Thursday, July 31, 2008

my daughter's big fat (Italian, Polish, German?) wedding

Oy vey!
OK, so I'm not Jewish.
That would be pretty cool. Then I could be watching "Fiddler on the Roof" and looking forward to THOSE traditions.

But I, as usual, digress.

My younger daughter is getting married next Friday. It's the second wedding of the summer for our family (see Rachel's wedding for more) and we are knee-deep in dress fittings, chocolate fountains, gerber daisies, and Jordan almonds. Lauren's future mother-in-law is Polish, and the mister is 100% old-country Italian. Our family is, of course, Polish on The Big Man's side (and proudly so) and German and Czech on my side.

When I was growing up, I knew my ancestors were from Europe, and that was pretty cool. Yep. That's about it. My grandma and Aunt Mimi made some mean pierogi (you thought those were Polish, didn't you? But who knew the Slovaks make 'em, too?) and my Mom always made a saucy sweet and sour sauerkraut on New Year's Day. (German? Not so much. It was actually something my Slovak grandma dreamed up.)

I was brought up to be American, that's all. Even though my mom was 100% German, and my paternal grandfather came over from Europe through Ellis Island, there were no real ethic traditions encouraged in my childhood home. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that my German mom grew up in America during WW II, when Germans were not all that popular. I don't know. All I know is that while I always knew my roots, they weren't terribly important. I was taught to be American, and to be very proud of that. (My father is a WWII vet, after all.)

So when I married into a Polish family 22 years ago, I thought it was nice that they had traditions, and I do find them intriguing and love to share them with my Polish children. (I love to tell folks that my husband is Polish, my children are Polish, and I am Polish by association.) But now that my daughter is getting a Polish mother--in-law of her own, I'm baffled by the passion she has for all things....ITALIAN!

I've learned that "The Italians" need to be served a sit-down meal, not a buffet. "The Italians" really prefer large centerpieces, not the small ones Lauren selected. "The Italians" really dig dessert -- and there darn well better be lots of them, including cream puffs, cannoli, and things that look like peaches but are not. And "The Italians", I'm told, INSIST on Jordan almonds, and there must be five or seven of them in a little net pouch for each guest. (These, I found through my research, are meant to be pelted at the newlyweds as a fertility ritual. That's actually pretty cool...) If you don't provide the nuts you are risking THE EVIL EYE. I am not, even for a second, kidding. The words EVIL EYE were used to me in a discussion about these tasty, yet teeth-cracking, morsels. Oh dear.

So now the wedding is almost here, and I'm doing damage control. I'm trying to incorporate the traditions everyone loves (Polish, Italian, you name it) but keeping in mind this is not an ethnic wedding. It's not an Italian wedding, or a Polish wedding, or even an American wedding. It's a Catholic wedding.

Truly, that's the only detail that matters to me, and, I'm happy to say, to my daughter and her soon-to-be husband. They respect the traditions of their ancestors, as do I, but what matters to them is that their wedding will be a Catholic one.

How cool is that.

So while I'm trying to fit those Italian pastries on the table with that modern chocolate fountain, and telling the DJ (my dear brother) to play at least a couple polkas for my mother-in-law, I'm inwardly (and outwardly!) rejoicing that my daughter has found a young man who loves the Catholic Faith as much as she does. Their family will have Polish/Italian/German/Slovak roots. But its branches will be fully American, and better than that, completely Catholic.

Now there's a tradition that I'd like to see carried down through the generations, from now to eternity.

With or without Jordan almonds.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

one more special birthday!

We wrapped up the week of celebrations with one more honoring my mom on her 80th.

As we gathered in my small family room, crammed around the table and LOUDLY sang Happy Birthday (including, of course, May the Dear Lord Bless You and the Polish Sto Lat) I was struck with the beauty of the scene. How fortunate I am to have my parents! We are so blessed to have a family that has endured much but remained close.

My mother looked beautiful surrounded by her husband of 48 years, two children and six grandchildren. I hope someday to be so lucky!

My mom sent me this thoughtful email in response to the difficult day I had over the weekend. Here's what she had to say:

Dear Cathy,
I felt so bad today joining in your disappointment. I'm almost twice as old as you are, so I figure I have probably suffered twice as many failures.of fortune. That's the law of averages, right?

Then the gospel today reminded us how Solomon only asked for wisdom to help others and the Lord rewarded him in many ways. Isn't that what we are trying to do in our modern way writing books or blogs on the internet and taking part in other media events?

It has seemed to me too that the Lord for whatever reason has not put me in a position to use my talents in a way that would bring both me and others I might influence for His good closer to our goal of Heaven. When I was able and younger I was turned away from being a catechist and from playing the organ in church. How could those have been bad things? I feel I never did find the place where I could make a difference and really fill a need.

In the sermon today the conclusion seemed to be to avoid praying for material things. I always thought that if I won the lottery I would be able to help a lot of people, not only my family but others less fortunate. I'd love to give a big donation to our church. That doen't seem like a selfish thing to me. Yes, that would make me happy, but isn't that the feeling that doing good is supposed to produce?

So, I must admit I too don't understand exactly what the Lord is trying to teach us in denying us the positive answer to some of our prayers. It does say. "Ask and you shall receive."

The only conclusion I've reached after all of these years is that I still haven't been blessed with the gift of wisdom by the Holy Spirit. And yes, I am still praying for that. Time is running out though, I hope I get it soon! Love Mom

I'm convincing her to start a blog of her own, because she has a lot more of that wisdom than she thinks!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

the art of disappointment

It's a craft I should have well-honed by now, but it looks like I still need more practice.

I started off today with a very disappointing experience. The details aren't terribly important. Suffice it to say that I missed out on an opportunity, one that I very much wanted to take advantage of. In fact, I thought I was perfect for it -- I even felt called to it. I thought God had presented me with a beautiful, exciting invitation to share my gifts and reach souls in the process. Apparently I was mistaken, and that isn't the plan, at least not for today.

I exist therefore I've suffered disappointments before, so my wealth of such experience should have softened the blow, right? I should have calmly received the disappointing news, maturely weighed the facts, and accepted God's will with joy. Is that what I did? No, I cried like a spoiled child.

Now I'm a bit disappointed with myself, but with that being human stuff and all I guess I could cut myself a little slack. (My husband, my wise and wonderful best-thing-that-ever-happened-to-me husband,told me I should give myself at least 20 minutes to bounce back.) I am able to acknowledge and name my feelings, and I am flat-out disappointed. That's the way it is.

So what to do with that? I've wiped away the tears, penned a quick note to see if there might be a chance the opportunity still exists, and decided to get on with it. I'm sitting here wondering why I think I know better than God, because at its root that's really what disappointment is, isn't it? My will seemed so perfect, so right. I knew this was the greatest idea for me. I was certain that I would be able to do so much good, and I knew my motives were completed other-centered. Now I'm not so sure.

It's hard for those of us who love the Lord and want to use our talents to share the Good News to accept this simple fact: it's up to Him how He uses us.

Again and again I am distraught when my plans to reach souls are thwarted, through my own mistakes or the decisions of others. I've read enough saint biographies to know that I'm in good company. St. Therese longed for the mission field, but died unknown in a local convent. St. Bernadette was visited by the Blessed Mother herself, then when on to a life of suffering and death at a young age, too. Bernadette called herself "the stupid one" and acknowledged that God would put her a corner, like an unused broom, brought out only if He needed her for some menial task. Yes, that's what she said, and she had been visited by the Queen of Heaven. Just who do I think I am????

A small part of my soul wonders if God is trying to make me a saint when He gives me these disppointments. (I'm not being overly pious here; it is of course His will that we all become saints, right?) I just don't understand His preoccupation with little 'ole me. Doesn't He realize that I could do so much good if he just gave me the chance?

He is giving me the chance. The chance to grow, to mature, to endure, to suffer. The chance to give my fiat, again.

I guess I've done the best I can today. I've wrapped up my self-pity and my tears and my disappointment, and offered it back to my Abba, my daddy who really does know what's best for me. His will be done.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

happy feast day, Baby Girl

It is indeed a special week for our family. Today we celebrate the Feast Day of our youngest daughter, my precious Celeste Marie.

Three years ago today, the doors of Heaven swung open wide to receive her perfect little soul. That day was honestly one of the most wondrous days of my life. I felt I got a glimpse of that Heaven, her eternal home. I know she's there now praying for me, helping me to get there one day, too.

I have mentioned her several times here, but I haven't told too much of her story. Hers is by any standard a very sad one. The short version is this: she was born with a heart defect, one so severe that she needed a heart transplant. She never received that transplant, and somehow developed serious brain damage as well. Since she was then no longer eligible for a transplant, we removed her life-support and allowed her to die peacefully at the age of four months.

There is so much more to the long version, of course. So much in fact that I felt called to tell her story in a book, which I did in Broken and Blessed: A Life Story. In the book I explore the details of her life, her sufferings, and my own.

In the book I reveal a part of my heart, a part laid bare on days like today. My little girl suffered so much and was taken from me so quickly. Will there ever be an adequate answer when my soul cries out? Why? Why my baby?

I've tried to answer this question many times, and others always want to know the how as well. How did you do it? they ask. How did you suffer through such a traumatic experience and emerge with your faith intact, with a sense of joy?

The answer, my friends, is a person, the person I love even more than I loved Celeste. The answer is Jesus.

I don't like to over-spirtualize things, but the answer here is clear. I could not have survived without Jesus. He used the experience of my daughter's life and death to draw me into His Heart in a way that nothing else could. In some mysterious, mystical way, Jesus used Celeste and her sufferings to invite me into His Life. I am convinced that her life was part of His Plan, and that He willed for me (and for many others) to grow in our relationship with Him because of Celeste.

Like all authors, I want my book to be read. But I am especially passionate about this book because I feel with all my heart that Jesus wants to use her story to draw lots of folks to Him.

I know she did not suffer in vain. I know that three years ago today, as I rocked her and promised her I'd write that book, I was doing God's will. I know today as I remember her with joy and love, not bitterness, I am continuing to live out her legacy. I am happy to be able to share her with others, to remind them of the beauty of her message. Each of us has a unique mission given to us by God. All lives have purpose and meaning!

A wise friend who also lost a young child told me once that my pain would never diminish, that I would always feel it strongly -- but that I would simply feel it less often. I've found this to be true. Of course I am feeling that pain today, as I go to that place in my heart reserved for Celeste. But I am also feeling a profound sense of peace and wonder as I remember the glimpse of Heaven I was able to witness. And hoping that when the door to Heaven closed, Baby Girl was able to prop it open for me, just wide enough for me to sneak in.

You can see the video I prepared for Celeste's last birthday here.

Thank you for your prayers.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

last single digit bday for John!

No, I didn't forget about John! This is a busy week in our family. Our fifth child, our son John, turned nine on the 20th.

John is awesome because he has blue eyes, loves Star Wars Legos, and can roller blade.

And he has freckles!

Happy Birthday, John! I love you more than you can imagine!

girls just wanna have fun!

Today we celebrate my eldest daughter Rachel's 22nd birthday!

She and I spent the day shopping (one of our favorite activities) after having spent last Saturday night dancing (another favorite.)

Some photos from our exciting evening at Boogie Fever, a local club that caters to old folks like me and our kids, follow. (We had such a good time dancing to the best music ever -- music from "my era" -- the 70s and 80s -- and even got to be on the radio!)

Happy Birthday, Rachel. You were the original Adamkiewicz kid, the best thing that ever happened to me. I love you!

Monday, July 21, 2008

for Brother, Mom and Dad

After that last post, if I have any readers left, I apologize.

Sometimes I just have to share those difficult moments, the ones that leave us all staring at our shoes and wondering what to say. That was rough, I know. There is so much more to say about it, and I wondered if I erred by saying too little. (Not something I do very often -- say too little, that is!)

Anyway, I realized some of what I said was painful for my mom, and I so deeply regret that. I should have told more of my brother's story -- especially that he DID have a name, but that my mom was told not to name the baby (because he was stillborn he did not have a birth certificate.) She got horrible comments and advice from people (including a priest, which really saddens me.) My mom almost died when her baby was born, and while she was in the hospital my dad went alone to the cemetery to have him buried. Not even family members and friends knew what to do or say.

Back in 1961, this was not uncommon. Parents were told their babies went to Limbo, that maybe it was better that they died because they might have turned out to be criminals (yep, someone said this to my mom -- that priest, in fact.)

After their babies died they were told, either outright or through awkward silence, to forget them and have other children. No one really talked much about my brother, and I didn't even remember his birthday until I saw it on the stone the other day.

For these reasons, for my parents' pain and the pain of so many who have lost babies and have felt that they have been forgotten -- for this I wept as I stood by Brother's grave.

47 years later, my parents still suffer and remember their son. They loved him, and wanted him, and mourned him largely in silence. Every week when my 87 year-old dad and I go to Eucharistic Adoration, he asks me to light two candles, for "the babies"; his son, who would be 47, and my daughter, who would be three.

My last post was not the best memorial that I could have offered. To Brother, I say, "Keep praying for us! Hold your little niece close to your heart and give her a kiss for me!"

To Mom and Dad, I say, "I love you. I'm sorry your baby died. He will never be forgotten."

Saturday, July 19, 2008


Yesterday I did something no parent should ever have to do.

I ordered a tombstone for my daughter's grave.

Strangely, it wasn't the hardest thing I did yesterday. It was harder to stand at my eldest brother's grave, the brother who was stillborn. I cried because his was the only grave without a name: just "Baby Boy" and our last name. My parents hadn't named him, and it seemed so sad. When I pray to him I just call him "Brother."

Harder still was that moment at the park when that little girl ran up to me.

She was wearing pink shoes. Pink shoes with hearts.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

a new blog!

I'm excited to announce the arrival of a fabulous new musings on faith and fitness at In God's Image.
Many of us have a difficult time with our self-image. Should we spend time at the gym, on or knees, or a little of both? Visit me there to chew the fat about these important issues and more. Bring your own chocolate.

in real life

What I've been doing lately, rather than writing insightful things on this blog:

1. Schlepping my kids to play dates.
2. Removing nailpolish while visiting with a friend.
3. Doing seven loads of laundry in two days.
4. Overseeing the livingroom painting project otherwise known as "How to Redo the Entire House on a Budget During the Summer that Your Daughters Are Getting Married" starring two teenage boys who are better at sighing and eye-rolling than at painting.
5. Having my hair highlighted with a color other than gray.
6. Taking my 87-year-old dad to church for Eucharistic Adoration.
7. Eating greasy cheeseburgers with extra onions at a local diner at 11:30 pm with some of my favorite people in the world.
8. Helping a friend go through a nasty breakup.
9. Planning the Polish/Italian wedding of the century.
10. Praying that my daughter is having the time of her life in Australia.
11. Performing various hygiene services for small boys. (You don't want to know.)
12. Talking with my newly-married daughter, teenaged sons, elderly mother and an old friend who suffers from more illnesses than anyone I've ever met. Pray for her.
13. Serving our weekly Monday night dinner for our pastor and deacon.
14. Walking approximately 5 miles a day through my neighborhood.
15. Doing a lot of thinking, planning and web surfing as I work on an exciting new project (more later!)

I miss my blog, but I'd miss my life more. It's good to be busy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

a letter from Lolo

I heard from my daughter Lauren via email. Her note was so sweet I had to post it here.

Hi momma! We made it safely to Australia! I miss you guys a lot. When we were on the plane to LA, I was crying a little because I missed you so much. But Giovanni made me feel better.

It's 8am on Monday morning; how weird is that?? You're prolly like having dinner on Sunday, and I just ate breakfast! I totally ate baked beans for breakfast. It was the hax, you're so jello.

We're going to go for a nature hike today, so I'll def take lots of picture of the Australian wildlife. Apparently everything here has the ability to kill you. Even the birds. Even the aboriginies. Even crossing the street (#1 killer, btw). It's out of control.

So our tour guide is Australian (obviously) and after listening to her talk for like 20 minutes, I already was talking with an accent in my head. With any luck I'll sound like an Aussie by the time I get home :)

I miss you!! Tell everyone I miss them too! Giovanni says hello. He misses you too. Hope the wedding thing is going well ;)

Love you!!!

Proof that no matter how old our kids are, we still miss them when they're far from us, are happy when they say "I love you" and think it's cute and have to share it when they say funny things.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

praying for pilgrims

Please join me in praying for the thousands of pilgrims attending World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia -- especially my daughter Lauren and her fiance Giovanni. After a 24 hour flight, they arrived safely down under last night. They'll be spending the next two weeks praying and partying with young people from the world over, and two weeks after they return they'll be getting married. Send up lots of prayers for them!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

puppy love

I am not a dog person.

I have never owned one, nor have I ever been interested in acquiring one. As a little girl the only pets I had were goldfish, chameleons and hamsters (lots of hamsters.) I still have fond memories of the little rascals -- Bob, the goldfish who committed suicide (jumped clean out of that bowl one night); Pete and Repeat, those darling lizards who liked to sleep in my dad's pocket; Lucky the Hamster (my brother won him at school; he did turn out to be lucky, living for five years) Pokey the Hamster, Buster the Hamster. But no dogs. My dad had owned lots of dogs back in the day, but we lived in the suburbs now, not the in the country where he grew up. He said that dogs needed to run, not be kept in a tiny fenced yard. And even though my brother begged, we never had a dog.

My brother is now 45, and he finally got a dog, a black lab, last year. Haley is now a part of our extended family, and though she's a bit much for me to handle, I've definitely grown attached to her. I'm still not a dog person, though. I think it's gross when she licks my face, her tail-wagging-knocking-things-off-the-table-thing drives me mad, and, like all dogs, I think, she smells funny. But I admit I like her well enough.

But now I'm thinking about getting a dog.

I'm not sure why, but I imagine it could have something to do with the "emptier" nest I'm facing. Rachel's married now, and Lauren is following in just over a month. Then it will just be me and the boys. Wow.

Lukie is six now. He's not a baby anymore. Is that what it is? Am I turning into one of those women who gets a dog when what she really wants is a baby?

Oh dear. I don't know. Maybe my maternal intincts are looking for a way to express themselves. Maybe I need someone new to take care of. Maybe I just want to let my parents know that I'm I really an adult now, and I can get a dog if I want to.

Maybe I just think they're cute.

I think the cavapoo is amazing. My son is asking for a a border terrier. My husband says I'm crazy. Any thoughts or advice? Should I be thanking God I don't have a pesky mutt to care for, or should I get a new best friend?