Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ode to Janice

I still want to re-cap how our weekend at the symphony was, but first I need to write about some sad news I received yesterday – Janice passed away.

Who is Janice you ask? It’s hard to put into words what her relationship was to me – a mentor, kind of like a crazy aunt, a confidant, and a family friend; but not to my biological family but the little family I became a part of when I started babysitting during school.

As I’ve written about several times, in college in Milwaukee I essentially nannied for a family with two young kids (who were in our wedding and whom I still babysit on occasion here in Chicago).  Prior to moving to MKE, the family lived in NYC, where the kids were born.  At the time, both parents were working so they hired a real nanny, Janice, who started taking care of their first child, E, when she was a week old (E will be 8 in May).  Fast forward about 2.5 years and the family moved to MKE, heartbroken to leave Janice behind.

I started babysitting for them in MKE, about 25 hours a week, but they decided they missed Janice so much, that they started flying her to MKE for a week usually about every month to six weeks (especially when the parents had to travel for work, Janice would be there).  However, since Janice didn’t drive, I still babysat during this time and chauffeured Janice and the kids around.  Janice quickly became a joy to be around.  She was from Antigua in Bahamas originally but lived in The Bronx.  She had a unique attitude and a loud raspy voice, that could also be gentle and soothing when aproppriate. Her accent was kind of hard to understand at first (or even later on when she got excited about something and spoke quickly). She was opinionated and outspoken, but also curious to learn to new things.  Most importantly, she was a sweet, patient, and welcoming person.

Shortly after I graduated and left MKE in 2009, Janice stopped going to MKE to nanny less frequently.  It was getting expensive for the family to bring her out all of the time and her health slowly started to fail her. Janice loved Ben and was so excited for us when we got engaged and even more thrilled when we invited her to the wedding.  I don’t think she’d ever been to Iowa before.  She called me the day she decided what she was wearing, so excited.  She loved a dressy party and dancing!

Although she stopped coming to see the kids, the family still kept in touch with her. Earlier in 2011, the family called to alert me that me that Janice had been hospitalized and didn’t seem to be doing well. However, they couldn’t tell exactly when the health issue was because Janice refused to tell.  For some reason, I don’t recall, they thought it was leukemia. I called Janice soon after and she was at home and in good spirits.  I called Janice earlier this month and we caught up a bit.  Always humble, she didn’t talk much about herself or her condition (just that she felt okay and has been using oxygen, now night and day), but asked about Ben and I, and even Oscar.  Blunt that she was, she asked when we were going to “have some babies.  You and Ben going to have the most beautiful babies” she said.  She was grateful for the call and it lifted my heart to hear her voice. She was so happy that I called that she put her husband, “J” as she called him, on the phone, just to say hi (I’ve never met the man, but heard a gazillion of stories)

Yesterday, the family contacted to let me know that J called and said that Janice passed away.  Even though I was at work, the tears instantly started to pour down my checks.  I ended up leaving work and going home to think and reflect on my times with Janice.  (Actually, my first thought was to walk the block from my office to Amtrak and hop on a train to MKE to be with the family but then I decided since I’m babysitting this Friday, I’d go home and snuggle with Oscar).

One thing that soothes my heart and mind is that Janice was a devout Christian.  I know and I know that she knew, that when she left this earth she was going to a better place and I pray that she was not scared but found comfort in knowing that she was moving on.

In closing this post, I want to share some of my memories of Janice:

·    She called everyone “girlfriend” or “boyfriend”, which was just her friendly way of greeting people.
·    In October 2008, Ben, Janice and I had taken the kids to Milwaukee County Zoo for Boo at the Zoo.  It was the night that it was announced that Jennifer Hudson’s mom, brother and nephew had been murdered.  I remember Ben broke the news and Janice placed her hand on her heart and said “Oh Lord, have mercy”.
·    Once in Chicago, Janice and the kids met Ben and I at a dog bakery to pick out Oscar’s 1st birthday cake.  Afterwards, she said she was hungry and suggested we grab lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant.  We asked her if Mexican was okay and she said yes. She then proceeded to try to order chicken fingers and was upset when she was told they didn’t have any (this was an oh Janice type moment, which I had many)
·    Janice somehow thought that I always knew of a good sale or deal (which is funny since now I post my “daily deals and steals” here on the blog); so she was ecstatic when I called her one morning to say that I was coming to grab her and we were going to the mall for free makeup.  There had been some lawsuit settlement with department stores and the makeup industry which resulted in stores giving away one full size item (from a select list) to costumers.  I still remember, I picked out a Lancome mascara and Janice picked out Tommy Girl body wash.  She was SO excited for it, she talked about it the next time I saw her a feek weeks later.
·    Even though she didn’t have a lot of money, Janice always sent the kid’s birthday and Christmas presents as well as little gifts for small holidays in between.  I thought it was so kind of her.
·    She was always cold and carried a cream button up sweater with her, which she called her jacket.
·    She had very very very short hair, but she almost always wore a wig.  She used to tell the kids it was her hat.  Once when I was there and we were getting ready to take the kids to school, Janice hadn’t put her wig on yet, and M, the little boy, who was 3 at the time, said “Janice, don’t forget to put on your hat!”

Oh Janice!

RIP Girlfriend. Love you always.

Here's Janice at our wedding in Oct 2010. She was stumbling on the include
trying to get to her seat, so, typical Janice, she grabbed the first man she saw
(Ben's uncle, whom she'd never met) to help her get to her seat.

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