2016: A YEAR IN REVIEW

527,0400 minutes came and went in 2016 and while it is impossible to measure, capture or even remember all the wonderful things that happened, here are 6 of my favorite moments. 

1. Moving in with my love. We found our dream apartment on a cold weekend in February. Sipping on cocktails between showings had us more than ready to sign a lease by the fifth apartment.  Celebratory cocktails at Freeman’s became a tradition after that afternoon. And New York slowly became home. 

2. An unexpected invitation. It was early June, but the days were already long and hot. We had been invited to the birthday dinner of our neighbor on the 11th floor. He and his wife had just moved to New York from Germany and were earnest in their intention to make new friends. We walked the distance to the restaurant, arriving about 20 minutes late and forced to take seats apart from one another at the table. Immediately I detected more than 5 different languages being spoken across the table. New and old friends from Austria, Germany, Italy, and more had gathered to celebrate. We shared wine and stories until the staff began putting empty chairs on empty tables, indicating it was time to go home. Initially unclear as to how we had arrived there, amidst people we barely knew, the marvel of New York City had made itself clear. It will always give back to what you put in. Adventure, experience, or new friends from around the world. 

3. Failed missions turned into found adventures. Like our first stop on a weekend road trip where we were duped by what must have been 37 fake 4.5 star reviews on AirBnB. The pictures showed a cozy room for two inside of a clean home. Instead we encountered dozens of empty or opened beer bottles and a variety of different pipes for uses I could only imagine. There was a film of grease on every appliance's surface and dirty dishes sat moldy in the sink, begging to be washed. A layer of dust thick on every surface, including the floor, putting dirt on my shoes as opposed to the opposite. Declining to shower for fear we would leave with more than we came with – hepatitis c or likewise – we left the keys on the table and drove to the local coffee shop as soon as the sun came up. At 7:15AM on a Saturday morning, we sat waiting for the town to open up, laughing about the events of last night. Excited, but a little bit nervous for whatever else laid ahead.

4. Coming home from Cuba without a penny to our name. It was our first time to Cuba and we had been unable to take out money as originally planned. Additional trouble with our bank left us dependent on my younger brother to withdraw cash from his not so grown up bank account. We were 3 people with 5 days in Cuba and no more than $300 to our name. After an unsatisfying 3 way shared entree at a lovely restaurant, we exchanged our tourist currency for the local currency and tourist spots for more local establishments. We had interesting and questionable meals, indulged in cheap bottles of rum and made Cuba Libres at home on the patio. We arrived at the airport without a penny to our name, sharing a bag of chips, praying our flight wouldn't be delayed or cancelled. We laughed as the plane took off, counting down the minutes to a meal with identifiable ingredients. And less daunting bathroom experiences. However, that trip we had prepared so little, and budgeted so poorly, that it left us to truly experience something based on feel, thought, vibe, and instinct. It led us to the organic moments we crave with every trip. By getting it so wrong, it finally felt right. But next time, we will definitely bring more money. ;) 

5. 36 hours in Paris. The first time Todd and I visited Paris was in the summer of 2015, during a rather difficult time in both of our lives. It was there we would say goodbye for what could have been forever. Todd had decided prior to our trip that time apart was best for us over the next several months, unsure of his ability to commit after our unconventional convergence. Perhaps unsure of mine as well. We had run full speed into each other the previous few months, and he wanted to be certain it was because of what was in front of us, and not behind. The inevitable goodbye was always in the back of our minds, which only made us hold on tighter for the short amount of time we had together. Every sweet moment turning bitter at the thought of it all coming to an end. We went back for a long weekend in November of 2016 to re-experience the city as lovers once again. To be back, walking those same narrow streets hand in hand with the man I love so dear was surreal. It didn’t feel like the second time, but the 100th time. I knew then my soul had loved him for lifetimes, not months and not years.

6. Blending families. My family is rather large, a bit eccentric and very blended. Todd got the ultimate introduction during an eventful family vacation to Tulum, Mexico. He endured the chaos and quickly became a part of it. A failed "watch this" moment where he slipped before completing a successful flip into pool drew initial fear, subsequent embarrassment, and endless amounts of laughter - the key ingredients for fitting right in with my family. I too left the familiar discord to spend Christmas with Todd's family - equally anxious and excited. While reflecting on the weekend, I experienced and incredibly feeling of warmth. From the bellies of babies pressed against mine as they slept in drool stained santa outfits. From the tamales at Christmas Eve dinner to my flushed face as I tried to use my best spanish salutations for hello and goodbye. More than anything, the kindness and embrace of everyone I met and spent time with. New family and new traditions were the best gift in 2016. And a deeper more meaningful appreciation for my own.

By Chelsie Maki

HOLIDAYS, SHAKEN NOT STIRRED

O Christmas. The beloved winter holiday with potential to be the most wonderful time of the year. And sometimes it is. Time with family and friends. A beautiful exchange of thoughtful gifts. But disappointment runs large when expectations are high. And when you pay to fly across the country to watch your younger brother shrug at the extremely thoughtful gift you researched and purchased, the whole season can feel slightly deflating.

For me, the time leading up to the big day is always the most special. Memories made in the planning, rather than the exchange. The shopping trips, lunch breaks, neighborhood strolls to compare lights - spiked cocoa in hand. The belly laughs from recalling old stories and watching A Christmas Story on ABC for the 100th time.

It fills my heart, as much as it fills my glass. Which is practically overflowing as we get closer to the main event. Family begins to occupy the guest rooms and space gets tight. In the literal and figurative sense of the word. My grandmother’s ego alone leaves no space for anyone else. Her new book, The 60 Minute Man, hadn’t quite made the best-seller list, but you would have never known by the boastful comments and critically acclaimed self review. Who would have thought a book of foreplay ideas targeted to over sexualized senior citizens waiting for the little blue pill to kick in wouldn’t be more widely relatable? (Signed copies available this holiday season for whoever is interested).

A warm blanket of alcohol protects from the cold as much as it protects against underhanded blows over dinner. It makes stories from the uncle you only see once a year bearable and helps curb political debates before they become a special edition episode of Jerry Springer - stuck up old white people without manners.

This year, I left the familiar chaos for something almost more perilous - the unknown. My boyfriend and I were spending our first Christmas together. We had experienced a lot of time with each other’s families, and perhaps mine is the only one who changes direction faster than the tide, but the anticipation was filled with both excitement and anxiety.

As I sit on a worn leather couch on the big day, discarded wrapping paper at my feet, reflecting on the weekend, all I feel is warmth. From the bellies of babies pressed against mine as they slept in drool stained santa outfits. From the tamales at Christmas Eve dinner to my flushed face as I tried to use my best spanish salutations for hello and goodbye. More than anything, the kindness and embrace of everyone I met and spent time with.

New traditions were the best gift I received this Christmas. And a deeper more meaningful appreciation for my own. I’ll still fill my glass, this time to uncynically toast the most wonderful time of the year. 

FROM THE MIDDLE SEAT

Every year my step-father puts work on hold for a week in an attempt to bring our rather large and eccentric family together. I am quite certain he, like many fathers, finds these trips rewarding and enjoyable, but least of all relaxing.

Bringing 10 people anywhere is a difficult task in itself. Flying with my mother is about as enjoyable as holding on to a feral cat inside of an airplane. But my whole family, all together in one place, almost falls in the category of impossibility.

There are the obvious challenges such as being physically located all over the continental United States - from New York to California. But the less obvious undertaking exists in the abstract sense. We have different fathers, mothers, and relationships with both. Some of us have shared innumerable life experiences together, and some of us just a few. When you put a family together like that, there is a commitment you must make to one another. A bond you choose to develop rather than one solidified in convenience, proximity and time.

2016 was our seventh trip together and we were headed to Tulum, Mexico.

Prior to arrival, my step-father called me to set realistic expectations for our upcoming adventure. There is always the usual drama of having 5 children - if half are up, then the other half are down. I have yet to see a time when the ‘rents weren't lamenting over the fate of one of us. Even I have had my fair share of blame for sleepless nights, but the boys were in a serious shit spiral this past summer. One brother had been in the hospital earlier that month as a result of a failed spiritual enlightenment journey. 10 hits of acid later he was temporarily living with my parents to course correct. Another unfortunate series of events left a strained relationship between another brother and my parents. As a result, we would be slightly lighter in terms of baggage this year, leaving him at home as a consequence of decisions. Both my step-father and mother were strung out on emotions and feared they might break under another perilous episode concerning one of their children. I was warned to avoid being generally difficult and not make any unnecessary comments about my mother and her typical erratic behavior. He of course left off the word “erratic” but I always understood its assumed application.

I spent time quite a bit of time preparing. If I was to bite my tongue for an entire week, I needed practice. Todd would quiz me, “If your mom says X, how are you going to respond?” If there was even a hint of an eye roll, I had to start over. We had one last pep talk on the ride from the airport and I was convinced I could do this. Well rehearsed and ready to put my cynicism on a brief hold in order to remain completely amicable.

We pulled up to our temporary home a few days behind the rest of the crew and screamed hello as we wheeled our bags into the house, ready to get our vacation started.

Within the first few moments I saw something glimmer out of the corner of my eye. My mom was waving from a distance and there seemed to be a flash of light coming from her body. Initially, I brushed it off thinking it might have been her wedding ring catching the light of the sun, or maybe a reflection off the water in the pool.

As she moved closer, the soundtrack from Fast Times at Ridgemont High began to play in my head. Except it wasn’t Linda Barrett getting out of that pool, it was my 52 year old mother. And she had gotten her belly button pierced. The sparkling embellishment radiated tortuously back at me.

How could I possibly not comment on what was happening? My eyes were bleeding from the inability to look away, or even blink.

I shot a sideways glance over to my step-dad in frustration. Had he known and still tasked me with silence? I thought about what it might cost me to vomit the words resting on the tip of my tongue. The consequence of disappointment. Would I be dismissed? Ostracized? Eliminated? Judging by the look of his return stare those suggestions were mere child’s play compared to what awaited me if I so much as uttered a word about the ungodly piece of jewelry hanging from my mother’s naval.

Swallowing my words in the literal sense, I opted for disapproving body language and facial expressions. More subjective than words, I could express my feelings without poorly positioning myself with the feeding hand for the rest of the trip. I was in desperate need of a paper bag and someone with a soothing voice saying to me, “Breath, just breath. It will all be ok.”

But it wasn’t ok. My prior preparation could only help curb some of the urge to make a comment every time she walked into the room, stomach exposed. Which was often, mind you, as we were in a rather tropical location.

She knew it bothered me and continued to poke playfully at my pathetic attempts of composure and nonchalance.  

By day 3 I had already spent so much time perseverating on my mother’s stomach jewelry, I had isolated myself. Todd didn’t care for my jokes anymore, and no one else could be trusted to not grape vine my feelings back to the source of vexation.

With no fuel to keep the fire ablaze, and the desire for positive human interaction, I let it die. And tried, rather unsuccessfully, to understand why.

That evening we celebrated the summer birthdays in the family, mine included. My oldest brother had been slow cooking pork all day for the most decadent and delicious taco bar we had ever seen. The smell of fresh tortilla chips simmering on the stove filled the house as we set the table with mismatched multicolored plates in preparation for our feast. The baby slowly made his way around the table so everyone could have a chance to eat with the preferred method of two hands. We laughed and refilled our glasses again and again.

The evening concluded in a tequila induced early bedtime. After jumping in the pool fully clothed we were in need of warm showers and cool sheets.

My mother came into my room later that night, after I had already gone to sleep. I’d assumed she was out wandering the coastline by moonlight, sneaking cigarettes like a teenager. Crop top exposing her now infamous belly button ring. I searched for the familiar smell of clove and tobacco on her breath, but couldn’t find it.

My father didn’t approve of her smoking much, but I knew she liked the secrecy of her late night adventures. Using it as her escape.

She tucked the small baby hairs that lined my face behind my ear until my eyes adjusted enough to make her out in the dark. She motioned for me to follow her outside.

All I could see in the dim moonlight was the small amount of light reflecting off the ocean and a faint red light at the edge of the beach.

She didn’t say much, but neither did I. We both headed toward the red light, dark figures coming into view as we drew closer. It wasn’t until I was inches from their shadows that I realized the faces I saw were familiar ones. My brother and boyfriend were hard at work digging a deep hole at the top of the shore near a neighboring house.

Laying on the beach was a 3 ft wide female loggerhead turtle, weighing in around 300 lbs. She had been injured during her journey to the beach to lay her eggs and had only made it a few feet out of the water before she began dropping her eggs. We watched as they fell 1 by 1 into the shallow hole she had dug close to the water’s edge.

Silently we worked with the local conservationist to save her future babies from certain death. We were told that loggerhead turtles typically climb out of the water 6-7 feet and bury their body in the surface of the sand. They dig a deep chamber where they drop their eggs and then return to the sea. The whole process takes about 1-2 hours and they lay around 125 eggs. Many of which never make it back.

As the injured mother was unable to climb out of the water far enough, or dig a deep enough hole, my brother and boyfriend helped to finish the task.

My mother and I sat in the cold sand and watched, speechless to the beauty of life and reproduction. Slowly the injured mother woke out of her trance and made the slow turn back to sea, leaving a set of tracks that remained long into the next day. Tears streamed down my mother’s face as she watched a not so different mother struggle through the process of bringing children into this world. She hugged us tight and reminded us what a beautiful thing motherhood is. 

In that moment I saw her for who she was. A loving, caring mother. But also just a person. One who struggles as well sometimes. Especially as she ages.