Thursday, October 17, 2019

Last Dance

I'm finally getting around to blogging about the recent wedding of our youngest son.  (I've gotten two posts up so far, here and here.)  I still need to write a post about the amazing reception they had, which was totally orchestrated by the bride's hard-working and talented mother (who should probably start a wedding planning business, because she's got a real knack for it!).  But before I do, I wanted to talk about a traditional event during the festivities that has always held a special place in my heart: the mother-son dance.

On Sept. 7, I had my last dance as the mother of the groom, a part I first played in 2009 when my oldest son got married.  I got to do it again in 2013, and then TWICE in 2014.  (We had three boys get married in an 11-month span, between Dec. of 2013 and Nov. of 2014!  Can you say "whirlwind"?)

Sometimes I feel a little guilty that I have been able to enjoy this ineffably sweet wedding tradition five times, while my husband has never had the similar experience of dancing with a beloved daughter as father of the bride.  We are the parents of all boys, however, so that just wasn't in the cards for him.

For his mother-son dance, our firstborn picked a sweet country tune by Garth Brooks called "Your Song."  Some of the lines in it are incredibly poignant, and so perfect for the occasion.  Here are a few of the best ones:

And if ever there was somebody
Who made me believe in me
It was you, it was you...

It was your song that made me sing
It was your voice that gave me wings...

And anytime I doubt myself I think of you...

When the next three boys got married, they all chose the same Back Street Boys song that they knew their mom just loved, "The Perfect Fan."  (They could remember me sitting in the living room listening to my favorite CD and putting that song on repeat--over, and over, and OVER...)  If you aren't familiar with the lyrics of this winner, here is a sampling:

You showed me
When I was young just how to grow
You showed me
Everything that I should know
You showed me
Just how to walk without your hand
'Cause mom you always were 
The perfect fan

God has been so good
Blessing me with a family
Who did all they could...

I want to thank you for all you've done
In hopes I can give back to you
Be the perfect son

[Sniff!]

Well, not to be outdone by his older brothers, our baby surprised me with a beautiful song I'd never heard before.  Like our oldest son (his best man), he chose one by country superstar Garth Brooks, and he didn't share it with me beforehand.  To be honest, I was so emotional during our dance that I didn't fully hear and appreciate the words of the song.








Afterward, on our way back home, I texted my boy to ask the name of the song we'd dance to and I found it on You Tube.  I'll tell you, the tears flowed in that car as I listened to the lyrics.  If ever there was an award for best mother-son dance song, this one called "Mom" would be right up there in the running.  If you'd like to listen to it, here it is.




Do you need to get a tissue?  I'll wait...


To be totally honest (and much to my shame), when I first saw these professional pictures of this latest--and last--mother-son dance, all I could do was pick apart my appearance.  "When did I get so old-looking?" "I hate my profile!" "Why didn't I get contacts, do something fancier with my scraggly hair?"  "Yikes, now I know where the phrase 'ugly cry' comes from!" (Why do we women do this?)

But then I stopped obsessing about my own appearance and focused on my boy's face, and in all of the pictures, his love is absolutely shining.  He really is that devoted and sweet; and in his eyes, flawed though I am, I can do no wrong. In his eyes, I am that "loving angel, tender, tough, and strong" that God chose to be his mom. What a wonderful son he has always been, and my heart bursts looking at his expressions in all of these photos.

"God has been so good," as my Backstreet Boys so eloquently put it, "blessing me with a family who did all they could."  And then some.  I do not deserve it; but I'll take it.

And the memory of that last dance will stay with me forever.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Finally, a Post about the Wedding!

I can't believe that more than a month has passed since the wedding of our youngest son on Sept. 7.  Back in the early days here at String of Pearls, I would have had a post up about it within a day or two--heck, maybe within an hour or two!--of returning home from the wedding weekend.  But my blogging muscles have atrophied a bit since 2011; and I'm not as young as I once was, either, you know; and I can probably come up with a bunch of other great excuses for neglecting the upkeep of my little corner of the Internet...but the best (and truest) reason for it is simply that I seem to be so busy just living life these days that I have trouble making the time to stop and write about it.

But writers gotta write (and I'm a writer, sort of).  So I'm going to write about the wedding.  Finally!

There is just nothing in the world like a Catholic wedding involving two extremely Faith-filled young people who promise to love, honor, and cherish each other all the days of their life, let me just begin by saying that.  It is a powerful and very moving thing to witness, that's all there is to it.  (Having a purse with tissues in it handy, close by in the pew, is a must for mothers of the groom, I've learned--at least for this mother of the groom.)  This nuptial Mass, during which our youngest son and the sweet girl he met on Catholic Match in 2016 (while he was stationed over in Germany) exchanged their vows in front of several hundred family members and friends, was exceptionally holy and beautiful.  Sacramental grace abounded.

For the wedding Mass, the bride wore a gorgeous lace gown that had been worn by both her mother and grandmother before her, and then she changed out of that fragile family heirloom into a more modern strapless gown for the reception afterward.  I love it when family wedding dresses are part of the tradition.  (All four of my Pearls sisters-in-law wore their mother's dress for their weddings.)  Our new daughter-in-law Babisiu could not have looked more regal and lovely.


The large wedding party included all four of the groom's brothers (but only three of them were able to be there, and if you read yesterday's post you know the reason for that), and all four of the bride's brothers as well.


The bride's sister was the maid of honor and our oldest son was the best man--which was especially poignant, because he was also his baby brother's godfather over 26 years ago, even though he was not even 10 years old yet at the time.

Our five oldest granddaughters were flower girls, along with one of the bride's young cousins (wearing lace-trimmed dresses I'd made); and G-Man, our oldest grandson, was the ring bearer.  I loved the inclusion of so many little people in the wedding party; I told my new daughter-in-law that it reminded me of a royal wedding!

You know what?  I think now I'm just going to share a blog post written by someone else, one that appeared on the website of the wedding photographer.  Not only does it tell the charming story of how my son and his bride met online, but it includes many of the wonderful pictures taken on their wedding day by some exceptionally talented people at Meridian Photography. Most of the pictures are breathtakingly beautiful; and some, on the other hand, are downright hilarious.  (The couple's nod to the iconic painting by Grant Wood called "American Gothic" is especially fun.)   Just click here to see the post.  

I can hardly believe that all five of our sons are now married (where did the years go?!), and all to young women who share their Faith and are determined to raise their children in the Catholic Church.  This was the one thing we wanted for them more than anything else, if they were called to the vocation of marriage; indeed, we spent many years praying for our sons' future wives.  And boy oh boy, were our prayers answered.  We have been inordinately blessed.   God is so good!

As if the day wasn't glorious enough already, next up was a fabulous party under a tent that was set up at the bride's family's ancestral farm, where her great-grandmother had celebrated her wedding decades earlier.  This bucolic rural location was filled with so much sentimental history for Babisiu and her family, and it also made an absolutely stunning backdrop for the festivities.

So there's more to come.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A Tiny Saint for the Pearl Family


I was scrolling my Instagram feed this morning and saw via a post from one of the Catholic accounts I follow that today, Oct. 15, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.  This hits really close to home in our family right now, sadly, because in late August our second oldest son and his wife lost the baby she was carrying.  They had gotten past the first trimester mark, and therefore were assuming that all would be okay and looked forward to the February birth of a new sibling for their three young sons.  But tragically, at 16 weeks (which is considered "late" for miscarriage), they found out at a routine OB appointment that the baby no longer had a heartbeat.

This little angel, the youngest of our 17 grandchildren (counting the two currently in utero who--God willing--will be joining us in October and November) was brought forth into the world on the Feast of St. Monica.  The kids decided that if genetic testing determined the baby was a girl, they would name her Monica; and if the baby was a boy, they thought they might name him Augustine, after St. Monica's sainted son.

Our daughter-in-law Ginger's father found a wonderful organization called A Mom's Peace, described as "a lay apostolate for mothers of miscarried and stillborn souls."  This group gifted the grieving parents a miniature handcrafted wooden casket for their baby's tiny body, as well as wee hand-knitted and hand-sewn garments and a blanket to bury him or her in.  Knowing that our daughter-in-law has a nephew battling leukemia, they chose purple--which is often used to symbolize this fight--as the accent color for these precious items.


The little knitted hearts were given out to family members as keepsakes, so they would each have some yarn
from the little blanket that had been made for the baby.

There was a prayer service and burial in a small church graveyard where other tiny preborn and stillborn souls are buried.  One day, there will also be a small headstone for the final resting place of the precious little one we now know was a girl and who has been given the name Monica Mary.

Life is indeed a series of ups and downs, of ecstatic highs and unbearable lows, and never was this more apparent than during this difficult time in our kids' lives.  The burial for this tiny Pearl saint was on Tuesday, Sept. 3, and my husband and I flew back from South Bend, IN (where we had stopped on our way out to MI for our youngest son's wedding on Sept. 7) to attend the burial service.  The next day, we flew back out to South Bend to get our car and drove from there on to MI.  By Friday, we were hosting a rehearsal dinner.  And on Saturday, our fifth-born son was married to a beautiful Catholic girl in a beautiful Catholic church.  That was a week of so many conflicting emotions.

Due to how recent the miscarriage was, and to some health complications Ginger suffered afterward (just days before the wedding), our second-oldest son and his family were not able to make the trip to MI--which everyone completely understood, of course.  We missed them, but obviously there was no other choice they could make.

The wedding day was so joyful (and I do plan to blog about it very soon).  Somehow, I was able to compartmentalize my feelings--something I am rarely able to do--and focus solely on the beaming bride and groom and the celebration of their sacramental union for the duration of the weekend.  But when we got into the car to drive back home to VA after the wedding festivities, the weight of my emotions got the best of me and there were many tears.  Some of them were those happy mama tears, thinking about the sweet lyrics of the song my baby chose for the mother-son dance, and what a good boy he is, and how happy I am that he found his better half; but many of them were sad tears, knowing that another son and his wife were hurting and there was little I could do to help ease their pain.

Never having gone through the experience myself, I asked a friend (who'd also lost a baby to late miscarriage, 30 years ago) what we could do for them. She said the ministry work that A Mother's Peace did to honor the baby's short life was going to help so much, and the fact that sweet little Monica Mary was given a holy and dignified burial would give her parents much comfort in the years ahead.  They will always miss her, she said.  Out of the blue, they will be hit with feelings of crippling sadness.  But time, she assured me, will be a great healer.

I talk to Monica Mary now, especially when I'm worried about her parents.  I believe that in her our family has a powerful intercessor in Heaven.  Genetic testing revealed that the baby was a girl, but it did not reveal any identifiable reason for her untimely death; I can only surmise that God needed and wanted her with Him now, rather than later.  She was just too good to stay here with us in the valley of tears.

Dear St. Monica Mary, pray for us!



I must make an addendum to this post:

We actually have 19 grandchildren, including those in utero.  Our oldest son and his wife lost two babies to miscarriage some years back, both very early in the first trimester.  They do not know the sex of these babies, but have given them the names Philomena and Augustine.  So we actually have three little Pearl saints and one day hope to meet them all!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Blink All You Want: It Will Be Okay! Cheers!

Before I go on to write about our youngest son's beautiful Catholic wedding Mass on Sept. 7, followed by a fabulous reception held under an enormous tent set up on the bride's family's ancestral farm (as a rather overdue follow-up to my most recent post about his rehearsal dinner), I thought I'd share a few more photos from the rehearsal dinner that make my eyes sting a little when I look at them.  And it's not imagining taking a swig of hard liquor that makes them, sting--it's something else entirely...but I'm getting ahead of myself here.

In recent years, I've been doing a lot of those, "don't blink, young mamas" posts, both here and over on Instagram.  (When I did blink, the cute little fellers snuggled up together on the couch in this photo had suddenly grown up and moved out of the house to start lives of their own.  The nerve!)

It's so true that although the individual days can seem very long when you're focusing on the care and feeding of small children, the years fly by in a flash; and I'm left almost breathless by the fact that the soft-cheeked little boys I raised are now grown men raising soft-cheeked babies of their own.  I can hardly figure out how that even happened.  So those sentimental "don't blink" posts I've written are very bittersweet; but I worry that perhaps they seem to focus a little too much on the bitter part.  Because oh, let me tell you: there is something so indescribably sweet about having grown-up children, about seeing what fine adults they've become and realizing that they are some of your very favorite people on the planet, the people you would most like to spend your time with.  And God willing, you will most likely get to spend much more time with them as adults--you'll be adults together!--than you'll spend with them as children.

Case in point: our oldest son is going to turn 36 this month.  He left his home in NH at 18 to go off to college in South Bend, IN; after that, he only came back for school breaks and summers, until he was sent to his first post in the Army after he graduated from Notre Dame.  So when he celebrates this next birthday, he will have been out on his own for the same number of years as we had him living under our roof.  He has already spent half of his life living apart from his parents.

I recently read an Instagram post by a gal whom many of you have probably known for years but I've just "met" since I joined Instagram and found--to my delight!-- a veritable treasure trove of Catholic writers who inspire me daily.   The IG post was by Laura Fanucci (@thismessygrace), and she wrote about how her husband and she were chatting with one of his colleagues, who was raving about his grandkids. Then he found out that Laura and her husband were expecting their fifth child.  "His eyes went wide.  I could see the usual jokes on the tip of his tongue.  But then I fell in love with my husband all over again.  Because he laughed & said: Yup.  We're playing the long game."  Laura goes on to say, "Playing the long game means keeping the end before our eyes.  For most of our lives & our kids' lives (God willing), we will all be adults together.  Isn't that a radical thought?  The long game looks up from the ground we're walking and remembers the whole road is what counts.  A full family life not just for now, but for always.  No one I know went to law school or med school because they wanted the grueling years of the beginning.  They were playing the long game...The long game is vocation's view.  It doesn't dismiss today; here and now is always a part of the whole.  But neither does it lose out on the greater good for a smoother short-cut."

I don't think I've ever read a simpler or more beautiful essay on the beauty of family life--and how grateful we should feel to be blessed with as many children as God gives us, in spite of how tough those early years in the trenches can be.

My husband always used to say that you had to be willing to have your children dislike you sometimes, while helping to guide them (and often having to discipline them) through the various difficult stages of their childhoods and young adulthoods.  But again, if you were thinking of the long game, being willing to NOT be their friend all the time when they were young made it so that you could have the joy of being friends with them when they were adults.  (I wrote about this once here at the blog, long ago.)

Anyway, moving on to the purpose of this post: to show you how our long game is turning out so far.  To show you that, even though our four oldest sons were born in four years and then there was a five-year gap before the arrival of son #5, they have now become equals and good friends as adults.

When our youngest was learning to talk, he would light up and scream with joy "Dies! [Guys!]" every time he saw his brothers.  They were his heroes and role models, and he spent most of his young life in a frantic game of catch-up.  As I was going through all of his notebooks and papers at the end of his freshman year and trying to figure out what to keep and what to toss, I found the most touching journal entry in his English notebook and I had to save it.

Well, I would say he is 100% "one of the guys" now.  At his rehearsal dinner, one of his older brothers announced that it was time for a "brothers shot."  Now, don't get me wrong--I am not a proponent of irresponsible alcohol consumption, in general.  But this was more of a rite of passage, a ceremonial type of shot, one that celebrated the fact that the youngest in the family was now going to join his brothers in embracing the vocation of marriage (and hopefully one day, fatherhood).

That picture up above?  That's evocative of a wonderful--and relatively short--season of our life, one that I still occasionally miss and think of with nostalgia.  But I wouldn't trade where we are now for all the tea in China.  That was just the short game.

This is what the long game looks like.
Son #2 could not make the wedding, due to family circumstances; but our youngest son's bride-to-be gamely
filled in for him.






So don't be afraid to blink, mamas.  It will be okay.  Yes, there is some truth to that oft-cited adage "little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems."  There will still be tough seasons--because this is the valley of tears, no doubt about it. But you and those kids you raised will weather those seasons together, as adults; with a strong family and even stronger Faith, it will be okay.  In fact, it will be more wonderful than you could ever imagine.

Cheers!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Rehearsal Dinner Recap (and Photo Dump!)

I can't believe it's been almost a month since our youngest son got married, and I still haven't blogged about it.  I can remember back in the early days here at String of Pearls, when I would wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, itching to get at my laptop.  I'd be writing a post before my first morning cup of coffee had time to get cold--even when I didn't have anything particularly important to write about (like, say, the wedding of my baby boy!!!).

I think this sort of life-changing event deserves some blog love.  So I'm going to give a little recap of the rehearsal dinner we hosted on Sept. 6.  Knowing this would be our last time playing the roles of parents of the groom (as this was our last boy to get married), we were hoping to go out with a bang on this one.  And I think we did.

After our son popped the question in March, we only had six months to plan, so right away I got on the Internet and Googled "rehearsal dinner venues in Traverse City, MI."  The first establishment I contacted was a microbrewery that specialized in brick oven pizzas and craft beers, but they really weren't big enough to accommodate our group.   (Two big families coming together meant a big wedding party.)  My second try was a place called the Little Bohemia, a family-owned restaurant/tavern located downtown.  I thought the pictures of its charming wood-paneled interior had such a vintage appeal.  I contacted Nancy, the owner, and to my delight was told that yes, they were available on that date--and not only that, if we had at least 60 people (which is almost exactly the number we had on our guest list), they would close the place down to other traffic and it would be ours for the night.  How perfect that sounded, especially since there were going to be so many little ones in attendance (including 11 of our 14 grandkids, between the ages of one and 8).  We knew it would make the event much less stressful for their parents if they knew the kids could wander around the restaurant at will without disturbing anyone.

Nancy said that the Little Bohemia could put on an Italian buffet of homemade lasagna, chicken alfredo, spaghetti, bread, and salad, with their special cherry bread pudding--once featured on the Food Network--for dessert.  It sounded perfect to us, so we put down a deposit immediately, and from then on I felt sure that our party was going to go off without a hitch.  Nancy and I had a friendly back-and-forth via emails, and she said I was welcome to bring table decorations, posters, and a sheet cake (which I had to make for my youngest's rehearsal dinner, because I'd done that for all four of his brothers).

My husband and I met up with Nancy the Wednesday before the wedding.  We stopped by the Little Bohemia when we got into town and had dinner there, and we were pleased to find that the food was indeed fantastic. The ambiance was also so warm and inviting.  And Nancy was just about the friendliest person on earth. She said to drop off any decorations ahead of time, and she and her staff would put them out for us.  (Son #5 is an incurable movie buff, so I got plastic popcorn containers as centerpieces, and these were filled with either popcorn or movie theater-style boxes of candy.  I also had some "movie posters" made up.)  When we said goodbye to Nancy, she asked, "Are you huggers?"  We laughed and she hugged us both.  It was like we had a new best friend--perhaps it's true what they say about Midwesterners being the friendliest people!

Okay, without further ado, here are some pictures.

Here's the cake--which was brought iced and frozen from VA and decorated in a MI hotel (not my best effort, but I got it done!).  One of the guests from the bride's side was teasing about the "Take 1," saying that as this was going to be a Catholic marriage, shouldn't it say something like "Final Cut"?  (I probably should have thought it through better...)

I had one of the couple's engagement pictures made into a faux movie poster.

The Oscar statuette says "Best Performance as a Couple."





Here we are with the groom-to-be and three of his brothers.  (Missing was our #2 son and his wife and three little boys; one day, I will write about the reason they couldn't be there for the wedding weekend, but suffice it to say it was a good one and they were with us in spirit.)

For so many years I was a boy mom; then I kept getting all these great girls.  And this latest one is a keeper.


Our bookend boys.  Our oldest son is his youngest brother's godfather; and he was also chosen to be his best man.

My husband, who is a comfortable public speaker, traditionally makes a short and heartfelt speech at our rehearsal dinners, welcoming the new daughter into our family.  This time was no different.

What was different is that I decided that I wanted to make a little speech, too.  (I am not a comfortable public speaker--talk about the understatement of the century!--and this is so out of character that I figured my son would be completely shocked.)  I had seen this beautiful passage about marriage on Instagram, and I wanted to read it aloud for my boy and his bride-to-be.  But I warned my husband that if I couldn't get through it, he would have to finish for me.  And...about two words in, I was too choked up to go on, so he read it.

These two are troopers.  They drove from VA to MI and back with their 2-year-old triplets (and she's due with baby #4 at the end of October!).

Papa--and baby harnesses--helped to keep these two monkeys corralled throughout the weekend.  (These identical twin boys, who have a triplet sister, are our second set of identical grandchildren.  Identical twins run in our family, apparently!)

A good time was had by all!


We couldn't have picked a better place to have this event, the last of its kind for my husband and me.  That's it for us--it's a wrap!

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Mother of the Groom Outfit (My Last Hurrah)

The youngest of our five sons--and the only one who is still single--is getting married in less than three weeks.  At 26, he is more than ready to take this next big step in his life; but sometimes, his big brothers (who are between 5 and 9 years older than he) forget that he is no longer the baby brother obsessed first with all things Lion King and then with all things Jurassic Park.

Wait a minute...he is still slightly obsessed with both of those movies, and with movies in general (see his blog for proof of this).  But I digress.

I have had my dress since not too long after he and his fiancée, now known here at String of Pearls as Babisiu, became engaged in March.

You would think that on my fifth go-around, I would be an old pro at picking mother of the groom attire, and I'm not. But at least I've gotten past worrying too much about what I wear, knowing how little it really matters when you think about the monumentally important reason for the day: the sacramental union of two souls, whose whole purpose from that day forth is to help each other get to heaven.  When you think of it that way, dresses are pretty unimportant.

But dresses are fun, and nothing feels better than making a choice early on, with the plan that you will lose those stubborn 10-15 pounds you've gained in the past few years so that the dress will fall just so and look amazing; and then even when you haven't been able to make the desired weight loss happen, knowing that you've chosen a dress that will fit you anyway, and is cut in a way that is kind of magically forgiving of your many perceived flaws.  (And also, nothing feels better, more confidence-building, than modeling a dress for your husband and having him tell you that he really, really likes it!)

I have not tried on my dress since June, so I hope I still feel good about it when we get back to VA after our summer away and I try it on again.  (Fingers crossed!)  I did not spend my summer dieting and working out; I spent it having crackers and cheese at cocktail hour, out on the boat with my husband.  (It's been "the Summer of Us," remember?)  I've spent it enjoying delicious meals with him, sometimes followed by delicious desserts.  I don't want to regret anything about this summer, which has been as close to perfect as a summer can be; so I hope that when I see the pictures of the wedding, I don't stress out about the double chin that appears if I don't hold my head up high enough, or the cheeks that are so much rounder than I wish they were.  I hope that all I see is the joy of a mom who has watched the youngest of her five boys make the most important commitment he will ever make, having chosen a young lady who values her Faith as much as he does with whom to share his journey through life--and therefore, having followed in the footsteps of the four older brothers he admired so much growing up.

Anyhoo--

Would you like to see the dress?  (Side note: this is not me modeling it, although I certainly wish it was!)


Less than $60 on Amazon.  You can't beat that price!

I fashioned a special necklace to wear with my dress by taking apart a faux pearl necklace passed on to me by my mom when she had to sell her house and cull through her enormous collection of costume jewelry in order to downsize.  When I restrung the pearls, I added some sparkly beads and a Miraculous Medal in the center (because I like to wear this sacramental always, but I also like to wear pearls for significant Pearl occasions).

I recently bought some mousse (for the first time ever), a curling iron, and some hair spray, and I started experimenting, hoping to come up with a better way to wear my hair for the big occasion.  But in my 61 years of being a female on this planet, I have never mastered the art of hair styling.  So I've decided to just do the usual--straight hair held back with a headband--but I'm taking the advice of my baby sister and making the headband a blingy one.  I got a navy blue satin one and glued on a whole bunch of sparkly gems, and I think this headband will be just the touch of bling I need to add a little pizazz to my usual hair-do.

Wearing that medal around my neck, with a picture of the best Mother of all time on it, I hope to forget any hair or wardrobe cares and feel nothing but peace and happiness and joy throughout the festivities.  And I think that's just what I'm going to feel.