Thursday, June 25, 2009

& I didn't need the red shoes to get there

We all got up at the crack of dawn to get to the airport. As soon as we landed, we drove north, to Petoskey, where I was born. We stopped about an hour north of the airport to eat at The French Laundry, what used to be a little restaurant, in the little town of Fenton. I once worked just minutes from the place & they have a sandwich that is probably one of my favorites, anywhere. It's a combination some find weird; chicken salad, cream cheese, red onions, raspberry preserves & leaf lettuce in a whole wheat wrap. I think it's delicious & I cannot quite replicate it. Plus, they have new dill pickles, which I also love & cannot find anywhere in our county. If I could find some decent cucumbers, I'd make my own. But I digress.

As soon as we got out of the car to go into the restaurant, MiniMe immediately noticed the grass. She stood on the sidewalk staring at it, then crouched down to brush her hands over it, calling it "baby grass". She was shocked when I told her she could walk on it & looked at me like I was suggesting she walk on silk sheets. "I know," I told her. "I think it's wonderful, too."

We ate outside. It was about 68 degrees, but it was breezy & sunny & felt like heaven. The food was good, but the service was slow, lousy, & we had a long drive. The drive was surreal. We do have trees here in Florida, but they aren't as tall or numerous as the ones in Michigan. Even in the city, things in Michigan somehow seem cleaner. I have a theory that the process of winter, the freezing & thawing, make everything seem that way, but Florida gets such rain, you would think it'd be a wash. (ha!) As we drove, I felt like I was sitting there with my mouth open, in a haze. I was tired; I only got about 3 hours of sleep the night before, but it was so weird. As my mom moved downstate when she & my Dad divorced, I made this drive many, many times in my life. There were experiences that felt like flashbacks. Little miniscule things I had forgotten; the way sunlight dapples through the leaves of deciduous trees in the afternoon, the feeling of weightlessness for that second when you launch over a dip in the road. They seem so insignificant, but I had not felt them for so long after being a daily occurrence. Like I said, surreal.

Our first destination was the home of my godparents, Craig & Harriet. Their three children are all younger than me, but all grown & gone. They lived right next door to my parents before I was born & though we went through a long stretch of time where we had lost contact, Uncle Craig tracked me down right before I met Biggie & I have never felt anything but love from them. When my Dad died we stayed with them for 3 days & it was a great comfort to me to be with people that were more concerned about my loss; that I didn't have to comfort over their loss. We really just went to be with them, in their home, in that town. Petoskey is a beautiful little town on a bay of Lake Michigan. The views are stunning. It is one of those places that if you visit in the summer you can't understand how it is not overrun with Holiday Inns & high-rise condos. Well, the average snowfall there is such that as a child we had to shovel the snow off the roof of the house so the roof didn't cave in. Most people that live there have snowshoes, because they are needed, & if you don't have a tractor, you certainly seek someone out that does to befriend, because it is inevitable that you or a loved one will need to be dug out at some point. Jobs are scarce there, & although it hasn't had the steep decline of the Southeast part of the state, it has always been of a slower pace, a simpler time.

Even though we didn't arrive until the early evening, it was still warm. MiniMe was amazed at how comfortable it was outside, with more baby grass, the breezes, the lack of the oppressive heat. Biggie looked at the clock at 10pm & was shocked because the sun was just going down. Petoskey is north of the 45th parallel, so in the summer the days are almost 16 hours long. It is something I relished as a kid. Just another one of those things MiniMe is missing out on that she doesn't even realize.
Being with my godparents gives me the illusion of growing up with many things I did not, but easily could have. The illusion that I grew up with both a mother & father, in the same home, for example. The illusion that I belong more to this place than I truly do. Uncle Craig & Aunt Harriet give up their own bed for Rick & I to sleep in when we come to visit them. The simple sweetness of this gesture speaks volumes. I was miserable with an upper respiratory virus while we were there, as was MiniMe. When she took a long nap the second day we were there, Aunt Harriet & I had a nice talk on their deck. She loves me, & I her. It is so nice to be with people that love you & pray for you, even when you speak infrequently.

The second day we were there we went to see my step-mother, Linny. She has been staying in Petoskey, with her own mother, for much of the time since my father passed. The home that was her & my dads' is in a remote town on 3 acres. She fell the winter after he died trying to clear the driveway & they didn't realize until the following fall that she had actually broken her pelvis when that happened. She had surgery to re-break the three places where it had broken & since healed incorrectly, last December. She has been staying in Petoskey, also near two of her three children, all of this time.

Visiting Linny was a strange experience for me. We have both remarked to each other that we both feel that no one else can understand the loss we feel for my Dad as we do for one another. My dad's mom is still alive, & yes, we know that she misses him, too. But her loss is almost as if she has lost a prize possession; something to be angry about, to avenge. I have not spoken to her much since my father has been gone because the conversation inevitably turns to things that were either my dad's or his father's or both & how Linny is not doing as my grandmother thinks she should with these things. I don't think it is any of my grandmother's business, & more over, I think it's a cruel place to put Linny when my dad didn't leave a will. I have developed a policy that I never really thought about that I would keep my mouth shut about things unless it really bothered me or Linny asked me. When she told me last year that she wanted to sell the house, I didn't have a problem with it. She told me the day we visited that she has accepted an offer on the house. I was shocked. The market in Michigan has been nothing short of awful, & as proof, she sold the house for the price my Dad paid for the land alone, almost 20 years ago. I don't begrudge her. It is too much for her to deal with. It's just that her children & grandchildren are already swarming like vultures because they know she will have money & that makes me ill. It's not that I want the money, it's that my dad died on the job. He never got a day off. I want him back & I can't have that. & it is his hard work that paid for that house. I talked to Aunt Harriet & Biggie about it. They understand. It's just one of those things that sucks, I talk about, it still sucks, but it will always suck, so I move on.

After two days of Petoskey, we headed back downstate to stay with my Aunt, MiniMe's godmother, just north of Detroit. We are pretty close, & I was sad that we were only staying with her for one night. She also gives her own bed to Biggie & I when we visit & it doesn't go unnoticed or unappreciated. I had made plans to go to dinner with a group of women that evening; my only activity away from Biggie & MiniMe while we were there. Aunt Mary grilled us some steaks & we ate outside. We walked down to the lake, along the shore, & sat in a swing. MiniMe begged Aunt Mary to tell her a story about Sonya. (Biggie frequently makes up stories starring Sonya & MiniMe always requests her. My story character is a girl named Isla, but she's not nearly as popular as Sonya.) Aunt Mary did a splendid job.

I went to pick up another mom that was going to the dinner & Biggie, MiniMe, Aunt Mary & her friend all went to see the movie Up. It was nice to be out, with friends, & know that Biggie & MiniMe were out having their own fun. My ankles were so swollen at this point I had to take up a valuable seat at the table to put them up. I talked with another pregnant mother most of the night, but I still got to get faces to go with names I have known for months. Just to be in a place that isn't dominated by retirees, where I'm not the youngest person in the room besides our kid, was nice.

The next morning we planned on going to eat breakfast at one of my long-missed restaurants then onto an annual tour of my favorite neighborhood in Detroit. I figured out after we got everything packed up to go that I had ruined our plans. I had borrowed my Aunt's GPS to get around the night before, & when I returned it to her car I accidentally dropped the keys to our rental car in her console. She had left for work before we even got out of bed & wouldn't be done until after lunch. I figured out where she worked, called her there, & yes, that's what happened. She called her friend who came, got the keys from her & then brought them to us. It wasn't a total wash. MiniMe spent our time waiting laying in the baby grass, rolling down the hill. Although, we didn't get to eat at that restaurant, (The Breakfast Club, for my Metro Detroit readers), & just typing about that makes my pregnant belly rumble, my mouth water.

The tour was my favorite thing that we did there. It was stressful, at times, wrangling a somewhat bored preschooler through meticulously maintained homes. The number of times I reminded her to "look with her eyes & not her hands" was too numerous to count. She was frustrated because the lure of these homes to her is the fact that they have an upstairs & I believe only one home on the tour had the upstairs open. But doing the tour changed our plans as a family. We strolled through the neighborhood, in the supposedly Most Dangerous City in the Country, with no fear. We walked under trees old enough to be taller than the houses, past houses with shiny windows, in gardens with peonies and dahlias. Biggie told me if I can find a way for us to afford it, we can move there. While my taste tends to run more toward the Arts & Crafts style, which we did get to see in the Stratton house I wrote about before, Biggie's favorite house was a federal style colonial by architect C. Howard Crane that used to belong to Jack White. MiniMe loved it, too, but I think it was more about the gracious Airdale in the backyard. "It's a Neighborhood!" she said, like she had found The Definition according to Webster.

My ankles were hideously swollen at this point, so we left to check into our (thankfully) nearby hotel. We drove up Grand Boulevard, past houses that were once as grand as those we had just toured, but were now in shambles. I fight the sorrow. I've come to a place where I can see it for what it is. I believe that the change is necessary, inevitable, & gets much more than its' share of publicity as the best example of the worst things happening. I am just happy to see them occupied. Our hotel, The Hotel St. Regis, is a place I have spent a considerable amount of time in. It just recently underwent a substantial renovation & I was pleased. While our room was small, the view was directly down Cass Avenue, & the beds were the most comfortable we slept on for the entire trip. I rested for a bit & then changed my clothes to meet Biggie's father & sister for dinner.

They fought my choice of restaurants, Andiamo's, but I was going under the advice of the women I met from the Detroit Free Press, & I didn't relent. I could go on & on about this, but just know that Canadians, well, at least the ones I married into, don't like doing anything in Downtown Detroit. I forced their hand, because I am The Mean Daughter-In-Law & I travelled several hundred miles, with a preschooler & pregnant, the least they can do is let me pick the restaurant.

It was during the Stanley Cup playoffs, so the restaurant had tried to make things easier on themselves by limiting the menu & offering a buffet. I felt gypped. We all got the buffet, which was great, but I still had like 3 different entrees in my head that I was trying to pick from before I sat down. I indulged in an Ice Cream Puff Sundae covered with Saunder's Hot Fudge for dessert. This hot fudge is a Detroit standard & is actually a milk chocolate caramel, not the plastic-y dark brown most other places serve. I didn't eat all of the pastry, but I did scrape up every bit of that stuff that I could.

My father-in-law & I tend to clash, but I think we got along fairly well; we even sat next to each other. MiniMe decided almost immediately that she loves my sister-in-law, Biggie's younger sister. She chose to have her Aunt take her to the bathroom about five minutes after we met up, which isn't like her at all. Biggie's sister is a competitive body builder, yoga instructor, & licensed massage therapist. She was discussing yoga & MiniMe piped up to say that she wanted to show her Aunt her tree pose. I think her Aunt was touched that MiniMe knows yoga & she asked me to take a picture of them doing it together. She posted it on her facebook page the next day. It was sweet. (& yes, Kristine, that's the aforementioned Christmas tree)
The following day we had plans to meet up with some friends that were going downtown for the Tiger's game, that we hadn't seen since 2004. They tend to not do much downtown, as do many suburban Detroiters, except contribute to traffic to attend sport events, & then leave right away. I suggested a place practically right across the street from the ball park. We had a nice breakfast together & they asked us what our plans were for the day, which were to go down to a newer park on the riverfront where there is a carousel & a bike shop that is owned by a friend of my from college, Wheelhouse Detroit. MiniMe begged her new friends to come with us, & they did. While Kelli B., my friend from college, was doing a bike tour of her beloved Corktown that day & not at the shop, we had a nice time down at the riverfront. We all rode the carousel & MiniMe even got to ride the token mermaid.

As we walked along the river, I marveled at how clean the water is compared to my younger days, as well as to the inter-coastal waterway here in Fort Myers. I laid in the baby grass, again, and spoke to our unborn child with my heart. If I close my eyes, I can still go back there, & I have several times since we came home.
We dropped our friends off at the stadium & went back to the hotel. We then drove out to a town to the west, Belleville, where Biggie's brother & sister-in-law live. They had a small birthday party for my mother-in-law with mostly people I know, & a few I did not. I tend to not fit into the typical doting, hovering females, but am not welcomes into the activities of the men either. I tend to stay on the periphery, where I am okay, but now that MiniMe is older, it is more obvious. After most everybody left, Biggie's sister was kind enough to give me a small yet intense massage. It was needed, but I always feel bruised the next day, she is so strong. We went back to our hotel & we all slept well.

The next day we got up & checked out of the hotel, then went for breakfast at a fairly new restaurant I had read about located in Corktown, Le Petite Zinc. It was a cool, drizzly day & MiniMe was grumpy in her slightly too small raincoat. Honestly, breakfast would have been heavenly without her whiny, testy little attitude, but even with it, our meal was the best we ate on this trip. Biggie & I both had crepes with spinach, pine nuts & a salty cheese. The coffee was strong, not bitter, & fresh. I can understand why, even on a Monday morning, the sweet waitress had to rush around briskly & take help from the chef. We let MiniMe wander out the doorway into the garden where we could still see her as she picked up stones to put into the fountain & we rubbed our bellies, sipping the last of our coffee. We took our time leaving & MiniMe validated my perspective that she was cranky by falling asleep in the car as we drove back to my brother-in-laws.

Belleville, where they live, is closer to Ann Arbor than to Detroit. My brother & sister-in-law wanted to go to Zingerman's, a bourgeois, expensive, yet good deli in Ann Arbor that is pretty famous. The original deli is located in a converted victorian home in downtown Ann Arbor. Biggie loves a lot of their mail order catalog, but detests actually eating there, because the tables are either outside in a tent or really teeny tables upstairs. He likes space when he eats & if he pays $15 for a sandwich, it should have more prosciutto on it than what he has gotten there in the past. I lived in Ann Arbor for four years, & during most of that time I did not have a car, so I know it pretty well. I suggested we instead go to Zingerman's Roadhouse, an actual restaurant they established in 2004, inside a former steakhouse. It made me feel good to help his family discover a restaurant they didn't know about as well as find a compromise between what they wanted to eat & Biggie's issues. The meal itself was a trial for me because, again, MiniMe was really cranky. At one point I did take her back out to the car to sit for a few minutes to decompress, but it was still nice.

MiniMe took to this Aunt, as well, much easier than I expected her to. It was a shock to me to have help around in regard to her & to not be the sole person her endless stream of thoughts is directed at. Our last morning of the trip, I woke up to go to the room where she slept only to find my sister-in-law wedged into the sofa bed next to her. Apparently, MiniMe had nightmares the night before & my sister-in-law just climbed into bed with her. I was touched that she would do that for her, & appreciative that I got one last good last rest before we had to schlep back to the heat of Florida.

The trip home was brutal, uneventful, & this post is bordering on novella, so I will let that sweet gesture be the end. I wanted to get all this down for MiniMe to read later & before I forgot how things were. I have proofread it a few times, I feel like there are still some things to fix, but people are pestering me about our trip, so here it is.

Monday, June 15, 2009

This little light of mine

Dear MiniMe,

Four years ago, on June 11, 2005, at about 1:30am, I was unconscious as you took your first breaths. About an hour later, I am told that I held you for the first time, that I wept, but I don't remember it. The first thing I remember is putting my hands on your belly as you lay in that plastic bassinet & singing the Waylon Jennings song "If You Ask Me To" to you. To anyone who has heard the song a few times, they might think the morphine was still a little high, but for anyone who knows the words, I'm sure they'd understand. I mean every word, & you now know them by heart. 

As we have come to know each other, your personality has seemed to be there all along. I've always felt like I've known you for a long time. When I think back to my life before you, when I would think about what a child of mine would be like, you are just as I always knew you would be in so many ways. Yet, you are so much better. I always thought you would look more like Biggie, with darker hair & eyes. The first time your Nonna met you she held you up in the air, saying, "Oh! Look at my little Calabrese!" I scoffed inside. You look so much like me it hurts sometimes, but you do it better. Your eyes sparkle more, you've got some of your dad's curls right at the ends of your hair, you are more honest than I could ever hope to be. I am proud of how authentic you are. I do my best not to be hurt when you don't want to hug me, but thankfully it is rare. You indulge my policy that I don't get out of bed until somebody gives me a hug, & I thank you for it. 

I need you to know that I am not the kind of mother I want to be, sweetheart. I hate that we are trapped inside during this relentless heat. I am sorry that I can't take you for a walk in the woods, to try to master your new scooter, or to just lay in the grass & look at the clouds. I'm sorry that you are forced to settle, day after day, with your sometimes cranky & not-so-creative mom. I am trying to do something about it, but the guilt is a heavy burden. 

I am so grateful that you love to help me. Yes, most of the time it takes me longer to get tasks completed because you do, but the fact that you want so earnestly to make things easier for me speaks volumes about your character. In your own way, you tell me that you see all I do for you & that you think it is right. So many times you show that you understand me better than most adults do & you never question my motivations. You seem to always trust that I will not let you down, & while some may see that as a disservice in some way, I don't. Some days it is the only validation I can find. 

Although I want this to be about you, I have to tell you I am so excited for you to become a big sister. Just yesterday I asked you what am I going to call this new baby, because only you can be my Punk. You said, "Oh, Mama! You'll come up with something! You always do!" You are such a great little cheerleader, you make our whole family excited to see what is down our path. 

You are on the cusp of going out in the world to meet new people. While I worry over if you will find the balance between staying true to yourself & being gracious, I'm excited. I can't wait to hear you describe your experiences in your exuberant, colorful vocabulary. I savor every morsel, lovey. More than anything, thank you for loving me back. I don't know what I did to deserve you. I strive everyday to do so.