Saturday, September 27, 2008

Never say "Never!"

My husband and I, being of sound mind and body, decided not long ago that we were done having pets. After all, we only had one adult cat who, being a very independent sort, wasn't much trouble at all; he would eventually age and die and then we would be done with the muss and fuss that pets add to your life! We agreed, "After Domino, no more pets!" (Can you guess where this is going?)

Immediately, we were tested. My mother called, asking sweetly whether or not she could get our daughter a kitten for an upcoming birthday. I wavered . (It would make Sissy so happy!) My husband held firm, I remembered our pact and agreed. Our verdict? No kitten.

All went well until my girl's birthday party. It was a great party. However, during said party, our dear friend Doug brought my husband a hedgehog, of all things, that Doug's brother had recently abandoned. My reaction? "Well that's just fine! Are you serious? You say yes to a hedgehog, but no to a kitten?!" "But I've always wanted a hedgehog!" "I've known you for 15 years, and you've never once said that you wanted a hedgehog!" "Well, I did (secretly want one)." "That sucks, Dude!" (Yes, occasionally I actually do talk that way.) "Fine, whatever, Winter can have a kitten." I knew that he didn't mean it, but I was feeling vengeful, so I told my mom.

Back at the ranch, I was having problems of my own. See, a few years ago I had a dog named Rocky ("Rock" for short). He was too big and too sassy and technically my daughter's dog, but I loved him. I was heartbroken when we had to find a new home for him, and something about the autumn air was making me really miss my dog. I started stalking schnoodles and mini-dachshunds online, knowing that their temperaments and size would be a much better fit for our family. I began lingering in dog food aisles at Cub and Target. I wasn't serious, though. I mean, it's not like I had several hundred dollars laying around to drop on a dog. It would be the height of selfish irresponsibility to just get myself a dog when I could barely handle my current responsibilities, right? Right?!

Enter indulgent husband, stage left. Unbeknownst to me, he was aware that I was pining. When my sis came over for a visit, he asked her to watch the kids so that he could steal me away for lunch. We were barely out of the driveway when he said, "Wanna go buy a dog?" I immediately confessed that I'd really been wanting one, and agonizing over the idea. He replied, "I know." I explained that I wanted to show him some of the breeders websites that I'd found online (our humane society had no small dogs available, and I didn't want to perpetuate puppy mills by buying from a pet shop.) Once home, I hopped online and within hours had found the dog that I wanted: a one-year-old female isabella and tan double dapple miniature dachshund, listed for a small fraction of what it would cost for a puppy from the same breeder. In a flurry of phone calls and emails and Paypal transactions I made her mine. My mother had been kind enough to agree to go get her for me, and the next day my new dog Katie joined the household.

Did you forget about the kitten? 'Cause my mom didn't! She was tirelessly searching Freecycle and Craig's List with the sole purpose of finding her granddaughter The Perfect Kitten. After emailing me several possibilities, she found it: a pure white kitten, the likes of which my daughter has been dreaming of ever since she saw The Aristocats at age four. I now had a conundrum: how did I push my luck and get my husband to allow the kitten? I considered just picking it up and springing it on him. I considered lying and saying that we found it all alone...somewhere. In the end, I realised that I couldn't lie to him and 'fessed up. "Honey, you know how my mom called? She was wondering if she could steal Sissy and I away for a little while tomorrow, or maybe just Sissy..." "Sure, what're you guys gonna go do?" "Well, see, here's the thing..." Suddenly I had his full attention, shrewd eyes appraising mine. "I was trying to find a way to tell you, but..." "Just tell me, Ange." So I did. The thing about my husband is that he's mercurial. A very laid back guy with a hot temper, so it's always a crap shoot as to how he'll feel about something. His response when I came clean about kitten machinations? A roll of the eyes, a rueful smile, and, "What's one more at this point? Let her have the kitten!" (He also referenced Animal House.) My mom got my girl the kitten, and my daughter lovingly agreed to "share" with her brother, naming the fluffball Snowbelle Callista Pearl Mohn.

So, in review: over the course of less than two months, the couple who agreed, "No more pets" has added a hedgehog, a dog and a kitten to the mix, quadrupling the amount of pet mouths to feed. We've also agreed that we are done having children.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Rigoletto and Other Revelations

bella (femminile) agg beautiful
figlia nf daughter, child (offspring)

When I was growing up, my Nana would say, "Bella Figlia!" when I (or one of my sisters or many girl cousins) entered the room. It was years before I thought to ask what it meant, and always knowing that it was an endearment, was not too surprised when Nana said that it translated as 'beautiful daughter'. (I had always assumed that it meant something like 'beautiful face', I don't know why, for years my sister and I also confused the terms 'basta!'-enough! and 'pasta fazule'-pasta with beans, shouting, "Basta fazule!" whenever we wanted the other to knock something off. Now I look up the italian word for bean, and it's "fagiËĦolo", who knew? It doesn't matter, we will continue to tell each other "enough beans!") Our bastardization of the mother tongue notwithstanding, naturally when my own daughter came along, she was dubbed, "Bella Figlia!" as well as "Bambina" ("Bambi" or "Bina" for short). So, this blog will be about my daughter, who introduced me to motherhood, the two little boys that came after her, my husband and of course myself. My Nana's Bella Figlia.

In checking the spelling for "figlia" online, I was surprised to find that there is an aria in Verdi's opera, Rigoletto called "Bella figlia dell'amore":

Bella figlia dell'amore,
Schiavo son dei vezzi tuoi;
Con un detto sol tu puoi
Le mie pene consolar.
Vieni e senti del mio core
Il frequente palpitar.


Beautiful daughter of love,
I'm a slave of your habits;
With only a word you are able to console
my sadness.
Come and listen to the frequent beats of my heart.

I had always assumed that my Nana, like me, was passing on something that she had heard as a child. It wasn't until learning about the aria that it occurred to me that she'd learned it in a song, which she would've known, because she was an opera singer. (My Nana, Josephine Busalacchi became the first Metropolitan Opera Auditions regional winner from Wisconsin in 1957. She won the Chicagoland Music Festival, singing before 100,000 people at Soldier's Field. After making her local debut in the Florentine Opera Company's production of Verdi's "Il Trovatore" at the Pabst Theater, she toured nationally with Boris Goldovsky's company, singing opposite Sherrill Milnes in "Tosca." She even sang on the Ed Sullivan Show. In 1965, she founded the Milwaukee Opera Company with my grandfather, Richard Rottman, and her brother, my great-uncle Nino. The company ran for 30 years, at which time she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.)

Amazing. I had no idea that this phrase could reveal a little glimpse into my Nana's life, like another little gift hidden for me now that she's gone. Maybe my words will stay, too. Maybe as I find myself on these pages, I will leave behind something for my children to hold onto when I am no longer here to hold them.