Dear Ms. S,


Today I stood in the hallway outside of my bedroom door, listening in as my sweet Ellie had her last kindergarten lessons.

I stood there in the hall, listening through the door, letting the tears flow free.

Oh, my goodness, my dear Ms. S

I have no idea how you did it!

As I stood there, eavesdropping shamelessly on your classroom, I felt as if I had stumbled into a strange time travel machine.

Wasn’t it just the other day when I stood in this very same spot, anxious and afraid, sure that remote kindergarten would be a horribly failed experiment for my first grandchild?

Wasn’t it just a few short days ago when I leaned against this door, hoping to hear the sound of Ellie’s voice as she (hopefully) engaged in your lessons?

How is it possible that under the pressures of Covid 19 time itself has become a stretchy, malleable, unknowable concept?

I don’t know. I have no answers.

Just as I have absolutely NO explanation for how it is that you managed to give your students the most wonderful kindergarten experience, although none of you have ever met or hugged or shared a meal?

My dear Ms. S,

I am so sad to see this wonderful year coming to an end. And I am so relieved and so happy and so unbelievably grateful for what you and your colleagues have achieved this year.

I know that you’ll be tempted to read all of the online opinions about what happened in our schools this year. I know. You’ll tell yourself that it doesn’t really matter, but I am sure that you’ll feel it deep in your heart when you hear all of the references to “learning loss” and how much our children have suffered.

You’re a teacher: I know you will take every criticism to heart.

But let me share my thoughts about this most historic and magical and astonishing school year.

My little Ellie came into your class as a shy, insecure, uncertain learner. She didn’t utter a word in her preschool class for the first 6 weeks.

But when she came to you, via Zoom, gazing into her “kindergarten Ipad”, she became a learner. She became a student.

She made friends, and I must say that this is the fact that astonishes me the most. Under your kind and warm guidance, Ellie quickly understood that she was a part of a community of learners. She learned new names and new faces; and she learned which of “my friends” share her interests and which simply intrigue her because they are so funny.

I watched our little girl grow this year. In a normal school year, I would have had no contact with her classroom life. But because of the pandemic, I was able to lurk in the hallway outside of her door, hearing the sound of her laughter, her interest, her engagement.

I heard my grandchild grow up.

Thank you.

In September, Ellie was afraid to admit that she knew how to spell her name. She was unsure, cautious, nervous to take a risk.

In June, her favorite activity is grabbing a book (any book) and reading to her younger brothers and her grandparents. She writes stories, writes notes, pretends to be a reporter as she interviews me.

Because of your calm, assured, joyful approach to school, Ellie is proud to announce that “I’m a good mathemetician”. She is sure of her intelligence. She is willing to sound out words that are completely new to her.

Dear Ms. S,

How does an aging grandmother, a retired teacher, a highly emotional activist woman ever manage to express how grateful I am for all that you and your staff have accomplished this year?

I don’t know.

I don’t know what to say, or how to thank you, or how to fully express all of the ways that you made this year seem “normal” and “manageable” and “safe”.

You are my hero.

You will always be my hero.

I still remember the love and care that I received from my kindergarten teacher back in 1960. I can still see her face and hear her deep voice.

You’ve managed to give my little granddaughter the same sense of wonder, the same belief in herself and the same social skills that I was given so many decades ago.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I always cry on the last day of school; this year my tears are more complex, more numerous, and more deeply felt.

We will owe you our gratitude forever.Age of Awareness

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The Joys and Sorrows of June.


I’m not teaching anymore, but I still feel the intense emotions of June. I remember 22 years of “last day of school” tears and celebrations. For teachers, that last day is a profoundly exhausting combination of delight and grief.

Every year, the nest would empty. Every year, the hugs got me through, and the promises of staying in touch helped me to let go.

Every year I cried my heart out all the way home, then threw myself into the pleasures of summer with a sense of accomplishment. Every year, every June, on every last day, this is what I wanted to say.

Dear kids,

Dear 24 funny, silly, confusing, demanding, charming, annoying, inspiring children who have been in my classroom for the past 180 days.

I love you.

I really love your silliness and the way that you got me to laugh out loud even when I was trying to read you the riot act. I’ll never forget the time one of you sat through an entire math lesson with a crown of leaves in your hair, just because you were having so much fun learning about the first Olympics. I’ll always laugh when I remember you all flipping origami frogs into the air when I turned my back.

You were so much fun!

Dear class of mine, I also love you so much for all of the ways you’ve matured and grown this year. I will always be touched and pleased when I remember your parents telling me, “My son said that in your class everyone always got along.” I’ll always be proud of the way all of you decided, on your own, that you should skip recess one day because you realized that you had been cruel to a classmate with invisible disabilities. I will forever be brought to tears as I remember you, the handsome, smart, funny, cool kids as you apologized to your classmate and asked him to be “captain” of your recess football team.

You gave me such hope for the future, back then; knowing that you are out there in the world gives me hope even today.

Dear, sweet fifth grade class,

I surely love you for the ways that you have made me stop and think.

Thanks for helping me to understand what I meant when I told you that we would all need to be able to work together. Thank you for teaching me that a group of people can be “colleagues” and “team mates” even if they aren’t actually friends.

Thank you for helping me to learn what it means to be my best self. You helped me to understand that it was OK, and more than OK, to tell you that I loved you. You helped me to accept the fact that children learn best from those they trust to love them. You taught me that I didn’t need to be aloof or emotionally protected or separate from you. All of you taught me that when I showed my weaknesses, it helped you to manage your own. You taught me that we are all a little scared, all a little overwhelmed, all afraid that “nobody will like me.”

It’s June. Our time together is coming to its inevitable final day.

What in the world will I do without you?

Dear beloved, exhausting kids,

I bet you don’t have any idea of just how hard this month is for teachers like me. You probably think we are happy about the end of another school year.

But you are wrong. I am not happy to be leaving you behind. I am not happy to be handing you off to an entirely new team of teachers.

Sure, those teachers are my colleagues and my friends, but that doesn’t matter. They are great teachers, wonderful people, kind and supportive adults….but whatevs. YOU are MINE. I have spent the past ten months dreaming about you, planning for you, talking about you and loving every little thing that makes you so special.

I am not happy about passing you on to the next teaching team. In my deepest, darkest, secret Momma/teacher heart, I worry that next year’s teacher won’t understand you the way that I do.

I mean. C’mon. Could any other teacher possibly be as excited as me about your fractions projects? I think not.

So.

Dear kids,

Dear unique, wonderful, lovely and loving group of kids,

I am not even a tiny bit happy about the fact that our short year together has come to an end.

June is not a happy month for loving and engaged teachers.

June means letting go, and trusting that other adults will love you as much as I do.

But I will open my arms and let you fly free, because that’s what all good nurturing adults must do. It may break our hearts, but it lets you move up and on and away, into the life that awaits you.

Dear parents of young children,

Thank you so very much for sharing your beautiful kids with me. Thank you for trusting me to guide them through the scary world of fifth grade math and the scarier world of fifth grade social life.

Dear parents, thank you for telling me what you think. And thank you for asking me what I see as I look at your child.

It’s June. Thank you, dear trusting parents. Thank you for letting me love and guide and support your child for the past nine months. Without your trust, I could never have moved your child forward in all of these ways. You and I have been a great team this year; I will always be so grateful to you for letting me take on my role on that team.

It has been a long and challenging year. To be honest, they are all long and challenging. And every one of them is filled with the process of shaping friendships and creating a healthy educational community.

And now, as always, we find ourselves faced with the stresses of June and the inevitable goodbyes that come with every summer break.

As always, the best teachers are mourning the loss of this year’s special community of learners. As always, the ticking of the clock into summer fills our teachers with a sense of loss and sadness that people outside of public education cannot begin to understand.

It is June.

I hope that everyone who has ever been a student, everyone who has ever parented a student, everyone who has ever supported, taught and nurtured a student, will take this moment to look back in awe in all that has been accomplished in ten short months of life.

Being a teacher is a gift and a joy and blessing that I think only those in the trenches can fully understand.

So to every child and every parent, I say, “Happy summer! I will never forget you or our time together as a micro community. You have forever changed my life.”

Thinking About Our Alien Visitors


Boy howdy. I haven’t been this excited about UFOs since the 1960s, when my big brother used to insist to me that aliens were hovering over our house all night.

I could hardly sleep back then, partly because I was afraid that I’d miss all the UFO excitement and never get the chance to meet the alien beings. And partly because I was convinced that a Martian was going to crawl in my window and eat my brains.

Either way, the prospect of a UFO sighting dominated a lot of backyard conversation back then.

And that excitement is back once again, thanks to an eagerly awaited Pentagon report on UFO sightings around the globe.

I can’t sleep now, either, although that might be due to age more than aliens. Still, the excitement and curiosity have my little brain all abuzz.

What if there really is some distant civilization that has somehow discovered our tiny blue planet? What if they really are hypersonically zooming around our atmosphere and observing us with their weird insectile eyes?

Wouldn’t they have made contact with us by now?

I actually have a theory about that.

See, I was thinking that if the space invaders starting watching us in the 1960s, they may have decided that this planet had a lot of evolving to do before it would be safe to visit. They would have flown over us and observed thick clouds of smoke choking humanity’s major cities. Even from space, they would have noticed the stinking rivers of sludge, the stench of burning coal, and the tar-soaked coastlines.

“Jeez”, they would have chittered to each other, “These creatures don’t even know enough not to foul their own nests.”

They would have been appalled.

Naturally, they would also have seen the fighting, slaughtering, murdering and warring going on all over the place. “Too stupid to realize they’re all the same species,” the boss alien would have sighed. “Let’s keep looking for a safer planet to visit. How bout if we give these beings a chance to work things out? We can come back in 50 or 60 years, see if there are any signs of improvement.”

Off they may have zipped, disappearing into the void in search of something better.

So what if they came back in the early 2000s? Do you think they would have decided to land here and make friends?

I can imagine the conversation as the new and improved hypersupersonic intergalactic vehicle began its approach to earth.

“Sir”, the Vice Boss Alien would have said, “Our instruments show that the pollution problems on Earth have been greatly reduced.”

“Good news, VBA, thank you!”

“Yessir. That is the good news. But that’s about all the good news I can give you. The rest of the story is pretty grim.”

Boss Alien would have sighed through little vents in his upper back.

“Full report, please.”

“Well, sir, it appears that a deadly virus has begun to circulate the earth. The humans are dropping like flies. They haven’t been able to figure out how they can keep themselves safe, even though their rudimentary science has shown them that if they put small pieces of material over their breathing holes, the virus can be kept away.”

“Vice Boss, I’m sorry. You’re not making sense. They KNOW that covering their breathing holes will protect the species, right? What do you mean they haven’t figured it out?”

“It’s very hard for advanced species like us to understand, sir… but these primitive creatures are fighting each other over facts. They seem to be quite superstitious and they definitely don’t trust each other.

Let me explain a little more, sir. You see, they have also found a preventative treatment, a vaccine, that will protect them. But these creatures are unable to cooperate with each other to share the treatments, so some of them are safe, while others are getting sicker and dying more quickly. And some of the sick ones want the treatment, but the healthy ones refuse to take it. It’s basically a mess.”

Boss Alien would have been confused, but he would have studied his instruments in search of something hopeful.

He would have been disappointed.

“H’mmmmm. I see that the slaughtering has continued. These creatures have been killing each other on the same small patches of sand since the last time we were here. They haven’t learned one damn thing, have they? There are still babies starving all over the place, the number of non-human species is dwindling, they’re running out of water…….

…..and it’s a lot hotter than it was last time we flew by.”

The Vice Boss would have looked at his report once more, and then he would have closed the cover.

“It’s definitive then?”

“I’m afraid so, VBA. It’s time to move on.

“There is clearly no intelligent life here.”

Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

The Empty Nest, Redoux


So here I am again. Trying to make myself into the supportive, happy adult who celebrates the launching of the children. Trying to be happy for them. Trying to embrace the wonderful new adventures that await them.

Trying to silence the woman inside of me who can’t even begin to understand how all of this could have unfolded so quickly. Trying to come to terms with the fact that a baby’s time is the blink of an eye, that the toddler gets to her feet before you can take in a breath, that the little girl can go from taking a bottle to reading a book in the time it takes for her grandmother to turn around.

Six years ago, almost to this very day, I realized that my time as a teacher had to come to an end. I left my classroom and said goodbye to my friends while mourning the change that confronted me. I wasn’t ready to retire, but I did. It was the right thing to do, given the political winds that were blowing.

But it was also the right thing to do because I was in desperate need of something to make me feel useful and wanted and important. It worked out perfectly for me, because my daughter was in need of a safe, secure, affordable child care option.

So Ellie, my sweet first grand child, became my saving grace, my saving responsibility, my link to my nurturing inner self. Even as I mourned the fact that I was no longer teaching a group of children to love learning, even as I missed those moments when I would laugh out loud with 24 young kids, I learned to embrace my role as the “Momma stand in”.

My days of watching little Ellie were the bridge that allowed me to move from my professional career to my retirement life. Her smiles were my pay checks. Her hugs were my lifeline. Her first words, first steps, first solid foods were my reassurance that I remained relevant in this world.

Every time I bathed Ellie, and wrapped her in a towel, I was reminded of my mothering years. I was reminded and reassured that I was actually really good at this nurturing woman thing. Ellie’s trusting gaze, her arms reaching up for me, the way that her parents trusted me to protect and care for her; all of this let me grow into this next phase of my life. It let me move past the grief and anger of my last year of teaching and find a place where I could once again embrace and accept my strengths along with my many weaknesses.

I loved being “Nonni” to my grandchild. I loved the way she looked at me, and the way she missed me when we were apart. I relied on her love and her acceptance as I settled into my retirement life.

And when her brothers were born, it was all of that time with Ellie that let me seamlessly move into my role as Nonni and daycare provider for all three of them.

Because of my time with Ellie, my house now contains more art supplies than any craft store. Due to the fact that I was totally smitten with her, we have three toy boxes, two Pack N’ Plays, a giant box of playdoh and and ten pounds of kinetic sand. We have bibs, and potty chairs and sippy cups and paint smocks.

When Ellie was born, I became the next generation of caregivers. I stepped in to support my daughter by letting her be a teacher while I changed her baby’s diapers and snuggled her girl to sleep.

So.

You can probably understand why I am feeling sad and proud and nostalgic and scared, all at once.

Ellie, my sweet next generation first baby, is about to finish kindergarten. She did this year through remote learning, so she has been here with me for a year longer than we had ever anticipated.

But this crazy, terrifying, upsetting year of Covid is finally winding down. Ellie is one short week away from finishing her kindergarten year. She has learned more than I could ever have predicted. She has gained confidence in her intellect, and is trusting her own ideas and her own voice. She has her own sense of style, and her own preferences in food, fashion, music and art.

She is ready, or more than ready, to take on her next big step in life.

She is ready to go off to first grade, to meet new friends, to learn a million new things, to grow into her own bright and spirited self.

And I am so happy for her.

And so incredibly sad for me.

My nest is beginning to empty once again. My beautiful little fledglings are getting ready to fly.

And it’s good. It is just as it should be.

And my heart hurts just as much as it did the last time I faced the sorrow of the empty nest.

Ah, life.

You really do break our hearts.

Perched on the Edge, and Scared to Move On.


For the fifth or sixth year in a row, my deck has become a haven for baby birds. We have had a phoebe nest under there for many years, her nursery built higher and higher each spring until this year I wonder how Mama manages to fit in under the boards.

This year, like last year, we also have a family of tiny robins who have hatched under the deck. Every morning when I pull up my bedroom shades, I see a couple of adult birds with mouths full of worms and beetles, standing along our fence and ready to fly to the kids with breakfast.

When I walk softly and carefully around to the back of the house, and peer up at the spiky little nests, I am filled with a sense of awe as I watch the impossibly tiny beaks opening and closing as they wait for the meal that they trust will be coming.

I love this time of year. I love the reminder that no matter what is happening in this deeply troubled human world, nature goes on and on. The robins don’t question the wisdom of reproduction; they simply follow their instincts. They sing, they mate, they nurture and they live.

I wish I had the same faith.

For humans like me, life seems to come in stages. At one moment we are the babies, dependent and faithful, secure in our nests and happy to wait for someone to feed us. In the next, we are expected to spread out inexperienced wings so that we can take to the sky and start our own journeys.

For birds, I imagine, this is a relatively simple process. They are born, they fledge, they find a mate and make a nest and repeat the process until death comes to take them off for a rest.

It isn’t so simple for us, though, is it?

I am at one of those “milestone” ages in the life of a human. The US government has decided that I have reached the level of “old human.” They have provided me with Medicare to take care of my expected old human ailments. My children are all grown up, with partners and nests and babies both planned and newly birthed.

If I were a bird, I’d be settled and secure and happy to perch on the fence. I’d be ready to let the seasons change and to die when my time came along.

Alas. I’m not a bird.

I’m only a human.

And I find myself perched on the edge of a new stage of life that leaves me both afraid and sad.

You see, unlike birds, we humans are filled with a sense of devotion to our parents that leaves us hopelessly tied to our pasts. It leaves us filled with dread and poignant sorrow as we watch our parents age into the next phase. It leaves us unprepared and insecure as we make the decisions that will shape the final days of those who have given us life.

We are not ready to make these choices. Nothing has prepared us for the need to feed and clothe and house our parents. Nothing has taught us how to bathe them and clean them and reassure them when they are confused.

The life of a human does not contain lessons on how to stop relying on the woman who advised us and supported us through our own long journeys into parenthood. It doesn’t set us up for the moment when we must admit to ourselves and to the world that our parent is no longer the one who holds the answers. It doesn’t show us how to embrace and support the generation before us even as we do our best to support the generations that have come after us.

I look up every morning at those tiny robin babies. I know that in only a week or so, they’ll be perched on the edge of that carefully crafted nest. I know that they will pull up those shaky wings and spread them toward the sky.

They’ll take a deep breath, I think, but they’ll know what to do.

They will fly.

I wish I could do the same. I wish I could find some kind of old-woman wings that would lift me gently over the deeply painful decision of where my Mom will spend the last days of her long life. I wish I knew how to fly out of this childhood nest, and how to fulfill my responsibilities as a human being to the one who gave me this life.

I stand on the edge of this next phase of life. But I am far too afraid to fly.

I Can Quit This Stuff Whenever I Want.


I know I’ve been on this medication for seven long years, and that it has melded itself right into my DNA. Sure. I know that.

I know that this stuff has eased all of the aches and pains of the fibromyalgia that had been slowing me down. It gave me some energy, that’s true. It helped me to sleep. And, you know, even though it’s prescribed for the fibromyalgia, it is actually an antidepressant.

So, ya know, it might or might not have made me a little more serene than I used to be.

I don’t know.

All I know is that as I wrote a while ago, I am ALL done with this liver pickling, dependence-creating Big Pharma non-hippy chemical answer to my problems.

I don’t need it.

I can quit any time.

Which is what I’m trying to do. Really carefully. And very slowly. Because the drug in question, “Cymbalta,” has it’s very own recognized syndrome. Yes, “Cymbalta Discontinuation Syndrome” is a thing.

Like, an actual, real medically recognized thing. Getting off this stuff is like quitting alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, Bridgerton and weed all in the same week. Or worse.

If you know me, you know that I am a big old baby when it comes to physical discomfort.

So I talked to my doctor, and we decided that I should reduce my dose from the 90 mg I’ve been taking for four years, and go down to 60 mg. I can’t cut it down more slowly because some genius in the marketing department at whichever big pharma company makes this stuff decided that it could only be made in dosages of 30 mg and 60 mg. And they’re not nice solid pills that a person could chop in half; it only comes in capsules full of tiny dots of magical poison. You can’t cut them in halves or fourths.

Eek.

I reduced my dose by 33% and hoped for the best.

And here I am, two weeks later, thinking “I CAN QUIT WHENEVER I WANT TO” and “HOLY ACHING EXHAUSTED BODY” at the very same time.

Sleep has become something of a joke, as I fall happily asleep somewhere around midnight now (instead of 9 pm). I sleep deeply until roughly 12:10, at which point I wake up to pee and remain awake for roughly two hours. I fall back to sleep around 2, wake up at 3, wake up again at 4, and then sleep well from 4 to 7.

(oh, I forgot to mention: yes, I have a medical marijuana card. Yes I use my edibles and now the occasional middle of the night vape. Nada.)

I lie awake and ache in ways that make me wonder how many nerves there actually are in a human neck and back and arms and legs and ribs and feet and jaws. So far neither my ears nor my nose is hurting, but I am expecting both to start up soon.

So all of this is hard.

But I can cope. The world has ice, heat, ibuprofen and menthol rub. I can cope.

Alas, there is one other teeny weeny issue that has made this withdrawal a bit challenging. That would be my experience with what the medical world refers to as “irritability.”

See, I’m getting pretty damn irritable.

I’ll give you a sample.

The other night my beloved husband (the clinical psychologist with a specialty in children and adolescents and more than 30 years of experience) came home from work. As usual, we chatted about our day over dinner.

I proudly explained to him how well I had handled a behavior issue with our 3 year old grandson and his older sister. I told him what I did, how I responded, feeling good about my ability to manage the emotional storms of young children.

My husband, bless his ignorant soul, made a casual comment about my choice of consequences for little Johnny. Now, mind you, he didn’t criticize my choice. Instead, he made a casual comment about the ways that he and I have approached the concept of “logical consequences.”

Honestly, I can’t even remember what he said.

All I know is that he made a comment and the next sound in the room was the roaring of blood through my head. My heart rate went from 70 to 400 in a nanosecond and sweat broke out under my gray hair.

The next ten minutes included poor Paul making attempted comments like, “No, I didn’t say…….” and “honey, maybe this isn’t a good time”.

For my part, I’m pretty sure there was a reference to the fact that he had NO FUCKING IDEA OF WHAT IT TAKES TO RAISE A CHILD because obviously our three kids were raised by me, single handedly. There was a comment about my decades as a teacher and his complete and total lack of any actual experience with kids at any point after 1981.

I have a vague recollection of promising to kill him dead and toss his body under a passing train.

Then I cried, ugly cried with the nasal snot and the hiccups and the drool, for about three hours.

Yup.

I’m (cough, cough) “irritable”.

Please pray for Paul. I will stay on this dose for another couple of weeks, but then I have to drop all the way down to 30 mg, a reduction of another 50%.

I may suggest that he move in with one of our kids for a couple of weeks.

You know what they told us back in our younger days, right? “Kids, don’t ever do drugs.”

On Being a Mom, Momma, Mammadukes, Ma, Momochka


Happy Mother’s day. Happy, joyful mother’s day to every woman who has carried a brand new tiny life inside of her own body. To every woman who has felt that first movement, sobbed over those painful rib-busting kicks, celebrated the rolling motion that assured her that her baby was alive.

Happy Mother’s day to every woman who has pushed a being the size of a grapefruit out of an orifice the size of a lemon. And to every woman who has endured the surgery, the stitches, the aching pain of a C-Section.

Wishing Mother’s Day love to every single woman on earth who has opened her heart and her arms to a baby through adoption, and who has made the deliberate and thoughtful choice to embrace and love that child forever.

Love and Happy Mother’s Day to every Aunt who has been there to talk, to listen, to advise and to guide even when the needy child is not “your own”. Love to those women who made it a point to appear at every sporting event, every concert, every elementary school play, and who always made that event so special.

Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers who are mourning the loss of beautiful children this weekend. To those who lost babies at birth, or who never even got that far. Love and sympathy and affirmation to those women who lost young children to illness or accident, to those who lost a teen to suicide or drugs or cancer or car crashes. Love to those who have lost young and vibrant adult children to the most inexplicable and unpredictable of events.

Happy Mother’s Day to every woman who has helped to raise a child. To the daycare staff, the teachers, the coaches, the scout leaders, the advisors and uplifters.

Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day to the neighbors to stopped the bullying. To the woman who delivers the mail every day with a smile and a wave and a special hello to the kids. And the same to the delivery folks who greet the kids and let them carry the packages to the door.

Happy, Happy Mother’s Day to the women who put up the solar panels, carrying tools on their shoulders as little children watched. The same to the women who provide the medical care to wide eyed young kids, and to the ones who author the books that they love, and a special shout out to those to write and perform the empowering music that inspires them.

Happy Mother’s Day!

A Happy, healthy, joyful Mother’s Day to every woman on this lovely planet who has helped to raise the next generation of humans.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a big band of loving women to raise a child in love and hope and power.

Happy, Happy Mother’s Day, to all of my fellow warrior women “Mammas”.

Surprised by Sadness


It’s spring. The sun is out for the first time in several days and the breeze is balmy, soft with fragrance, floating through the house.

I’m with my sweet grandson, who is snuggled on my lap, his cheeks full of the frozen waffle he’s using to ease his sore gums. He grins at me, and those dimples appear in his rosy cheeks.

There’s wonderful music on, an old playlist of my favorites.

So what’s with the tears that won’t stop leaking from my eyes?

I kiss Max’s head, then rest my cheek against his. He chortles at me, and pokes one chubby hand into my hair, where drool and waffle mingle as he shares his treasure.

I can’t stop crying.

I’ve been filled up with a pool of sadness that seems to have sprouted from nowhere.

In an effort to stop the flow, I sing along with the music. It’s the Birds of Chicago, an Americana/Roots group that we’ve been following with devotion for the past six years. We’ve been lucky enough to have gotten up close and personal with the musicians, and have shared several conversation and some hugs.

I love the Birds. Why am I crying?

Maybe part of my heavy heartedness is because the band is changing. Like many other artists before them, they’ve come to a point in their creativity where their focus has shifted. The brilliant lead singer is working on her solo career.

And that’s wonderful! I’ll buy all of her music, and follow her as she tours. I’m excited to see what she creates.

So why am I crying?

I think it’s because I didn’t get to say “goodbye”, as silly as that sounds. After seeing the band some 15 times, I wish I’d known that the last show I saw would be the end of my experience with them. I wish I’d celebrated all that they accomplished. I wish I had known what I was losing. I wish I had had a chance to cry then.

It’s a theme that echoes for me, this lack of a goodbye. My teaching career ended very suddenly, which meant that I didn’t get to honor and celebrate each of the “lasts” in my final year. I didn’t realize that the trip to Sturbridge Village would be my last field trip, or that the Halloween parade would be my last. I didn’t appreciate the poignance of my class’s last “pajama day” or the last laugh of that final April Fools Day.

We need to say our goodbyes to the parts of our lives that move on and change. We need to grieve for the old in order to embrace the new.

As I sniffled and sang along with the Birds of Chicago, I thought about all that the past year has taken from us.

The first day of kindergarten didn’t happen for my granddaughter. My son didn’t have the wedding he’d been planning. The end of a relationship meant the loss of a woman I’d come to love as one of our own family.

Restaurants closed. Music venues disappeared.

None of it came with a realization that it was happening, and none of it happened in a way that allowed for the emotional processing that usually goes with such change.

Covid took away our sense of security, too, and our misguided belief that we could control our own safety. It took away the closeness of many relationships; it took away the physical contact that, for me, has always been a part of every friendship.

We had the life before this pandemic. Now we have the life after it. I’m not sure that the old life was in every way the better life.

I just know that I wish I’d had a chance to say goodbye to it before it disappeared into history.

Finding Friends in Odd Places


So if you read my last post, you know that we are in the midst of having our kitchen renovated. Finally, after 20 years of planning and 10 years of yearning and 2 years of sheer desperation, we are having our kitchen renovated.

Huzzah!!!!

Naturally, being the overly dramatic Italian woman that I am, I have shed some tears over past memories. But now that the new clean, white, wide, sturdy cabinets are in, I’m feeling a whole lot better.

The process isn’t finished quite yet, as I have no counters and no sink, but it still looks a million times better than it did two weeks ago.

I’m delighted with my new space.

But the best part?

The guys who did the work are now three people we consider to be friends.

It’s funny. The crew who did this fabulous work are all blue collar, red voting, conservative GOP guys. One is a retired cop.

To get to our house, they had to turn in just past the rainbow flag. They parked their cars by the shed with the huge “BLACK LIVES MATTER” banner. They maneuvered past our cars with their “Millionaires Can’t Buy Bernie!” stickers and their “People’s Party” magnets.

The Chauvin trial was on TV while they were here, and I was watching it the whole time.

Should have been awkward to say the least, right?

But these three men were kind, thoughtful, funny and open minded. I gave them coffee, offered them lunch, laughed about getting in their way. They cleaned up every speck of dust they created, thanked me for letting them use the bathroom, and helped with more than one little issue that cropped up during the week.

We shared our opinions with honesty and respect. We laughed about our differences. At one point, I handed out cups of coffee and one of the guys said, “Jeez, who knew socialists could make such good coffee.” I kidded them that if they used the soap in my bathroom they’d turn into commies.

The man who owns the construction company brought his beautiful German Shepard with him every day. He told me that she’d be happy to stay in the truck while he worked, but I have a fenced in dog yard and two excitable young dogs. So every day for a week, that Shepard came into the yard and ran and played and chased with my dogs. The payoff, of course, was three tired and supremely happy dogs every night.

And on a few of the days, that same man brought his daughter with him to my house. At first he was hesitant, and promised that she’d only be there for a short time and that she had a backpack full of things to entertain herself. He said that she wouldn’t bother me.

Welp.

That wonderful young lady and I spent the better part of two full days together and it was the best part of my week. We went outside on a nature hunt. We painted. We sketched. She came with me to my violin lesson. We shared music, and played video games and ate lunch together. She was a shining light who brought me so much joy. I taught her how to say “I love you” in Russian and we hugged each other as we said it. She asked her Dad if she could come back to see me soon, and if I could be her babysitter once or twice.

With our arms around each other, we looked at her Dad, my contractor and simultaneously begged him “Please????”

Life if such a funny thing.

I am just about the most opinionated old lady around. I wear my heart and my thoughts on my sleeve. I regularly yell at the TV when the speaker says things that strike me as wrong.

But in my house, in my kitchen, surrounded by kind and loving humans, all of that political stuff falls away, and friendships bloom.

If only we could find a way to spread that into the wider world, huh?

Good Bye, Horrific Old Kitchen


So here’s the thing. We moved into this house 31 years ago this month. Back then, this was a reasonably nice 5 year old house with a cheaply made interior. The kitchen was basic, functional, not particularly beautiful. The countertops were laminate, the cabinets made of particleboard. There were plastic “lazy susan” shelves in both corners.

It was way better than the run down apartments we’d rented before, and more up to date than the kitchen in the one decent house we’d lived in earlier.

We had finally had our first child, and were awaiting our second. We had finally, finally, finally finished graduate school and scraped up enough money for a downpayment. We bought this house in a relatively rural small New England town.

At the time, I fell in love with all of it. I fell in love with the fact that this soil, these trees, this average American house, was all OURS.

To embrace an overused cliche, we definitely set down our roots here.

We have lived in this house long enough now to have replaced the floors, updated the paint, renovated the bathrooms and tamed the yard. We’ve turned the cellar into a cozy playroom. We’ve raised three kids here. We take care of our three grandkids here.

It’s a nice house.

Except that the kitchen has gone from basic to disgusting. The cabinets are filthy and uncleanable. One shelf is actually held up by a book. The laminate counters are cracked, peeling, burned, dirty and faded.

Don’t even get me started on the floor.

Or the 35 year old kitchen light that was cheap when it was bought way back when.

So.

At long last, after having saved for years, our kitchen is about to be totally renovated. New floors, new sink, new lights, brand new paint job. Brand new white, shiny cabinets and drawers and a specially designed spice cabinet just for my giant spice collection!

Finally, after more than four decades of marriage, I am about to have a trendy, fashionable kitchen with white tile backsplash, brushed nickel appliances and even a special slide out drawer for trash and recycling.

This is a life changer for me!

So you would imagine me dancing the happy dance all around, wouldn’t you?

Well. I am dancing. A lot.

I have danced my way through pulling apart every drawer, every shelf, every cabinet in my kitchen. I have danced through donating a dozen boxes of “what the hell is this” and I have danced through weeks of reorganizing junk drawers and plastic storage items.

But now everything is empty.

And now my inner sappy-soft-hearted-ridiculous old woman is breaking through.

Last night my long suffering husband found himself faced with a wife who was finally getting her one big wish. A brand new kitchen! And that wife was sobbing and moaning, in spite of the updates ahead.

“Oh, honey,” I sobbed to poor Paul. “There are so many memories in this old kitchen!”

“This was the corner where our baby girl sat and played ‘LightBrite’ on the day we passed papers on this house!” Our Kate was only four, and the house was cold and empty. But we signed the contracts and we came here and set her up at a little table to play as we looked through our new house. On that cold April day, that kitchen looked like the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.

“Remember when we had the little picnic table here?”, I asked as I wiped my nose. “I can see our three kids here having lunch.” One of my favorite pictures of them was taken in this spot, at that funny plastic table. I could close my eyes and picture the neighbor kids here, too. Chrissy and her brother Nick, grinning with my kids. And sweet Alex, our dear Alex, who died far too soon. This corner was where they laughed and snacked and argued and grew. And were I watched over them as they did it all.

Paul wasn’t sure what was making me so weepy, but when I turned to the cracked plastic of the spinning corner cabinet, he understood.

These two words, written in Sharpie on our old shelf, brought both of us back to the days when our kids were young.

I could remember the night when I wrote those words. The kids were just old enough to come home from school by themselves, and to spend two hours at home before I got here. One day I came home with groceries and as I went to put them away, I realized that most of what I had bought the week before to provide lunches and snacks for school had been eaten by the home-without-Mom crowd.

So after complaining and griping at the kids, I put the food into the cabinet and wrote the words on the shelf. “School food!!!!!” was strictly off limits to the crew. It became a source of argument, negotiation and many jokes for the next several years.

I had forgotten all about it until the moment when I was emptying everything out for our renovation.

And I was suddenly pulled back to all the meals, all the birthday cakes, all the brunches, all the holidays, all the batches of virus busting soups of the past three decades.

And I cried. A lot.

Tomorrow these old, busted, broken, dirty cabinets will be torn out and tossed into the dumpster. The floor will come up and the appliances will be moved. In a couple of weeks, I’ll step into the kitchen of my dreams.

I’ll be happy. I’ll be delighted!

But I will always be a little bit nostalgic for the crappy old place where I cooked a million meals for the people I love so much.