I recently finished reaching a book called “Wisdom of Our Fathers” by the late Tim Russert. He actually wrote a book prior to this called “Big Russ & Me” about the life lessons he learned from his blue collar, Irish Catholic father. To this day, even having read it 10+ years ago, “Big Russ & Me” is still one of my all-time favorite books. I highly, highly recommend it.
With parenthood looming, I knew that I wanted to read his second book in hopes that it would help shed more light on what Pat & I are about to walk into. I have always been a huge fan of Tim Russert. A hard-working, middle class man born & raised in midwestern Buffalo; a devout Catholic, he attended college in our area at John Carroll University. A TV journalist and lawyer, he was the longtime moderator of NBC’s “Meet The Press.” Most of our country was completely shocked when he died suddenly of a heart attack at only 58-years-old. To me, he just seemed like an all-around nice guy, rather avuncular; a guy you’d want to share a beer with and sit in front of a TV watching the NFL all Sunday.
Pat & I listened to the audiobook “Wisdom of Our Fathers” on our way back from a trip to Baltimore a few months ago. Boy, was it a tearjerker. Yes, I know I’ve got the pregnancy hormones and I can cry at the drop of a dime, but this book was hard-hitting. And upon finishing, I thought to myself that maybe I should write a post about all the lessons I have learned from my family, something concrete that I can show Baby P when he/she is old enough and can reminisce over. I want to use my own life lessons as fuel for Baby P, along with hopefully helping me to become the best “mom version” of myself. So here goes.
Mom aka “Debs”
Some parents are “hard-hitting” parents. They teach you a lot of life’s big lessons. Screamed at you through a megaphone in the heat of the moment, or subtly slipped in during a casual grocery shopping trip, or just while doing homework at the kitchen table, you knew these conversations meant business. I mean absolutely no disrespect when I say this, but my mom wasn’t one of those ultra hard-hitting parents. I think I learned life’s bigger lessons in college (and Chicago, for that matter) from friends, roommates, a past love; overall from experiencing life directly through my own experiences. That’s probably the reason I am such a fiercely independent person. I feel as though I traversed adulthood alone, learning & growing on my own path to give me my own perspective, not wanting to “just” listen to someone else.
But don’t let out an audible gasp just yet. Not having hard-hitting parents doesn’t mean there weren’t hard-hitting lessons. These lessons just came in smaller packages, less transparent. They seemed to peek out at the exact point they needed me to find them.
Though there are many, here are a handful of some of Debs’ most memorable quotes:
“The second you get a job out of college, save into your 401k.” (Working for a financial company straight out of college definitely helped a lot in this area as well. I also had whole life insurance & disability insurance as a 23-year-old. SCORE.)
“Always pay your credit card bill in full. Don’t ever miss a payment. This is your money so treat it that way. Only spend what you own.” (Humble brag alert: I have paid my credit card in full since the day I took out my first card in 2006. I am proud of this, and it’s all thanks to her.)
“On road trips, don’t ever stop off a highway unless the golden arches are visible. If you can’t see them, it’s not a safe exit!” (Definitely used this example en route to Baltimore. Pat had never heard me tell him this story, and he loved it. Pat: “Oh Debs. She’s really something!” Pat, one week later: “You know that line really resonated with me! I’ll never look at rest stops the same way again!”)
“Why pay for something full price when you can get it on sale?” (She grimaced at the thought of how much I paid for full-price Abercrombie jeans once I got my first McDonald’s paycheck at age fifteen. And yes, I see the irony of the above quote. My mom taught me frugality. I can’t say I followed this whole-heartedly as I got older, but her advice has hit me hardest now as I explode my budget on maternity clothing and baby items.)
“Don’t let me be that mom who says ‘why haven’t you called me?!’ The phone works both ways. We both have to want it.” (My mom was always hurt by her mom and mother-in-law who constantly said that to her. With two little kids in tow – cordless phones not yet invented – she always felt a little slighted in that area. I know she could talk for hours with her mother-in-law, part of why it was so hard as she had to carve out ample time in her day! You have to want it, and that goes for a lot of things in life. I always think of this bit of advice from Debs, and I take it to heart.)
“Never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank you note.” (Yea, that one is pretty simple. But want to know how much time I spent writing thank you notes after our wedding? A lot. And I don’t regret it one bit. They took me weeks to finish, and I made sure that every single person knew the significance and importance of their gifts. Same goes for job interviews, a kind gesture, etc. I take handwritten thank you notes very seriously!)
My mom was full of one-liners that somehow fit into my life at just the right time. Some were comical, some were serious, and some were lighthearted. But at their roots, they all held deep meaning and value in their own right.
My mom is also the “fun mom.” She’s the mom that everyone wants to come hang out with us, just another member of the group. She was invited to many of my friends’ weddings. She knows the significance of that, as do I. People just love her. Debs is a fun-loving, caring, life-of-the-party kind of person. She may only have a few key dance moves she breaks out, but that’s why we love her. She is always the person you want to have around.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the greatest gift I’ve ever received from my mother was that of my Catholic faith. This was a lesson that was audible, visible, and stuck. It was certainly hard-hitting. The lesson was clear: go to Mass every week, even at times you “don’t want to.” You’ll still be happy you went. Trust in God that He has a plan for you. Give thanks. Keep the faith. I am proud to say that I have never strayed, and I owe that all to her. Our faith sets a standard in our family right now, even being just Pat & me. We can’t wait to see Baby P grow into the church as we both have.
I know that dropping me off at college was the hardest thing my mom ever had to do. That image of her pulling out of West Green at Ohio University, eyes full of tears, has stuck with me many years later. (Sadly enough she had to do the same thing four years later when I packed up all my belongings and moved to Chicago, then stayed put there for 5 1/2 years. Those feelings of abandonment were strong. Sorry, mom! But hey, I came back!!!) I’m not sure if my mom had a feeling that college would be the most life-changing experience of my adulthood, or if maybe she was scared of the unknown and what college would bring me, questioning whether she taught me how to be a good human and to make good choices. But whether or not she realized it, she set the groundwork. She set the groundwork for the human I am today, and I think I’m a pretty good one thanks to her.
I could go on and on singing the praises of my mother, but you get the idea. Invite her out to a party or a bar or any sort of gathering and you’ll get the idea yourself. I hope Baby P gets Debs’ fun-loving, religious, sensitive spirit. I always joke that I got my mom’s genes when it came to sensitivity. Sometimes it sucks and sometimes it’s wonderful. Baby P will be a better person because of her influence on me.
My dad is super talented in a lot of ways. Gifted singer, radio host, polka dancer extraordinaire. Just like my mom, my dad wasn’t a hard-hitting parent. But some of the smaller lessons he taught me are lessons that have carried more weight in my life than others, and I hope these carry on as we raise Baby P.
Independence. My dad valued his independence. I always appreciated that my dad valued his hobbies, and there is certainly merit in that. Bookworm. Movie-goer. Music junkie. My mom won’t take offense to this when I say that she couldn’t even keep her eyes open ten minutes before falling asleep on the opening page of a novel, or during the intro of a movie. While she used these as opportunities to “rest her eyes” (as motherhood looms, I’m sure I will soon come to understand this), my dad used these as opportunities to take him to places unknown, and to give him tiny bits of solitude to maintain his independence and not forget his own identity.
I’m pretty sure Debs only took us to the library as kids on the reg due to my insatiable need to finish every single book in “The Baby-Sitters Club.” In fact, I can speak with certainty that I don’t think she ever took out a book of her own. Our library card was maxed out solely because of me. Key example: at barely seven-years-old, my dad let me borrow his copy of “Jurassic Park.” Err… well, I may have stolen it from our upstairs bookshelf. Yup, this 400-page novel was one of the first books I ever read. I’m not sure Debs ever found that out. Not quite the most sensible choice at that young of an age, Jurassic Park was just the right book to prove me hungry for more. I devoured books. Just couldn’t get enough. Books were fuel for me. I’m sure this love of the written word is what led me to study English in college. And still to this day, my love for reading is undeniable. I hope Baby P also inherits this love of books. He/she will have his grandpa to thank.
I didn’t inherit one ounce of musical talent from my father. I can’t hold a tune, read music, or define what “crescendo” means (seriously, I’m not kidding). And don’t think you can count my Disney-singing, Macklemore-rapping karaoke skillz. That’s not talent, my friends. That’s just me looking like an idiot on a microphone after one too many PBR’s. Pure entertainment. But I did inherit a deep, soul-searching love for music from my dad, and that is no surprise. I remember being a kid and making fun of his huuuuge bookcase full of CD’s. Literally. It was massive. “Why do you need all these? No way you listen to all of these.” Fast forward to adulthood, and I am my father. He did listen to every single one of those CD’s. And guess what? So do I. He knew every artist and every record in that damn bookcase. He knew every song on every album. I as well have more CD’s than I can count (laugh it up) and my deep appreciation & love for music is unmatched. While we do not share the same interest in genres or artists (I have Athens, OH, to thank for my Americana, folk, and bluegrass loyalties), it is no secret that my relationship with music comes solely from my dad. I am grateful beyond words for this deep connection to music that stemmed from him. Baby P will be an Avett-loving, banjo-rocking, concert-going soul just like his mama, who has her own dad to thank.
Grandma Emma (paternal grandma)
Ugh, I hope I can get through this part without crying…
My grandma left this earth too early. She was too young, and had so many years left on this earth to give. But what my grandma taught me most were three simple things: never stop being silly, appreciate the little things in life, and to always keep your self and your marriage at the heart of it all.
The best memories I have of my grandma were being silly in the simplest, most un-profound ways. Trips to the bank where she got me a lollipop. Lunches at Burger King. Building forts that just destroyed her living room each and every time (Debs: “Mom! You can tell them to stop! Look at this mess!” Emma: “Oh who cares! They’re just kids! Look how much fun they’re having!”). Sleepovers at her house to which she snored the whole night and I never got an ounce of sleep (spoiler alert: I didn’t care. What I would give for another sleepless night just sharing a couch with her, laughing at her snores). Trick-or-treating on Halloween. Her visits to my 7th grade volleyball practices, knee deep in chemotherapy, barely able to walk, but never wanting to miss a beat. I was her favorite grandkid. Both Nathan & my cousin Brad knew it. Our bond was special. It was and still is incomparable. I miss her profoundly every single day.
Emma valued us grandkids, treating us like her best friends and not just grandkids she felt obligated to take care of. She cherished her marriage with Eddie, and was ridiculously true to her friends. But she never let family get in the way of her own interests. And for that, I feel I am turning more into my grandma than I would have originally thought. Her best friend, Rozz, and her sister, Catherine, played integral parts in her life. With Rozz passing away just a few months ago, I felt like I lost another part of my grandma that was still hanging on with Rozz being alive. So many of my childhood memories wrapped around my grandma’s relationships with others, especially Rozz. It’s no lie that still to this day, my grandma’s funeral was the largest funeral I’ve ever seen, even at thirteen-years-old. The line wrapped around the funeral home for hours. I am not exaggerating. She was a well-loved woman whose love stretched well beyond her years (and the physical space of a funeral home).
Uncle Phil aka “FU” (“Favorite Uncle,” Debs’ brother)
My uncle Phil is the silliest, funnest, most religious, loyal, loving human being there is on the face of the earth. My uncle didn’t have his own child until I was thirteen-years-old. So for most of my childhood years, FU treated my brother and me like the kids he never had. Trips to Toledo were a regular occurrence. We went everywhere with him. Running errands to Menards, Meijer, the mall, the hardware store, the car wash, the gas station. Helping with more notable “chores” that never seemed like chores, but they most certainly were: raking leaves, mowing the grass, cleaning the gutters, laying new mulch. It didn’t matter where he was going, he was taking us with him. And it didn’t matter what we were doing, as long as we were around him. We loved every second. He made every minute we spent with him fun, even if the tasks at hand were mundane.
I’ve heard through the grapevine that my uncle is a force to be reckoned with at work. He’s a mechanical engineer with lots of people under him, a true workaholic. But to us, he’s just “FU,” the silly uncle who got even sillier when he was around his sister, their silliness more certainly “unhinged” once together. I like to think that’s how Nathan & I are. That love for being silly comes out when we watch stupid 90’s movies (Happy Gilmore, Heavyweights, Joe Dirt), and it always brings us closer together. My mom & FU set an example that Nathan & I have surely adopted.
My uncle also visited me at college, helped move me in and out of Chicago, lent his truck when we needed it, and never, ever batted an eye. I honestly don’t think he minded one bit. He read a poem at my wedding, to which the only reason he read a poem is because he said he would’ve cried the whole time if he wrote some sort of letter (those Cesen sensitivity genes run strong!). And seeing as his wife, Kathi, is the far superior writer in the relationship, she took that task from him and instead just made him go up and read what she wrote. They both nailed it. 🙂
Selfless. This is the biggest thing I will take most from FU, and hope to carry into my parenting style. I am, by nature, a somewhat selfish person who appreciates and loves her independence. But my uncle is a constant reminder to be selfless. To be selfless in your marriage and in your relationships with others. To be a servant of God and know that to give unto others is the greatest gift you can give. Directly from Pat and FU, I hope that this characteristic falls right onto Baby P. Those two are the most selfless humans I know, and these qualities demand being passed down.
Here’s a non-family member that’s sure to lift your brow. But hang on and hear me out. Sometimes life’s lessons are found in the least likely of places.
I’m cringing as I type this, but, here goes… my ex-boyfriend of 7 years.
At the ripe young age of 19, this person taught me what butterflies in your stomach feel like. I never knew that feeling. I was the high school student who, while friends with everyone, didn’t have a boyfriend till senior year. Seven-year-ex taught me what it was like to feel you were a true part of someone else’s family, like they were your own. A few of those relationships carried on past our relationship, and I very much still cherish them to this day. He taught me a lot about love: the joy it brings, but also how it feels when love comes to an end. But for how much joy the feeling of first love brought me, he mostly taught me what love is not.
Love is not blame. Love is not lying or the mistreatment of someone else’s feelings. Love is not confusing comfort with confidence: the confidence to assert yourself, know your worth, and move on. There were so many wrongs in this relationship that I was blind to see, so for that, I am thankful for what I know now because of him. This love taught me maturity and independence. I grew a lot as a person all through college and well into my 20’s, in large part because and in spite of this relationship. I am a better person for having experienced this relationship, and for having grown from it. I don’t harbor any hate.
The love I have given to and received from my husband is truly the deepest love I’ve ever felt. It redefined what the word love meant and still means to me. There is no disrespect, no dishonor, no blame game. The word love evolved a lot from age 19 to 34. And I think that’s ok for your interpretation and definition of words, particularly this one, to change over an amass of time and experience. But over the past 5+ years, love has stayed love: deep, satisfying, emotionally fulfilling, trustworthy, action-based commitment. Love with 7-year-ex was fleeting. It was what I needed at the time to learn and grow, and that version of love no longer carries any weight with me.
Baby P will know what love is because of my marriage with Pat. Baby P will know what respect & honor are. Baby P will know what true love is, and will know what not to settle on or for. Baby P will learn self-worth and self-appreciation through love: the love Pat & I will place on a platform for he/she to see on a daily, minute-by-minute basis. Our baby will be a better person because of the wrongs that I have righted in myself.
There are a lot of significant family and friends in my life that I truly cherish and will take their life lessons into our raising of Baby P. I would bore you all with the life lessons I’ve learned, so I kept it brief. The greatest hope of each generation is that we raise future generations to be even better versions of ourselves. Most of us try to right our wrongs and hopefully write a stronger story than the ones we’ve written for ourselves. I pray that Baby P will be someone with a strong moral compass, convicted in his/her beliefs, and treat everyone with kindness and respect. From the looks of it, 29+ weeks in, it looks like Baby P is on the right track, even while chillin’ in the womb. Keep on kickin’, little one. We can’t wait to meet you and see the person you’ll soon become.