Makes you believe in true love

It takes 18 days for a soulmate’s heart to break.

My Grandma passed away the evening of Feb. 6th. Grandpa followed on Monday, the 24th. I think it would have been even sooner if he hadn’t been such a strong man and if some dementia hadn’t rattled him this past year or so.

It’s hard to imagine the world without either of them — the fiery Italian woman with coffee and cookies, Christmas decorations and simple yet effective advice and her sailor, a man who passed his tough love, grizzly-on-the-outside-teddy-bear-on-the-inside demeanor to my Dad. It’s hard to imagine the world without them, but it would have been much more painful for one to endure continued absence of the other.

They would have been married 69 years last week. 69 years watching their five children grow, and watching Grandma inconsolable over the loss of her eldest a few years ago. 69 years watching their farmhouse in the country become a small stamp in Suburbia, 17 grandkids and 17 great-grandkids mingling about their outdoor pool, their shag-carpeted living room, the concrete patio with colorful lights strewn about us in the night.

My grandmother brought the words of wisdom and the most delicious food ever created.

My grandfather was a hard-working man who was still doing odds ‘n’ ends with his backhoe well into his late 70s.

I loved sitting across from my grandma at her kitchen table, escaping the world’s problems and life’s hardships even for just a few moments. And sitting on my grandpa’s lap meant giggles and made-up songs on repeat.

“Baby Face, you got the cutest little Baby Face…”

My Dad has his hands. They are large and strong, they are tan and worn. They are good for holding. They make you stronger, just by holding them for a bit.

“What’s the secret to a happy marriage for so long, Grandpa?” I asked him once.

He smirked mischievously. “You think I’m happy???” he joked. “She tortures me all the time.”

And then they would start their Laurel-and-Hardy-like sketch about him leaving World War II and marrying her and starting World War III.

“Oh, you never had it so good,” she would say, whacking his shoulder with her hand while winking at us.

We, as their legacy holders, never had it as good as we did in their midst. They created incredibly smart individuals — some good with numbers and some good with tools. They created street-smart kiddos, too — the tough little girls and polite little boys who grew up to be good friends and siblings and husbands and wives.

Their home, I think, will quite simply last longer than bricks or stones. It is built with memories and survival and love, and that is the greatest of foundations.

When the wind is light and the air is warm, I can see him, flyswatter or pipe in hand, scanning his land from the front porch. I know she is happy, maybe on the phone, the long cord wrapped around coffee cups and wooden chairs as she stirs her homemade sauce.

“Hello, young lady,” he says in his deep voice. He gives you the best hug like it’s nothing at all, but when you look back over your shoulder as you walk away, he is smiling. He is smiling and nodding and beaming with pride.

Years after my mother passed away, my grandfather would still regularly visit her grave. Such a simple gesture, such a beautiful thought from a kind man who never forgot a life and who lived his as if each day was his last. He suffered when his friends began to pass away, his heart ached so much. I can only imagine the suffering he faced in those moments of clarity these past 18 days when he realized his stubborn soulmate was gone.

When I last saw my Grandpa, the day after he stared at his wife’s coffin on a winter day alternating between “You have to take life as it comes” and bits of confusion, he was sleeping in his recliner in the living room. I wanted desperately to jump into his lap for old times’ sake. But instead, I took his hand in mine. He woke for just a moment, smiled, said “It’ll be OK.”

I don’t know what he meant. Perhaps he meant we would be OK without them. Perhaps he meant he’d be OK.

I just know that in that moment, he was offering me strength, just one last time.

He loved his church and his God, his friends and his home. But most of all, he loved the faces in the 200-plus photographs on their living room walls. Some were yellowed from the sun while others showed brand new babies who wouldn’t remember “Baby Face” or “young lady” but would still, I’m sure, feel and know their love.

Those of us left behind mourn so greatly because we miss their physical mementoes — the hugs and kisses and those strong, callused hands. We miss hearing their laughter and their bickering. We miss the smells of warm meals to feed 12 when only six were invited for dinner. We miss the sound of the backhoe putt-putting across the driveway. The same jokes, the easygoing love between a couple seven decades in the making.

But we can not be sad.

They are together. I have never in my life been so sure of two souls going directly to Heaven as I am with my grandparents. Not only will they pass through the Pearly Gates, they will do so with Frank Sinatra serenading them, John Wayne applauding them and balloons surrounding them. Confetti will rain down on silver hair, hands interlocked again.

And then the lady and her sailor will be reunited. This time, forever. With no war, no loss, no sickness.

My grandfather died from a long decline in health.

And a heart that took 18 days to break in two.

Rest in Peace, you two. And try to stay out of trouble.

Antoinette LaLonde

Robert LaLonde

What they don’t tell you

There are a lot of tough careers out there — I feel like retail and hospitality, both of which I’ve worked in, are pretty intense and stressful; and the ups and downs of a journalism career had its own share of adrenaline rushes, good and bad.

But this stay-at-home mom adventure I’ve been on these past two months is the most incredible experience I’ve ever felt in my life.

It gives the most amazing highs of highs. Until you’re a mom, I’m sorry but you just may not get it. The patting of a little boy’s hand on your back and in your hair and his sweet, slobbery kisses. The way you look into her eyes and see yourself and the way you stop in your tracks because she really is that smart.

I love the snuggles on sick days, being the only one who can make it all better. I’m grateful for the trips to the park and the walks to see the ducks; the first days of school and the scheduling of playdates. It’s a lovely little world.

Until reality sets in.

Because there is this whole other side to raising kids full-time that is so incredibly painful, in ways you never knew you could hurt.

I talked with one of my dearest friends last night and over the phone we whispered about how we’ve thought about punting our children across the room. Not very lovely, huh? It was nice to know I wasn’t alone and we laughed it out for a few moments, boosting moods on a difficult day. But the sad truth is that some days it is so very hard to be a  good mom for 15 straight hours on six or less hours of sleep to children who can squeal in such a high pitch that neighborhood dogs must lose their minds. A victory is not hurling your child across the room. (I never have, by the way).

You see, it’s a life of repetition.

“No” times 48.

“Please get out of the cat littler.”

“I said NO TOUCH!”

“Why are you in the toilet???”

“We don’t throw books at our sister.”

“Get out of the cat litter. NOW.”

You watch your tax paperwork get drawn on with crayons. You see scribbles on your work calendar. The remote gets hidden in the garbage. Then later, in a couch cushion. And then in the goldfish bag. And the cracker explosion on the floor and a leaking sippy cup.

You see, it all happens while you’re picking up the books and cleaning up strewn cat litter and doing silly things like attempt to fold a load of laundry and use the bathroom. Or you’re feeding the cats (don’t worry, their bowls will be thrown on the floor later) or taking the dogs out (while a child sneaks into the mudroom and you’ll later find a spiky toy in your left boot.

And then.

You hear the toilet flush.

And none of that takes into account a severe case of cabin fever from all three of you during the coldest, snowiest, most severe winter you’ve experienced in this state.

Pleas of “Outside” have to be ignored because the wind chill is -15 degrees and the snow is two feet high. There’s only so many crafts you can make and PlayDoh you can smash and cut and roll into little balls.

And you can’t help but feel bitterness towards your spouse who is enjoying 45-minute car rides with music and scenery and who interacts with adults for hours every single day. He’s not singing the Thomas & Friends theme song and he’s definitely not folding the same shirt for the second time after it — and the rest of the laundry basket — was pulled down from the table. You know, while you were sweeping up cat litter. And then he enjoys a night out once a week for sports and friends. Adult friends, again. And he works long hours and is tired when he gets home, so can you blame him for relaxing for a few minutes on the couch?

On the plus side, I know now how to cook a decent meal (meat, potato, vegetables — you betcha!) while yelling “HOT!” 73 times in 34 minutes. I can also wash dishes while hopping on one foot. Because the left foot is balancing the dishwasher door semi-closed because a certain 21-month-old loves to take the dirty dishes out while you load up the machine.

Somewhere in there, I’m sending e-mails and Facebook messages and attempting conference calls to further two independent, self-employed businesses (shameless plug for www.marykay.com/wzook and wendyzookphotography.wordpress.com HERE). I am so motivated and so determined and frankly, I’m kicking butt… but imagine what I could do with two solid hours of dedicated time every now and then? Silly, I know.

Oh, and none of this takes into account a trip to the Emergency Room with your eldest, where you alternate between near hysteria and eerie calm because he can’t catch his breath between coughs and he just looks at you with such discomfort and sadness.

It’s here that two ladies and one man in scrubs attack you from all sides, asking about your street address and insurance, medical history and length of symptoms. While your three-year-old clings to you, sobbing hysterically, batting away the stethoscope.

You pace the room for an hour, you hold up his arms while he cries during an x-ray. You frantically tell the nurse about the hole in his heart, just in case you forgot or she didn’t hear. “And you remember he has Down Snydrome, right???” you yell through an open door over a blonde head still screaming.

You spend four sleepless nights with him on the couch, aggravating an old running injury but catching up on your Olympics coverage, mumbling over and over, “Shhh, shhhh, it’s alright. Sleep, baby.”

Somehow, the laundry never ends, despite the fact that you’re lucky if you change your clothes three times a week. Everyone else in the house has multiple outfit changes a day, however. Plus, you’re finally noticing all of the neglected housework — the dirty curtains that need washed and towels and such. There’s closets to organize and couch cushions to clean and floors to mop and clothes to donate and socks to match and, well, this list, my friends, never ends.

So, don’t forget the Mommies. The ones who clean snot and clip fingernails among tears. The ones who push aside every selfish impulse (minus a venting, rambling blog post, it seems), to take care of their family.

It’s an illusion. We like you to walk through our door and say, “Gee, how does she do it?”

We, meanwhile, ask ourselves at least once a day, usually while running over our to-do list at bedtime or while hiding in the bathroom after a particularly traumatizing temper tantrum: “How can I do this?”

But you can.

I can.

She can.

I have to go now — the kids just threw all the books onto the floor and I can’t find the remote.

I hope it’s not in the toilet.