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Friday, September 2, 2011


Way back on Thanksgiving 2010, while I was slothfully sitting on the couch with my sister and brother at my parents house, swollen with turkey and stuffing and wine and pumpkin pie etc. etc. we watched as our
(collectively) 14 children ran crazy, looting around our parents house, occupying every computer, television and square inch imaginable in their once quiet home. My dad was on his knees ferociously scrubbing the carpet trying to remove a  chocolate milk stain and my mom was in the kitchen cleaning dishes.  You have to know my parents, before judging me to think that I was just being lazy, they are OCD cleaners.  They like doing it..at least that is how I have justified it for the past 34 years.  Amongst the chaos, my sister turned to us and said,  "mom is going to be 70 this coming year, and we should really do something for her."   By this year, she meant 11 months away.  Nathan and I agreed and we planned to send an email thread to find out a date when he would be home next.  A few months past and I initiated the first email.  The date we agreed on was in August and it was 2 months prior to her actual birthday. It would be perfect. My mom insists on our family coming together and taking a big coordinated family picture every single year. She justified it  being annual because we kept having babies and adding another kid which my mom had to display in her Christmas card.  This year we actually went from 22 to 21 people... we lost one, not to death but to divorce, which is pretty much equal in my parents eyes, (we have a very strong family alliance, no matter what the circumstance) I have threatened Don with that several times in a Godfather Gangter kind of voice..."You betray me, you betray my family and you will be NOTHING in this town"...  Obviously this kind of threat doesn't frighten him enough to stop leaving a pile of his socks by the bed.
Regardless, we had an excuse to get together and it was a perfect time for us to plan a party. I quickly discovered that "us" really translated into "me". That was ok though, I still had 7 months to plan a get together. We were going to have a small dinner with my mom's closest friends and family, but even that would be a minimum of 50 guests, so, per my dad's suggestion, we needed to invite all of her friends.
Except for college and a few years in Chicago, my mom has lived in this area her entire life. She has several social circles. For example, her church choir friends, her salon friends, her tennis friends, her high school friends, her line dancing friends and not to mention every other person in this town that she has ever had any brief exchange with.  Being that it is 2011 I decided to make an evite (my first mistake) but I will address that in a moment.  I told my mom that a terrible virus was sweeping through the internet and I needed her password to be sure her email wouldn't be hacked.  She believed me and I was able to access all of her contacts. I sent out 150 evites.  A day or two passed and my family had all responded... a week passes, still a disappointing response.  I know it was 6 months away, but old people like to plan.  It was then that I received one of two letters.. in the mail.  SNAIL mail.  It was a note from a woman saying that she saw that I sent her a message on the computer but Burt couldn't open it and would I please send her a real invitation. UGH. That was the whole point of the evite to NOT try and find the addresses of a million people!  After I got the second similar letter I decided to bite the bullet and send a "real" invitation, opposed to the "fake" one I had sent on their "computer".  I had my dad photo copy my mom's Rolodex..yes, she really has one. And I was able to send out an additional 150 invites.  It was then that I had hit the senior citizen jackpot. RSVP calls flooded our voice mail.   It became a source of entertainment for Don and I. The rsvp messages were a minimum of 2 minutes and a maximum of 6 1/2.  Once they got my name right, they went on to give a brief monologue on how they knew my mom and if they were going to attend. But the exchange wasn't over just yet. They needed me to call them back to make sure that I received their message.  (You never know these days with answering machines, sometimes the tape gets raveled)  In the time it took me to plan this event, with the invites, menus and decorations, I would say at least 10 hours was made up in phone conversations.  And to make it more awkward, they all knew who I was and I had no clue who they were. Sure, I had heard their names before, but how can I know which Karen or Janet they were. What I was struck by was the stories people were sharing about my mom that I had never heard. Most conversations ended with laughter on both ends.  And what I soon realized was that everyone we invited was going to attend.  The room I reserved held 80.  Cross that bridge when we get to it.  When my parents took their snowbird hiatus to Arizona,  I snuck into their house and took all the family albums I could find.  Don took old home movies and converted them into dvd's. He made a 20 min. movie with over 200 photos of the 70 years my mom has graced the Earth.   The hard part was putting them all back.   On one of the trips to their house I had taken Jack and he discovered my Dad's chocolate stash (no wonder he was so quiet), then later that night told my mom over skype that he had been to her house and eaten Grandpa's candy... I told her that Jack was making it up and pushed him out of view.  Sorry Jack, you had to take one for the team.
The date came up on us pretty quickly.  We talked about how to get her to the place after the family picture. I creatively stalled with additional photos like, Can we please do a photo of us walking hand in hand across the grassy knoll. (no joke) It was actually her suggestion to go to dinner. We just had to reject all of her suggestions until she came up with the right place.  When we arrived she was was just as surprised as I had wanted her to be. She was embraced by old friends and said that I had invited an "eclectic" bunch from all parts of her life.  Turns out even some randoms, that DID open the evite who my mom had purchased some " holistic arthritic cream" from in a neighboring Amish town even decided to show up.
When it was time to watch the video we gathered (tightly) as it was shown on 2 screens.  I was over come with emotion as I watched a beautiful life unfold of someone who I had just selfishly seen as only a mother. She was a daughter, a friend, a comedian, a glowing wife and a proud mother.   She had an adventurous, fulfilled life before we came into it, and even with all her accomplishments, the one thing she wanted more than anything else was be a mom.  How am I so lucky to have been born to such a great woman? You don't get a chance to reflect on someones life until it is at their funeral.  This gave my siblings and me an opportunity to look in our mom's eyes, hug her and tell her how much we really do love her, a moment that is so often overlooked until it is too late. She was worried about all the work that we had put into it, but wholeheartedly, it was the least we could do.   It reminded me of a speech that Don gave at our wedding that had just been lip service prior to this moment.  Before we cut the cake he took the microphone to give a speech, and looked at our four parents sitting together and said " I would like to thank our parents, it is because of you and your love that we are the well rounded people we are today, and if we can emulate you, even a little bit, we are ahead of the game in my opinion" ten years later the words are even more relevant.
It was a pleasure, albeit stressful, to take this monumental task of planning a surprise party for 150+ people all while working 40 hours a week, juggling 4 boys, an insane dog and a sock leaving husband, but I think I may be on my way to emulating one of the most selfless women I know.

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