Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day 5 - My Siblings, Part 1

This could be a long and complicated post, so I'll direct you here to read about my siblings in a general sense.

I grew up the youngest of 10 children. Turns out, I actually have 15 siblings, but the other six don't really have a relationship with me (aside from Cyndee, but we've lost touch to some extent and I feel guilty about that). However you look at it, I am most definitely a youngest child (hello, Adler!).

There is a 23 year age difference between the oldest of my mother's children and myself. Growing up, it was never weird to me that half of my brothers and sisters were technically old enough to be my parents or that I had nieces and nephews who were around my age. It wasn't until I was in middle school that I realized my family was kind of unique. We're all very different, but we're all in New England and do see each other several times a year. There are obvious cliques, for lack of a better word, amongst my siblings, but I think that's bound to happen when there's a massive age difference and when there are so many people/different personalities. We really know how to rally as a family, though. Unfortunately, we've had a good deal of experience with this when it comes to death.

Here's the rundown on the 5 oldest, to some extent I'll most likely define my relationship to/with them in respect to my relationship with their children:

Eldest Sister is 58 and currently lives in Maine (though very near the NH border), where she runs a battered women's shelter. Because the majority of her life is consumed with sadness and drama and helping people solve their problems, she tries to live a drama free life. She subscribes to several Buddhist tenets and I don't think it would be going out on a limb to say that she considers herself a Buddhist for the most part. Eldest Sister has 3 children, the oldest of which are also boy/girl twins, who are 28 years older than Liam and Ella (I'm fond of calling both sets of twins "the book ends"). Her youngest was a surprise baby and he was born on Eldest Sister's birthday 26 years ago. He is one of the happiest people I've ever met. Seriously, nothing gets the kid down and just being around him is a joy. Eldest Sister has a very strong personality, but we get along well and she's funny as hell. Growing up, I spent a fair amount of time at her house playing with my niece and nephew and I have many fond childhood memories that include times at Eldest Sister's home.

Chuck, my eldest brother, died of pneumonia when I was 19. He was out at his cabin in California for a little time off and was intending to come back to New Hampshire. His death was a major shock to Mom, who has not gotten over it to this day. Growing up, he was sort of on the periphery of my life. He was around, but never in any great detail. I have good memories of him, and we did grow closer as I got older, but we weren't particularly close. He did have a lovely daughter, my God-daughter, Monty, who is growing into a strong young woman of whom I am very proud. Chuck would be 57 if he were alive today.

I think I've referred to my next brother as Boston on here way back in the day. Boston is 55 and the most financially successful among us. I don't make note of that to be gauche, but it is a significant fact about him. He lives a good life that he has worked extremely hard for. He, uh, lives in Boston in case you were wondering how I so cleverly assigned his moniker, but bought a lovely second home on the coast of Maine last year and spends nearly all of his free time there with his partner, my fabulous brother-in-law, Bello. He is the father of my eldest niece (who is nearly 3 years older than I); Boston became the default patriarch of the family when my father died; we aren't particularly close but we have a strong mutual respect for each other and I know he approves of how my life has taken shape. He and Bello love to entertain and you can almost always find a party of some sort going on at their house.

My sister, A, and I have a wonderful relationship. She is 20 years older than I, having turned 54 earlier this year. A is an amazing person and, growing up, was a second mother to me. When I was pregnant with Liam and Ella, is was pretty much a no-brainer for me that I would ask her to be their Godmother. And a fabulous Godmother she it. A has 4 children and has raised them to be pretty awesome individuals. Nurse, her oldest (only 10 months separates us), is a nurse practitioner. She and her partner, I, recently relocated back to Vermont, after years of living in Philadelphia. Growing up, Nurse and I were pretty much best friends. Nearly all of my childhood memories involve her to some extent. A's youngest son is the nephew who has been very sick for the past year and has nearly died a couple of times. Now that they have a diagnosis (a very rare condition that has hit him particularly hard), they've had a long haul to recovery (which, really, isn't so much a recovery as it is a "new normal"), that includes monthly (sometimes weekly) trips down from Northern Vermont to Boston for medical testing and evaluations. My nephew has lost all of his peripheral vision, as well as his hearing, as a result of the Susac's. The hearing loss has been particularly difficult for A and my nephew to bear, but he'll be getting cochlear implants late next year and he's very much looking forward to that, which is a good thing. A is one of those people who keeps everything to herself, oftentimes to her detriment. All of us, my sisters and I in particular, have inherited a deep personal strength from Mom, but A sometimes has too great of a burden and I would love to help ease it for her, but it takes A LOT for her to ask for help. A and I totally get each other, though, and it's one of my personal joys that we have such a great relationship. I love her dearly.

I've written about my brother Danny here and here. The grief of his death hasn't really lessened with time and now I'm struck by the fact that I'm older than Danny was when he died. It was such a crazy time in our lives, in the history of the disease (so much paranoia and fear), and then bam! it was done. Danny died with grace and dignity and my family made that possible. The experience of his dying and death has left such an indelible mark on my being that I can honestly say that it has permanently affected how I treat people and how I value life and the opportunities we're presented in our daily goings-on. I loved my brother and, though Mom kept me on the periphery of his care and because I was so young, I am honored to have been there to witness the gift that is unconditional love, support and care - from my mother and siblings towards Danny as he died, from our church community who fed us and looked out for Mom, and from Danny himself. He accepted the care and love that we gave to him and, to this day, remains a brilliant example of grace and humility. Unlike Chuck's death, 7 years after Danny's, Danny's death, though heart wrenchingly sad, was a relief. Of course, we didn't want him to go, but he didn't have to suffer anymore and we knew that he died on his terms. Mom finds great comfort in that. And so do I.

Phew! So...that's the scoop on my 5 oldest siblings. I'll post later about the other 4.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day 4 - My Parents

Ah...this should be interesting. There's really no way to cleanly separate this entry from the next, which is about siblings, but I'll do my best. The very short version is that I am the product of my mother's second marriage and my father's third. More on that later...

My parents are a funny thing. They met while Mom was working in admitting in the emergency room at a local hospital and my father's wife was a patient. My father's wife died and he was looking for someone to care for his daughter. My mother, being an amazingly generous person, had previously taken in a family of 13 from her church - this in addition to already having 8 children of her own at home - so the priest immediately thought of Mom when my father approached him looking for someone to care for my sister, K, for the remainder of the school year. (My father owned businesses in Massachusetts and needed to be down there during the week, only coming back to NH on the weekends, and he didn't want to uproot K during the school year.) My mother agreed to take K in and my father would visit every weekend.

My older siblings apparently were in favor of something happening between my parents, but everyone was shocked when something actually did. After months of visits, providing for K, and spending time with Mom and the rest of my siblings, my father asked Mom to go for a drive. After a while, he pulled over and quite seriously proposed marriage to my mother. She scoffed at the idea, but he very practically laid out the points that her children needed a father (since theirs had left them high and dry) and that his daughter needed a mother. He wanted to care for Mom and my siblings and asked her to consider. She said yes. Personally, I've always thought this story was rather romantic.

Somehow, my father had procured a marriage license and, upon Mom's acceptance of his proposal, he drove to a Justice of the Peace and they were married on the spot. I was born 13 months and 5 days later.

My father died when I was 6. He was a large man with a booming voice, strong and strong-willed, loud and opinionated. Quite frankly, I was scared of him. Since he worked in Massachusetts all week, I really didn't get that he was my father. When he died, I didn't really feel much of anything. That all came later on, in my teen years. I regret deeply that I was afraid of him. By all accounts, he was a puddle of mush whenever I was around and, much to most everyone's dismay, I had him wrapped around my little finger. He even named one of his companies after me. I miss my father every single day. My mother is very fond of saying that he was a bull in a china shop and that I'm pretty much the same way. I take it as a compliment. I'm strong and can hold my own and you always know where you stand with me. I get all of that from him and I'm grateful to be Clem Walker's daughter (now, if you remember the name of the blog post, you might be saying "Clem?" It was his middle name (more specifically, it was Clement). No one called him Francis).

My mother... Ah, Mom. Mom is the strongest woman I know. She has survived the abandonment of a husband, the death of another, the death of two sons and a son-in-law, as well as breast cancer. She is a gifted musician, playing the piano and pipe organ for more than 60 years now and being the church organist for the parish I grew up in for the past 33 years. She's still going strong with her music, too, and it is one of the joys of my life to sit in the house where I grew up and listen to her play the piano. Growing up, I have very fond memories of going to sleep at night and listening to her music throughout the house. Liam and Ella adore it when Nana sits down at her piano. I love seeing their appreciation of music deepen with the touch of her hands to the piano keys. Mom is a fierce and loyal Mumma Bear. She looks out for us still, even though we're all grown. She is beautiful and graceful and loves the English language. She instilled is us all a deep appreciation of reading and research. One of her passions is the daily crossword puzzle, or, as she calls it, "her therapy." I distinctly remember sitting at her knee - quite literally - as she taught me to read and write before I entered first grade. Above all else, though, Mom loves God and her family. She has a deep faith that has seen her through some seriously dark times and to witness it is a gift.

I'm often sad that my parents had such a short amount of time together. Mom likes to say that she's "had the worst of men (her first husband), and the best (my father) but that, without them, [she] wouldn't have [her] children so [she's] always grateful."

I am most definitely a strong combination of both of my parents and I am proud to be their child.


The best laid plans....right?

I've had a crazy busy past couple of days and was at a church fair today as a vendor for the Pampered Chef. So, I'll pick back up with the 30 days of blogging tomorrow.

Please stay tuned.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Day 3 - My First Love

*Le sigh*

My first real love was in high school. I was 15 and he was 18. I was a sophomore and he was a junior. I was a day student at a private boarding school, he was a boarder. I was a local girl from the small town, he was from a posh town in New York (I refuse to call places that are only an hour or so away from NYC "upstate"). He was one of the popular guys and it was a small enough school that everyone knew everyone else to some extent, but I was what I like to describe as "second tier popular." He was a jock and I most definitely was not. Because I apparently had a penchant for science, I was in chemistry with a bunch of juniors and that's how we met. Then, he signed on to be in the winter musical . Since I was also cast in the musical, we started spending more time together.

On a freezing cold January day we went to a peace rally/march in the state's capital to oppose the Gulf War (what idealists we were!). We flirted mightily and, by the time the musical was in full swing - 42nd Street, in case you're wondering, I played Maggie - we were an item. Sam joined the a capella group that I sang in and we were pretty much inseparable. Our attire for a capella gigs was blue jeans, white button up shirts and ties. After I admired one of his ties, he gave it to me. (insert swoon here) His parents owned a summer camp for boys in Maine and we got to see each other fairly often outside of the school year. A series of events conspired to make it so that Sam couldn't return to Tilton for his senior year, and it ended up being for the best. He had some issues that he needed to sort through and it still means the world to me that he called to make amends as he sorted out his life. We dated off and on for 3 years and I loved him deeply.

The last time we spoke was shortly before I was married. I had intended to send his tie back to him and tracked him down for his mailing address. Over the years, I thought of Sam and wondered how he was. I hoped that he was happy and his life was good.

As luck would have it, we reconnected a while ago on facebook. He's married now, has two beautiful daughters and, last I knew, was in law school. It's been great to see how well his life has turned out.

Sam'll always be my first love and I'll always have a couple of regrets about our relationship, but I'll never forget him and he'll always hold a special place in my heart.

I never did get around to sending his tie back to him.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day 2 - Meaning Behind Name of Blog

I explained it back at the beginning, but I'm happy to do so again.

Flea is one of my nicknames. However, ONLY my mother calls me Flea. It's not that no one else is allowed to call me Flea, it's just that no one else ever has and, for some reason, I don't know as though I'd respond if someone other than Mom referred to me as Flea. Chalk it up to a mother-daughter thing.

OK, so the story is that I was quite the active child and would "bounce around from place to a flea." Hence the nickname.

When asked why she called me Flea, she said "because it's her name." Huh? Alright...short story long:

When I was born my parents had no clue what to name me. I came this close to being Clementine (thank you, Dad), but my mother objected vigorously to that selection so it was off the table for discussion. I left the hospital as "Baby Girl Walker" and was summarily baptized within a week of my birth (go, Mom - I couldn't get it together to have Liam and Ella baptized until they were 7 months old). Needing a name for the baptism, my parents culled from their own names and I was baptized Lee Frances Walker. Lee being my mother's middle name and Frances being the female variation of my father's first name. My mother, however, didn't like Lee as a first name for a baby; she thought it was too adult (because, you know, babies don't grow up or anything) so that is not the name that went on my birth certificate.

Apparently, way back when, you had time to file birth certificates. None of this name your baby before you leave the hospital and you can pick up the birth certificate within 10 days business. So...after much consideration and debate, coupled with my mother's desire to have a name that "sounded good with Walker," I was finally, officially Heather Lee Walker, "Heather" being my sister, A's, suggestion. Frances was dropped and I never liked the spelling of Lee. Fast forward to high school: I changed the spelling of Lee to Leigh and, to honor my father who died when I was 6, I took Frances back. So, then I was Heather Leigh Frances Walker. Sometimes, I feel a pang of guilt about changing the spelling of Lee and I know it made Mom a little sad, but it's Leigh and I'm sticking with it.

OK, but where the hell does "Flea" come from? Well...apparently, my mother reversed the order of Lee and Frances and created "Flea." I'll admit, I like Frances Lee much more than Lee Frances, but still - when she said it was my name, I looked at her as though she had 4 heads...because didn't she remember the very name she had given me?! Granted, when you've got 10 kids, it's hard to keep everyone straight.

So, that's where the Flea part comes from...

When I was contemplating starting a blog, I wanted to play off of my nickname and also convey how I try to live my life with gratitude. I batted different ideas around, with the top contender being "Gratefulea," but I wasn't sure if worked. So, I eventually settled on A Grateful Flea.

Because, really, that's who and what I am. A grateful flea.

And now you know.

In Case You're Wondering... is far easier to bang out an hour on the treadmill at 6:30 in the morning when you can watch a movie on closed captioning (as opposed to kids' programming) and have some great tunes on your work out playlist. The time passes more quickly and you're less tempted to peek at your progress. Just sayin'.

I try to pick a movie I've already seen at some point so that I don't have to pay close attention to it, but can still follow for the most part and also, because I only end up watching ~ 2/3 of any given movie, so I don't feel compelled to finish watching it once I'm off the 'mill. This morning's selection was The Rock and, although I already feel the need to create a new work out playlist, all of the songs that came up, save one, were just what I needed for some beats motivation.

Now, I need to shower. I stink.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 1 - Intro/Recent Pic/15 Interesting Facts

As promised, I'll follow right up with the first of the 30 day posts. Since I can't get the picture to post properly, it's right here at the beginning. Frankly, there aren't any recent pictures of me, so I took this one just now to make up for that. I'm usually the one behind the camera, so that's the way the cookie crumbles. Here, I'm laughing at something Miss Ella was doing.

So...well, since I've had this blog for a while now, there is an intro waaaay back in the beginning, but it can't hurt to "update" me, can it? On facebook, my "about me" section reads as follows:

"Mother. Wife. Daughter. Sister. Aunt. Friend. News junkie. Democrat. Wannabe quilter. Recovering Diet Coke addict. Gym rat. Reader. Fierce Trivial Pursuit player. All-around strong chick."

That's a pretty apt description. I might actually change the order of some of those descriptors, moving "Friend" higher up on the list. When I wrote it, though, I apparently felt the need to define myself in terms of my family relations first, so there you have it.

I'm a stay-at-home Mumma to 4 1/2 year-old twins - when did that happen? Age 35 is knocking on the door and will be here in a couple of weeks. The nearer I get to my birthday, the less bothered by the number I become - I'll admit to having some anxiety about the big 3-5 a few months ago, but I think it's mostly passed. If anything, I was more bothered by the fact that I was bothered to begin with, if that makes any sense. The real issue is that I just don't feel like I'm in my mid-30s, whatever that's supposed to feel like.

I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to be when I grow up. At some point, I think I would really like to go back to school and pursue a Master's in Social Work and work with sufferers of combat-induced PTSD. Let's just say that it's not a point people in my life can agree on. I wish I had more time to quilt and read. I really wish I had more time to work out. I joined a gym in January 2008 and quickly, and much to my surprise, became addicted to the endorphin high of a great work out. Sadly, over the past months, that aspect of my life has faded far into the background, but I'm beginning to reclaim it by working out at home and have definite plans to get back in the gym within the next month. I love my children more than I ever dreamed was imaginable, but will admit that motherhood is far more difficult than I thought it could be. It truly is the toughest job I'll ever love.

OK...15 "interesting" facts. I could be literal here and post any 15 facts, but I suppose I'll follow the intention of the post and make them facts about me. I just need to remember what I've already put out there, so as not to repeat myself.

  • The older I get, the more genuine confidence I develop.
  • My favorite cardio machine at the gym in the arc trainer. I love doing weights, though. I rock the leg press and smith squat.
  • I am in constant awe of my children.
  • My not-so-secret wish is to one day raise Liam and Ella in the house that I grew up in. It's a lovely old farmhouse on 20 acres of land.
  • I'd love to be a good gardener one day, and have a big garden. You know, at the house where I grew up.
  • I admit to owning Barbies when I was a little girl, but I am still confused as to how to raise such a girly daughter. Miss Ella is enamored of all things pink, Princess and sparkly. It confuses me.
  • I think intelligence is the most attractive quality in a man. That, and eyes.
  • It has been over a year since I've had a drop of Diet Coke. I spent more than 20 years of my life addicted to the stuff and then quit cold turkey one day last September. I thought it would be far more difficult than it was.
  • Now, my drinks of choice are unsweetened iced tea (light ice with lemon, of course!) and flavored seltzer water. Somehow, I learned to make it through the day without coffee.
  • I tend to be a night owl and routinely stay up until 1-2 AM. I'm working to change this, though, and am happy to say that I've actually made it to bed before 1 for the past few nights.
  • I miss my childhood best friend every day. Losing our friendship is one of the saddest experiences of my life. But, I guess that happens sometimes.
  • I have a thing for symmetry.
  • My son is better at using the Wii than I. Unless we're talking about the old school games. Then, I rule.
  • One of the most beautiful places on earth is Shaker Village. One day, I'd like to just go and be for a a while. Sitting in a chair overlooking the pond and just letting life pass me by as I soak in the natural beauty of the place.
  • Next year, preferably in the fall, I want to start a routine of taking the kids on hikes up north. I'm really looking forward to this.
Alright...that's it until tomorrow!


I'm stealing this from Lorraine's blog. (Thanks for the idea, Lorraine!) I've been avoiding posting anything here for quite some time, partly because I haven't had the time to put up anything I felt worthy of your time, but mostly because I am beyond sick and tired of the Chinese spammers. we go, folks. I'm back!

At least for the next 30 days, this is what I'll be up to here...

Day 1-Introduce, recent picture, 15 interesting facts
Day 2-Meaning behind your blog name
Day 3-Your first love
Day 4-Your parents
Day 5-Your siblings
Day 6-A picture of something that makes you happy
Day 7-Favorite movies
Day 8-A place you've traveled to
Day 9-A picture of your friends
Day 10-Something you're afraid of
Day 11-Favorite TV shows
Day 12-What you believe
Day 13-Goals
Day 14-A picture you love
Day 15-Bible verse
Day 16-Dream house
Day 17-Something you're looking forward to
Day 18-Something you regret
Day 19-Something you miss
Day 20-Nicknames
Day 21-Picture of yourself
Day 22-Favorite city
Day 23-Favorite vacation
Day 24-Something you've learned
Day 25-Put your MP3 player on shuffle, first 10 songs
Day 26-Picture of your family
Day 27-Pets
Day 28-Something that stresses you out
Day 29-3 Wishes
Day 30-a picture