, if I were ever trapped on an island, she’d be someone I’d want there to help me sort things out. A tender message of love and affection has more value to her than any material possession and the welfare of her family is foremost in all of her decisions. We’ve struggled through some difficult times together and apart, but I hope she can hear me when I say, you are my family Margaret, and you look like me.

Happy Birthday Margaret

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Kansas 1984

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Alaska – December 2008

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Peanut Butter And Jelly

September 28, 2008

We were warriors together from our earliest days, standing together in defense as children against things too terrible to speak of even to those closest to us.

Born two years after me, she is part of my earliest memories. She was my first audience, listening as I created elaborate eulogies for the roly-poly bugs we found belly up in the back yard when we were six and eight. Seated among the stuffed animals who made up the mourners at these morbid dramas, her face was the gauge by which I measured my ability to connect with the heart of my audience. It was through her that I first learned the power of my own words and awakened my love of storytelling. Shy and outgoing, blond and brunette, quiet and chatty, we have been opposites, but so alike in different ways.

For years we were always,“ Elizabeth and Margaret,” said in the same mouthful like peanut butter and jelly or cake and ice cream. Never just Elizabeth or Margaret, until one day, thinking only of my own salvation, I fled from the daily war-zone of our lives and I lost my sister. Her name was changed and she was taken away to a state where I couldn’t find her. Suddenly, I was no longer one of two, no more Elizabeth and Margaret, just Elizabeth with no peanut butter for my jelly. Not knowing where she was or more importantly how she was, was an open wound to my young heart.

At fifteen, I convinced an older boy with a car to drive me 636 miles round-trip back to the last house I’d lived in with her. I told my dad and step-mom a bodacious lie and jumped into the car that covered the distance like it had wings attached to the roof rack. She was already gone but I didn’t know it then. I was too afraid to venture down the rocky driveway to get close enough to look for her, but I stood at the end of the road wringing my hands and thinking of escape plans that had no place in a mind that should have been focused on teen worries.

I wondered for years if I would recognize her if she passed me on the street and I felt her missing presence during all the times you’d like to share with a sister. Our father suffered terribly in his quiet way and sometimes in an unguarded moment our normally stoic dad would drop his calm demeanor and his sadness would leak out through his eyes.

At 23, after a tip from a young cousin, I made a few phone calls to a college in the middle of nowhere and told a couple of lies so big even I wouldn’t have believed them to an unsuspecting soul in the registrars office. It worked somehow and she confirmed my sister was enrolled that semester before giving me her home phone number. I was scared as I called the number and I held my breath waiting as I said, “Margaret…this is Elizabeth, don’t hang up.”

We saw each other for first time in ten years a few months later on my 24th birthday when I flew in to surprise her. She said later that she had a feeling she was going to see me that day. Sister connections and DNA …she knew I was coming. I wish I made it back to her sooner. I wish I could have gotten her to a safe place before she found it on her own. I wish I could have explained 34 years ago that I wasn’t trying to leave her, but trying desperately to save myself. There are a lot of things I’d change if I had the power, but there’s one thing she can count on now. I’m not going anywhere….anymore.

Today is a special day for me. It’s the 46th anniversary of the day my sister was born.

I’ve missed a lot of her birthdays in the past and it feels really good to be able to say that I hope today will be a happy day to the peanut butter to my jelly.

Happy Birthday Margaret.

Margaret Turns Six-1968

Beautiful Babies & Birthday Suits

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You must’ve been a beautiful baby

‘Cause baby look at you now.’

-Johnny Mercer

Birthdays are special days and I am delighted to celebrate John’s birthday with him today. Finding each other later in our lives, it’s only the second one that I been able to share with him and I’m grateful and happy to be able to be able to say Happy Birthday to my darling husband. When trying to decide which picture to use today, I asked him if he minded if I used the one above where he’s wearing only a curious look and his birthday suit. Easy going as always, he was fine with appearing naked in my blog. Today we’ll have a special lunch out in Padstow, a pretty little port town we both enjoy and a birthday cookout later in the evening with a carrot cake I’m making for dessert. I’ll be back with a few pictures of the day, but for now…here’s a few more of the beautiful baby who grew into a wonderful man.

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My Birthday boy in 2009

Birthday Greetings From Cornwall

Karen Walrond over at Chookooloonks has a sweet post today about her husband, Marcus.  As you can see by my title, today is his birthday.

You may be asking, ” Sooooo what does that have to do with you Elizabeth? ” You’d be right to wonder because it’s not as if I know him personally, in fact I only know about him through Karen’s stories and the lovely images of family life that show up in her blog from time to time. What I do know about Marcus….is that he’s Cornish and seeing how he’s so far from his roots in Cornwall, I thought I’d put together a few images of my new life here to remind him of where his began.

Happy Birthday Marcus!

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A full English breakfast.

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The Cornish Flag

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22 Years Ago – A Baby Girl

Twenty-two years ago, I was in the hospital having just given birth to my only child. I didn’t know it at the time, but this precious gift would steal my heart like no one else ever could. If you’ve followed my blog for any length time, you’ve seen snippets of Miranda scattered throughout my posts. I’ve tried to protect her privacy as much as any proud mother can. If I had my way Gifts Of The Journey might end up looking like a mommy blog as I could write post after post about smothering, I mean mothering Miranda over the years.

It is difficult for me to remember sometimes that she is grown now. Miranda is the same age I was when I was finishing my tour of duty with the Army and some days I have to remind myself that while 22 doesn’t seem all that old to a mother’s heart, she really has grown into a lovely quite capable young woman. With each conversation we have lately, I am able to see that she is doing just fine without a lot of input from me these days. That makes it easier to step back and enjoy her in a whole new way.

While I will not be with her physically this year, I will be ichatting with her in a few hours so seeing her on camera while we speak will have to do for now. When she was a baby, I used to kiss her all over her sweet face telling people I was stocking up for the days to come when she’d be too big for my exuberant displays of affection. While I’m sure I could still embarrass her with the delight I feel when close enough to smother her with the kisses she’s too old for now, today I’d settle for a big birthday hug and wish I was close enough to deliver it.  Happy Birthday baby girl!

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Below is the post I wrote last year for her 21 birthday…I wanted to share it again today as she turns 22.


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8:03

In a few days, my precious daughter will be twenty-one.

That’s twenty-one years since I heard a chorus of voices in the delivery room saying in unison, “ 8:03.”  Exhausted by a labor that had gone on for over two days, I remember thinking for about half second, “okay, so it’s 8:03” before realizing that the medical team were all marking time of birth.

So there it was, a Monday morning in September when my world changed forever at 8:03.

Married only three months and pregnant at twenty-six, I worried about how ill prepared I felt in my ability to parent anyone.  Even though I had joined the Army at eighteen and done more adventurous things by twenty-one than some people do their whole lives, I worried incessantly about the most basic of things…being a mother. That changed quickly as I held her that first night after everyone had gone home and we were completely alone for the first time.  I whispered my fears to her as I told her who I was and where I’d been. I told her I’d do my very best, but I was bound to make mistakes so some things we might need to learn together.

As you can imagine it was a very one sided conversation.  I talked, she stretched and yawned and then she slept…doing all the things a newborn does naturally.  Holding this tiny person in my arms, I made a promise to love and protect her and to stay open to the things she might teach me too along the way.  Life lessons come from unexpected places and the gifts that come from opening yourself to loving someone else deeply despite your fears can create a ripple effect that has the potential to positively touch the lives of more people than we realize.

Letting go, I learned what it’s like to love another without reservation, sweet unconditional love… no matter what.  My daughter, born four days after my twenty-seventh birthday has been the best gift of my life.  A blessing from the beginning, I learned how to love others by loving her first.  I expect she may take a look at this post, but it won’t be the first time she’s heard me say this. I’ve been telling her whole life that she has been the best blessing of mine.

Happy Birthday, baby girl – make a bold wish with those birthday candles and blow!


With Grace And Heart

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Christmas 1992

When you marry a divorced man with children especially in 1972, you can generally feel pretty secure that interaction with his children will be limited to weekend visits and school vacations. At most, you might have to adapt your summer work schedule to accommodate a few consecutive weeks for a longer visit, but you never consider that a few years later and directly on the heels of giving birth to a child of your own, that your household and your heart will suddenly be asked to stretch open enough for a mixed up fourteen year old girl to make her home there.

Looking back now 35 years later, I am still in awe by the way my step-mother Cullene handled this major life change. Despite juggling multiple responsibilities including a six month old baby, a full time job and helping to care for assorted elderly relatives, she welcomed me into the home she had created with my father. If she had concerns about adding one more to the list of those who needed her, I never felt it as she made room for me with an amazing amount of compassion and grace.

She wouldn’t have known then how desperately I needed a place of refuge and how if my request to live with them had met with resistance, I would have headed for the streets which would have seemed safer than the home I was in. Their home was a direct contrast to my previous life and for the first time, I felt safe.

I like to tell people than most of what I know about hosting a party or event along with good manners and appropriate behavior I learned by observing Cullene during my teen years. What I don’t always say is that Cullene inspired me early on with her business style and her stories of smoky rooms filled with tough talking journalists who thought a woman’s only place on the news page was in the society section. Her tales of taking on editors or working her way up later in positions generally reserved for men made me see a larger world for myself. I didn’t know then what my life or work might look like later, but listening to her I was sure that I wanted to be like her pushing the barriers others might try to impose.

It would be a one sided view of this generous woman if I didn’t say that much of what I’ve learned about giving of myself has come from observing Cullene do for others. She is always at the ready with a healing word of support or assistance for people in need often to the point of denying herself. While I could never be as unselfish as she so often is with others, I do know that there have been many times when in doubt that I have considered what Cullene might do in a similar situation.

She has been a sweet fallback of love and support during times when I needed it most, generously offering what I was frequently too stubborn to accept.  I am enormously grateful my father made the wise decision he did when he asked her to be his wife 37 years ago and more importantly for me, that when the situation required it, she assumed the position of mother to a teenager with little experience other than a strong internal foundation supported by heart and grace.

Today is Cullene’s birthday and even though I sent a little something by mail, I wanted to say more to honor this day and her significance in my life.

Happy Happy Birthday Cullene…I hope it’s great one!

The photo above is my favorite picture of the two of us and I love how there is a little heart hanging over our heads.

Thirteen

 

Miranda Holding Sam

Miranda Holding Sam

Thirteen years ago I snapped this photograph of Miranda holding her new cousin Sam. He was about six weeks old when she and I boarded a plane bound for Alaska to see the firstborn son of my sister Margaret and her husband Leon. 

Elizabeth & Sam - Trying To Make Him Laugh

Elizabeth & Sam - Trying To Make Him Laugh

Sam as it turns out, was the laughingest baby I’ve ever known and if you ask my sister she’ll tell you he only ever laughed with wild abandon with me. (Use your imagination here to picture the silly dances and sounds I had to make in order to encourage such giddiness) You should know I’m talking about giggling, squealing peals of real laughter not just the smiles and cooing you get with a lot of happy babies. Born in Alaska, we didn’t see a lot of each other face to face over the years, but my memories of the way he would laugh can still make me smile and it’s one of the stories everyone talks about when we remember Sam’s baby years.

Last December, I had a chance to spend a week in Alaska with Margaret and her husband Leon along with Sam and Nik. It was the first time I’d been around Sam since he was about 3 1/2. so the changes were huge. Sam, the laughingest baby I’ve ever known has a more mature sense of humor now.

He understands subtlety in a way that takes you by surprise, sometimes being a step or two ahead of you before you realize he understands irony in way that most thirteen year olds don’t get yet. 

There are a few other qualities I had a chance to see up close during my visit, such as Sam’s innate sense of direction. It turns out that Sam’s love of maps makes having him in your car a bit like having a personal GPS that tells you where to go and then reassures you that he knows what he’s taking about. I saw him do this more than a few times when we were in the car together last December and thought how handy that would be when he makes it over to Cornwall sometime for a visit. 

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Like his younger brother Nik, Sam is quite the music man. Preferring a Gibson guitar over his brother’s Fender, he seems to like to rock a bit more gently to some less raucous rock and roll classics and it was great fun for me to be able to see him play live at a Christmas concert. 

He’s had a intense interest in Huskies and the Iditarod for as long as I can remember and got his dog Buddy, an Alaskan husky when he was about six. (Sorry …I don’t have a better picture of Buddy) The picture below though shows one of the funny things Buddy likes to do when he feels like he wants to join the rest of the action.

Buddy At The Gate

Buddy At The Gate

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Sam has a need for solitude and time to think that I totally get and conversations with him always leave me thinking about our discussions and marveling at the perspective and insight of such a young man. He digs deeply into areas that interest him and is more than willing to chat at length about certain subjects… sharing details you might not ever have considered. 

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I think what I enjoy most though is seeing Sam interact with his brother Nik. With almost the same two year age difference that his mother Margaret and I share, I’m sometimes reminded of how she and I were as similar and different as Sam and Nik are while still enjoying the connections that come with having a sibling so close in age.

 

Sam Holding A Lizard With Nik Looking On

Sam Holding A Lizard With Nik Looking On

Today Sam is thirteen and recognized as a teenager on his way to all the experiences and expectations that will come with the title of teen. New directions can be more challenging for some of us than others, but with his uncanny sense of direction, I feel sure he’ll have no problems finding the path most right for him.

Happy Birthday Sam 

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