A Gift To Remember
When Lauren Blank reached her 16th birthday, it wasn’t a big party or fancy car that made it notable. It was the incredible gift that she received from her grandpa, and the decades old secret that it revealed that became the most memorable moment of her life.
The Simmering Excitement
Lauren Blank grew up in Texas surrounded by her loving family. She was always close to her grandfather, but as her 16th birthday party approached, she never expected the surprise he had in store for her. Her excitement built as her birthday crept closer in anticipation of all of the newfound privileges that were in store. Lauren wasn’t one for an ostentatious celebration, so she planned a low key party and only invited her close friends and family.
A Small Town’s Charm
Keller, Texas, where Lauren Blank was born and raised is located in the Dallas-Fort Worth “metroplex” area. The town’s website bills itself as “successfully balancing big-city comforts with small-town charm.” It was in this nourishing environment that Lauren was raised. She always had plenty of opportunities for exploring the outdoors, and grew to be a well rounded, thoughtful young adult. Her family was impressed by her poise and wanted to do something special for her birthday.
The Long Game
Little did Lauren know, or Ren as she prefers to be called, her grandfather had been planning this gift for years, carefully guarding his secret so that not even her parents knew. When Ren opened it, she was in for such a touching surprise that there was not a single dry eye life at the celebration. As much as some people yearn for big gifts like cars, it was this simple plan that ended up meaning the most.
A Valuable Heirloom
When most people think of family heirlooms, they tend to think of precious jewelry that may have been passed down from generation to generation, especially given that it’s often something small and easily portable. Jewelry also doesn’t degrade like most other materials, but it’s exactly that quality that can make other moments from your family’s past all the more valuable. Ren’s grandpa, Ron Petrillo knew just that, and made it his mission to have something to pass on.
A Bond To Celebrate
Ren and her grandfather developed their close relationship when she was just a baby, as Petrillo was her primary caretaker during the day. For three years, between the ages of two years old and five years old, Ren spent every day with her grandfather, rather than going to daycare. The time they spent together was precious for Petrillo and he didn’t want to let the memories fade into the past as he and his granddaughter grew older.
Still, Ron Petrillo didn’t want his granddaughter to know how he would be holding on to those memories, not that she could have really understood when she was just a toddler. Though he eventually told her parents about his plan, he knew he had to wait to share his secret until Ren was older, so she could fully grasp the weight of what he had done. It was just a matter of figuring out the most opportune time to let her know.
The Perfect Moment
“I had three dates in mind – I had 16, 21 and then when I was gone,” Ron told Today shortly after giving Ren the gift of a lifetime. “I thought if she was straightened out and [was] being a good person and being nice to people, that was important. So I decided to give it to her on her 16th birthday.” Though he had considered waiting until she was older, he realized it would be nice for them to share this too.
More Than Prepared
At nearly 16 years old, Ren was shaping up to be just the kind of thoughtful adult that Petrillo hoped she would become. He noticed how thoughtful she was, taking note of the goings on around the world, and forming well thought out opinions on them. She expressed herself with a grace and eloquence that he had rarely seen in other’s of her age, and knew that her big, upcoming birthday would be the perfect time to present her with the special present he had in mind.
Bit by bit, Petrillo began to build his gift for Ren. Each day, he would add a little bit more, stealing away to work on the gift that he knew would eventually change his granddaughter’s life. In the meantime, he and Ren were passing their days goofing around, the toddler entertaining her grandfather just as much as he was entertaining her. Though Petrillo knew he was less likely to forget the beautiful moments they spent together in Ren’s childhood, even his memories would one day fade.
Playing The Long Game
It would be over a decade before Petrillo would finally share with Ren what he had been holding onto since she was two years old. The years he had worked on this project were incredibly meaningful to Petrillo, as it proved to be a deep foundation for their close relationship. Petrillo wanted Ren to know just how much that time had meant to him, while he could still enjoy her sharing that knowledge as well.
A Defining Decision
Several years after he finished his project, Petrillo had a decision to make. When should he gift it to Lauren? He debated with himself for a while, wavering back and forth between giving it to her as a teenager or young adult, or giving it to her mother, whom he would then ask to only share the gift after he had passed on. Though it would have been a poignant gift at any age, Petrillo decided he wanted her to share the gift himself.
Reaching A Milestone
A 16th birthday is often a milestone for many teenagers. It’s symbolic of a newfound freedom that comes with their ability to drive, showing that they have become mature enough to be out on their own. Many girls especially celebrate this milestone by throwing a huge celebration, complete with ball gowns fit for a princess in a fancy party hall. Their friends and family gather to celebrate with them, showing their love with extravagant gifts, while they dance the day away.
Coming Of Age
Sweet Sixteens are not the only coming of age celebrations that are found around the world. It isn’t entirely clear where the tradition originated, though the Latin quinceñera, which a girl celebrates at 15 is the celebration’s closest cousin. The other possible inspiration for a sweet sixteen may stem from medieval courts of all places, where girls who reached 16 were eligible for marriage, and therefore publicly presented to the rest of the court. That might not be the purpose anymore, but it’s a milestone, nonetheless.
Ways To Celebrate
Another famous coming of age ceremony is the Jewish bar or bat mitzvah, which is celebrated when a boy reaches the age of 13 or a girl reaches the age of 12. It’s a time when children are now considered responsible enough to take on adult religious practices. The Catholic Church has a similar ritual, called confirmation, at which time it is believed that teenagers can better understand more complex ideas about their faith. Ren exemplified the idea of how understanding comes with maturity.
Beyond The Generations
Ren’s bond with her grandfather Ron is certainly unique, though not unheard of. One of the best indicators that a child will be close to their grandparents has to do with how close to one another they live. Though modern technology can help bridge the gap between children and their grandparents who live far away, there is still nothing that can compare to spending time together face to face. Ren was lucky to have a grandpa living so close by.
Easing The Burden
It has become increasingly common as more middle class households are feeling the lingering squeeze of the economic recession that grandparents are a more common solution for childcare. Grandparents who care for their grandchildren generally don’t expect payment for spending time with them. Most even relish the extra time they get to spend building a close relationship with their young grandchildren. Ron Petrillo was no exception to this trend, and it was an immense pleasure to see Ren grow up.
In March 2017, Lauren Blank was turning 16 years old, and her grandfather, Ron Petrillo decided it was the perfect time to hand over his gift. For her birthday, Lauren received three spiral bound notebooks. The first was labeled, “Lauren Book #1.” The others were labelled, “Book 2” and “Book 3.” Ren looked at the notebooks, puzzled at first as to what they could contain. She would soon find out the secret that her grandfather had kept from her for so many years.
Opening Up The Past
Lauren held the notebooks in her hand, turning each one over, running her hands along the covers and binding before finally opening the first one. She began reading the first line without understanding, noticing that the writing was printed in pen. Though the book was addressed to her, as she flipped through the pages, she still failed to register in those first moments just how profound of a gift she was holding onto. Petrillo’s heart was filled to the brim.
A Ray Of Illumination
Petrillo stood there watching Ren take in all of his hard work. As he saw the realization of just what he had given her creep over her being, it was difficult to continue to hold back everything that he had kept hidden for all of this time. While she slowly read over the first page, Petrillo held his tongue, even as tears of joy threatened to burst forth from each eye. He knew by heart the words Ren was reading.
Holding On To Memories
“Hi Lauren: I’m just starting this so someday you might read it for fun. It’s going to be a day-to-day record of you and me.” Petrillo had been careful to keep track of when he began working on his gift to his granddaughter, knowing that the impact was even bigger if he kept track of the dates he worked too. Lauren read on, as her family watched, each and every one of them overcome by emotion.
Revealing His Secret
Petrillo had begun writing the notebook on February 13, 2003. Ren was only two years old, and as her daily caretaker, Ron Petrillo wanted to keep a record of their time spent together. He thought it might be amusing for her to read about her adorable toddler antics when she was older, but never realized just how meaningful his little project would become. In the end, he managed to fill up three notebooks, one for each year he was caring for her.
More Than She Knew
Petrillo cared for his younger granddaughter until she started kindergarten at five years old, which seemed as good a year as any to stop writing his daily record. Though he still had many distinct memories from those days, there were still many more things that had slipped his mind when he reminded Ren of the days gone by. Ren flipped through the pages, each recalling the good times, not realizing just what she would eventually learn.
How She Laughed
It was only due to the notebook that Lauren was reminded of one of her favorite games from when she was only two years old. They called it the ‘See Ya’ game, whose purpose was for Petrillo to make Lauren laugh as hard as possible by being silly. Lauren shared the story with Today, “He used to do this ‘See Ya’ game, [a]nd he would run into the wall over and over and over and I would die.”
Riding The Alligator
In another poignant story detailed by Petrillo’s meticulous record keeping, he wrote about a time when he took Ren to a store, where she became utterly captivated by the elevator, insisting they ride it up and down. Never mind shopping with a toddler, she was amused simply by going up and down, always asking to go back on what she referred to as the “alligator.” Petrillo, ever fond of his granddaughter, was happy to oblige, and continued riding the “alligator” with her.
Recalling The Best Times
Petrillo’s records had even more hidden gems than Ren had realized. In one entry, he describes yet another of the young Ren’s favorite games. He wrote, “One of your favorite things is for me to push the button on your clock and do my silly dance. When I say ‘Lauren do it,’ you sit in your bed and say ‘papa’ and I keep dancing, falling, running into the wall, turning around like an uncoordinated fat ballerina, and you keep laughing.”
Behind Her Back
Ren couldn’t understand how her grandfather had found the time to work on such intricate record keeping while also keeping such a watchful eye on her. He had never been the sort of caretaker that would sit the young child down in front of the TV so he could focus on other things. Petrillo revealed that he would write their daily activities down while Lauren was taking her afternoon nap, as it was the only quiet moment he had.
The Dwindling Days
As Ren eventually reached school age, the time she spent with her grandfather began to dwindle, so Petrillo decided it was time to stop his record keeping. The notebooks end when Ren was five and had begun kindergarten, which meant she no longer required her grandfather to look after her from day to day. Though he had finished writing when she was only five, he knew he had to wait for the perfect moment to give her such a meaningful record.
Tugging At Her Heart
Once Lauren realized just how much love her grandfather had put into her gift, she was completely overcome by emotion. It was one of the most incredible and thoughtful gifts she had ever received. The more she read through the notebooks, the more memories she discovered that had been long forgotten. In all the pages she read through, there were a couple of entries in particular that stood out to both Lauren Blank and her grandfather.
One of Petrillo’s favorite memories from his days spent with the impressionable, young Ren was their many visits to local zoos. “The rescue zoo — we’d go there every day except Monday, when they were closed,” Petrillo told Today. “And we’d go look at all the stuff, and then I’d buy her every trinket in the gift shop.” For her part, the little Ren was delighted by the animals, and of course couldn’t refuse her grandfather’s countless gifts from their outings.
Spreading The Love
Ren was so exuberant about the loving keepsake she had received from Petrillo that she rushed to post a picture on her Twitter account. The post quickly went viral, as Ren Blank’s post was retweeted over 160,000 times, and received countless more likes. Ren told reporters that her papa was “one of the most influential people in [her] life,” which is an incredibly high honor for a teenager to bestow on any parental figure at such a formative age.
The Tide Changes
As with anything that goes viral on the internet, even the best intentioned of posts can attract critics. The more Ren and Petrillo’s story spread, the more likely it became that Ren would attract some negative attention. Sure enough, some critics made their way out of the woodwork to claim that Ren was just trying to use her grandfather’s love to become famous. She told the Daily Mail, It wasn’t [about] me being famous, it was about my grandpa’s love for me becoming famous.”
Ren shared with Buzzfeed, “I’ve had so much feedback from other kids my age who say they want to get closer to their grandparents. Or, it’s been a real eye-opener for them to appreciate their grandparents while they are still here. I truly don’t think that I will ever have a gift that is greater than this,” she continued. Ren has been filled with gratitude that she’s been able to inspire others to have such a close relationship with their own grandparents.
Following His Footsteps
Petrillo’s gift earned him and his granddaughter several interviews with news outlets as people all over had their hearts warmed by their touching story. Petrillo told Today that if there’s one thing everyone should take away from his gift, is that it’s something anyone can do. “I just want the grandparents that are in their 40s and 50s to know that they can do the same thing,” he said. “If that’s the only thing that comes out of this, then that’s just fine.”