Yesterday a package arrived from Australia. My sister was moving and there was no place in her new home for our mother’s silver tea set–the one Mom kept on her buffet in her little house in Detroit. My sister could’ve easily packed it off to a thrift store or sold it at a garage sale. Instead she kindly chose to pay postage to send it all the way to America to reunite the silver service with mom’s old buffet, which now lives in the dining room of my home in Seattle.
Three days ago I put my son on a plane to Turkey, where he will teach English for the next three years. I can fret, or be proud of him for having the courage to make such a momentous move.
His sister Bea was scheduled to come home from her program in Lithuania two days after Eli’s departure. Unfortunately they would miss each other, but Eli turned it into an opportunity. In the wee hours of the night before he left, we hauled a little surprise for Bea up from the basement. Eli hoped she’d like it even better than the last surprise he left her.
It was the perfect way to present Bea with motion-activated cooing tribble slippers she hadn’t even known she needed.
Still, it lacked a certain ‘Je ne sais crois.’
Actually, Eli knew exactly what it needed.
…And then he added the finishing touch.
Packing done, boarding pass printed, and still enough time to play one last game of Pandemic and save the world before our trip to the airport!
On the way we brainstormed how and when to visit, just as I used to do with my mom before each parting. And nowadays we can even Skype in the meantime.
My mom taught her kids to look for the bright spots. She could find ’em where you wouldn’t have thought there was one.
After Mom’s first chemo session, my sister Constance and I suggested going home to rest. Mom said, “The doctor says it won’t hit me until tonight. We’re going to Sanders Ice Cream Parlor. If I have to get sick, I’m going to throw up ice cream.”
Bea arrived two days after Eli left. His parting gift was appreciated (up to a point). Now it resides in his room, scaring the heck out of me and making me laugh every time I go in there to open the blinds.
Bea, unpacking the heirloom tea set, said, “We’re going to have a MONSTER Tea Party!” There was another unexpected gift from Auntie Down Under–an uber-protective full-body swimsuit. Bea ran to try it on. Like Clark Kent bursting from a phone booth in Superman duds, out of Bea’s room flew Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl.
Doing-Things-That-Aren’t-Fun-But-Are-Good-For-You-Girl (aka The UV Protector) threw Fashion Sense to the wind, and bravely faced the sun and its evil rays–in public.
All our lives we’ve heard,”You gotta break an egg if you want an omelet.” We jump willingly into the fray, enduring, for instance, the red eye flight for the trip to Europe.
My mom used to say, “When you’re holding your baby in your arms, you forget the pain.” Then Mom’s sister lost her baby. So what if there’s no baby to hold? My Aunt Loena would say you have to find others to hold and love, which she did. But some challenges you cannot go around, hire out, or wiggle free from. It’s the stuff no one else can do for you, even if they wanted to. It’s the bend in the river of life where there is no turning back and no standing still. Moving forward is all you can do, and your only choice is about how you do that, whether you are five years old or ninety-five, whether it’s getting a tetanus shot or chemotherapy, whether you are saying goodbye for now or forever.
I know and love–and I’m sure you do too–some very dear people who are facing some of life’s most daunting challenges and have been taxed in ways most people can only imagine. Yet they are getting up and going to work each day and taking their kids to school and playing Werewolves with them at the end of the day with stents in their chest. Or telling stories to bring joy to their audiences while undergoing months of chemo, and celebrating the last treatment by traveling the great cities Europe. Or writing Haiku with one hand while learning how to walk again after a stroke. Or surviving cancer to reinvent themselves, leaving a bad marriage and developing a highly successful career as an artist. Or after a hip replacement, beating the odds from sheer determination to progress from wheelchair to walker to cane to standing on their own two feet while receiving radiation for a spot on the lung.
Who ARE these people? They are not the Supermen and Wonder Women of the world; they are the Clark Kents and Diana Princes, who through sheer strength of will and spirit quietly forge on through fire and ice. They are the real superheroes, delivering the right stuff. Their legacies are not the silver tea sets, but the stories they give us to hold in our hearts.
All words and images copyright Naomi Baltuck.
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Poignant, funny and sad at the same time. It’s hard to put our kids on planes. I’m sure you’ll visit and they each sound off to great adventures. As far as the teaset– keep it- — you never know, one of the kids might want it. Now, my mother has about 16 crystal cordial glasses she’s trying to give away…
Eli was there when my sister called to ask if I wanted it, and he said, “Yes, yes, yes!” So I already have an interested party. I have always taught the kids, especially when a glass was broken or something stained by a spill, that people are more important than things. But the tea set or an inscribed book is a sweet connection for my kids, who never knew their Grandma Eleanor.
As always … you bring a tear and a smile and some metaphysical gristle to chew on. Thanks.
Thanks so much for the visit. It’s always good to hear from you, and I appreciate your generous response to this story.
So human. So special. So Naomi. Full of life and love. Especially your mom’s positive outlook: ‘ . . . look for the bright spots.’ The apple did not fall far from Eleanor’s tree.
That’s really sweet. It’s nice to hear form someone who knew Mom.
Beautiful. Again. Of course. When Gep first went to Seoul to teach, a friend of mine worried because of its proximity to North Korea. When he went to Muscat, she worried because of its proximity to Iran. She is that way. I choose to go with the thought that you are never guaranteed safety wherever you are, and when doors of opportunity open, we should go through them with positive thoughts. Adventures await Eli, Bea and all of you. Face them with joy, which you already do.
I know we have to let them fly out in to the world and it is so much better to do so with a warm send off and the knowledge that their folks re always going to be there for them no matter where they go and what they do. But it helps to hear it again from someone who has been there and done that.
Thanks, as always, for your wise and comforting words.
How do you get your kids to pose for all those great pics?? Fab photos and fab story.
Guess I trained ’em early with all our dress up parties. They don’t seem to mind one bit hamming it up for the camera. Thanks for the visit!
This post tugs at my heartstrings, and I have many. I started laughing but then became sad. You have an amazing, smart, close family. Young adults flying all over the world, coming home, flying to jobs, flying on holidays as a family. Yours is a precious family and it is always a pleasure to read about you all.
Not afraid what the neighbors think, or the rest of the world, is how I see you. I love your outlook on life. Live. Learn. Love. Hold those close you, closer. Hope all are well and good. Lovely tea set. ❤ ❤
What a really sweet and thoughtful response. Thank you so much. I am very fortunate to have had a mom who let us host historical dinners and costume parties, who drove us to the 49 states that you could get to by road, and loved and accepted us for who we were. She would smile and say proudly, “Seven children, and not ONE of them in jail!”
Not a terrible goal. Not to be in jail. 😀 😀 😀
My dear mother set the Success Threshold low enough so that we could all crawl over it!
What a very lovely family you have, Naomi. Smiles and tears all mixed in. It’s rarely easy, is it? 🙂 Hugs!
Having that family is what makes it easy to smile and all worth while. I know you feel the same about your very funny very unique very sweet and wonderful family! Thanks so much for the visit.
Hugs to you too!
Thanks so much for the visit, and for sharing your generous response. I hope you are well!
a beautiful heartfelt post HUGS
Thank you so much. A great big hug to you too!
Fall is nearly here hope all is well in your world 🙂
You got me with “stents in their chest”…thinking so much of my Jim. On the flip side, I have been wanting a bathing suit like that for years! Ain’t life one absurdity after another?! That’s what storytellers live on, right? And you’re my current favorite, dear Naomi.
I found your comment so moving, and so telling. Over the years (yes, years!) that I have known you, you never fail to surprise and to provoke thought when you share your stories. You too are one of my favorite storytellers!
Lovely lovely post Naomi. You got it right about the real heroes.
Your family is fabulous! What a couple of wondrous kids you helped evolve. You and your husband deserve medals for parenting skills! And your kids deserve medals for just being generally awesome! That Eli would even think of leaving such a welcome for Bea is amazing.
Thanks for the visit and for your very kind words. They are easy kids. Eli is an old soul, born twenty-five years old. Four years later Bea came along and I told him, “This new baby can be your adoring best friend or your worst enemy, and it all depends on how you treat her.” He understood and took it to heart, and Bea worked hard to keep up with him. They really appreciate each other’s talents and know they can count on each other, while I count my blessings every day.
What an amazingly thoughtful and wise thing to say to a four year old. Don and I both blown away by that.
Thanks, Alison. What amazes me is that Eli took it to heart and was ever so kind to his baby sister. I was lucky my teacher husband has summers (we have two July babies), which we planned so he could help and bond with the new arrivals. We did our best so Eli didn’t feel neglected. The day after Bea was born Thom held the baby while I cuddled and read to Eli, and when my sister called from Michigan, rather than interrupt our story time, I had Thom tell her I’d call her back later. That kind of small adjustment made a big difference, and there was never rivalry between them, but a great deal of mutual appreciation. Even when they were kids–10 and 6 yrs old, Eli told me that Bea came up with the best ideas for ‘playing pretend,’ and I know Bea was stretched–in the best possible way– keeping up with her big brother. We got very lucky because they both were born with very different, but sweet natures.
Lucky, yes I agree. Sometimes we are just plain blessed. But I think there was a lot of very caring good management going on there as well 🙂
Wonderful post, Naomi, with a great message. Thanks!
Thanks so much for the visit, and for taking the time to share a very generous response.
Love this, particularly the swimsuit superhero! PS I’m from Australia and have never seen a swimsuit like this – she’s very lucky! 🙂
My sister and her sons are lifeguards there–I forget the official name of their organization–but they spend a lot of time in the sun, exposed to all those potentially hazardous stinging sea critters you guys have down there. She and her kids all have one of these suits for protection against sun and stings. She’ll be here int he states visiting in the next week or so. I can find out more about it for you, if you like. I appreciate your stopping by.
Hi Naomi, thanks for your reply. Re the swimsuit – very practical! Particularly a good thing with stingers. Where I was living in Darwin almost no-one went in the water. As well as stingers, there are saltwater crocs. I wonder if anyone will make a suit for those! 🙂
It’s called a submarine!
what a wonderful adventure for your son and what a wonderful story Naomi. I love the playful craziness.I’m smiling this morning!!
Thank you, Cybele. So nice to hear from you–I appreciate your kind response.
PS: and the poignant mix of life!!
Oh, Naomi…..your words, as always, touch my heart.
I love the adoration your children have for one another….and I giggle at the great lengths your son went to, to leave his personality there to embrace/scare you all. That tea set….oh it is just the beginning!
Feeling the love ♥ psb
After health and happiness I would wish anyone a close family. It gives me great comfort to know they will have each other after their parents are gone.
Thanks so much for your really dear response to this post–well to all of them. I feel the same way about your blog, and every family portrait–both words and photos–that you share.
Hugs to you all,
I loved reading your post! I especially loved the pictures of Bea running and leaping in her new swimsuit. I’d have never done that when I was her age and that’s too bad for me.
SO good to hear from you! Your comment made me smile. My kids still always manage to surprise me. Bea suggested I go study at the same university program with her in Vilnius next summer. I said, “You don’t want to be going to summer camp with your mother.” She said, “Mom, I don’t need to be COOL.” But I think not caring what anyone thinks makes her even more cool.
Thank you so much for a really lovely response. I hope your summer was a good one.
Beautiful story, Naomi. Rich, thought-provoking, hilarious, and comforting. Love Bea’s full-body UV protection suit. Sorry Eli wasn’t able to say good-bye to B in person, but glad his mannequin (womanequin?) was.
Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your very generous response to this post. The timing was just off, but unavoidable. Eli does like to leave a calling card, but I’m sure Bea will find a fun way to reciprocate.
Hope you and the gang are well, and the writing is flowing.
Beautiful, beautiful post Naomi. I have a lump in my throat as I write this, for I have a few of those inspiring superheroes in my life too. Amazed by how you manage to make even goodbyes so special!
Loved Eli’s creative surprise and I think Bea looks smashing in that swimsuit…..seems to fit her like a T!!! 🙂
Thank you so much for your very kind response, and I am wishing your beloved superheroes as gentle a journey as possible. I love the way Eli is able to take a difficult farewell and focus on the fun and the anticipation of Bea’s reaction to his surprise. The alternative is to just be sad about leaving. We always try to figure out when we will be together again, which also helps to soften the parting.
Bea says she doesn’t have to be cool, and that goes for her swimwear choices, but I think that’s one of the coolest things about her. My sister Miriam says she has a full body swimsuit in Spiderman colors. Are there any purple superheroes?
It is such an inspirational thing to know people like these – I don’t think I could keep up with your life… 🙂
I feel fortunate to know every one of these people. (And I can’t keep up with my own life very well either!) So good to hear from you! I hope your summer has been good.
Naomi, I love the way your story flows! It’s so vibrant! 🙂
Thanks so much for the visit and the kind response–it’s always good to hear from you. I love your profile picture–you are looking good!
I just bought a stainless steel teapot that I’m very pleased with as it looks like the sort they used to have in tea rooms in the 50s. Not nearly as posh as your silver one, but I think that metal teapots generally have more reliable spouts for pouring than china ones.
If you were to look closely at my mom’s tea set, you would see that it’s value is more sentimental than anything–the hinges on both pots are broken and I wouldn’t even know where to take them to be repaired, and there is a spot of dried paint on the tray, and I need to look up how to remove it without also taking off the very thin veneer of silver finish with it. But Bea is polishing it up to use to today at a murder mystery party she wrote for her writing pals. It is set in the Victorian Age in a British Colonial household in Egypt, where a silver tea set would be perfect. (When we pour, we’ll keep a finger on the lid to keep it from falling off into the kids’ tea cups!)
Thanks so much for the visit! Wishing you many tasty cups of tea from your new tea pot!
Ooo, that sounds fun — a murder mystery party!
The kids write these mysteries for their friends, set in the coolest times and places and all involve costumes, of course. They are better than the ones I used to pay up to $40 for at the games stores. I think they should polish and box them up and market them on the internet.
Your story and that of your family brings us the inspiration to face the world like superheroes. Heroes who’s power comes from strong will power, heart of courage, love and generosity, of the spirit to live life to the fullest and venture its many adventures. I wish your son all the best in his new adventure abroad. It is hard to be away from family especially when you are so close to them. That photo with his dad, hugging each other tugs our hearts. I hope and pray for your mom’s fast recovery and good health. Her strength, faith, humor and optimism shines like a bright beautiful star in your post. You have an amazing family that make others feel like they too can fly, just like your daughter in this photos. You all help is see like as one big adventure. Thank you. All the best to you and your family.
Thank you so much for your very kind and thoughtful response to this post. My mother did not survive her cancer, but her courage and grace stay with me, and I love to share it with my kids, who never knew my mom. My first child was born the year after Mom died, but by telling her stories I keep her memory alive, and it is why my kids know and love her, though they never met.
I love the way you and your family make the most of your time together, and the love and memories you are sharing now will last longer than a lifetime. Wishing you all great joy!
How sweet the tea set has returned to its familiar home. I love how your family lives life large. But the question remains…is Bea wearing the slippers?!
Thanks so much for the ping back!