It is what it is

I’ve completely fallen off the wagon with this post-a-day 365 Project, but with all the shit hitting the proverbial fan in my life lately, I don’t even feel the need to apologize for my sudden absence. But now that the dust has begun to settle and I feel like maybe I’m breaking above the surface for a breath of air, it’s finally time for me to sit down, sort it out, and write it down.

It’s time to let it in, and let it go.

With every big event in life, the hardest days are the ones that follow, where you’re faced with the seemingly impossible task of trying to find your new normal.

And that’s just it. You have to find a new normal. Because when it comes to the big things like births and deaths and moves and career changes, you can’t ever go back to the way things were before. Not really. Maybe you can get close if you’re lucky, but that certainly isn’t the norm. After the big things, most of us find ourselves hit with a steep learning curve as we try to settle in and right the ship and navigate the new and unfamiliar waters.

When we lost Stevie’s mom, Diane, in 2012, we tried to find our new normal, but I’m not sure that we ever really succeeded. Maybe it was losing her so suddenly, or maybe it was losing a woman we loved with such a big personality–either way, her death threw us quickly and completely off balance. The house on Yale Avenue was always too quiet. The birthday and holiday cards stopped arriving with predictable regularity. And the worried phone calls stopped coming when I would miss a day or two of my blog.

When we learned that Stevie’s dad, Richie, had been taken to the ER in December, we were thrown off balance again. And when the cancer diagnosis came a few days later, our lives were torn apart. Stevie flew to New York. I flew with Henry to San Diego for a work event. And Cadence spent the week at my parents’ apartment while we did our best to try and hold it together.

Stevie and I flew back home on February 12, both of us emotionally and physically exhausted. He’d been surviving on 2 hours of sleep as he and his siblings tried to wade through mountains of paperwork and prepare themselves for what was to come, and he returned to Lincoln completely drained and fighting off a cold and a stomach bug that knocked him on his ass for the next four days. I’d been surviving on 2 hours sleep trying to balance all my work obligations, a teething 6-month-old waking every hour all…night…long, and the nagging guilt of not having enough hours in the day to support my husband or check in on my daughter who was back home trying desperately to hold onto some semblance of a routine while her parents were running from coast to coast like lunatics.

We prayed that we might get a short break, a few days reprieve before we had to face what we knew was coming. We’d planned a family birthday party for Cadence. It was always one of our favorite gatherings of the year with local family and a few friends coming over to the house for some good food, homemade ice cream cake, and time spent making Cadence feel special. We knew we would be planning another trip east after the party, but then Miss C started running a fever, and we watched her energy and her incessant chatter fading as her temperature climbed.

Thursday, February 18 – I was in the rocking chair feeding Henry when we got the call. It was early, still dark. My eyes were half-closed when Stevie came in the room to tell me Richie was gone.

Everything from that moment until this one is a bit of a blur.

Stevie and I hit auto-pilot and started moving. Cadence’s fever was on Day 3, holding steady at 103.9, so we made her an appointment to see the doctor, and made arrangements for her to stay behind with my parents while we headed to New York. I had to lay my body on top of her to hold her down so the nurse could swab her throat for strep, only to have the test come back negative.

We booked a flight, rented a car, and spent the day rotating laundry and re-packing all the clothes we’d just taken out of our suitcases. By 5:45 a.m. Friday morning, we were in the air and heading east.

Stevie’s sister, Michele, already had most of the arrangements made by the time we landed in Westchester. We made the drive to Long Island, our hearts as heavy as the clouds that pressed down on the city skyline.

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The food began to arrive shortly after we did–giant deli sandwiches and sides, trays of pasta and pastries, bottles of wine and Richie’s favorite Budweiser–all sent by the friends and neighbors who love Richie as much as we do, and who know exactly how big of a hole his death left us to fill.

I wasn’t prepared to walk into that wake. I’m not sure there was even anything Stevie could have said that would have made it any easier. All I could think about was how it had only been a few months since our last visit, exactly 133 days since we hugged Richie goodbye after blowing into town for Henry’s jet-set baptism.

Somehow, I kept thinking if I closed my eyes and wished hard enough, I could wake up in my own bed and find that it had all been just one, long, bad dream.

We headed back to the house for a few hours and more food between the wakes. The house was full, and still felt empty. I happened to glance at my phone as we were gathering our things to return to the funeral home for the evening wake. There was one text from my Mom.

Please give me a call.

And my heart dropped straight out of my chest.

I could hear Cadence coughing in the background when Mom answered, a deep cough, unrelenting.

“Honey, if I lose you, it’s because we’re getting in the elevator. I don’t want to alarm you, but Dad and I are taking Cadence to the ER. Her fever went up and she can’t stop coughing. She just doesn’t look right…her eyes…and we’re worried.”

I started to answer, but the line went dead.

I cried all the way back to the funeral home, as Stevie and I talked it out, trying to calm each other’s frazzled nerves and convince ourselves that everything was going to be ok.

It was an hour before a call came through from the hospital, asking for our consent to treat. And then a call from Mom. She didn’t know anything yet. They were waiting for the doctor, and she would call back as soon as she knew anything. It took three nurses to hold our little girl down for a flu test, but somehow the screaming and the crying helped ease her cough long enough for her to talk to her daddy and I on the phone. She told me she was scared and she missed us, but it was ok because they gave her a gown with the Looney Tunes characters on it and promised her a popsicle. The wake was ending and we were gathering our things to head back to the house when we finally got the news.

Swine flu. I didn’t even know that shit was around anymore!

But thankfully no pneumonia, and Miss C was heading back to Grandma and Papa’s house for the night to try and get some sleep.

We managed to get some too, just a little, and then it was time to get up and head to the church and say our goodbyes.

We buried Richie on a Tuesday, in the rain and the cold and the wind that cut straight through to the bone.

And now that Richie is gone, we are facing the same impossible task–trying to find our new normal.

We spent a week talking and reminiscing and sharing our favorite stories about all the things we will miss the most. Like the way Richie always had a white towel tucked in his back pocket to wipe the sweat from his brow, or the old wood-paneled Buick station wagon he drove. Or the way he would always make sure we got all of our favorite foods during our trips back home–egg bagels, sandwiches from Idlehour Deli, chocolate coconut donuts from Dunkin Donuts, and a huge steaming plate of zuppa de pesce from Mamma Lombardi’s. We spent a week in the house, waiting to hear him walking down the hallway, or waking to find him sitting in his swivel chair in the living room, hot cup of coffee in his hand, gazing out the window at the neighborhood below, just as he and Diane did every morning.

That’s the thing about loss and grief, isn’t it? You never really go back to normal. Instead, you spend the rest of your days with this gaping hole in your life. Time can dull the edges, but nothing can ever really fill that void, and so you wake every day working your way toward your new normal, gaining on it, but never really managing to hold it tightly in your hands before it slips away again.

And here we are now. We’re home. Our bags have been unpacked, and the last loads of laundry are spinning in the dryer. We’re slowly cleaning off our DVR. Stevie is back in the office, and I’ve got an undetermined amount of free time and family time ahead of me thanks to my unexpected unemployment.

Looks like we’re being pushed headlong into our new normal with a whole bunch of changes and uncertainty, and yet, somehow, Stevie and I are both okay with it. Somehow, for the first time in a long time, it feels like everything is going to be fine.

It is what it is. That’s what Richie would say. And you know, he was one of those guys who was always right.

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2016-02-29 13.01.11

Better Late Than Never

So our holiday cards are finally done, stamped, and ready to be mailed. Better late than never, right?

Come on, you gotta cut us a little slack. We were totally on the ball with Thanksgiving, getting our Christmas tree up and decorated, buying all of our Christmas gifts and getting them mailed out so people would actually have them to open on Christmas. Hell, we even managed to make it through all 25 days without forgetting to move the Elf on the Shelf. Considering we have an infant in the house and I’m running on an average of less than 5 hours of sleep a night, the fact that we’re getting cards out this year at all is a freakin’ miracle.

Plus, we like to think that we’re being fashionably late.

So brace yourselves friends and family. These little beauties are headed to a mailbox near you.

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Nonna & Poppa Visit Nebraska

If there is any drawback to me having a very, very large family, it’s that we don’t ever really feel like we get to spend enough time with any of them. Since leaving Arizona in December 2010, I’ve been lucky enough to take Cadence back with me for a few visits, some work trips and some just to spend a little time with Momma Dawn and Mark. But somehow the trips always seem rushed (especially when I’m working) and always end too soon. Planning visits is always challenging with work schedules and my youngest siblings’ school and activities to consider. And now that Cadence has started Kindergarten just as my two youngest brothers are finishing their senior years in high school, finding ways to visit all the grandparents in New York and Colorado and Arizona is going to get even harder.

But if there’s anything we’ve learned being so spread out from so much family, it’s to take whatever visits we get and try to make the most of them. So when Nonna and Poppa said they might be able to come for a quick visit after Christmas, we jumped at the opportunity. We hung out, watched a little football, and just enjoyed the time together. I was lucky enough to get an extra day off work with Snowmageddon threatening to bury us (which amounted to little more than a few inches and some slick roads). And the only regret I have  is that I wasn’t better about getting out the camera while Nonna and Poppa were here. Next time, I’m gonna go all paparazzi, but for now, this will have to do…

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And I have to say, for being a desert rat, born and raised in sunny Arizona, Poppa Mark sure can shovel a mean driveway!

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New Year. New Start. New Project

Right now, millions of people are hugging and kissing and popping bottles of champagne as they ring in yet another new year. I’m sitting in my living room, my hubby and hound dog beside me, my babies sleeping soundly upstairs as I listen to fireworks popping off in the distance.

And I’ll tell you the truth, folks, there is no place I would rather be.

I mean, I get why people get so crazy as they count down the seconds and watch that big ol’ ball dropping in Times Square. It’s a new year, a brand new beginning…even if it is really just another day, another tick tocking past midnight, another series of moments that might pass as quickly and unceremoniously as the rest. It’s really nothing more than a symbol, a man made tradition to mark the passing of time and the turning of another calendar page. But what it gives us is hope, and hope is really the most important thing we have to hold onto.

I’ve never gotten really crazy about celebrating on New Year’s Eve. When I was a kid, it was an excuse to stay up past midnight. In my teens, I often spent the night babysitting kids in my neighborhood while their parents went out to party. During my years in college and living in New York, I hung out with friends and rang in the New Year cheering on my hubby (then boyfriend/fiance) as he tried to bring home the coveted beer pong championship belt and drinking champagne on the roof of Romoser Hall.

And as for resolutions…I’m not really a big believer in them. Most people don’t even manage to make it out of January with their resolutions in place because, let’s face it, anything you think you’re resolute about when the clock strikes midnight and you’re shit-faced and singing and feeling rather invincible tends to get quickly forgotten or modified when you wake up the next morning with a wicked hangover and a whole long list of the same old responsibilities. So no, I don’t really go for New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I tend to start each year with a couple challenges for myself, or a few goals I’d like to reach in the next year, and as long as I keep making strides in the right direction, I consider it a personal victory.

A year ago, I challenged myself to reach two goals: 1) Figure out how to make NY-style pizza and 2) Finish my memoir. I crossed the NY-style pizza off my list a couple months ago (and I have to admit, I’m pretty damn proud of myself for that one). As for the memoir…well, that’s still a work in progress, so I’ll roll that one right over to 2016.

So, here’s what I’ll be working on in 2016:

1. My memoir – I’m still in draft stage, and need to dive back in and really commit to the project. With so many other things happening in my life (my job, my family, a new baby, travel, housework, sleep), it has gotten way too easy for me to just put the project aside. So my goal this year is to work on two chapters a month, and to post at least once a week on the project’s Facebook page. If you’d like to follow along on Facebook, you can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/InASeaOfStrangers

2. My writing – Outside of the memoir work, I really need to start writing regularly again, whether it is just journaling, freelancing, writing letters to friends/family, or blogging. To help keep myself motivated (and keep writing, keep writing, keep writing), I’m committing to another 365 Project here on my blog in 2016. I’m going to post something every day. It might not always be the most interesting read or the best photo, but it will be something that captured my attention and that I want to share, even if it’s just one word or one photo. And it starts right now.

3. My body – After two babies and a whole lot of slacking on even the most basic fitness, I’m seriously out of shape and hating it. Finding balance when it comes to my body image and self-esteem has always been a huge challenge for me, and I know I need to be mindful about making healthy choices to achieve my weight loss and fitness goals. So, to help ease myself into it, I’m jumping on the fitness tracker craze. I’m sure there will be more to come, so stay tuned.

4. My connections – There is really nothing more important to me than the people I love, but sometimes with all the other plans and obligations and distractions of daily life, I feel like I fall short in showing these people just how much they mean to me. So, this year, I’m also challenging myself to be a better wife, a better mother, a better sister, a better friend…hell, I’m challenging myself to be a better person. I’m challenging myself to be more present, to connect and reconnect whether it is through a face-to-face conversation, a text, an email, a handwritten note, or even a smile and a quick hello to the people I pass on the street.

It’s been one helluva year. All in all, I’d have to rank 2015 as one of the best so far. It certainly wasn’t without its hardships. There were plenty of those, believe me. But maybe I’m a little older, a little wiser, a little less concerned with the penny ante bullshit and a lot more focused on the things that really matter, because all those difficult things just sort of faded away and made all the really great things that much more amazing. And as I sit here in my cozy living room, listening to the fireworks, surrounded by the people I love the most in the whole, wide world, I am so very thankful and excited to see what 2016 has in store for me.

Bring it.

And here’s a little hound dog selfie to help ring in the new year…

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Merry Christmas 2015 Romano-Style

Yesterday, we woke to find that our little elves had come bearing gifts–some new pajamas for Miss C and H-man. I guess they thought the kids had been especially good this year, so they wanted to leave them a little something before they said goodbye and flew back to the North Pole for another season.

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The elves also brought a little video message straight from Santa, and Cadence about lost her mind when the big guy called her by name and she saw her and Henry’s name on the TV screen…

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After that Miss C headed out the door to play in the snow, which was a very welcome sight after a few days of gloomy weather and pouring rain. At least a few inches of snow made it feel a little more like Christmas, and Cadence had a blast playing outside while her Daddy shoveled and sledding in the yard with the neighbor kids.

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As for Henry and I, we stayed in where it was warm and hung out.

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And now, forgive me while I overload you with photos, but I can’t help it. Christmas becomes a little more magical when you become a parent. And this year, with the addition of little H-man to our family, we got to experience a first Christmas all over again. Even Miss C got in on the excitement. I swear, she was almost more excited about helping her little brother open gifts than she was opening her own.

And I gotta say, when you’ve got kids as good as ours, it’s so much fun to spoil them a little, at least one day a year. 😉

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Elf on the Shelf 2015 – Day 20

Even if I didn’t get a chance to meet my paternal grandfather until I was 22, after my reunion with my birthparents, there was no absence of love from him. Poppa D wrapped his big arms around me that very first time we met and somehow it felt like he never really let go.

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In the years that followed we traded letters and chatted occasionally on the phone, and he was always sending me little care packages filled with his homemade jerky or wood carvings. And he signed each and every card and letter with his name and his signature drawing, one that made me smile every time I saw it.

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When I announced my pregnancy with Cadence, one of the first gifts we received came all the way from Ainsworth, Nebraska, lovingly designed and built piece by piece by Poppa D. Cadence has already put a lot of miles on her old rocking horse, and still occasionally mounts up when she’s off on some random adventure.

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I’m sure it won’t take Henry long to join in the fun, but until then, Cadence and Cosette and Leo will keep the saddle warm.

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