Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nini: Love Defined

In the interest of keeping with the goal of the original Pawpaw post, I'd like to continue by telling you about my Nini.  Nini is my last living grandparent, and I know God has a plan for that.  My Grandaddy taught me unconditional love, my Grandmama taught me unconditional strength, and my Pawpaw taught me unconditional joy.  My Nini is still teaching me another lesson  - unconditional sacrifice.  It's a lesson I've struggled with all along, but it's one I'm trying so hard to learn, and Nini could not be a better teacher.

Pawpaw said that his song for Nini was "Wind Beneath My Wings."  It was his lasting legacy for my family's relationship with my Nini, I know it.  When the song says "I was the one with all the glory, you were the one with all the strength," I see it so clearly.  You couldn't not love my Pawpaw.  His joy and vivaciousness knew no bounds.  His thirst for life was contagious.  But he left this for my family so that we would know that all along, he would have been nothing without Nini.  She was his hero, his rock, and the reason he was as wonderful as was, which makes her infinitely more wonderful.

She gets her words mixed up sometimes.  She pronounces things funny - "cry-stial" instead of crystal, "breaksfast" instead of breakfast", and "aluminumnum" instead of aluminum.  Things don't always clearly translate from her head to her mouth.  I see so much of that in Alli - her mind is working so quickly that her mouth can't catch up.  I know Nini is the exact same way.  She is so analytical, so attuned to the needs and feelings of others, it just doesn't always translate to us mere mortals.

No one person in my life has ever loved me as much as my Nini - that would be impossible.  She truly is capable of a higher level of love than anyone I know.  I think she's on a whole other plane.  I can only think of one time I've known that she's ever been mad at me - I wandered off in the mall, and I think it was more fear for my safety than anything.

I think all of these warm clothes were hers - the perpetual mother hen

Oh, my Nini loves babies.  She still loves us all as if we were babies, but she really loves babies.  I remember my brother calling her secretly on the phone when he was under the age of four and then hanging up the phone quickly when my mother walked in.  I remember sitting in her lap to claim her when my cousins walked in the door.  And I remember Alli clinging to her the exact same way.  Nini loves babies, and babies love Nini.

If Pawpaw is the beacon, Nini is the anchor.  Nini means constant love and constant encouragement.  If you want a reason to get up and fight, Nini will find one.  But if you want an excuse to lay on the couch and cry, Nini will find one of those too.  The day I wrecked my dad's truck, I ran to Nini.  One of the hardest times in my life, the time when I told my family I was pregnant with Alli, I spent a solid day curled up on her couch.  No questions, no judgement, no anger.  Just love unfailing.

A one year old gets to dip her finger in her own cake, after all

Oh my, but Nini is strong.  She's feisty too.  She can be sassy, but you aren't always sure if she means it because it sounds like sugar.  But if you cross her or her family, she will show you just how much business she means.  I think her sweet demeanor and constant love can lead people to think she's weak, but she is so incredibly strong.  You don't get to call yourself a Rachel unless you're tough.  You don't marry a man like my Pawpaw and raise three bright, intelligent, and wonderful women like my mother and my aunts without a little spunk.

Nini is a constant lesson for me in sacrifice.  In being the person who brings out the best in others, which in turn brings out the best in oneself.  I tend to be focused on me and my needs, but knowing Nini is to know a person who is focused on others and their needs above her own.  She raised a family while my Pawpaw pursued his career across Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.  She has a shopping problem.  She doesn't like to cook or clean, unless it's for her family's sake.  She can rock any baby to sleep.  And it still feels like I'm five when I hug her.

I know now exactly how Pawpaw felt about Nini, and I couldn't agree more.  The professor keeps teaching.

It must have been cold there in my shadow, to never have sunlight on your face. 
You were content to let me shine, that's your way.  You always walked a step behind.
So I was the one with all the glory, while you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name for so long, a beautiful smile to hide the pain.
Did you ever know that you're my hero?  You're everything I would like to be.
I can fly higher than an eagle, you are the wind beneath my wings.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wisdom From an (Almost) 2nd Grader

I came home today in a foul mood.  Not only was it a Monday, but the house was messy, there was a mound of laundry to fold, I'd had a challenging day at work (plus I elected to swimsuit shop over lunch...please examine my head), and there's some tropical storm in the Gulf that is trying to wreck my vacation.  I was in a state.

I have to admit, I tend to let the house get to me.  We have a lot and I mean A LOT of people and stuff in a really tiny little place.  And I am so ready to get out of this house and move on with our lives, but we just aren't quite all the way there yet.  So anyway, I cried a little and lashed out at Ryan.  I'm not proud of it and it's certainly not his fault, but I did.  And Alli heard me, which makes it even worse. We moved on - I cooked dinner (tacos, yum), Ryan and Alli played kickball until someone kicked the ball over the fence, and we all played a game of Sorry that Ryan won despite my and Alli's best efforts.  We gang up on him, but he's so good at games that it almost makes it fair.

Then I was snuggling with Alli right before her shower, and we had the most interesting conversation.

Me:  "You know Mama loves you even when she gets upset."
Alli:  "Yeah, I know."
Me:  "And Mama loves Daddy even when she gets upset with him."
Alli:  "Yeah, I know."
Me:  "Mama and Daddy are best friends, and sometimes best friends fight.  But that doesn't mean they aren't still best friends."
Alli:  "What were you mad about?"
Me:  "Oh, the house.  Mama was mad about the house."
Alli (disbelief):  "Really?  The house?  Oh, Mama, it's just a house."

My little sage with her new bedspread
And so it is.  Why did it take a seven year old to remind me?  We kept talking, and she had been sad that she didn't win the Sorry game.  Then she brushed my hair out of my face and said "It really makes me feel better when you're here with me."  Of course I welled up with tears and bear hugged her.  Then I helped her get in the shower and bragged to Ryan about what an amazing kid we are raising.  We have got to be parents of the year.  She's so smart, so compassionate, so expressive, and so happy.

I went back in to wash her hair and she looked at me with those big round eyes, held up her toy and proclaimed "Look, Mama.  Yoshi's selling margaritas.  Do you want one?"

Okay, maybe not parents of the year.  And rethinking taking her to La Hacienda so much.

So close, yet so far away...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Sting of Defeat

Is it only Wednesday?  What a week it's been already!  This Sunday we swapped vehicles with my dad so that we could bring up a full mattress for Alli's new (old) bed.  This bed was a wedding gift from my great great grandparents to my great grandparents on their wedding day in 1935.  Isn't it gorgeous?  And right in my era too.  I hope I have a house as old as this bed some day...

I just ordered a new comforter from Pottery Barn Kids, and I need to find the perfect dust ruffle, but seriously, check out the bed!  Alli's been in a twin daybed since she graduated from her crib, so she is loving the "big kid" bed, and I am loving making it up.  So much easier!  Never again with the daybed - a bed that's impossible to make neatly is like hell for an OCD mama.

On Monday, Ryan and I went to Wal-Mart in Rogers over our lunch break.  We haven't bought groceries in about 3 weeks with all of the traveling, so we decided to get a head start by buying the dry stuff.  I always check the soups for my favorite chicken tortilla from Marketside, but they never have it.  I blame myself, really.  All I ever did was talk about how wonderful it was, and then one day they seemed to stop having it in stock at all.  It's hell being popular.  Anyway, I did a quick flyby, expecting to see the usual tomato bisque and broccoli cheddar, but low and behold...

Victory!!  I bought all six, and I've had it every day this week for lunch.  I'm only down to three now, which is devastating, but maybe this sudden in-stockness is a sign that the popularity has died down?  Or they've decided to keep it in the rotation more??  Fingers crossed.

Last night Ryan had frisbee, so it was me, Al Breeze, and Lindsey hanging at the crib.  I had visions of a relaxed evening with a little dinner cooking, yard watering, and maybe a walk for the boys later, but the world had other plans.  I set up the baby pool in the back yard for Alli, and then I decided to move the sprinkler to the front yard.  As I was on one side of the gate adjusting the sprinkler, Alli came bounding up and peeked through the gate.  "Peekaboo!" she yelled, followed by "AHHHHHHHH!!!!!"  I threw open the gate and then I screamed and swatted at my arm.  Wasp sting!  I tried to calm Alli down and ask her where she was stung, and when she kept screeching "My eye! My eye!!" I knew we were in for a long night.

As soon as the swelling started, I made the call to visit the walk-in clinic by our house.  You just don't mess around with eyes.  Verdict: Pitiful, but fine.

The swelling has gone down a lot today, and she says it's stopped hurting so I think we're in the clear.  And my arm is fine too, thanks for asking.  No one really cares though, do they?

After a half week filled with excitement, I am really looking forward to crashing in my bed around 9PM.  Hope everyone is having a wonderful Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Catching Up - Part Quad: Love and Loss

On Wednesday, June 6, 2012, my Pawpaw died unexpectedly in Nashville, TN six days after surgery to remove his bladder.  He had been doing so well in recovery so his death was a huge surprise.  He collapsed into my Nini's arms, which is most definitely the only place he would have wanted to be.

Our entire family joined for a beautiful memorial service several days later.  My cousins literally sounded like angels when they sang "Up To The Mountain."  My siblings spoke, and they both did so well.  I spoke as well, but I don't remember much of it, other than I laughed and cried and stared at the back of the room because I couldn't meet the eyes of a single person there.  My uncle closed it out with a wonderful rendition of "Wind Beneath My Wings" - my grandfather's song to my grandmother.

Alli's first Halloween - October 2005

It was an absolutely perfect memorial for an absolutely perfect man.  Here's the draft of my speech (I went off the cuff a little bit, so this isn't exact).

I want to thank you all for coming today.  It's such a blessing to see that I'm not the only one who was so deeply affected by my Pawpaw.  My mom and I were talking yesterday, and she commented that my Pawpaw left a lot of legacies, one of the most important being the expression of oneself through music.  I'm going to have a hard time getting through this, so I am going to use some lyrics from a favorite singer of mine and my Pawpaw's to help me get through it.  Waylon Jennings said "I'm not here to forget you, I'm here to recall the things we used to say and do, I don't want to get over you.  I don't want to get over you."

I don't want to get over you, Pawpaw.  I don't want to forget your voice.  Your booming professor voice.  My cousin Brooke said to me yesterday that she liked how much love she could hear in his voice when he said her name. I don't want to forget the way it sounded when you said my name.  I love the voice that he got when he was teaching me.  Math was so natural to him, and he loved it so much that he radiated it while he taught.  As brilliant as he was, he was able to simplify it and make it so easy to understand.  He gave me the secret formula for passing Cal II, and I was appalled when he told me when I started taking differential equations that he used to make them up for fun, just to see if he could solve them.

Yet again, I'll let the lyrics Pawpaw and I loved lead us: "I've always been crazy, but it's kept me from going insane."  I think he found these lyrics especially meaningful because of all he had been through in his life.  It was true - he was a little crazy.  He was a joker, a prankster, and he loved to laugh.  He told jokes that made you groan, he stuck pencils out of his knee joint of his artificial legs, he told the best stories of his childhood, and once he sent my cousin Lisa screaming down the hall by showing her his artificial eye.  We always had to lock Pawpaw out of the room when the Razorbacks were playing because as soon as he turned the game on, we would start losing. He used to threaten to turn the TV on during big games unless we wired him money.  Here's hoping the curse is lifted and I would not be surprised if we won a national championship this year.

He radiated energy and happiness despite the hardships he faced.  He didn't shrink, he didn't run, he didn't hide.  He fully loved and enjoyed every minute of his life.  We should all be so fortunate.
Waylon also said "There's one in every crowd, for crying out loud, why was it always turning out to be me?"  You're the one in this crowd, Pawpaw because you were like a magnet.  You drew people in with your larger than life personality.  You didn't even try, but you were always surrounded by people because people felt good in your presence.  It didn't matter what you talked to Pawpaw about, he always knew something about it and he always wanted to talk about it with you.  Dinosaurs, books, music, horses, current events, it didn't matter.  He was an expert teacher, but he was an expert listener as well.

I'll let Waylon close it out for me - "I will live to see it all through, but I'll always miss dreaming my dreams with you."  I love you, Pawpaw.  Thank you for being a teacher, a listener, and a great friend.

My college graduation day - May 2007

On Sunday after the service, we had a family dinner at El Chico's.  I had a wonderful time with our entire family, and I can't wait to see them all again at Christmas.  We are so blessed to have such an amazing group of people to call family!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Catching Up - Part Tre: Mellow Weekend

After Aerosmith, we had yet another event - Alli's annual dance recital.  My mom was still in Nashville with Pawpaw, but my dad came up for the recital.  He drove up Saturday afternoon, meaning we Lowes had a Saturday morning to spend.  Because it was sunny and cool, we decided to hit the Fayetteville Farmers Market.  Alli had her very first taste of a peach, which she loved.  We also bought some flowers, a candle, and some soap.

We followed up with brunch at Emelia's and driving around downtown - one of our favorite activities.  Or mine anyway.  I just have a patient husband and a daughter who is easily entertained with an iPad.

Later that afternoon, Daddy came in and it was time for the dance recital.  This year Alli took a cheerleading class, so her recital outfit was even cuter than usual.

We had a great evening - both of Alli's routines were wonderful, and we followed up with dinner at US Pizza.

Sunday morning, Daddy headed out early and we decided to hit up our favorite pool around - the Springdale Aquatic Center.  Alli actually jumped off the high dive and did all of the slides.  It was amazing!! 

We do so love the summertime.  

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Catching Up - Part Deux: Walk This Way

After we got back from Nashville, Fayetteville was undergoing its annual transformation into Wal-Mart Shareholders World Headquarters, an event people travel from all over to come to, and one that always brings in a lot of traffic and some great music acts.  We've had Jimmy Buffett and Carrie Underwood.  But this year, it was just a little different.

Aerosmith came to town.

As you might know, I am a bit of an Aerosmith fan.  Ryan and I had tickets to go see them a few years ago for my first ever Aerosmith concert, but Steven decided to be an idiot and fall off the stage before we could see him.  So this time, Mr. Tyler came to me via Wal-Mart shareholders.

I couldn't believe my luck.  The only issue was that I am not actually a Wal-Mart shareholder.  I had a job offer from Wal-Mart right after college, but I turned them down.  I had not once regretted that decision until the day I found out ST and company were coming to town.  I was a pouty mess the entire day of the concert, and then I decided to work late just to dull the pain.  I got a phone call from Ryan that went something like this:

Ryan:  "How late are you going to work?"

Moi:  "I don't know, Ryan, as long as it takes."

Ryan:  "Well, I guess I'll take some other girl to see Aerosmith tonight."

Moi:  Silence.

Ryan:  "Hello?"

Moi:  "Are you being serious?"

Ryan:  "Yeah."

Moi:  "I'll be right there."

How happy is that face?
Cheap Trick opened, which was an okay show.  I only knew 3 or 4 of the songs, but I think I enjoyed it.  I don't really remember.  I was just too nervous for Aerosmith.  Finally, at around 9pm, the stage rotated.

And not long after that, out he came.

They only played for about an hour and a half, but it was the most entertaining concert I've ever been to.  I sang every song at the top of my lungs (sorry neighbors) and screamed at pretty much everything Steven said.  I wish they had played longer, I wish our seats had been closer, and I wish that I were on tour with ST right now, but all things considered, it was a near-perfect night.  I finally got to see Aerosmith in concert and it was in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

I just have to think he knew he owed me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Catching Up - Part Uno

Oh, friends.  It has been such a month, I don't even know where to begin.  I think I might break this post into a few separate posts so that it's not so long and drawn out.  I know you all know what this is building up to, but it's cathartic for me to relive the past month a bit, so kindly bear with.

Several weeks ago, we headed down to Little Rock to see my grandfather before his major surgery.  I didn't mention it in this post, but Pawpaw was diagnosed with bladder cancer a few months ago and had not been responding to treatment, so he made the rather difficult and radical decision to have his bladder removed.  My mother, aunts, grandmother, and he were headed out the next week to drive to Nashville for the procedure.  Knowing it is a very major surgery, I wanted to head down beforehand and wish him luck.

Saturday morning we got up early and took donuts over to Nini and Pawpaw's.  We visited, laughed, listened to stories, and did the puzzle in the paper.  Afterwards, Ryan, Alli, Mom, Daddy and I went to the zoo.  It was hot, but we had so much fun.  Alli guided us around with the map the entire time.

Put that gorilla back in its cage!!

Tour guide

Wondering just how old this turtle is...

After that, my aunt Emily flew into town and we spent the evening at my grandparents' - more laughing, more stories, and more fun.  The hard part was seeing the pain that my grandfather was in.  He was very thin, unable to move his leg, and hardly able to walk.  I left Little Rock very happy that I had seen him but very worried about him.

The next week, Alli graduated from first grade.  I am so proud of my little bitty, and I cannot believe that she is going to be a second grader!!!

We made plans to go Nashville the next weekend to see Pawpaw after his surgery, but on Thursday surgery was postponed due to some bloodwork that they ran.  Dad and I decided to go anyway, and I am oh so glad we did.  I spent so much wonderful time with my Pawpaw, wheeling him around the Country Music Hall of Fame, listening to music, and enjoying each others' company.

Packing for Nashville - Lola wanted to come!!

Alli grubbing at the Pancake Pantry
 While we were at the Country Music Hall of Fame, Pawpaw and I spent a lot of time together, because  our love of that music was something we shared.  When we were done with one floor and waiting on everyone, he leaned over to me and said "You know, I am going to ask for my money back if they don't show us a little Waylon."  I said "Well, maybe he's on this last floor.  Do you want me to go get everyone and tell them you're ready to move on?"  He said, "No, let's just go on.  We need to find Waylon."  So we hopped onto the elevator, left everyone (thanks for babysitting, cousins!!), and as soon as we got off the elevator, low and behold...

A moment I'll treasure forever.