Today, May 10th, Mother's Day in Mexico (something that Autumn is proud of, especially because of where we live - she always asks 'Why is the US Mother's Day on the same date each year?') Autumn took one step closer to her teen years...That sound you just heard? One of my few remaining black hairs turning gray!
As the bambini get older, each birthday becomes more precious. I fully recognize that there will only be so many and that each one is different. Fleeting. I have one shot to make them memorable and to make each child feel special. I know what to do, having learned from the best on how to make these kids feel special, but it is still a lot of weight!
Tonio helped me to drag out all of the decorations that Kim had lovingly hung each year - banners, streamers, balloons - and the ones that Angie and her girls hung for me last year - and we turned the house into a celebration!
Autumn was impressed this morning, when she woke up - a good start!
Aut asked that I bring Italian ice in to her classroom to share her birthday with her classmates. "Italian ice?" one young lady asked. "What? Are you giving us an ice cube from Italy?". I felt bad for this deprived youngster, who was instantly redeemed after her first taste of Italian ice!
The kids had a substitute today, Mr. Jefferies, in for Mrs. Rudzena who was in San Diego on a class fieldtrip at Catalina Island. He had a unique way of celebrating birthdays...He asked Autumn to stand on a chair and instructed the class to sing Happy Birthday, but instead of saying "Autumn", Autumn would sing out solo "me!"...She was embarrassed, but it was cute. Some strange malfunction of my 'smart phone' caused me to film it in black, so I am unable to share it with you, sadly.
When the singing and Italian ice eating subsided, I pulled Autumn out of school! "What would you like to do Aut?" "SHOP!" she shouted!
Pier One was our first stop. Store Manager, Carmella and her assistant, Jackie, who both opened that store eight years ago, were there to make Autumn feel like a queen! They walked her around that store showing her all of the new arrivals, asking her what she liked and taking her to see owl, bird and butterfly merchandise. She chose a beautifully colored glass pelican, a pack of butterfly note cards, some lotion in an owl shaped dispenser and a brightly colored sunflower bird house made of metal for our backyard.
Next stop - Target! She walked the aisles, thoughtfully and carefully choosing a small, stone owl to place in one of her potted plants out back in our (Kim's) garden, some stickers to use in her journal and a little tote bag to use for swim lessons.
It was near lunch..."Where would you like to eat honey?" I asked her, telling her she could choose anywhere. "Could you take me to a place that you and Mama used to like to go to, but I've never been?". Dammit. Some days, I cannot get over how deep she runs...
Peking Palace, over on 22nd and Kolb. Kim and I enjoyed many lunches, dinners, anniversary celebrations there. Great food and just a comfortable place. Autumn was delighted and asked me to tell her all of the stories I could remember about the times we ate there, why, what did we have, and what went on. She chose sesame chicken, rice and an egg roll. It was special for me, because, Autumn didn't just love the food, but was engrossed in the stories and the place - the whole experience! She said it was the best!
We finished and went next store to the dollar store so she could choose some party favors for her little 'southwest cousins' who were going to dinner with her tonight. Again, such a thoughtful shopper...she started by choosing cups for everyone (she got this idea from Angie's daughter Kim) to use as the loot bag. Tweety bird for the girls, Scooby Doo for the boys. Then, she looked at all of the 'loot' in the toy and party aisles, rejecting items "no, that would just break", "no, not everyone would use that"...trying to pick items that weren't just going to be around for a week and then tossed out. She finally found washcloths, that had been shrunk down into little 2"x2" squares and expand when you add water. There were all sorts of Disney, Marvel and Scooby ones to choose from. She thought long and hard to choose the right washcloth for the right child! Next, she picked out some small candies to fill in the rest of the cup. Oh, and she bought the older boys bags of water balloons, instead of cups and washcloths.
On the way home, we stopped by the Civano nursery. Time to plant some portulacas in the St. Francis birdbath on our front porch. Autumn wanted to buy some cilantro to add to our garden and we chose an ice plant to replace the flowers under the olive tree in the front yard. The portulacas and ice plants do well in the summer heat..which we know is approaching! It is a beautiful nursery, and Autumn likes to wander deep into it while I looked for the portulacas. She likes to visit the goats that they have towards the back.
By now, we had spent about five hours hanging out together...It was so fun and I was constantly reminded of Kim in her words and actions. When we got home, I gave her a birthday gift. From Kim.
The other night, after I was done wrapping Autumn's gifts near midnight, I carefully and quietly hid them in my closet. I bumped something rolled up like a scroll and it fell to the floor. I unfurled it and found a beautiful butterfly print by Arizona artist Ettore "Ted" DeGrazia. DeGrazia was born in Morenci, Az shortly after his parents immigrated from Italy. He was one of Kim's favorite artist and she, over the years, had collected many of his prints, framed them and there's one in each room of our house.
I remember the day, a couple of years ago, that Kim found the butterfly print at DeGrazia's Gallery in the Sun, which we liked to frequent (and there is a photo of her on the altar in the small chapel he built on the grounds). She was so excited to buy it for Autumn, have it framed and give it to her for birthday. I guess that I didn't know where she hid the print, while she saved money to have it framed....and we both forgot about it.
It gave me goosebumps when I found it - Kim definitely wanting me to have it framed and to give it to Autumn for her 12th birthday!!
When I handed the gift bag to Autumn, she excitedly asked 'What is it? What is it?'. "It's from your Mama, Autumn. Open it and see." She stopped - one moment bouncing, smiling, excited - and in an instant, quiet, perfectly still - big, blue eyes locking on to mine - smile fading as my words sunk in..."really?" she whispered...desparately searching my eyes for the truth - wanting to believe, but looking for some hint of a jest, but not finding any, she reanimated and tore into the package!
Autumn was fascinated and delighted with the print. "DeGrazia!" she squealed. "How!?! What?!?!" perplexed. I told her my story and with each word, I could see that this print had found its way into her heart. "We must find the perfect place to hang it." She told me solemnly - again, those big, beautiful blue eyes scorching into my very soul. Now it is my quest, my responsibility to do that for her.
Another reason Autumn was so very excited about her birthday this year, is, that it fell on a Thursday...Viro's Italian Wedding Soup night! She could not get over that happy coincidence, bringing it up several times over the last couple of weeks. "I can't believe it!" she exclaim. "We have to go to Viro's for wedding soup on my birthday! I am sooooo lucky!!"
Rose and Vito have been so good for the bambini (and me!). They treat these little ones like they are family. They made sure to reserve the 'big table' (could be a Seinfeld episode!) for us, as we were bring 19 of us - they actually had to add a small table to the end of the big table to have us all fit!!
Mariah, Roshan, Micah, Kim and Maleah beat us all to Viro's! Autumn thought it was special that Kim made it to have dinner with her, as she had to go work overnight at St Joseph's, right from Viro's (she works as an RN on the 5th floor where Kimmy spent so much time, giving her much comfort.).
Angie and Mark came next - Autumn proudly calls them her 'Southwest Grandparents'!
Manny, Lupe and Monsi brought Tonio with them. They picked Tonio up at school, saving me a trip back - and Tonio was thrilled to spend more time with Monsi.
Lexy, Andrea and Breanna - with Janene trying to throw up the obligatory 'rabbit ears'!
And Janene and Autumn, to complete her crew.
I lost count of the number of bowls of wedding soup consumed by this hungry mob at ten. But, can tell you, that 5 people had the chicken Alfredo, making it the most popular choice.
All day, Autumn lamented that I had not baked her a cake. Specifically, I had not baked her a red velvet cake, which was Kim's favorite. It was killing me. Finally, I told her that I had not baked a cake for her, because Rose and Vito had a surprise for her...
Rose brought out a beautifully decorated cake for Autumn, who's eyes lit up! It was a white cake, with real strawberry filling and a whipped cream frosting. Rose even did the honor of cutting the cake - usually Janene handles this for us, as I am not allowed to cut cakes.
Most of the bambini got gelato to go along with their cake...Breanna usually gets the stracitella.
Micah sure enjoyed hanging out with the ladies tonight!
Autumn proudly displays a beautiful metal owl that Andrea and the girls gave her - she can't wait to hang it! And for you readers for the east coast, notice the Wise potato chips, from Berwick, PA, on the shelf above Aut's head - a rare sight out here (and they have an owl as a mascot!).
We literally closed Viro's after about 4 hours of feasting and celebrating Autumn!!
Autumn had a great birthday, and, once again, told me it was the best ever. I can always feel Kim's presence, guiding me, helping me, and this year, even delivering a special gift for the birthday girl!!
One of the things Autumn had wanted to do on her birthday, was, go see a movie. She has been looking forward to Dark Shadows, by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. She is a huge fan of films that Burton and Depp do together! She has seen Edward Scissorhands, The Corpse' Bride, Alice in Wonderland (I love when she quotes this move 'What is the difference between a raven and a writing desk?'), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sleepy Hollow (she has not seen Sweeney Todd or Ed Wood...yet.), and has loved them all. So, she was a little bummed that this movie came out 5/11...and could not be seen on her actual birthday...but, we made it up to her!!
We started out in the food court at Park Place. No one ever wants to eat at the same place and usually I run all of the kids to each place they want to order from and an hour or so later, we sit down to eat. Tonight, it was nice having Jesus and Cody with me - they are big enough and mature enough that we could split the group to wait in lines at Sarku, Subway, Panda Express and Rubio's. Ok, so I was the only one who wanted Rubio's - have you tried their new gourmet taco entrees? They are excellent!! I had the grilled garlic herb shrimp taco.
The kids were enamored with the Avengers standees, choosing to be photographed in front of Iron Man and Captain America's posters. Tonio, Lexy, Breanna, Autumn and Allanah. Jesus and Cody were along, filling the 'white whale' Expedition, to max capacity, but too cool for a photo opp.
Dark Shadows did not disappoint Autumn, who asked if we could buy it when it came out on DVD! I sort of remember the old t.v. series, and although the movie was a dark comedy, they did a good job of capturing the feel of the old series. Depp was awesome!
Oh man, Kim would have loved this movie!!
With the movie over, it was time to shop. The girls wasted no time getting to their favorites, Claire's and Justice, while Jesus and Cody split off and went to the Van's store and others. I got no argument when I told them we were going to Tutti Frutti's for ice cream. Or yogurt. Or whatever it is.
They carefully selected their flavor of yogurt.
And dug into the condiment bar from hell.