Three weeks ago today my mother-in-law, Marilyn, flew into Moab after a day of flight delays. The next day my dad arrived, as well as my soul sisters, Mary Alice and Angie, and their families. The occasion? This sweet boy’s First Communion on the weekend of his 8th birthday.
It took me two weeks to fully recover from the whirlwind, the abundance of love and people, the party of over 40 friends and family who gathered to celebrate Sean. I talked to a friend in the days leading up to the celebration, sharing my anxiety about finding enough time to prepare the food, enough time to spend with so many of my favorite people here all at once, and enough time to focus on Sean. She had the most interesting response: “Wow, you’re going to learn a lot, I bet, about yourself this week.” She was right.
Mostly I learned I am richly blessed.
Bear with me as I share the photo highlights, even the ones that aren’t in sharp focus or that might have high noise---because while they are technically flawed, some of them are emotionally perfect.
That’s me, Angie and Mary Alice. Friends for over 20 years. We’ve only lived in the same state for two of those twenty (not counting the 3 months Bri and I rented Angie and Jeff’s basement), but time and distance aren’t deal breakers for real friends. I came back from Russia for Angie’s wedding; Angie and I flew to LA for the premiere of Mary Alice’s first feature film. They took care of my boys when I had surgery for TN. So much of friendship is just about showing up, as these two have taught me time again.
I love how Angie’s kids’ ages match so well with ours. Aidan and James are almost the same age, Sean and Charlie are only nine months apart, and Meagan is thirteen---just the right age to melt a five-year-old’s heart.
I jest---Jeff was the Ping Pong organizer, coach, and ultimate champion of our single-elimination tournament. I just hope he finds the above photo as funny as I do! There were some tears, however. Especially when he defeated 2nd place winner, Wendy.
I like to think Wendy is really just lamenting the horrid florescent lighting.
I love this shot of Angie, MA, and Wendy---right after they realized James had been photo-bombing them. Wendy made us all an amazing dinner with her mother’s secret steak marinade, rosemary potatoes and grilled asparagus. The airlines lost their luggage at first, but the box of wine they brought made it just fine---glad to see Great Lakes Airlines has their priorities right!
I know, we’re out of focus. As we were in the next five cutest-photos-we’ve-taken-in-forever. Oh well. I still love it.
Love this shot of Jeff, Angie’s husband, getting interrupted while talking with my dad. Classic parenting moment. I think my dad really liked knowing there was a cardiologist in the house. That’s Brian’s mom on the couch. She spent the day on the river with the kids (those photos to come---I was home cooking!), and she did my least favorite job the next day (shredding all the pork for the party). I am so very grateful for the time, expense, and energy both of our parents put into being here. Every memory our children share with them is priceless.
Sunday morning was the big day. As the only 8 year old in our parish, Sean was the sole child making his First Communion this year. He spent the past nine months (and 8 years in a way) reading, learning, memorizing, and preparing. He was ready.
The Episcopal Church welcomes anyone, at any age, to share in the sacrament of communion. It’s a beautiful thing. But once a Catholic, always a Catholic…at least in some ways. I’d guess at least 50% of our parish are Catholic refugees as well, so they understood the value we place in this rite of passage. Fr. Dave, who also happens to be our town’s mayor, is such an inspiration to our three boys and made the entire mass a special celebration for the children.
Can you tell I just embarrassed Aidan in the above photo by asking him to put his hand on Meagan’s shoulder? I love how it is just frozen in midair instead.
Sean refused to take off his tie for the rest of the party. He knew he was stylin’!
I wish we lived close enough for Sean’s aunts and uncles and all this cousins to be with us. Even though we aren’t able to give him that, I am so grateful for the community we have here, for all the people who love Sean as if he were family.
Miss Bobbie, as the boys call her, and Nurse Mel (who happens to be married to Fr. Dave). When she returned at the end of the party with the glasses a friend had left at the church, she also brought us two dozen eggs from her backyard coop. I love small towns.
Before all the festivities began, I made myself a promise--- in a post right here on this blog: “not to stress out about what isn’t done or however I see myself falling short compared to the phantom idea in my head of how to be a good host.”
Well, I did stress, of course, but I believe writing that here and in my head did help. Angie and I have joked that we’ve talked more over the phone from our different states in the week that followed than we did during that weekend. That’s just the nature of having lots of kids around. But I did get at least one moment to soak in each person---my dad in his graciousness, the way he shrugged his shoulders for the punch line of a joke, or the way he connected with Wendy who not only knew “Double Indemity” but quoted it back to him. Catching Aidan and James moving a mattress together. The way Meagan taught Duke to roll over in less than five minutes. Marilyn’s big quilt for Sean in his favorite color green. The drive with MA back to the airport. Angie helping me set up the Sundae station---and her adoration of my dad that almost resembled my own.
See that cake topper in the corner? It’s from Brian’s First Communion, some 35 years ago.
When the weekend was over, I kept thinking of all the things I had meant to do but didn’t. I have a bag full of white t-shirts & fabric markers for our boys and their god-cousins, which means we’ll have to gather again before they’re all bigger sizes! The tags for the buffet table never got put out, nor the balloons, and we never did make s’mores. I made my mom’s 7-Layer-Bars but never even cut them until just before our parents left for the airport. At the end of the night I found the beautiful cake (see above) the St. Clare’s Guild provided, 3/4ths still untouched. Early in the day Brian had rescued it from the hands of a 12 year old who couldn’t quite carry it. He then left it (for unknown reasons) in our master bathroom. He was running the grill at the time and perhaps the vanity seemed like the only clear flat surface? I had to laugh remembering several people who had asked to use that restroom when the guest one was in use---- bad enough the tub still had river clothes in it from the boys’ rafting trip the day before, but how to explain the huge sheet cake next to the sink?
My friend was right---I learned a lot. I learned that you can’t be the host and the photographer for the same event. I learned that while a Life is Good t-shirt couldn’t be more comfy, it also couldn’t be less flattering in photos. That if you’re gonna spend all that time making the pulled pork, then the cole slaw really should be homemade too (and don’t believe the deli clerk when she says you’ll need 10 lbs. of it!). I learned my dad is more accepting and resilient than even I give him credit for. That you can’t trust a “self-defrosting” fridge (those quotes indicate a big lie). That grief can sneak up on you during the most joyful moments and the gathering of loved ones makes the absence of those no longer with us even more acute. That every thing is made easier by having a great partner to share the work and the joy.
Mostly I learned what I always learn when I pay attention: to be grateful. For this beautiful place where we gathered, for these people we broke bread with all weekend, for this community who embraced Sean, for the words and ritual passed down from generation to generation, and for this sweet eight year old boy, who completely forgot everything he’d practiced and just stared earnestly at our priest while keeping his hands tightly folded together until Fr. Dave finally offered him the sacrament the old fashioned way---feeding it to him. Afterwards he reported that he didn’t like the taste of the wine, and that once back in his seat, he had prayed to God for everyone in the church, “and Grandma too” he said.
I am grateful to be his mother.