lost weekend

This morning I hopped the subway after dropping the kids off at school to do the unthinkable. I bought understudy cupcakes for Virginia’s birthday party tomorrow. I’ve been beating myself up all week about it. So many milestones have transpired the last 270 days. The first Cape Cod trip. My birthday. Our anniversary. Thanksgiving. Christmas. A new calendar year.

His birthday.

But their birthdays—that’s a hurdle I don’t know how to face.

The girls turn four and nine next Friday. The celebrations begin tomorrow with Virginia’s party. Rather than host a huge shindig at our place, as I usually do, I decided to keep it low maintenance. It’s at a local pottery studio. I chose 11:00 am to 12:30pm so I wouldn’t have to worry about serving breakfast or lunch. It pained me to be running, hell sprinting, from feeding people. Cooking, feeding—that’s how I show I care. For these birthdays, though, I sensed I’d need to hold onto every piece of my fiber to keep it together.

I resolved I would not bake the cupcakes either. If I choose to be an inactive participant in this milestone and not leave my mark on it, then it wouldn’t count. I could fool myself into believing it’s not really going to happen. The idea is absurd, but there’s nothing logical about grief.

After 30 cupcakes had been tucked away in boxes, I crossed Essex Street and the handle broke. The boxes landed upside down. A lump in my throat, tears welling in the corners of my eyes, I thought it was a sign. It was Mikey, the man who incessantly teased “when are you going to start making your own water from scratch”. He was looking down disappointed that I copped out and didn’t “mom-up”. I couldn’t put my selfish grief aside and bake our daughter’s birthday cupcakes.

I looked up, muttering “fuck you” to the sky, followed by a “you’re the one who died” whisper.

The gal at the bakery was amazing. She packed up fresh cupcakes, all the while reassuring me it wasn’t a sign. “Sometimes it’s just a bag” were her words, and they echoed in my mind as I walked down Orchard Street in search of a good cup of coffee and place to read my book.

After my coffee pit stop, I made my way to the East Broadway station. Then I spied this store  down the block.

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I kept walking, and found this store.

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Within minutes I was standing across from here, tears trickling down my cheeks.

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It all started as a family outing to the Big Apple BBQ last June. After loading our bellies with ribs and pulled pork, I told Mikey I wanted to walk a bit before going home. I wanted the girls to see the city as their daddy and I had in our early years together. We weaved our way out of Madison Square Park, through Chelsea, the Village, Soho and into Chinatown. After a rambling stroll, we decided to catch the A at Canal Street.

Well, Mikey decided. I pleaded to take a cab because the trains were rerouted due to weekend work. As we stood underground, deciphering schedule change signs, a young girl asked for directions. She had a baby wrapped in a blanket, his unclothed arms and legs spilling out the sides. He was very still. I asked if the baby was okay or needed to go to the hospital. She said he was fine, just sleeping.

Then I noticed she was barefoot. I looked at her eyes, mascara smeared and bloodshot from crying, and asked if she was okay. She said she just needed to find the bus to West Virginia. Her mother had prepaid for a ticket to get her home. We exited the subway, bought her some sandals and the baby a onesie at a merchant on Canal Street. I cradled Virginia in my arms and got in a cab with the young woman and her son while Mikey and Isabella walked to the address her mother had given her—59 Canal Street.

I didn’t even know Canal Street loops around once you hit the Manhattan Bridge, but luckily we had an old time, street savvy cab driver. I handed her my phone and asked her to call her mother to let her know she was safe. Afterwards, she told me she’d just left her husband. His mother had pulled a knife on her. She grabbed her son and ran to the train station. They had just woken up, hence the pajamas she was wearing and nothing but a blanket for the baby.

She shared more details, but that’s her story to tell.

We confirmed her bus reservation, then set out to buy a bottle and formula for the baby (Fang Trading) and get something for her to eat (Smoothies). Mikey and Isabella went in search of a clean shirt for her.

I found a restaurant nearby and asked if she could use their restroom to freshen up and change the baby. It was pushing 5:00pm and I knew the girls were tired but her bus wasn’t until 7:00pm. Mikey looked at me. He knew I couldn’t get on a train and leave her sitting on a particle board bench inside the store where the bus tickets were sold.

I sent him home with the girls, and waited with her until the bus eventually pulled up. I was still worried because she had to change to another bus late at night. I overheard a young man who was going to the same stop, making the same connection. He looked honest and kind, so I asked if he could keep an eye on her and let her use his phone if she needed to call her mom again.

I went home and hugged my girls tighter that night. I felt incredibly thankful that I was sharing my life with a person to whom humanity, compassion and lending a helping hand was also a natural reflex.

As I stared at 59 Canal Street today, I realized the real message Mikey was trying to send me. The cupcakes don’t matter. That day last June, the example we set for our girls about compassion and caring—that’s what they will carry in their hearts forever. How I continue to live my life, our life, the one we intended for our girls…that’s where the substance lies.

life, Mikey

Comments

  • merry jennifer: Beautiful, Jennie.
    And that bakery saleswoman is right. Sometimes it’s just a bag.

  • Jenny: Just another reason to love you.

  • Rachel: Your writing is so beautiful and raw, I almost can’t bear to read it. Thank you for being brave enough to share in a way that challenges.

  • Jesse: Beautiful.

  • Kathy: Wow, what a wonderful story. I have tears in my eyes and I will hug my loved ones a little tighter tonight. Jennie – you are an inspiration and I am in awe…

  • Viv: I remember you telling me about that girl like it was yesterday Mami…wow. Such a beautiful post. I love you. xo

  • katie: such a beautiful post. thank you for sharing!

  • Keri: You seem to be a kind and amazing person, as did your husband . I’m sure that young woman will never forget how you helped her. God Bless.

  • Shauna MacKenzie: There aren’t many people out there who are willing to put themselves out for someone in need. The compassion that you showed that girl shows the true, good spirit of you and your family. I’m sure that the girl thinks of you & Mikey every single day. And Mikey must be so proud, looking down at the woman he loves, even if she buys cupcakes on occasion :)

  • Katie {Epucurean Mom}: This post had me in complete tears. There are not enough compassionate people in this world, most too selfish to care about anyone but themselves. You are a strong, beautiful person and im truly blessed to have met and spent a wonderful afternoon with you. xx

  • Grace: Jennie, Jennie. You teach me things every day as you fight your way through this grief.
    The cupcakes don’t matter. How true that is and what a lesson you have shared with us and what a generous example you set for your girls.
    We need t-shirts that say “The cupcakes don’t matter.”

  • mel: Where are those from, buttercream?

  • Glenda: Beautiful post. Happy Birthday to the girls!

  • karen: sign, sign everywhere a sign. xoxo

  • neena: the tears are falling…
    such a beautiful post!

  • Annabel: I think this might be my favorite post of yours to-date. What an incredible example to have set for your girls, but also for all that read your blog. We are so hesitant to be kind to strangers for a plethora of reasons. Thank you for being kind. You may have made a larger difference than you could possibly imagine.

  • Julie: As I sit here crying about cupcakes, upcoming birthdays, the unfairness of it all and most of all love and kindness, I thank you for sharing just a bit of your heartbreaking and beautiful life. Happy birthday to your girls!

  • Rose D., Frenchtown, NJ: I could barely read this with the tears welling up in my eyes. What an absolutely beautiful experience to share with your daughters. You make me believe that if you truly look around, you will find caring, compassionate and completely selfless angels all around. I will forever carry this experience in my heart as well. Blessings to you always… ~rose

  • Paula: Oh Jennie, you don’t know me, but I am an avid reader of your blog and follow you on Twitter. Your heartfelt, eloquent writing always touches my heart and moves me, but this post made me cry for that girl and her struggle to get back home and for you in trying to get back some semblance of normal life after such a heartbreaking loss. I hope that it is some comfort that you and Mikey have indeed shown your girls what it means to live good, honorable lives full of compassion. I know that those lessons will resonate and influence your daughters’ lives forever. Nothing can ever take that away. Thank you for sharing so much of your life and your memories of Mikey. Sending hugs and prayers to you over the next week as you navigate your daughters’ birthdays.

  • Caroline @ Pink Basil: This was a beautiful story to read, thanks for sharing. Keep your head up, those cupcakes don’t matter one bit :)

  • Cory: This brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. Your husband was a wonderful person and that legacy will live on in your little girls.

  • Julie @ Willow Bird Baking: And now you’ve shared it with all of us <3 Thank you for caring and for sharing. Happy birthday to your sweet little ones.

  • stephanie: beautiful. the way you write and communicate your feelings is powerful. thank you for sharing. send you and your family all the love in the universe.

  • Sue: Wow, just wow! Beautiful post, Jennie! Such an inspirational story!

  • SuzyMcQ: You cook, you bake, but just, if not more importantly, you touch, Jennie. I know your girls didn’t have their father nearly long enough, but acts of kindness like this, seeing both their parents come together for someone in such desperate need provide them with memories and lessons that will endure.

  • Niri: Beautiful and so glad that in spite of everything you focus on what is real – we make the memories, cupcakes from scratch (while yummy) don’t

  • Erin: By Rachel: Your writing is so beautiful and raw, I almost can’t bear to read it. Thank you for being brave enough to share in a way that challenges.
    I couldn’t have said it any better myself. That is exactly how I feel when I see a new post. There’s always a knot in my throat when I read your work and yet I’m happy knowing that I can feel and that I can have compassion in my heart for you. My heart aches for you on those bad days and swells for you when you appear to have the good days.

  • Debbie: So beautiful, sad but mostly inspiring. Your words are like a window to your soul, you have such a gift, such a purpose, I wish you so well as you continue your journey and thank you for allowing me to share a little of it. I always leave your blog with a calm feeling to remember to stop and be thankful for all that is good in this life and Jennie, that is a precious gift you have given.

  • Kim: Beautiful story. Beautiful choices. Precious example to your girls. Sorry you have to continue walking this path.

  • Pamela Chiasson: those are the memories and the gifts that are planted in each one of you from your beautiful husband and your girls father.. and the gift that there mom has to write it down and have as a treasure for when you all grow older..such beauty in your love for each other.. thanks again for sharing your heart …..

  • Joni: Could hardly see the letters through my tears… an absolutely beautiful story! Thank you.

  • Leisa: Every time I read your words I am reminded to be thankful for the wonderful man I call my husband, and that I should never take for granted the life we share.
    Thank you, Jennie Girl

  • Maria in NJ: just think if one act of kindness was payed forward, in my eyes that is not too much to ask for…we live in such a wonderful world, if everyone could just be a little more gentiler, a little more kind…
    your writing is just beautiful…
    maria/maria in nj

  • Sarah: What a wonderful story about how you helped that girl and her baby; you will always cherish that memory of sharing kindness with another person, and you probably helped to save her life.

  • Tracey Alvernaz: Good Morning Jennie,
    I am so happy the story ended on that note. Isn’t that how it is, many times? It all starts out one way and ends another, ususally on a learning experience. You are doing great, holding it together and not. There are times when it is OK to yell out,”I hate you for dying.” It scares me to think that, know that, this death thing will happen again. It scares me to think that I may lose Rich, a police officer, like I lost Tom. But I will leave the icky thoughts behind and embrace the here and now.In your case the here in now is the thing you would like to leave behind. My thoughts and prayers,
    Come to S,D. and see Shamu,
    Tracey

  • Michelle W.: You got it Jennie! And your girls get it. And the cupcakes don’t matter! Just because your career revolves around food, doesn’t mean every aspect of your life has to! So many things more important than cupcakes! In years to come, it will not be Mom’s homemade cupcakes they remember as much as her love and compassion, and her heart! All the ingredients necessary to make a better human being! You’re wonderful Jenny! And you’re raising wonderful girls!

  • Jill W: You inspire me to be a better, more compassionate, less self-absorbed person. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

  • Sharyn Dimmick: Once again, just beautiful.

  • MaryLouise: Jennie,
    You are such a beautiful, giving, warm, and wonderful person and every time I read one of your very inspirational posts, I selfishly think if your precious Mikey had not left this earth so, so before his time and my learning what a precious man he was and is in your eyes and now in all who read your notes, I would not know all that about you. You have inspired me and, I’m sure everyone who reads your beautiful messages. Your girls are blessed to be able to call you Mom–Happy Mother’s day, sweet girl, for next week and always. You are truly, truly a very special person. Through your grief, I think you have made much better people out of all of us who read your messages. I can only imagine how wonderful it would be to have you as a “touchable” friend. All good things to you always and I hope this doesn’t offend but God bless. You and your girls are in my prayers. ml

  • Goldengirls59: What a beautiful memory that will never be taken away from you.

  • AmyRuth: The beautiful way you write manifests the sheer guts and strength you possess. This is personal and gosh, how many are willing? Something that comes to mind … is even the example of your life with that young mother. How her life was changed that day and how she may carry on the same outreach to others. Either way there is an imprint. Even with a stranger. Love your babies and we know you do.
    Thanks for a gripping post.

  • Heather: Thank God you were there to help her….and sometimes it is just the bag….I love your writing and the way you share such honest emotions with us….Thank You!

  • Heather: I forgot to add Happy Birthday to both of your girls, I hope their parties go off well…

  • Diane: Powerful that’s what this story was!
    Powerful touching Loving inspirational you and Mikey are so kind hearted..
    What Incredible people you are to help such a young woman and her baby in trouble.
    Now that’s what life is all about helping others in need..My mom pounded that into my head as a young girl growing up and of course like any child/teen I blew it off and it’s been the last few years that those words keeps popping into my head….I will admit it “Mom you were right” yet once again :)Oh how I miss her…
    Happy Birthday to your lovely girls they are sure to learn this act of kind heartedness as they continue to grow up with such an incredible mom and dad that’s watching very closely over them !

  • Rescie: I will remember that, sometimes it’s just the bag. No hidden meanings. Going through a rough time myself and your words lifted me.

  • Tiffany: Your strength amazes me. I really hope when you go on your book signing tour (which you will, right?) that I get a chance to give you a hug.

  • robin: What a kind person you are. As a mom of a girl Ill keep this close to my heart. To me its people like you that make this world a better place.

  • Dana: I have been following your terrible journey and admiring your strength for the past nine months. (And I read your blog before that too.) This is the most touching piece of writing yet. It distills, in a most poetic way, your husband and the bond between you two. Bravo to you both for not looking the other way and also for showing your children that kindness and compassion comes in many different guises.

  • Cristie: It seems so silly to keep writing how amazing you are, but I really can’t think of anything more to say when I read what you write. You never cease to amaze me with your capacity to love. I can’t believe how damn lucky I am to know you. And those girls? They have the best parents in the world.

  • Irina: thank you for this story! i am reading it as I am nursing my baby, and it made me so grateful for the blessings i have and do not appreciate half the time, especially in the middle of the night with a crying baby… thank you and all the best to you for the next week!!!

  • Lora Downie: thank you for sharing this story and reminder of the most important thing we do as parents.

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