To My Sister, Beth, On Her Birthday

Since it has been a month since my last post, and since today is a very special day, I figured I’d share a little bit about someone who I have spent most of my life with, and someone I could not imagine life without.

My sister, Beth.

Elizabeth Ann Aiello was born on March 19, 1973.  Being only 2 1/2 years old at the time, I was relatively unaware of what a profound impact this little girl would have on my life.

In the early 1970s, there was no way for parents determine the sex of their future child.  They had to choose boy and girl names and be ready for the outcome.  My parents chose Elizabeth Ann for a girl, and Robert Carl for a boy.  When I was much younger, I wondered what it would have been like to have Robert Carl instead of Elizabeth Ann.  But that wonder was short-lived.  I couldn’t be happier to have my little sister in my life.  I thought so then, and I think so still today.

As siblings, Beth and I grew up fairly close.  Naturally, we had our share of big fights, as any siblings do; but for the most part we got along really well.  We were each other’s best friends at times when it seemed like we didn’t have any others around.   We stuck up for each other, and watched out for each other.  We still do.

I can’t really remember my earliest memory of my sister, but thanks to a decent long-term memory, thousands of family photos, and a few treasured audio recordings from our childhood, I know we always had a fun time together.

Rick and Beth, 1975Our bedrooms were our playrooms and we’d mess them up with games and puzzles and whatever else we could get our hands on.  We played our Bee Gees and “Grease” albums until the grooves wore down, and sang along until our voices were hoarse.  Beth was always a better artist than I, but anything we could do to be creative was fun for both of us; from coloring to drawing to painting-by-numbers.

We had active and wild imaginations, and always came up with creative games to play, from “School” to “Radio Station;” to huge villages made of “Little People” houses or streets and mansions in our sandbox that our Dad built for us.  We fashioned forts in the living room out of various items, or in the backyard with our lawn chairs.  We had the most intense paper airplane wars known to mankind, and spent hours playing Monopoly, with games that lasted not hours or even days, but WEEKS.

Rick and Beth on the SwingsetSo many fun things we did are fresh in my memory:  Backyard baseball (and knocking Dad’s prized rose buds off with the baseball bat); the swingset, swinging so high that the set would ‘pump;’ making Chef Boy-Ar-Dee cheese pizzas for lunch; phone calls to WRKR and “The Real Mike Neal;” roller skating in the garage to the “Muppet Movie” soundtrack; hunting for caterpillars in Turco’s field; picking and eating the fresh raspberries in the backyard and avoiding the bumblebees; long bike rides around the block and beyond; endless summer trips to Anderson Pool, which was right at the end of our block.

The list could go on for paragraphs, and you would be reading it for hours.  It seemed we always found something to occupy our time. Most times we did things with friends, but many times we did things just with each other.  Whatever we did, we had fun doing it.

One thing we shared that has remained strong to this day is our love of music and theater.  Beth took tap dancing first, and as the story goes, she was struggling while practicing with my mom and I came up and showed her how to do the step.  My mom asked me if I wanted to take tap, too; and before I knew it we were both taking lessons.  We did that for most of our childhood, performing in recitals alone and together.  We made quite a team.

Naturally as we got older, things changed a bit.  Pre-teen tensions caused occasional angst, but we were still often  together.  We both played basketball in grade school, but she was much more active in softball, soccer and volleyball.  I always admired her for her athletic ability, which was clearly greater than mine.  As we entered high school, we kept our love of music and theater alive by performing in chorus and in musicals.  We didn’t always get the biggest roles, but we still had a great time.

When we got old enough to get jobs, we even did that together– heading down to Six Flags Great America with our friend and long-time next door neighbor Becky Turco to apply for jobs.  Little did we know at the time that we’d both spend over 10 years working at the park, learning skills that would help us determine our future careers.

But as time wore on, we finally started plotting our own paths.  I moved to Chicago in 1997, and Beth, who was the first to move out of the house in around 1994, stayed around Kenosha for a while.  Eventually she met her future husband, Geoff, and they moved to Delavan, WI together just before getting married in 2002.  It would be five years before they had their daughters, Abby and Emily; and in the span of that time, we suffered the loss of our father.  Somewhere in the course of the last decade, we became full-fledged adults.  It all happened so quickly.

Abby, Geoff, Beth and Emily - Summer 2009I love and admire my sister so much.  I probably don’t tell her that very often, and I need to be better about that.  She married a wonderful guy, has a wonderful family, and is raising her beautiful daughters with so much love and affection and attention.  She’s a wonderful mother, wife, daughter and sister.  I think she needs to hear that more frequently.

So today, on her 37th birthday (sorry, Beth, but I’m still closer to 40 so you have nothing to complain about), I wish her a happy and wonderful birthday, with many more to come.

Happy Birthday, Beth.  Love, your big bro.

Feelin' Good!

The past couple of weeks have been a little rough for me.  I fought off bronchitis two weeks ago and this week I feel crappy again -probably due to the changing weather and all the leaves falling off the trees.  Allergies suck, don’t they?

But it’s autumn in Chicago and it’s starting to look and feel beautiful around here.  I love the cooler temps and the bright colors on the trees.  Sadly, I know this gives way to nasty weather ahead– but that’s the price you pay when you live in Chicago, I guess!

This past weekend I visited my mom and my sister and her family came up for a visit.  We went to Jerry Smith Pumpkin Farm in western Kenosha with the twins and had a great time.  The weather was beautiful and the girls seemed to enjoy the sights and sounds… though Abby got cranky with it all pretty quickly.  They’re 8 months old already.  I can’t believe how quickly they’re growing up, and how cute they’re getting!

Afterward we went to my mom’s and the girls played with some toys while we all relaxed a bit.  Watching the girls play and seeing how much they have changed from those little tiny beings I remember seeing earlier this year just amazed me.  They’re developing such distinct personalities – Abby is a bit more fussy but extremely attentive; and Emily is more social and easygoing.  They are both able to sit up on their own and are becoming more independent as each day passes.  It’s so interesting and exciting to see.  

Sometimes I feel a little sad that I may not experience parenthood for myself.  I’m enjoying watching my nieces grow up, but even though they are rather close, I still don’t get to see them all that often.  Even though we are family, we all have our own lives, and we have to invest our time wisely.  But I do feel a part of their lives, and as they grow up, they’ll know me as “Uncle Rick,” and not just some guy who comes around every now and then.  I can’t wait for that to happen.  

Until then, I’m the guy with the camera, following them around all the time.  My sister said she feels somewhat like a celebrity because of all the clicking of the camera wherever they go.  What can I say… I like taking pictures of my family. 🙂  And the end result is worth it. 

So, then, here are some pictures from our weekend together.  Hopefully as Autumn settles in I’ll start to feel better… until then, I have some nice memories to keep me smiling.

Abby meets a calf

Emily meets a big bull!

Well, hello there!

Busy girls

Does this hat make me look cute?

Hi, Emily!

Father's Day – The sound of my dad's voice

Another Father’s Day has arrived.  The second since my dad passed on.

I’ve given a lot of thought about how to honor the day on my blog.  It seems that I’ve told just about every possible story and shared countless pictures of him in the past two years.  If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you probably know him pretty well.  

But the one thing I hadn’t included was his voice.

You see, one of the wonderful things about being born when I was born is the advent of so much great technology.  Generations of people lost family members over the years, and subsequently lost the ability to hear their voices or even see their faces again.  As time went on, we had photographs, then home movies, and then even audio recordings.  

When I was born, my parents purchased a portable cassette recorder made by Realistic, the house brand at the time for Radio Shack.  It probably about 10 lbs. heavy and needed an external microphone to record. 

Shortly after we were born, they tried to catch our first words on the recorder; then as we grew up, my mom or my dad would set up the tape recorder and sit with us and have us recite our names, our address, our phone number, and then have us count or say the alphabet, and then sing some songs.

It is on these tapes where I can hear myself counting to ten at the bright young age of two.

It is on these tapes where one can witness my budding interest in music – singing songs like “Top of the World” by the Carpenters and “It’s Such A Good Feeling” from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with confidence and pretty darn good tonality.  

But it’s also on these tapes where I am reminded of how loving and nurturing my parents were.  

Toward the end of my Dad’s life he became a very bitter and angry person.  These tapes bring me back to the Dad I really knew and remember the most.  They show how proud he was of me when I counted to 10 at almost 2 years old, then counted to 30 at the age of 4.  How he laughed when I said something silly (which was fairly often, especially when I was 4), but was stern when I wouldn’t give my sister her turn at the microphone, telling me that it’s only fair that she have her turn.  

Over the years, some of the tapes had broken, and some of our memories were lost forever.  But fortunately, most of them still survive to this day.  I took them into my possession a few years go and decided to digitally record them on my computer, preserving them forever.  I then burned them onto CDs for me, my mom and my sister.  

So on this Father’s Day, I want to share with you some of my memories.  You don’t have to listen to them if you don’t want to (they’re pretty long – about 20 minutes each), but if you do, you’ll have some sort of idea of what kind of a dad my Dad was.  He was a pretty great guy.  

Thank goodness I can still hear his voice today. 

Me with my Dad and Mom, November 20, 1972

After dinner, Mom and Dad ask me what I want for dessert, then ask me some questions, which I repeat back to them- sometimes repeatedly.  I also explain the contents of my Dad’s wallet, which has forever been a source of comedy and good memories for my family. (For years my nickname was “Wallet” because I always wanted to see my dad’s wallet and look at his credit cards.  Obviously a shopper was born.)  I also count to 10 – at 1 year and 11 months old. 

Me, my sister and my Dad, various dates, approx. 1974 and 1975

This tape has my sister and I sharing the microphone as best we can at various ages.  It seems like my sister is older and more talkative in some spots and younger and less talkative in others. I think my dad recorded over some stuff at some points, too – he was never much good at figuring out the tape recorder – but throughout he is there, coaching us to say things and sing songs. Toward the end, there is a segment with my Mom where she “interviews” us.  I was a pretty silly kid at this point.  To this day I still don’t know what “I am very it” and  “Everybody likes it to be here” mean.

Baby Update!

I just realized I haven’t talked much about my baby nieces lately. It’s not because I don’t want to share- I have just been so busy with things lately I haven’t been so good at keeping up. So here are some pictures to keep everyone up-to-date.

Rick feeding Abby
Me feeding Abby- three weeks

Emily mid-feeding
Emily, mid-feeding with Grandma- three weeks

Rick smooching Emily
Me smooching Emily- three weeks

The girls asleep in their pack n play
The girls, asleep in their pack n play- three weeks

The girls are now two months old and so very healthy. They are growing by leaps and bounds. Every time my mom and I have visited, we’ve been amazed at how quickly they’ve grown and how much their personalities have evolved. Here are a few pictures from our most recent visit, the week after Easter.

The whole family
The whole family (Roxie included!)

Abby and Emily
Abby (l) and Emily (r) – Look at those little chunker cheeks!

Emily, just shy of two months

Abby, just shy of two months

Holy CRAP! I REALLY AM going to be an UNCLE!

This past Sunday my mom and my sister’s mother-in-law planned a mini baby shower for just the family so that my sister could get a jump start on all the things she needs for the babies.  Since Beth was put on bed rest so early, they had to cancel the plans for a big, all-out shower with family and all of her friends because there was simply no way she could attend it.

But as the days and months went on, Beth suddenly realized that she needed those things.  Baby clothes, baby towels, blankets, bibs, bassinets, bowls, bottles… everything in twos (or more), and just about anything and everything else that starts with the letter “B” and then some.

So the Grandmas went into full panic mode, which means they calmly contacted all of our cousins and my brother-in-law’s cousins and family and got the word out that a “mini” shower would be held at my Beth and Geoff’s house.  Thankfully, everyone came through with flying colors.

Now usually baby showers aren’t my thing.  I may be gay, but the whole process of opening gifts and everyone going “Awwwww it’s another blankie!” or “Awwww isn’t that cuuuute?  A breast pump!”  gets a little weird for me.  So I initially didn’t plan on going to the mini-shower because, for one, I figured it would be like that; and for another, I kind of wasn’t invited.  (The original intention was to have all the female members of the family there.)

But then reality hit me like a sledgehammer:

“Hey dumbass, you’re these babies’ uncle.  You need to be there.

Which was followed by the shining realization:


Granted, I’m not the ONLY uncle, but I AM the ONLY uncle on my sister’s side of the family.  And that carries a hell of a lot of responsibility.  Which included getting my uncle-butt over to my sister’s house to be at her shower, with a gift in tow.

I wanted to get her something she really needed, so I called my mom for guidance.  She told me they still needed a second bassinet, so I placed the order and scheduled it to be delivered to their house.  It didn’t make it in time for the shower, so I printed out a picture of it and put it in the card I brought, with a note saying it would probably be delivered very soon.  It arrived today.

The shower itself was really nice.  I saw some of my cousins that I haven’t seen in quite a while and a few other people I hadn’t seen in a very long time.  Mom made barbeque beef, which was delicious and there was a lot of food for everyone to go around.  My cousin brought her daughters and everyone enjoyed playing with and holding the baby.

Beth stayed in her recliner almost the whole time.  She’s a 30 weeks now and is starting to get uncomfortable very quickly.  The babies are moving around a LOT, which of course is wonderful news.  They’re healthy and very much on schedule.   At their last ultrasound, Baby “A” was determined to be just over three pounds and Baby “B” was just shy of three pounds.  Six pounds of baby and more to come.  Yikes.

It’s just amazing to see this happening to my little sister.  It’s been such a difficult road to get to this point– from failures to successes to scary moments to hopeful happiness.  She’s so ready to have those babies, and we’re all excited to have them, too.  But we want to have them when they’re ready– and not a moment sooner.

And when they do arrive, their Uncle Rick will be there with Grandma Jill, probably crying our eyes out with joy.

I probably won’t be having any kids of my own, so these little girls are all I have.  I want them to know that their Uncle Rick is going to love them unconditionally and will be a big part of their lives.

It’s still hard for me to wrap my brain around the idea that I’m going to be an uncle very soon.  But I think when the moment arrives, I’m going to be the best darn uncle those little girls could ever have wished for.  They deserve it, and so does their Mom and Dad.  And with their Grandmas here on earth and their Grandpas in heaven watching over them, they are going to be so very loved.

Pretty lucky little kids, I’d say.