Friday, December 18, 2009

how two homes are defining me

yesterday, lisa, wyatt and i spent our first day in our brand new house. if everything goes well, this will be the house we spend the rest of our days in. it's been a long process to find it and countless signatures and faxes to make it ours, but now, the ink is dry, keys handed over and bank account emptied.

on the drive up from san francisco to san rafael for day #1, i suddenly got hit with a carousel of emotions. there was, of course, elation. and then, relief. and right after that, the realization of being overwhelmed, but in a good way. i looked in my rear view mirror and saw wyatt reading his book about elmo. that made me think about figuring out a way of saving my bookshelves so he'd be inspired to read more for when, you know, he learns how to read. so add worry to that list.

then, all of a sudden, i thought about my mom. and, more importantly, i thought about how proud she would be, now that after 35 years, i've finally got all my ducks in a row: wife, kids, work, home, happiness. that's every parent's dream. i dream of that for wyatt, and he's just 14 months old.

it really shook me up that i wouldn't have the opportunity to take her for a tour of my home and hear what she thought about it. it made me miss all the opinions and advice i wouldn't be able to extract from her.

i wouldn't be able to see her beaming with pride.

i cried a lot yesterday. most of my tears were born from happiness. those, however, were not.

fast forward one day and 2500 miles. we've just landed in new york from a redeye and it's forty degrees colder. dad picks us up at the airport and we're now in the home i grew up in - the spirit and inspiration of the home i hope to grow in california.

our only duty today is to decorate the christmas tree. this was a family tradition we had the day after thanksgiving while fighting a tryptophan hangover. dad would bring down the artificial tree and all the ornaments from the attic, and my brother and i would decorate. it was a family day, but it was really mom's day. she directed us on how the tree should look. we were just the vehicle of her imagination. and she would drive dad batty with how her christmas village would be laid out in the wall unit.

this day meant everything to her. it was her time to shine. and the boys in the house all got through it together, mostly because when it came to christmas trees and wall unit decorations, my mother rocked.

this year, the first christmas without mom, we convinced dad not to decorate the tree until we flew in to help.

it's been over ten years since i took part in the christmas tree decoration, but today felt seamless. i put the ornaments where i felt that mom would want them. i didn't literally hear her voice guiding me, but i just knew where to go instinctively. lisa did her job too, and even though she never got a chance to experience this with my mom, she does channel my mom at times, so she really didn't need any direction. my dad added the flair of tinsel that he never really liked but knew that my mom loved.

what would normally take us a full day wound up taking an hour or so. i'm looking at the tree right now, and it looks fine. the ornaments and tree and tinsel might be the same as it was last year and years past, but it's not the same. we did our best. it fits in. home is different without her.

what makes coming back to new york special, and now, bittersweet, is the imprint left by the people who live there. when i find a book in the seven bookcases, i feel my dad's imprint. when i spend time in the basement, i feel the imprint left by my time spent there with my brother and friends.

and when i look at the christmas tree, we're trying to follow the imprint my mom left. but it's not the same. her imprint turned christmas into her holiday, one blinking light at a time. but we did our best and that's an imprint of our own.

now we have an empty house to return to in san rafael. there's no imprints anywhere, a truly blank canvas. but that's okay, because through the years, what we do and how we do it will turn into traditions and stories. and they'll be borne, directly or indirectly, from the imprints we inherited from our parents. and although we might not be able to do things as well as they did, or as they would have wanted, it's still comes from the same place.

i'm not gonna be able to hear my mom's voice in my new home, but her imprint will always be felt. yes, we'll honor her with a special place, but where she's truly seriously impacted is already a big part of this house: me.

maybe next year, wyatt will help us decorate our own tree.

i miss you, mom. i hope i do you proud.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

how this is the letter that got our offer accepted for our house

October 30, 2009

To the Wonderful People in This Wonderful House,

I just want to take this opportunity to thank you for the best dream ever. Let me explain.

Today, Mama and Dada showed me photos of your house on the computer. Usually, when they have the laptop open, I bang the keyboard, pull the screen, drool on the power cord and make a big show of it. I’m just a one year old. That’s what we do.

But not today. I just stared and took the tour of your house, all 22 photos. And another tour. And again and again and again. And after the tenth time or so of looking at your house, I went to sleep quickly, without any fuss whatsoever, which is a first for me.

And as my eyes closed, my imagination took off. I dreamed of myself a little bit older, swimming in the pool with Dada. I imagined long days spent in the vegetable garden with Mama, getting dirt on my hands and knees and loving every minute of it. I dreamed of days full of playing with cars and footballs and maybe swinging from a tire. I imagined chasing a dog and salamanders. I saw myself being the best big brother imaginable. I dreamed about kissing a girl for the first time in secret under a shaded tree. I envisioned hanging with my friends, running to the store and back, or maybe just playing hide-and-seek between bushes and rocks and then riding my bike up a long hill just for a glass of cold water. And I never thought about the possibility of owning chickens and pigeons before but now I do, and there I was, in my coop. And then, I woke up, laughing and smiling. And I went back to sleep for more.

And that’s how it went for an entire two hours, dreaming about how the rest of my childhood would play out. Can you blame me? I loved your house. I loved everything about it. And I loved what was waiting for me.

Right now, we live with our uncle in San Francisco. And although, in our minds, that’s a great situation, our hearts are telling us we should be somewhere else. And we’re convinced that place is in San Rafael.

My Mama grew up in Novato. She played there. She had fun there. She went to school there. She got married there. She feels Novato made her who she is today.

I want to feel about Sun Valley as my Mama does about Novato.

Thank you for giving our hearts a visual to match what we’re feeling.

Now excuse me. I’m going back to sleep to dream about it a little more.

Wyatt Tornello

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

how i can't believe it's been an entire year

i just spent the last twenty minutes reliving the best day of my life that happened one year ago today, and i've never been any happier than i am right now.

wyatt, i'm so limitlessly happy that you're my son. you're everything i've always wanted, and the idea that i can be your dad for the rest of my life is the most amazing thought i can wish for. you mean everything to me. i love you so much.

lisa, i'm so proud of you. i've seen you grow so much not only as my wife but also as the mother of my son. and there's nobody else i'd rather have as a partner. wyatt's so damn lucky to have you. heck, i'm so damn lucky to have you.

and to gram, grampa and grandpa, thank you for setting such a great example for him to follow. i'm sure grandma is very proud of him.

love you, kiddo.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

how i can grieve on a public forum too

my grief counselor gives me homework after every session, and i figured that, even though my meetings with him are private, i tend to share everything with everyone anyways.

so here's the homework i filled out:

1. I always put other people before myself.
2. I make myself laugh. Hard. And often.
3. My wife and kid love me, so I’m doing something right with them. In fact, I’m following in my parents’ footsteps as a good parent and spouse.
4. I would do anything for the ones I love. Anything.
5. People tell me that I look at the world differently, I take that as a compliment.
6. I try to imagine what others are thinking before I react.
7. I try to never hurt someone’s feelings…
8. …Unless it’s for their own good, in which I become stand up and blunt.
9. I’m extremely open-minded and tolerant.
10. I can admit when I’m wrong.

1. I can’t wait to show off how smart I am.
2. I’m not selfish enough. In fact, I’m not selfish at all.
3. My knees limit me.
4. I have trouble staying in shape, and that bothers me.
5. I procrastinate, sometimes to the point of rudeness.
6. I’m devastated when others don’t treat me how I treat them, even when that level is unrealistic.
7. I continually get taken advantage of, and I let it happen.
8. I’m too ambitious for my own good and rarely finish anything.
9. I’m slow to react, and I rarely ever throw caution to the wind. Both of these are because I overthink everything.
10. When I don’t care about something, I’m unmotivated to do anything about it.

1. I’d never give up playing basketball.
2. I’d work less and be home for playtime.
3. I’d be more organized.
4. I’d stick to resolutions for more than two weeks.
5. I’d speak up for myself more.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

how this was the speech i gave at the party my mom wanted to throw for us

When my mom passed away, my first reaction was to cancel this party. This day meant so much to her and that having it without her would just seem wrong. But then Sue said, “We better have this party because Mom would be pissed”. I laughed, because it was true. She would be pissed.

I didn’t know then, but now, I completely understand why.

My original interpretation of this party was to introduce Lisa and Wyatt to their New York family. It wouldn’t be a wedding. We had one of those last year. But it would be a grand introduction of two amazing and wonderful people to a hundred more amazing and wonderful people with funny accents.

But, the night after my Mom passed, I rethought it. And, whether it was a divine inspiration from Mom or just seeing things differently, I realized that the point of this party was to be an opportunity for my Mom to show everyone how proud she was.

But, in the months since, I realize now that even that was off.

Let me explain.

You see, my mom had two sons.

One of them met the love of his life when he was eighteen. She was everything a mother could ask her son to meet and he did the smart thing by marrying her the first chance he got right after he graduated college. They bought a house a mile from her. And then, soon after, they gave her her first grandson. And then, her first granddaughter. He became vice president at an early age, and was in complete control of his future. He proved to her that he could be successful in life and in work. With that son, she had nothing to worry about.

She also had another son. He lived three thousand miles away. He had a job that she only somewhat understood and he took jobs based not on money but on the types of ads he could make. Weird. He dated, but he was cryptic about it because he didn’t want to get her hopes up. Maybe he was gay? If he was, that’s okay. But she knew he wasn’t. Hopefully. Her son then turned 32, and he seemed to be in the same exact position he was when he was 26. She had everything to worry about.

But here’s where the story takes a twist. He met a woman, someone who was everything a mother could ask her son to meet. He did the smart thing by knocking her up the first chance he got right after they fell deeply in love. They got married. They settled in. And then, soon after, they gave her her second grandson. And all the sacrifices he made in his career came to fruition when he became an associate creative director working on his dream job. He proved to her that he could be successful in life and in work.

Suddenly, she had two sons with nothing to worry about.

And once I wrote this out, it was suddenly crystal clear to me. This party is not about my mother showing everyone how proud she was.

This party is about my mother showing everyone how relieved she was.

So let’s have fun. Because, you know, right now, mom is partying her tail off. And, knowing her, she’s playing much better music.

Friday, April 03, 2009

how steve has too much on his plate so he's relying on his twitter feed to supply content to his blog

i wish i had the time to post here every day, but i don't. so considering my contributions to society lately have been in 140 character increments, i might as well keep this blog active by making it a safe haven for all my thoughts.

    follow me on Twitter

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    how this was my eulogy for my mom

    I’ve been writing this eulogy since my plane ride, and I have to admit, by this morning, I felt that it was about 87% there. But something just happened that completely pulled it all together. And, as usual, Mom, you were the one that did it. I’ll get to it in a minute.

    I’ve been to too many funerals. And usually, when someone gets up to speak on the deceased’s behalf, they always talk about how wonderful, generous and loving of a person they were. And half the time, I get the feeling that the speech they give is really meant to convince everyone else of that. Like they’re presenting that person’s case to misbelievers.

    This is not one of those times.

    I don’t have to convince anyone of anything about my Mom, your wife, your aunt, your grandma, your mother-in-law, your sister-in-law, your cousin, your friend. She was truly the best at all those roles.

    She made us happier even when we were already happy, lifted us when we were down and did whatever we needed even before we knew we needed it.

    And she made us laugh.

    When my wife and I were sitting in the airport, waiting to take off to come here, she told me a funny story about my mom. Lisa had put a little mirror in Wyatt’s room, and my mom asked her why. Lisa laughed, and revealed that the light in his room was so good, that she placed the mirror in there so she can see the chin hairs that she needed to pluck. How did my mom respond to that? By telling her that the light’s just as good in the car and that’s where she plucks her own chin hairs.

    Endearing. That’s my mom.

    The first concert we went to was to go see Michael Bolton. Mom told us that we had to meet one of dad’s clients in Philly, and he was a big Michael Bolton fan, and it was really important to Dad. So we hopped in the car and started driving north on the Turnpike. Which, as you all know, is the opposite way. It wasn’t until we got to Giants Stadium that it became clear. Michael Bolton wasn’t playing. The Rolling Stones were. And none of the 90,000 people rocked out any harder than she did.

    Thoughtful. That’s my mom.

    The night before she passed, she was somewhat drugged up, but still very lucid. My family sat around her and they watched “American Idol” – just like any other Tuesday night. And my mom was being my mom, just like any Tuesday night. Suddenly, the nurse came in and asked her, between 1 to 10, where her pain level was. She struggled to say “5”. The nurse took that in and walked out. As soon as she left, my mom turned to my dad and said, “It’s not a 5. It’s like a 2. I just want more morphine”.

    Jokester. That’s my mom.

    Hearing her sing completely off-key to Green Day songs, which no sixty-year-old had any right to know the lyrics to. Being completely unable to stay serious while scolding us for every stupid and funny thing we got in trouble for. Spending a quick vacation in Baltimore, the crab capital of the world, and watching her only eat cheeseburgers. Never driving on highways, for some reason she never really explained to us. Being the go-to person for all things pop culture, like gossip and trivia. Choosing to ignore every Oscar-nominated film to watch a monster movie instead. Her laughing fits that took her ten minutes to get three sentences out.

    Quirky. That’s my mom.

    And here’s where it all ties together. After we said our final goodbyes at the funeral home, we waited for dad at the bottom floor. But he wanted to take the elevator down, just like Mom would have done. And we waited. And waited. And then, suddenly, here comes Dad, walking up the stairs. He pressed the wrong button and it took him to the basement.

    I could hear my Mom laughing from heaven.

    The prankster. That’s my mom.

    But we all laughed even harder when we realized that Mom had a hand in that. Just like, whenever something else funny happens, we’ll think of her and know that she probably had a hand in that too.

    Whenever we laugh, from here on out, we’ll think of her and know that she was in the mix somehow.

    I can stand here all night and tell stories about how she made us laugh and reminisce about all the wonderful things about her. And I’m sure we all have our stories.

    Her quirkiness made us laugh. Her tenderness made us happy. Her thoughtfulness lifted us up.

    That was always her responsibility that she was happy to take on.

    And now, that responsibility falls to all of us.

    When my grandparents passed away, my Dad and Uncle and Mom lamented that they weren’t able to write down all the stories their parents told them. I remember many of them, but I’m sure there’s just as many that fell through the cracks.

    My mom left behind three amazing grandkids. Nicky and Ava Rose got to know her. Wyatt’s too young. And as time passes on, so will, unfortunately, their memories.

    But I’m not gonna let that happen.

    Right now, I’m gonna ask you all to think about a moment when my mom made you laugh. Made you feel better. Made you happier. It shouldn’t be too hard. This is my mom we’re talking about.

    And sometime today, sometime this week, once you come up with that story, just like any one I told you about, I’m gonna ask you to tell me. And I’m gonna record it.

    Nicky, Ava Rose and Wyatt won’t be able to feel their grandmother or hear her. They won’t be able to be held by her. They won’t be able to smell her or be kissed by her. And that breaks my heart.

    But I do want them to be touched by her, just like how we all are. I want her to make them laugh, just like how we all did. I want her to make them feel good, just like she always had. I want her to forever be an important part of their everyday lives.

    And she will.

    This is my mom. How could she not?