When we moved to Rochester in 2007, we knew what we would be gaining: a great job for Nick, a super-short commute, a very affordable cost of living, amazing schools, a wildly family-friendly community, a superb neighborhood, more time with my Grandma, and more snow than we could shake a stick at. We also knew acutely what we’d be giving up: living near family and friends. (Because we’re so awesome, we have since made more friends, but the family thing is probably never going to change.)
As a result of living near none of our parents, siblings, or extended family (save for my aforementioned stupendous Grandmother – hi, Phoofsy!), we do a lot of traveling and hosting-of-guests – averaging at least twelve visits a year, both here and there (and everywhere). We try to see everyone fairly equally, but sometimes that’s just not possible.
To whit: Nick’s mom (whom the girls call Gigi, rhyming with jiggy) and stepdad (whom the girls call Grandpa Ray, rhyming with Grandpa Jay), who live in Minnesota, kind of got the shaft in terms of visits over the past several years; we were seeing as much of Grandpa Bill (and GranMary) as we could – quite understandably, and we’re damn glad we did. But still… although they’ve never complained (or even mentioned it), Gigi and Grandpa Ray definitely got the short end of the visitation stick.
But wait! you might say. They could have come and visited you, instead! And yes, technically, that’s true. They’re certainly welcome, and they have visited us, indeed – but it’s not quite that simple. You see, in the fall of 2008, Gigi earned superhero status when she beat the (almost unbeatable) odds and survived a ruptured brain aneurysm. Yes, you read that right: she had an aneurysm. That ruptured. In her brain. And she kicked its ass.
The aneurysm did its share of ass-kicking too, however, causing Gigi some rather significant problems – including making it difficult to travel. Complicating things, Gigi has been battling Multiple Sclerosis for nearly fifteen years; her symptoms have worsened recently, and have effectively prevented her from being able to visit us and Nick’s sister (and her family) as often as we all would have liked.
When it became clear that Gigi and Grandpa Ray wouldn’t be able to head out to New York any time soon, it became equally clear that we needed to book a trip to Minnesota. The long weekend in January provided us with the perfect opportunity for a quick jaunt west, and so we found ourselves headed from one frozen, snowy suburb halfway across the country to another.
Come on. When you think, Where should we go in the dead of winter to escape all of this Rochester cold and snow? the Twin Cities are SO the first place that comes to mind.
Although the purpose of our visit was to spend time with Gigi and Grandpa Ray, Annie and Ella had another mission: to get to know their Aunt Emi’s fiancé, Matt, and decide whether or not they approved of their upcoming nuptials. I bet Emi and Matt are thrilled they asked the girls to be in the wedding.
Turns out, they needn’t have been concerned: Matt (who, by the way, is a freakin’ neurosurgeon. So he’s not smart. I can totally talk music theory circles around him, though, don’t worry) jumped right in and assumed his soon-to-be-uncle role. He carted the girls around on his shoulders, shared his sweet dance moves, watched kid movies, sprung for ice cream, and braved amusement park rides with nary a sigh. He was earning it, you guys.
Ready for lift-off at the Mall of America.
Not to be outdone, Gigi took her grandmother role equally seriously. Waking up early because her granddaughters were still on east coast time? Done. Smiling and laughing through lunch at a St. Paul restaurant, despite fighting wicked nausea from her MS medications? Absolutely. Resting in the afternoon so that she could trek to Emi and Matt’s downtown Minneapolis apartment for dinner on Saturday night, then playing an epic game of Go Fish with Annie and Matt, fighting through dizziness to see the cards? Her granddaughter asked her to play; of course, she would.
Getting clarification on Annie’s “rules,” which were ever-changing… which might explain why Annie won this round.
Come on! It’s not brain surgery!
Yes, I went there. For both of them. Awwww, snap.
Watching the girls with Grandpa Ray so that we could go with Emi and Matt (and also Molly and Molly’s sister, Katie) to a Wild game? Wouldn’t miss it. Braving the American Girl store in her wheelchair so that she and her sister could take the girls to lunch with their AG dolls? You better believe it.
Then finally, on Sunday night, searching through her sewing materials to find an adhesive backing that I could take home with me to sew up Annie’s hole-filled, most favorite silkie blanket, all the while apologizing that she didn’t feel well enough to actually fix the silkie herself… then holding the wall for balance so that she could ransack her fabric to locate an appropriate silk-like piece that I could bring back with us, admitting sadly that if she weren’t so nauseated, she could mend it in no time flat… then explaining that her medication often causes her to awaken super-early, so perhaps she could repair the silkie at 4 a.m. before our flight… then drawing herself up and visibly steeling herself and saying with determination, “No. I can cut these silk fabric patches myself. I’ll make them the right size and you can bring them home and iron them on – it’ll be simple”…? YES. I BEAT A DAMN BRAIN ANEURYSM AND THIS EFFING MS MEDICATION WILL NOT STOP ME FROM DOING THIS FOR MY GRANDDAUGHTER.
Except she didn’t say “damn” or “effing” or actually any of that, but the sentiment was there. And I know reading this will make her laugh. Hi, Karen!
… and then deciding, Screw it, I’m in, and not only cutting the silk patches and adhesive backing, but getting out the iron and the silkie and having everything ready to go to repair Annie’s damaged blanket… When Annie appeared, sobbing, from the bedroom, saying that she couldn’t go to sleep without her silkie, and she just had to have it back.
In spite of all of the superhuman effort she’d just put in to cut the fabric and the adhesive and get the iron ready to repair the blanket, Gigi simply said No problem, she understood perfectly, and handed Annie her silkie, who wiped her eyes with it, then trundled back to bed. The silk circles and adhesive backing were meticulously put in an envelope for me to take home so that I can repair the blanket at a later date. Gigi shook off her nausea once more to climb upstairs just in time to watch Downton Abbey with Grandpa Ray, making sure to get to bed early so that they could awaken at 5:30 a.m. on Martin Luther King day to say goodbye to us before we headed to the airport.
As I looked at the envelope containing the patches, the circles that Gigi had used sheer willpower to make, I was struck, almost physically, by the depth of love involved in their creation. We may not live near any of our extended family, but that hasn’t diminished our relationships with them; if anything, it makes the time we do spend with them all the more sweet. How incredibly lucky Annie and Ella are to have grandparents – from Gigi and Ray to GranMary and Grandpa Bill, Grama and Pops, and Papa and Grand Meg – who adore them so.
It was a marvelous visit. Even if we did go from one winter wonderland to another.
Oh – and the girls gave Matt two thumbs up. The wedding can go ahead as planned.
Thank God, because otherwise, the black and white (“formal”) Rainbow Loom bracelets that Ella has made for the bride and groom to wear on their wedding day might just go to waste. And that would truly be a tragedy.
* Gigi’s story – of her aneurysm and her battle with MS – are shared with her permission and blessing. Although she may change her mind in the future…
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