“To get there we run, we walk, we fly; because with my family we know where home is, so instead of sending flowers, we the roses.”

While driving home from St. Louis last weekend, I heard the song “Roses” from Kanye West’s new CD. He’s rapping/singing (whatever you’d like to call it) about when his grandmother was in the hospital. All of his aunts and family members had come to the hospital and were waiting to hear if grandma was going to make it. It brought up a discussion Zach and I had on our way to St. Louis about family.

I was raised believing I was going to be an “active” member in both my immediate and extended families. I knew from very early on that if my cousins were playing a game within an hour (give or take) of us, we would be there. I knew I’d be at all the weddings, funerals, births, just all around big moments in their lives. I grew up loving that they were there for me and I was there for them. I honestly believe this is what has led to such an awesome relationship with all my aunts, uncles and cousins.

This past weekend we had found out that Zach’s grandmother’s health was failing. She lived in St. Louis and I decided immediately it would be good to go. Zach only had a few hesitations but we obviously ended up going. On the way there we discussed the differences between our families. All my family (including grandmas and most cousins, etc) have been there every time I’ve needed them or wanted them. My state track meets, my graduations, my wedding, the birth of my son, my miscarriage, my new house. All events; happy, sad or indifferent have been shared with my family. That is in stark contrast to Zach’s family who was just not raised that way. When deciding our wedding details I wanted all of my cousins to be involved. He wanted representation from his side (with good reason) but struggled remembering his cousin’s names. There have many instances like those and it’s completely baffling to me.

After watching Zach’s grandma die it has become more obvious that we really, truly, only get one life here on earth. Thinking back to all those moments when I’ve been the happiest, I realize there is one equation that just works, family, friends, and love too big to fit into one room. So why not make every effort to get my fill of that every day I’m given on earth? It’s so very easy to get wrapped up in our own lives. To skip an event a couple hours away because the house just needs to be cleaned. We find ourselves making excuses why we couldn’t be there for someone who truly needed us because it would be too much work to do it. But I’ve seen the reaction on my loved ones face when I make the extra effort to prove my love for them. I drove 8 hours to go to my cousin’s bachelorette party only to turn around and head back a few hours later. That night she related to me just how much it meant to have me there. Grandma was pretty out of it when we went to see her in the hospital last weekend but when I told her I was there, she looked at me and held my hand for just a few moments. I saw her reaction when Zach said hello as well, it meant something to her and to us, to be there when she breathed her last. Let’s be honest everyone needs proof that they’re loved sometimes, how do you put a price on prooving that to them? It’s definitely worth more than a tank of gas or “time spent with my family”. Granted, I believe we all need down time, time with just me, Zach and Trysten. But I also know it’s much easier to show them that I love them because I get the opportunity every day. I don’t get that opportunity with my sister in Virginia or my in-laws in Chicago. It just means I need to work extra hard so they don’t just know I love them, but can feel it, can literally reach out and touch it.

I assure you, I am most definitely not on a soapbox. I love Zach’s family so much it’s ridiculous (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents). I see that they do have as close of a relationship as possible being far apart and never having had those moments of making every effort to see each other. I’m not saying my way is better than Zach’s or anything of the sort. I just know it’s what I want from my children. I want them to expect they’ll drive the 4 hours to Chicago if my in-laws have another baby. I want them to know there is literally no distance too far if someone needs them or if they need me. I need them to understand life is not necessarily about the every day. Life is sometimes about the miracles. Witnessing every aspect of life and relate it not just to yourself but also to the people around you. Live life’s biggest moments with the ones you love. Be there for the laughs and the tears. Be an active member of the family and community. I have no idea who sent me flowers on my biggest days, but I can tell you all 420 people who attended our wedding. Save money I’ll tell my kids, instead of sending flowers, be the roses.

"You Know What I Mean?"

I like to think that I pretty much know everything about myself so I was pretty surprised to find that is not exactly the case. This weekend while spending some quality time with my favorite husband, he pointed out that I tend to finish my comments with, “You know what I mean?” or some variation of it. This surprised me not only because I fancy myself an eloquent speaker (thus making it impossible someone wouldn’t know what I mean) but also because one of the main reasons I fell in love with Zach in the first place was because he always seemed to “know what I mean”.

In true Tesi form, I pondered over this revelation for quite some time. In true Zach form, any time thereafter I said it; he would point it out revealing just how much I say it. After much thoughtful consideration I’ve come up with the hypothesis that I say it because I have went through most of my life being misunderstood. My earliest memories of endless misunderstanding frustrations were in Junior High. My mom and sister were both big into romance novels so I dabbled in them as well. My mom and I have always been told we’re very much alike so I figured I would find as much satisfaction as she apparently did. Of course I found them altogether boring and pointless and was frustrated at the differences between us. I needed to find a deeper meaning in the books I read. I could read a few here and there if there was nothing better to read or do, but for the most part my thirst for mental stimulation in books went unsatisfied until my dad gave me my first copy of “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand one Christmas in high school. I read through it quite quickly and have since revisited the book many times. Every time I read it, it takes on a whole new meaning. It stands out as being the first “text” that understood me. It stands out also as the first moment I realized my dad and I were a lot more alike than I had ever given either of us credit for.

In high school I pretty much hung out with the female “jocks”. We had an immense amount of fun every time we hung out but there was still a sense of not belonging. We were all so different in personalities that sometimes it felt like talking to a brick wall. I would try to scratch the surface of issues and get to the real heart of our teenage angst, only to find it was too dark of a place for them to visit with me. I searched for meaning all by myself and would sometimes find a night hanging out with them too exhausting, too lonely. The women who I hung out with all the time still looked at me funny when I tried to go on one of my philosophical diatribes and it was so extremely frustrating. I obviously stayed in those relationships anyway (and still find much joy in them) because every once in awhile they’d respond “yes” to my $1000 question.

It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that I met my match; I found the male version of myself in a guy by the name of Derek. The first night we hung out we immediately started talking about things never even covered with my high school friends. We stayed up all hours of the night discussing things like divorce, spirituality, what it meant to be “crazy” in a place like Vermillion, South Dakota. My idiosyncrasies became commonplace in our relationship and it was such an awesome, relieving place to be. Of course I had my moments of uncertainty, having someone understand you so well after years of not feeling that was very alarming, very tough in a lot of instances when all I wanted to be was my crazy self. I missed the anonymity that came with people not understanding me and giving up hope that they ever would. But in the end I found comfort, and still do, in the friendship that was my first of knowing each other without history. Of never having to say, “You know what I mean” because I just knew he did. Of saying anything without the fear of being laughed at or getting another set of eyes rolling away from me. That understanding transferred us both back to Iowa City and to a life I never thought possible.

That’s where I met Zach. My relationship with Zach became different than that of Derek and myself because in moments when Zach didn’t understand me, he worked to do so. Unlike Derek who never seemed to have those moments in the first place, or my high school friends who gave up and changed the subject; Zach would challenge me to dig deeper and explain where my crazy theories originated. If we ended up still on different pages, he chalked it up to my cleverness and loved me more intensely. We were so much alike yet different enough to keep things interesting. Our passion for philosophy extended to the wee hours of the morning and ended with lots of professions of love and a few near-breakup moments. We were constantly parched for each other’s thoughts and went to bed giddy at the thought of hearing each other’s versions of the latest chapter in The Republic. I taught him the beauty of the literary world and he taught me the liberation of feeling comfort in my own skin. I taught him to hear Eddie Veder’s words and he taught me the uniqueness of Outkast’s sound. In our 4 years of loving each other there have been definite moments of not understanding. His look that says, “You’re freakin crazy” is never too far from his face yet I know a large part of him understands the craziness. He understands what I mean when I say, “Burski babies”, he understands why I cry every time I’m at a wedding or a funeral. He even understands why I randomly use words from the 80s and why I sing along to songs even when I don’t know the words.

So I ask myself why I would say, “You know what I mean” to a man who sincerely does. Why would I say that to my husband who was the first man to either know what I mean or at the very least be interested at my working, thinking brain? I think it’s because I’m so scared of losing that. Of being the family member that everyone talks about behind his/her back. “Did you hear what Tesi said today? Wow, she’s freakin crazy!” I want to feel a little bit of certainty in this uncertain world and that’s what Zach has always provided for me. It’s a beautiful thing being understood by someone who is not going to tease you for having random thoughts after being awake for 24 hours straight but yet is not too afraid to call you out on your moments of ridiculousness. Even through the transformation of self I’ve had since meeting Zach, I still find comfort in him knowing who I am and what I’m thinking. Still find great joy in hearing him say, “That’s an interesting question” or “You’re so smart”. I’ve realized even though in my younger years I held onto my identity of not being understood, it’s an altogether better place to have a partner with you in this crazy thing we call life.

Ah, the Troops

Last night as I was watching the Halloween parade pour through downtown I was able to swing my hips with the cadence of the bands, point and wave hi to the Nemo float and cover my ears at the fire trucks. I was a kid again lost in the fantasy world that is parades. Clowns perpetually smiling, TV personalities perpetually on air, children perpetually running after candy, so much so they come within centimeters of being run over by floats. It’s a sensory overload for everyone present, and it’s so much fun. It wasn’t until the men and women of the military came through that it made me truly appreciate all the joys and silliness I had felt.

The army came through in their fatigues, saluting the flag that passed before them. The sight gave me goosebumps, it brought a smile to my face and without realizing it, I was applauding. No matter what your political persuasion, I think it would be hard to not respect these people. Whether you believe they truly gave themselves to our armed forces voluntarily or not, the fact remains they deserve our respect. Whether you believe war is something that should never be or not, the people of the armed forces are what make it easy for us to live the life we’ve grown accustomed to.

I have people within my own “circle of trust” that disagree with my political beliefs and I actually appreciate friendly banter about our differences. I appreciate it because it means we’re in a country that not only allows it, but also encourages it! The people that passed my family in the parade were the ones that have agreed to put my life ahead of their own, without even knowing my name. What a powerful gesture. Even if they saw it as the only way out of a life of poverty, they still had a choice. In life, there is always a choice; the options may not be appealing, or ones our society even discusses, but there’s always a choice. So in my mind, these uniformed soldiers chose at one point to protect my freedom and continue to choose on a daily basis.

Looking at the people, and perhaps more specifically the women, of underdeveloped countries makes me respect these soldiers even more. To hear stories of women being able to go outside the house without being completely covered, women owning their own business for the first time, women speaking their minds, women choosing… to know I’ve taken all those things for granted my entire life and to realize all of this was made possible by people in uniform.

Let’s be honest, it’s not about the politicians. They can order people to war but it is the men and women fighting who make it possible for us to do the things we love. It is because of them that people are able to ride around in cars claiming Bush is the next Hitler without the threat of being killed for it. Our freedom is a mighty beautiful thing and for that, I will continue to get goosebumps when I see the soldiers, I will continue to get choked up any time the Star Spangled Banner is played and will continue to support the soldiers, wherever they may be.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thank the women and men in all varieties of uniform, for giving me a life everyone deserves.