Monday, May 26, 2008

Other things may change us, but we start & end with Family...

I spent this weekend in the loving arms of my family. It was the 33rd annual Carrico family B&B Picnic which, like most things my family does, is a big to-do. In all fairness, though, when you have close to 85 people in the family, everything is a big to-do.

For anyone who doesn't know, I come from a very large Italian-Catholic family. My dad was one of 11 kids raised in a small farming community in Western Kentucky called Fancy Farm. I swear, that is the name of the town--you can google it if you want. I have 28 first cousins on that side of the family--meaning there are 30 grandchildren all together--and there are currently 23 great grand kids with more always on the way. When you add in spouses the grand total of family members comes to well above 80.

Now, I know I'm not the only person out there who has a large family. In fact, I know of several people who have families similar in size to mine. What really tends to make my family unique is the fact that almost every person in the family lives in or near Fancy Farm. My self, my sister and one other cousin live in Lexington. I have two cousins up in Cincinnati and an Aunt, Uncle and three cousins in Atlanta. My dad lives in Glasgow and one cousins and his family who live in Tennessee. Other than that, the entire family lives within a 30 minute drive of each other.

As you can imagine, this means that any family event (of which there are many through out the year) turns into a huge gathering. My Grandmother has anywhere from 60 to 80 people over every year for both Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. My Aunt Elaine's 4th of July pool party draws a crowd of close to 50 or 60, and a good portion of the family (20-25 people) cook together at least once every week.

Because they see each other so much, the family is really very close. And I love going down to visit them. I love the hugs. You don't realize, living by yourself away from most of your family, how little physical contact you have on a daily basis. But in my family, you hug everyone when you arrive and when you leave every time not just at the beginning and end of the trip. My days were filled with hugs, and it was great.

Me and my Godfather Richard (aka Sissard)

And I loved getting to see all the kids. I don't get to hang out with a lot of kids in my day-to-day life. But this weekend was all about kids. Kids of all ages from my 14 year old cousin Jailynn to my cousin Kelly's new baby who is only 9 months old. There were games to be played and stories to be told and hand to be held and things to be shown. My sister and I are the "cool older cousins" who live out of town and only come to visit a few times a year, so a lot of the kids compete for our attention. Nothing makes you feel more loved than having four little girls fighting to sit next to you at dinner.

Chase, Trey, Kristen, & Chance

My cousin Aaron's little boy Carson

My cousin's little girl Mallie

But of all the things I love about my family, the thing that I love the most is the fact that they love me totally and unconditionally. They love me because of who I am. They love me in spite of who I am. They love me for who I am. And everyone needs to feel that kind of unconditional love. After all, that is what family is supposed to be about.

The entire gang on Sunday

My cousin Bryan with his girlfriend Courtney

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You...

So, if you are like me and live in Kentucky, today is primary day. Now, May primary elections in Kentucky are generally about as exciting as watching paint dry since most national elections are long over before we go to the polls and most State elections don't get interesting until the fall. But this year, somehow, Kentucky's vote actually matters. Not that the vote was in doubt--there is no way that a state that chose to be part of the South After the Civil War is ever going to elect a Black man as President of the United States. But still, at least I felt like there was a reason to go to the polls.

Not that I ever don't vote. I love voting. Something about it makes me feel very American. Maybe it's the fact that it is one of the few places you still see the American flag displayed proudly. Maybe it's because it feels like I get to be part of something that goes back to the days of George Washington and Ben Franklin. Or maybe I just like to feel like I have some say in what goes on in this country. Still, I always vote, no matter how small the election or how insignificant the outcome may be.

I guess my philosophy is that if you don't vote, you don't have a right to complain when things go sour.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Missing Her So Much I Couldn't Breathe....

So, today is mother's day. Quite possibly, this is my least favorite day of the entire year. Now, I don't play the dead mother card very often, but I feel like this is one day that it is okay for me to say, "Hey, I had a mother too, and she's dead, and I miss her."

Mother's Day, for those of us who have lost our mothers is kind of like Valentine's Day for single people (which I am also an expert in) but worse. When you are single on V-Day, there is always the hope that maybe next year you will have someone to celebrate with. But I know that no matter what, I won't enjoy Mother's day next year any more than I am enjoying it this year.

In all fairness, though, Mother's day isn't the only day that I miss my mom. I miss her every single day. Most of the time I can put that aside and go on with life like everything is just fine. But every once and awhile, I just need the day to sulk and pout and feel sorry for myself before I can get back to living. Those are the days when it hurts. When I can really see what I've lost and how much I will miss.

My mother never got to see me graduate from college with my 4.0. We didn't get to take the trip to Europe the summer after I graduated like we had planned. She didn't get to see me land my first job, or to quit my first job. I won't be able to call her the first time I fall in love, and I won't have her words of wisdom when I fall out of it again. She won't be there when I get married or when I have my babies. I won't get to watch her grow old and play with her grandchildren.

I was 20 when my mom died, 17 when she get sick. I am 25 now. But just because you are all grown up doesn't mean that you don't still want your mom every once in awhile. Sometimes the hole feels so big that I don't think I can ever fill it up. There is a great line in the movie You've Got Mail where Meg Ryan's character is talking about getting her book shop ready for Christmas without her mother and she says she was "missing her so much I couldn't breathe." I never understood what she meant until I lost my own mom. Now there are times when I do miss her so much that even breathing feels like an effort. There are days when I don't want to get out of bed because it hurts too much. And there are times when I would give anything to be able to talk to her again.

My friends say I talk about my mom like she is still here. In a way, I suppose she is. I find that I get more and more like her as I get older. And for better or worse, she is the voice in my head that tells me when I'm going wrong or doing right. The things she taught me still shape how I do things around the house: washing dishes, folding laundry, cleaning the bathroom. And I get told all the time how much I look like my mom. I've never seen it, really, but then again I don't think you ever think you look like anyone else.

But all that doesn't add up to what my mom was to me when she was alive. She was my best friend. She was my mentor. She was my confidante. She was the one person I could count on to always tell me the truth and to help me figure things out. She was so intertwined in my life that before she died, I couldn't imagine a life without her, and now I sometimes wonder how I can make it work. But I do. And it does seem to get easier as the years go by. It's been 5 years now and I don't have as many bad days I as used to. But I still miss her every day. And I probably always will.

So, to those of you out there who still have mother's to celebrate with today, count your blessings, because there are those of us in the world who would trade places with you in a heart beat if you asked.