That Time My Turkey Platter Made Me Cry

We hosted Thanksgiving for 22 last week.  It was lovely and joyous and, yes, a wee bit frantic.  I didn’t get out of my pajamas on Friday.  It is a gift to be able to host so many people you love in your home, serve them food, and celebrate family, but I am slow on the recovery from all the love and joy and leftovers.  Adulting is hard work, yo.

Yesterday I was putting away our turkey platter and got to thinking.  The platter was something we had registered for during our engagement, in 2001.  Before children, before parent loss, before home ownership, before cancer.  In 2017, it is easy to romanticize that life was easier then, simpler, certainly more innocent.

In 2001, I would have been a young woman, with a fiance and a career.  I had defined ideas about what my life would look like.  My future was bright and full of possibilities.  Registering for a turkey platter was a commitment to that future.  It was a nod to the life my partner and I hoped to create together, and, if all went according to plan, it would involve hosting big and boisterous holiday dinners.

The platter we chose was chic and classic, I thought, clean and elegant.  Off white in color, rectangular, its only flair being a refined beading along the edge.  Large enough to hold a turkey the size of a young child.  It was porcelain, so more delicate than it looked, but still sturdy.

When you’re young and in love, registering for your wedding gifts is a nod to the life you hope to have and what you want that life to look like.  Looking back, I think I absolutely did want a life that was chic and elegant, clean and classic.  Stylish.  Those things were important to me at the time.  Turns out what I got was sturdy.  My life is sturdy.  And that ain’t so bad.

My sturdy platter, cracked, discolored, old, but still able to serve a boat load of turkey.
My sturdy platter, cracked, discolored, old, but still able to serve a boat load of turkey.

My porcelain platter is now full of cracks and stains.  It is discolored and looks worn.  No one would confuse it for being chic and clean anymore.  Nope.  It’s serviceable.  And sturdier than its fragile finish.  It is the shiny glaze that has cracked, but not the ceramic underneath.  One could argue it has grown into its elegance.


That’s what I was thinking about as I reached to put it away yesterday afternoon.  The life my husband and I have created is a lot like this old platter of ours.  The years have worn on us.  Each loss, each passing year is a new crack in our finish.  The love we have for one another and the people we have lost have seeped into those cracks, visible, changing what we are, part of our DNA.

But here we are, almost seventeen years later, just like our turkey platter — serviceable and sturdy.  We have exactly what it is we had hoped for, and yet it looks different than what we had imagined.  Those big holiday dinners for friends and family that were but a twinkle in our young eyes, are now our reality.  We’re not fancy, we’re not chic or refined, but we hold love and we serve love to one another and to those in our orbit.

It’s so grand.  And so lovely.  And, yes, it makes me weep out of gratitude.

Ten Years at Home

Milestones are an opportunity to reflect.  Ten years ago this month, my little family of three moved into our current home.  It was an impossible move that kind of, sort of made no sense at the time, but it was a move rooted in hope.

In March 2007 we were casually looking at new digs.  There was no pressing need to move, no second baby warming in the oven, no sense of growing out of our space in the near future.  In hindsight, I don’t even remember why we were looking exactly.  We had a lovely home with friendly neighbors.

On a cold and snowy Sunday afternoon, we decided to take a drive together to comfort our young daughter, just a 19 month old toddler, who was fussing.  We drove around some local streets and noticed a few open house signs.  Donna was finally comfortable when we rolled past one such sign for a condo that was just a short walk away from our favorite park.  I suggested I hop out and do some quick recon, only bringing in the family if it looked promising.

It did look promising.  It was lovely and almost twice the size of our previous digs.  Closets for days.  It had room for a washer and dryer that weren’t stacked and there was a pantry.  The kicker, for me, was a sunny playroom.  I was smitten.  I ran outside and told the husband to park the car — this was a home he should see.

A couple of days later we put an offer on it.  SOLD.  A few days after that, our fussy toddler was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor and required emergency surgery.  The developer very kindly agreed to let us off the hook after hearing of our girl’s cancer.

We chose hope instead.  In a walk-through we did before putting in an offer, when we asked Donna if she would like to live here, she easily said, “Yes!  This is my home!”  Her words felt prescient.  Is it crazy to make a decision based on the whims of a toddler? Yes, absolutely, but dang if toddlers don’t have a clarity and wisdom that is often missing in us grown up folks.  We thanked the developer for his kind offer and decided to move forward.

Before we closed, Donna had relapsed.  We learned that her brain cancer had migrated to her lungs and she would require a second tumor resection followed by some hard core chemo.  Our hopeful choice to move suddenly felt overwhelming in the midst of guiding our girl through cancer and chemo.

Cue the friends and family.

Within a few days, an email chain was circulating looking for volunteers to help us pack and unpack.  My husband’s father flew in from Massachusetts to organize an army of beautiful people who came in shifts to pack up our home.  Other friends offered us their place to stay while they were on vacation.  Donna and I were dispatched there to recover from her second round of high dose chemo while about 25 of the kindest folks I will ever know worked to get us packed up.  It was almost completely done at the end of the first day.

Other friends met the moving trucks in our new home and unpacked what others had packed.  Donna’s room was painted the same cheerful orange color of her old nursery and her old curtains were hung so she would feel a sense of familiarity.  Our mortgage broker solicited a crew of professional organizers to donate their time to help us get settled.  On a Saturday morning I walked out of our old home as if I was just away for an overnight and a few days later walked into our new home with everything unpacked and waiting for us.  Even the moving boxes had been recycled.

Kissing Donna

I will never, ever forget the kindness that was shown to us by so many folks who wanted to help our little struggling family during those days.  My eyes are welling up as I remember their generosity and compassion.  How do you replay that?  I still don’t know.

Ten years ago we moved into our home.  We had one daughter.  Now we have two sons.  They share the room that was Donna’s.  It is no longer orange, but it is still overflowing with stuffed animals and books and children’s laughter  and toys.

It’s impossible to think about this ten year milestone in our home and not think of our dear girl and the people who surrounded us with such love and kindness and cardboard and packing tape.

So grateful for all of it.

Mary Tyler Moore, My Patron Saint of Hope

“You’re gonna make it after all.”  

I am writing these words through tears, a full 24 hours (now almost 48, as the words did not coming easily) after hearing the news of Mary Tyler Moore’s death.  The death of an 80 year old should never surprise, but the death of this particular 80 year old during this particular week feels especially crushing.  Mary Tyler Moore, you see, was my patron saint of hope.

I never wrote before my daughter was diagnosed with cancer.  My husband was the writer in the family.  Days after we got the devastating news, we started an online journal that quickly became our lifeline in the two and a half years we lived in Cancerville with Donna.  After she died, I never stopped writing.  Words, and the connection they provided, had become too essential to me.

Making the decision to start my own blog resulted in needing to name said blog.  At the time, I was adamant that it would not be about grief.  I wanted a fresh start where I wasn’t solely identified by the gaping hole in my life and in my heart.  Foolishly, I thought I could write a parenting blog without mentioning that pesky little detail that one of my children was dead.

“Mary Tyler Mom” was born while I was driving with my husband.  We were throwing out names, much as couples do when they are expecting a little one.  The moment it came to me, I knew it was perfect.  Mary Tyler Moore was an icon of my youth, an unapologetic feminist who was full of self-effacing spunk.  She was as vulnerable as she was strong.  She was accessible without being intimidating. She was gonna make it after all, while wearing a stylish pantsuit.

Naming my blog after my childhood icon, a symbol of possibility and perseverance, was a nod to my grief, a wink to that part of myself that knew I, too, was gonna make it after all.  Not all folks might make an immediate connection between the character of Mary Richards and hope, but as a little girl in 1970s America, she was one of my first teachers of what was possible when you dared to hope.


The image of the original opening sequence, Mary Richards driving in a car alone, heading to the big city after leaving behind everything that was familiar to her (can we all just agree to forget about the fur she was wearing during that opening?).  “How will you make it on your own?  This world is awfully big, girl this time you’re all alone.  It’s time you started living.  It’s time you let someone else do some giving.  Love is all around, no need to waste it. You can have the town, why don’t you take it?  You’re gonna make it after all.”  Those lyrics were the soundtrack to my girlhood, and now, my grief.

It’s incredible, really, to think about the impact this show had on my generation.  Premiering just before my first birthday, and ending as I was finishing second grade, Mary Tyler Moore shaped the woman I wanted to be, I imagined I could be.  You always hear the narrative of little girls wanting to grow up to be brides or moms or princesses.  Nope.  I wanted to grow up to be Mary Tyler Moore. Even as a young girl, I imagined myself strong, independent, living in the city, working some type of fabulous and exciting job, alone (no man required), and wearing some kind of amazing outfit that featured knee high boots.

A lot of that came true for me.

As a grieving mom, I was reminded of the importance of imagining what was possible.  Might it be possible for me to know joy again? Might it be possible for me to be interested in my work again?  Might it be possible to still produce, still contribute, still participate in this world of ours, despite my sorrow?  Because of Mary Tyler Moore, I knew I could.

Mary, my patron saint of hope, reminded me what was possible in a time I felt so incredibly lost and vulnerable.  Her joy, her passion, her competence, her moxie, her humor, her spunk, was all still possible.  For me.  Even in my grief.  Even as a forty year old gal that was married.  Even as someone who had no earthly idea of what I wanted anymore.

I am so grateful to Mary Tyler Moore, the woman and the show.  They have guided me and provided so much inspiration as a girl, as a young woman on my own in a big city for the first time, and now, as a middle aged grieving mom.  We are all gonna make it after all.

Well, except maybe Chuckles.