A simple band of leather and copper

I wear it every day and usually it goes unnoticed. Sometimes a stranger or friend will comment on it, that it looks cool, or is stylish, but hardly ever asks more about it. It’s a simple piece of brown leather; two buttons hold it around my wrist. Bound to the strap by two smaller pieces of leather is a copper ring. If you look closely, you’ll see two names engraved on the band.

These are my children, my pride and joy, my heart shared between two precious young people. On either side of their names is a heart. Decoration, a sign of my love for them, or something to take up the space? No, these hearts mean something much more. They represent a further division of my own heart, the love I have for an entirely different group of people.

December 2008

May 2009

November 2009

March 2012

Those hearts represent these months and years. Those hearts represent my four other children. My children who are not here. The ones who quietly came into and left my life before anyone ever had a chance to know them. I have six children; two are with me today, sleeping in their rooms across the hall as I write this, and four who were taken far too soon by an event we rarely speak of: miscarriage.

They each have as story, and to keep that silent is to ignore their presence in my life, and their absence that I feel every day. Each one had a profound impact on me and the course of my life. The first was a Christmas blessing and heartache. I was still newly married to my first wife, and we wanted to begin a family. Just before Christmas, on December 23rd as I recall, we found out that my wife was pregnant. Such excitement was hard to contain, but her immediate spotting tempered our exhilaration. It was a nerve wracking holiday, and not long after, it was confirmed: she was miscarrying. The baby was approximately 6 weeks old. We took some time and tried again, this time in the spring. Again excitement at a positive test, again spotting, cramping, and another heartache six weeks along. This heartache impacted more than just us, it impacted our families, and stole the joy I should have had at learning I was going to be an uncle early the next year. You see, there’s no instruction manual on how to mourn an unborn child; you fly blind and hope you find your way out of it. That’s a scary proposition. Autumn came and this time we enlisted the assistance of a fertility specialist. Again our hopes were up, and again they were dashed between 6-8 weeks into the life of our third baby.

Within weeks of the birth of my first nephew came the news that, with help, we were again pregnant. There is a joy that most parents have during the course of a pregnancy, a combination of excitement, joy and fear. I was barely able to savor a moment. The fear of another loss, the heart stopping moments every time a doctor opened his mouth, and the long, slow march of specialists that monitored every moment of this pregnancy. I finally exhaled when I saw my son, heard him cry, and could place a protective hand on him. Some day he’ll understand why I always place a hand on his back when I’m near him. It’s because this was where I first placed my hand when I whispered to him that I would always take care of him. His was my miracle baby, and I wasn’t going to lose him now.

More than a year later we decided to try again and give him a sibling. Back to the specialist and again good news. Now, I’m an optimist by nature. My wife was not, and understandably so, but I wanted to be strong for both of us. Pessimism can’t be good for you, so I would offer the opposite, despite my inner fears. She felt something wasn’t right. I wish she had been wrong. Late one night we headed to the ER, and our fears were confirmed. It was another miscarriage, this time at 15 weeks. She had to deliver the baby, and I had two phone calls to make. I remember the exact spot at St. Barnabas where I stood to call our parents and give them the news. It was nearly 4am, but both knew why I was calling. I can even recall the words I spoke as I broke down in tears and slid down the wall to the floor, “we lost the baby.”

Now the difference between 6 weeks and 15 weeks is profound. We knew it was a boy. He had two arms, two legs, two eyes, just like my children today. He also had a name; Mason Maxwell. We were asked if we wanted to see him, and at first we weren’t sure, but then knew we needed to see our son. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING can prepare you for when a nurse comes into your room with a wrapped up blanket, knowing your dead child is in her arms. Don’t ever make the mistake of telling me that’s not a baby, because after his mother held him and later handed him to me, I held him as she rested and we waited for a priest to come and bless him. I held my son for four hours, and that was the only time I ever had with him. I talked to him, kissed him on the head, and told him I was sorry a thousand times because I couldn’t save him. After he was blessed, a wonderful nurse who had cared for us with such tenderness said it was time. There would be an autopsy to determine what happened, and then he would be cremated. I made those arrangements after he was taken away. I watched as she carried him out of the room, knowing I would never see my son again. This, my friends, is what agony looks like. That was also a terrible way to spend my wife’s birthday.

Fast forward another year, and a mere two weeks after the anniversary of Mason’s death, we welcomed our daughter into the world. Again, specialists made it possible. Again we agonized for nine months and through countless doctor visits. Again I put my hand on my little girl’s back and told her I would always protect her.

Years have passed and life has changed. Divorce is always difficult. It changes the dynamic with your children, and unfortunately limits your time with them (anything less than seeing them every day is limiting). Getting married again was an easy choice, as I married my best friend. I feel so fulfilled in so many ways. Family and friends bring endless joy to my life, and my children fill me with love and pride. But there will always be a hole in my heart. A place where my four other children live now.

I’ve never been shy to talk about this topic, but I don’t go so far as to advertise it. This is the first time I’ve written about it, and it’s nearly 2am on a Sunday morning. I could have waited until morning, just rolled over and gone back to sleep, but I couldn’t risk losing this thought. I couldn’t miss the chance to capture this story so I could share it. So many other parents are out there who are similarly suffering in silence. No one knows how to mourn an unborn child. I’ve had plenty of practice, and I still don’t get it right in my mind. You don’t forget how you feel, but you can certainly feel alone. The only way to break through that is to talk about it. OWN YOUR MOURNING. These are your children, and just because they’re not with you now, just because you may never have met them, they are a part of you. Talk about it. There’s no shame in it, no weakness. If I lost one of my two living children now it would devastate me and everyone around me. The loss of my four children devastated me then, I just didn’t have someone to bury, to memorialize, but I did have someone to mourn and I do it every day. Sometimes it’s a day that just reminds me of it. Sometimes it’s hearing of a friend or acquaintance who is also experiencing this loss. Most of the time, however, it’s when I put on a simple piece of leather and copper every morning, and when I kiss it before I take it off at night.

Goodbye Sucks

Living life with no regrets is a powerful thing.  It makes life fun and free.  However, with the highest highs come some powerful lows, and today is one of those times.  Kim and I have a friend, who over the past few years has really become family.  She lived a mile from our home, and would frequently be an unexpected, but always welcome guest.  There were trivia nights at the bar, sushi expeditions, and even the occasional “accidentally drunk” evening.  The dynamic among the three of us was amazing, as though we had always known each other.  Our respective families became families, and the bond that we formed together will never be broken.  Our times together were, and are, amazing.  So a funny thing happened a few weeks ago…
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The search for a new job led our friend on some interviews, and those interviews became offers.  Before long an offer became acceptance, and acceptance brought with it reality.  Our time together was drawing to a rapid close.  Now, we knew New Jersey was not where she was going to plant roots, but we were hopeful.  As it turns out, change was in the air.  Big change.  Like, other side of the country change.  Her new job would take her to California, pretty much as far away as she could get (with no disrespect to Hawaii and Alaska).  Kim didn’t want to talk about it.  Ever.  She pushed that reality off as hard as she could, because pain is not something we readily embrace.  I felt it too, but dove right into talking about it with our friend, while Kim worked through her feelings.  As the weeks grew shorter, reality started sinking in.  Apartment hunting, clearing out her New Jersey apartment and countless dinners with friends and family to say goodbye.  Two weeks of training in California, then a brief trip back for the last hurrah.  That was this week.  Today was the day.
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We met her and her boyfriend near the airport where he parked for the weekend.  They have a wedding to attend in Cincinnati so he’ll be back, while she will continue onto her new adventure.  The drive to the airport was quick, the chatter lively.  Parked and in the terminal we approached security.  This was it.  The moment Kim wanted to push off was here, and staring her in the face through the eyes of our friend.  It was hug time, and cue the water works.  I amusingly mentioned to Jason (our friend’s boyfriend) that they were going to miss their flight, because once one is locked in a Kim embrace, there was no getting out until she released you.  Much to my surprise she released, but the tears continued.  I went in for the hug with our friend and smiled, and made her say goodbye while looking me in the eye, because she too had to cry if Kim was crying.  It worked!  With an arm around Kim we watched as they walked toward security, down the terminal and out of sight.  Our dynamic, though unbreakable, changed.
Kim and Maya
No more random stopovers at the house.  No more impromptu happy hours.  No more mailing it in when cooking Indian food (that’s a story for another day).  We’ll see her again, several trips are already booked, but it’s different.  Her presence, her energy, is going to be over two thousand miles away.  That’s hard.
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As we walked to the car, I commented to Kim, “we need to find some new fucking friends.”  Tears became laughter, as I followed with the question, “too soon?”   A few text messages between the four of us pre-flight and it was back to our day to day.
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None of us have any regrets about the time we spent together.  We were and continue to be family.  We laughed hard, we lived life to the fullest together.  The tears and the sadness are not of regret, but of the deep sense that this chapter ended around 11am in Terminal B at Newark Airport.  We all saw it coming, but it doesn’t hit you until it’s happening.  That’s the low of living life with no regrets.  You never want it to end, and when one chapter does, those tears are the great memories rushing back all at once, and that’s overwhelming.
So travel well Maya.  We love you, and we’ll miss you, but we WILL see you soon.  Good luck, keep in touch, and stay Fat, Drunk and Fancy.

Only 12 months left to plan

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday to host.  I mean let’s face it, I love hosting any event, but Thanksgiving in particular brings me all the warm and fuzzies.  As with many of my childhood memories, my love for all things turkey and family goes back to my Grandparents.  From the time I was born until I was 33 (with the exception of 1 year), I spent every Thanksgiving (and Christmas Eve) at my Grandparents house.  It wasn’t until Nick and I moved in together and we sold my Grandparents house that I began hosting Thanksgiving in my home.

On Thanksgiving morning, I would wake up at my Dad’s house and we would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.  We would leave his house at around 11:15am, and walk into my Grandparents just before Santa Claus came down the parade route into Herald’s Square.  The house was warm with the smell of the turkey in the oven.  The dinner table was always set and waiting for all of the delicious food that would soon be atop it.  Walking into the kitchen, there were appetizers and wine on the table.  There was a calm in the house and everything was tidy.  You’d never know that my Grandparents had just spent 3 days preparing a meal for 10-12 people.  It was incredible and I loved it.

Many, many years later, when I was in my late 20’s, I started to help my Grandparents prepare/cook for Thanksgiving and finally learned the secret to their success.  It’s all about the prep.  My Grandmother would start on Monday by making the pie crusts for the Pumpkin and Apple pies and the cranberry sauce.  On Tuesday she would make the pies.  Wednesday was the busiest day – washing vegetables, preparing all of the other side dishes, cleaning out the turkey.  Once Thursday came, all of the hard work was done and it was a matter of getting things into the oven at the right moment so that they would all get on the table at the same time.  My Grandmother had been preparing a Thanksgiving dinner since she and my Grandfather were first married, and she had always run the show like this. Even when my Grandmother was still working, she would prep like this when she got home from her day job.  And this was how they ran any holiday or family event.  Anytime we were going to my Grandparents house, when we walked in that door, my Grandparents greeted us and were ready to host.  It was how I learned how to host, and why I start the prep for Thanksgiving, or any family event, days before company is set to arrive.  Once my company shows up, I want as much prepared as possible so that I too can enjoy the time together.  La famiglia; that’s what it’s all about.

So, I’m sharing my tips/tricks to host a successful Thanksgiving dinner, but they are transferable ideas that you can use when hosting any holiday or family gathering.  The steps are simple:

1 Create a menu

2 Create a shopping list

3 Prepare what you can in advance

4 Prepare your home

5 Sit back and enjoy your company

Without further ado, my Thanksgiving prep:

1 week before Thanksgiving:

Create your menu.  I mostly make the same dishes every year, but typically like to add a new item or slightly alter one of my staple dishes.  It all depends on who’s coming (i.e. are there any picky eaters?), and how many people I’m having.  Then there are the dishes that are staples and I will likely always serve them just the way that my Grandmother did.  In fact there was only one of those dishes on my table this Thanksgiving – my Gram’s Sweet Potato Bake.  It’s fresh yams, with oats/brown sugar/butter/cranberries folded in, and then mini marshmallows melted on top.  I had an Aunt who used to scrape all of the marshmallows off.  She is no longer invited to Thanksgiving dinner.

Create your shopping list.  I tend to write and re-write my list a few times so that all of the produce is together, all of the dairy is together, etc.  If you’re not a Type A personality, then simply create your list however it works best for you.

Buy your Tupperware.  Everybody likes leftovers!  Make sure you have Tupperware that you can fill with leftovers for people to take home.

Saturday before:

Take your turkey out of the freezer.  Depending on the size of your bird(s), you may need to take it out of the freezer and put it into the refrigerator as early as Saturday.  It typically takes around 24 hours for each 4-5lbs of frozen turkey you are thawing in the fridge.

Monday before:

Go food shopping.  I can’t stress this point enough – go food shopping as  early in the morning as you can.  I tend to be there when they are opening the doors.  Get in and get out. That’s how you survive the holiday supermarket crazies.

Make your cranberry sauce.  I’ll never understand why people buy canned or jarred cranberry sauce when it’s so easy to make on your own.  Take a bag of fresh cranberries (they’ll be all over the produce section of your supermarket the week of Thanksgiving), a cup of sugar, some orange zest, and a tablespoon or 2 of water and cook over low-medium heat until the cranberries burst.  That’s it.  No need to get fancy here because nobody eats it anyway!  Also, leftovers are great on some Brie and phyllo dough.  Or wrapped in a crescent roll.  I digress.

Make your pie crusts.  Another thing that’s so easy to make, but people buy them.  It’s flour, shortening and ice cold water.  That’s it!  Once they’re made, wrap the dough in plastic wrap an leave in the fridge overnight.

Tuesday before:

Make your pies.  Pumpkin, apple, whatever.  Make it, bake it, let it cool and put it in the fridge until Thursday.

Wash and prep your vegetables.  You can prep all of your vegetables (except potatoes) and put them in a ziplock with a few damp papertowels and they’ll be fine by the time you’re ready to make them on Thursday.

Dry out your bread for stuffing.  Tear/cut your bread into cubes and put it in a 300 degree oven for 35-45 minutes until it’s completely dried out.  Store it in a ziplock bag until Wednesday.

Wednesday before:

Clean your turkeys.  Take the turkeys out of the fridge and get them cleaned up and pre-seasoned.  Stuff them with paper towels, cover them with plastic wrap and put ‘em into the fridge until tomorrow.

Make your stuffing.  No explanation needed here.  You’ll be happy you already pre-washed and pre-chopped all of that celery and onion though.

Make any other sides.  For 2017, I made my sweet potato bake, green been casserole (no cream of mushroom soup here!) and goat cheese mashed potatoes the day before Thanksgiving.  Take a look at your recipes – you’ll be surprised how much you can do the day before.  If you’re making brussel sprouts with bacon, cut up the bacon today.  If you’re using breadcrumbs in/on top of any dishes, make those.  If you’re making a signature cocktail, make that.  There’s a lot you can do in advance and come Thursday morning, you’ll be happy you did.

Set your table.  No explanation needed, but don’t forget the wine glasses and water glasses.

Gather your serving dishes, bowls, utensils.  Most of what you’ve already prepared will likely be in the dish that you’re going to serve it in on Thanksgiving.  That being said, you’ll need something for your turkey to go on, dishes or bowls for the vegetable sides you’re making, or for the appetizers you might be serving.  And ofcourse, you need something to serve all of this food with!  So grab the serving forks, spoons, etc that you’ll need for the day as well and put them on the table.

Review your recipes, create a schedule for the oven.  Take a few quick minutes to do a once over on your recipes for the sides you need to make on Thanksgiving.  Also, take a few more moments to make a quick note (mental or on paper) about what has to go in the oven at what time so that all of the food gets on the table at the same time.  I am supremely lucky in that I have two ovens, and this year Nick smoked one turkey and fried one, so I had both ovens to utilize all day.  If you only have one oven and have to roast your turkey, then you are definitely going to want to take the time to go through this step.

Put coffee into the coffee pot.  No really, do it.  When you’re in the middle of cleaning up the epic amount of dishes from dinner, you’ll be glad you did.

Put all of your dessert dishes, coffee cups into a convenient place.  Again, so that you don’t have to go running around for this stuff after dinner.

Set up your bar.  If you’re family is a bunch of boozehounds like mine, get your bar set up with mixers, bar ware, cups/glasses, etc.  Pull the wine that you plan on drinking throughout the day, or for dinner, and put it out on the table.

THURSDAY!

And here we are on Thursday.  All of the hard work is over!  Take the morning to enjoy the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade with a cup of coffee and relax a bit. About 30 minutes before your guests arrive, start the music, light your candles (if using), open the wine, and put your appetizers out, if serving, 15 minutes or so before you expect guests.  Things will get a little crazy as you start putting things into the oven and pulling them out, but at this point you’ll have people around to help you.  While you’re pre-made side dishes are in the oven, cook your vegetables and make your gravy.  Another moment when you’ll be glad you prepped them in advance!

More than anything else, enjoy the day with your family!  That’s why you did all of the work ahead of time, so sit back, have a glass of wine and enjoy.  Cheers.