A Lesson From Moana’s Grandma


My mother died last week, the night before Thanksgiving. She lived a long and very full life, and she left that life reluctantly.

Mom was a practicing Catholic, so my family grew up with the typical Catholic imagery of life and death. Heaven or Hell and all that. In her very last days, Mom was unsure of what was coming. She expressed her doubts that she’d really be reunited with our Dad, who was the love of her life for over six decades. She worried that her death would be a true ending, and she held on tenaciously to every fading breath.

It made me incredibly sad to hear her.

**********************************************************************************************************

Yesterday I spent the day with my grandsons. I hadn’t seen them for 10 days, the time of our vigil by Mom’s bedside. Both had been sick, as had their Mom and sister. They were in COVID quarantine, and as I grieved for my Mother, I missed all of them terribly.

So I was filled with relief and joy to have them here yesterday, although I worried that my sadness and my distracted mind might bother them.

I should have known better.

My little Johnny, all of four and a half years of wisdom, was working on a puzzle of the “Polar Express.” I was sitting with his baby brother on my knee, just watching the puzzle master at work. Suddenly, Johnny asked me,

“Is Great Grandma a spirit now?”

“Yes,” I answered. “She is.”

“But, what is her spirit?”

“What do you mean, honey?”

“What is it? What is her spirit?”

“I don’t know,” I answered as truthfully as I could. “You can’t see it. It’s the part of Great Grandma that loves us. It’s still around us.”

This seemed a bit too metaphysical for such a young child, but I wasn’t sure how to proceed. My daughter and her family don’t go to church, nor do we. I know that the kids have talked about life and death. I know that they have looked at and thought about the deaths of birds and salamanders and other animals. They’ve been through the death of their family dog.

But I didn’t know how much of the “invisible spirit” idea a four-year-old could grasp. I didn’t want him thinking of ghosts.

Johnny never stopped placing his puzzle pieces. He never even looked up at me.

He just said one thing before I broke down in tears and he came to give me a hug.

“Nonni,” he said. “I think her spirit is you now. I think it’s you.”

***********************************************************************************************************

It was later in the day, as we were eating a snack, that I asked Johnny what he thought about spirits. He thought for a minute, then looked up at me seriously.

“Remember Moana’s Grandma? She turned into a spirit of a ray.”

That was all this sweet, wise little soul needed to know. He wasn’t thinking of Heaven or Hell or worthiness or sins. He was thinking that he’d learned everything he needed to know about spirits from one Disney movie.

Call me crazy, but I am so happy to think that my strong, powerful, smart Momma is out there somewhere in sparkling spirit form. Maybe she is a spirit cat, like her precious kitty Tess. Maybe she is an octopus, so fitting for our “pulpi” eating Sicilian family.

Or maybe, just maybe, her spirit really is me.

I don’t know yet.

But I know that Johnny has taken a valuable lesson from one sweet movie. He doesn’t fear death, because even at his tender age, he understands that spirits go on and that death is not goodbye.

This, if you ask me, is the most perfect belief a human could have.

My Surprising Reaction to the Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict.


I have been home lately, at loose ends some days. I have had extra time on my hands.

So I’ve watched and listened to a lot of the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse and also the McMichaels trial. I have learned quite a bit about the American legal system, about the laws that govern many of our states and cities and about our American relationship with violence.

As a confirmed lefty, of course my initial reaction to the Rittenhouse trial was one of pure outrage. I believed with every fiber of my soul that he was guilty of murder and should be sentenced to jail.

And that goes triple for the actions of the men who chased down an unarmed Ahmaud Arbery and killed him for trying to protect himself from their loaded guns.

I watched both trials with all of the ingrained beliefs of a good progressive left wing activist.

I have two Black Lives Matter flags on my property. I have a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker on my car. I have been a slightly socialist voter since the 1970s.

But in the past couple of weeks I have learned some things, and I’ve changed my mind a lot in terms of Kyle, if not the McMichaels.

I learned that in spite of the assurances from my lefty news sources and social media contacts, Kyle Rittenhouse’s Mom did not drive him across state lines with a loaded AR15. She didn’t drop him off in a riot zone.

I also learned that in the state of Wisconsin, people routinely carry loaded weapons around town. I learned that in Wisconsin, it’s illegal for a minor to purchase an assault weapon like an AR15, but it is not clear that it’s illegal for that same child to own or to use that gun.

I learned that the conservative part of our country honestly believes that the surest sign of patriotism is to grab your gun and head out into the streets to stop those “bad guys with guns.”

So I’m thinking.

At the tender age of 17, a boy in Wisconsin is not allowed to vote. He’s not allowed to buy himself a beer. He is not considered an adult, and can’t sign a contract, consent to medical treatment or ask to be emancipated from his parents.

Why not, you ask?

Because medical science, and neurological research, shows that adolescents do not have brains that are developed enough for them to make logical decisions about their lives. Science understands that the adolescent brain is impulsive, disorganized and deluded into believing that its owner is immortal.

So why do the adults who make our laws allow those same immature brain owners to carry loaded weapons into dangerous situations?

I’m not excusing the reprehensible actions of Kyle Rittenhouse. In my view, carrying a loaded weapon is proof that you want to shoot someone. Sorry, but that seems obvious to me.

But that doesn’t convince me that Kyle should be in jail.

I do NOT want to see even one more young life lost to the endless gun violence in this country. I can’t see any way that any good could come from putting this kid in jail. He would have become a martyr to the right. An immature, pudgy, gun toting martyr.

No lives would have been saved.

No lessons would have been learned.

Instead, it is my deepest wish that the law makers at every level of this country walk up to the nearest mirror. I want them to look into that mirror and I want each and every one of them to ask this question: “What the hell do we think is going to happen when we allow every man, woman and teen in this country to drag around a loaded weapon? What do we think is going to occur when we let hidden, loaded guns be brought into bars, restaurants and churches? Why do we act shocked when people with loaded guns end up shooting each other?”

I am angry about the deaths that happened in Kenosha. I am disgusted, and appalled and horrified.

But I don’t hold one stupid, meat-headed kid responsible.

WE, in this country, WE have allowed ourselves to live in a nation where weapons of war are bought and sold by people who have no training and no experience. WE have allowed our teens to buy these weapons because, in the words of Kyle Rittenhouse, they look “cool.”

WE have allowed our elected officials to air campaign ads in which they hold those same “cool” guns while threatening anyone who has a different point of view. WE have voted for people who brag about murdering their colleagues.

I am disgusted. I am scared. I am in shock.

But I don’t think putting the blame on one idiotic kid is the solution to the mess in which we find ourselves.

We need to look into our own mirrors.

Tonight I Had to Make the Cutlets


Nana style cutlets

My mother is in her last days. She has had a good, long life, filled with struggles and triumphs, as are the lives of all who are lucky.

This has been a difficult journey for her, as she has very, very slowly lost her strength of body, but never her strength of heart.

I am sad. I feel helpless to ease her on her way. I am blessed, and I know it, because I am surrounded by my loving siblings and because I have a chance to tell Mom how much I love her and what a good Mom she has been.

Still, I feel deeply sad that I can’t find the right way to honor her.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

I woke up this morning in my own snug bed. As I slowly rose to consciousness, I remembered a dream. A very vivid dream of my Nana, my Mother’s mother. In the dream, Nana was serving us dinner, as she did thousands of times in my life. She made chicken cutlets, in her special Italian way.

I woke up with the taste of those delicious cutlets in my mouth, and the determination to make them today in my heart.

Because I am something of a food hoarder, and a patron of our local farms, my freezer is well stocked with fresh and local meats. I got up early and took a package of chicken breasts out to defrost.

The day went on as usual, and I was busy taking care of my two little grandsons. There was playdoh and hallway soccer and trucks and more superheroes than I can count.

But as the afternoon wore on, I decided that I wanted to enlist the boys in the preparation of my “Nana cutlets”.

So the boys helped me to slice the chicken breasts, to pound them (18-month-old Max was particularly thrilled with this part), and to bread and fry them.

As the chicken simmered, I talked to the kids about Nana. I used the few little Italian phrases that I know. I told the silly story of the way that Nana would call us in for lunch by yelling something that I thought was in English.

“Come in, fill your belly” is what I heard.

It was many years later that I realized she was saying, “Come in, figli belli!” She was calling us her ‘beautiful children”, but we didn’t understand that.

I smiled to myself today, looking at my own “figli belli” and making cutlets with them. I loved the way that my Nana’s memory was shaping my day with the kids.

And after the boys went home, I looked at my leftover flour, bread crumbs, and egg/milk combination. I didn’t need any of it, and would normally have thrown it all out. But then I remembered Nana. I had a clear and wonderful memory of her standing at her stove, frying the cutlets.

When all of the chicken was gone, and only the coatings were left, Nana used to make a little pancake out of them. She would mix it all with a fork, and pour it into the hot olive oil. Then she’d mix it up in the pan, and gently flip it over to form a crispy little something that she let her little grandchildren eat.

Nana called it something that sounded to us like “Bishy woh-woh.”

It was DELICIOUS.

“Bishy woh-woh”

Once again, it took me many years and several classes in Italian to realize that this wonderful leftover treat, given as a gift to the grandkids, was actually called “pesce uova”, or “fish eggs”.

I love the history of this little dish. I love using my Nana’s recipes, although none are written and all are stored in my aging head. I love sharing this food, this love, with my grandchildren, just as Nana shared them with us.

I love that tonight, as Mom is readying herself to cross through the veil and join her parents on the other side, I love that tonight my grandkids helped me to make Nana’s cutlets. And that we will eat “Bishy woh-woh” with our dinner.

I pray that my dream means that Nana is close and that she is reaching out to Mom. Reaching out to bring Mom home.

I pray that one day one of my grandchildren will wake up from a vivid dream, and will make some special meal that they remember from their time with me.

Those Who Bring Gifts


Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash

When I was a child, I thought that gifts were something tangible. I believed that they came in boxes, and were carefully wrapped in shiny paper, with bows attached. Just the other day, I told my little grandson that I was giving a gift certificate to his Dad for his birthday.

“No, Nonni,” he said, “Presents have to be wrapped! You have to open them and they have to have wrapping paper.”

I smiled. And I hugged him and assured him that I would carefully place the gift card in a “real” birthday card which I would decorate.

But for the past few days, I’ve been thinking.

One of the things that the pandemic has taught me is that the world is filled with gifts and that many of them come from the people around us, whether or not they are wrapped in ‘shiny paper’.

I’ve been looking back on my 65 years of life, and I’ve been recognizing those gifts.

I am thinking about the girl who was my very first “best friend” in the world. She lived right next door to me, and we went to kindergarten together. I remember that I loved her very blue eyes. I loved her creativity. When I was too timid to make up good stories, Patti pretended that the big lilac bush between our houses was a rocket ship, and we were heading off to space. I can still remember the thrill I felt, way back in 1961, pretending to be inside a rocket on its way to the “atmosphere”.

Patti was a key part of my life for the next few decades. Her gifts included some adventures in hiking and swimming, some moments of getting into a little bit of trouble, and some serious laughter that I can still recall.

Those were gifts. I didn’t necessarily see them that way at the time, but in my elder years, I see them for what they were.

And I’m thinking of my old friend, Sue. My first school buddy. Sue was fascinating to me from the very first time we met. She had flaming red hair, pale white skin and freckles, a beauty mark that this Italian American yearned to share.

Sue was the best reader in our grade. She was smarter than anyone I knew. She and I used to walk to the town library and come out with stacks of good books. We’d sit on the wall outside of the old building, with a pile of snacks beside us, reading “The Black Stallion Mysteries.”

Sue introduced me to the “Hobbit” and then to “The Lord of the Rings”. These books changed my life, ignited my love of words and provided solace for me through the next five decades of life.

Sue gave me more gifts than I can count.

And I am remembering the family that hosted me when I became an exchange student in 1973. I was sent from my safe, middle-class, Catholic family in Massachusetts to the wilds of North Africa and into the arms of a family in Kairouan, Tunisia. A family that turned out to be a safe, middle-class, Muslim family in a beautiful city.

The gifts given to me in my three short months with them are uncountable. The gift of understanding. The gift of acceptance. The gifts of new and wonderful foods, a new and beautiful language, new music, new art, new ideas. The gift of realizing that this is in fact a very small world and that we all share it.

A gift that came back to me many many years later in the person of an unknown cousin in Italy, who welcomed me and my family into his home with love and food and laughter. A cousin who answered my apologies for bursting in on them unannounced with the statement that “Tutto il mondo è una famiglia”. All the world is one family.

A gift. Right?

I think of the many, many gifts given to me by my students.

The child who told me, “You’re kind of a weird teacher. You really like the boys.”

The child who said, “It makes me happy to look at your eyes.”

And the one who said, “You are a very funny lady.”

I think of the lessons they taught me, about how to be fair. How to be kind. How to support without judgment.

And I think of the many, many gifts given to me by their parents.

Sure, some of those were tangible gifts, like the necklace of silver beads that read “Teach, Inspire, Love”. But there were many more intangible gifts given by these parents. The book about “Social Stories” that helped me to help my students with autism. The Mom who gave me a book of math challenges to support my above grade level students. The parents who sent me messages when my father died early in the school year and I had to take some time off. The families who thanked me and those who challenged me to do better.

I remember one child who told me that my attempts at humor made him uncomfortable. “You like to say, ‘Because I am she who must be obeyed. I really don’t like that.” And the little girl who asked me to stop saying, “Oh, my God!” because her religion found it offensive.

These were things that helped me to grow.

They were gifts.

They all were gifts that have helped me to build the person, the woman, the mom, the teacher that I believe myself to be.

Gifts do not always come in shiny paper. They don’t always have ribbons or cards. Some of them prick a bit when you get them. Some go sailing right over your head for a few decades.

But every act of sharing, every act of trust, is a real and true gift.

I am so grateful to be the recipient of so many lovely presents.

What On Earth Did the Latest Election Teach Us?


Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Well, here we go again, fellow US voters. Every two years, one political party shocks us all by beating the other party in a bunch of races. Every damn time, the “majority party” was projected to win by a landslide, but voters turned on them for some inexplicable reason!

“How could this happen?” political pundits ask in hushed tones. “What is the message for the party in power this time around?”

Oh, heavens to Betsy, what could it possibly mean!?

Does party A need to be more aggressive? Does party B need to be more empathetic? Should the party bosses take a tiny little step to the left? Should they boogie to the right? Is it all about being a “centrist” instead of a “radical”?

Whichever of the two parties has pulled out the win this time is the one that gets to brag about “saving democracy” and “protecting the rights of working people.” Whichever one got the foot in the face this time gets to practice the epic sport of “spinball” by promising that “the American people will see that we are the good guys any minute now.”

Puh-leeze.

I have a completely different explanation for why the American political system (a phrase I use with a sense of irony) swings back and forth every two years like a tire swing on an old oak tree.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

This year the R’s dealt a blow to the D’s. In two years, the D’s will shock the hell out of the R’s. Back and forth we will go, from one to the other and back again. And the airwaves will be filled with the deep thoughts of countless historians, news reporters, and pollsters, trying to predict what in the world is going on in the hearts of the voters.

Here’s what I think.

I think that this whole situation reminds me of my first job after graduate school. I was doing speech/language therapy with small groups of preschoolers. Our little school was located in a small, scruffy city. There weren’t a lot of places to go for lunch, especially given the short time we had off and the salaries of preschool teachers.

My coworkers and I usually brought out lunches to work, but once a week, we would treat ourselves to a take-out meal.

Yay us.

There we’d be, every Friday, ready to have a treat. We’d discuss our choices with hunger-fueled excitement.

“Should we get a burger at Bell’s Place,” I’d ask my friends? “Or would you guys rather go to Ming’s?”

“Well, last week we ate at Ming’s,” one of us would say. “And it was OK, but it wasn’t that great.”

So off we’d go to Bell’s for the burger and fries.

A week later, the same conversation would come around, and one of us would say, “I had heartburn after we ate at Bell’s last week. How about Ming’s this time?”

You get the picture, right?

We needed to eat. We wanted to go out for a treat. But because of our location and our jobs, we were limited to two choices. Both were OK, but neither was great. Both were food, but neither was a gourmet meal.

So we would ping back and forth, never completely happy, and always looking for a change.

That’s what I see in the current political reality of this country. I see a bunch of tired, hungry, slightly aggravated voters who are bouncing back and forth between one heartburn-inducing choice and another. Neither is actually interested in governing because both are focused on outmaneuvering the other. Neither is what we want, and neither is actually good for us. But we know we need to pick one or the other, so we keep dithering back and forth.

Like the majority of voters now, I am registered as an Independent. I don’t send my precious dollars to either “team”. I’m a liberal, a lefty, a progressive, but I’ve been voting since the 1970s and I’ve learned a few things.

Neither of the two “real” political parties is going to provide universal healthcare to the people of this country, in spite of the fact that the rest of the world is aghast at that fact. Neither will make sure that we have a well-educated population across all socio-economic groups. They won’t demand clean water or clean air and they won’t change the way business is done even if that would mean securing the survival of the human species.

Both have learned to point fingers at each other. Both have learned the script needed to induce just enough fear of the “other side” to keep us hoping that this time something will change.

I’m here to tell you that as long as our choice is either the greasy burger or the limp egg rolls, we are never going to see any improvement. We need to either resign ourselves to a life of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or we need to organize and bring in a decent restaurant where we can get a healthy meal that actually gives us what we need and want.

What do you plan to do?

Playing “The Shell Game”


Photo by Olmes Sosa on Unsplash

I don’t remember the moment when I first learned The Shell Game. It may have been when I was at an orientation weekend with other young American exchange students in June of 1973. It may have happened when I was with my Tunisian family, celebrating the beauty of summer at one the many beaches along the coast of that gorgeous Mediterranean country.

I don’t know for sure.

All I know is that I have memories of happily scooping sand into my palm, forming a small dugout hole on the beach. I would repeat the motion over and over, forming two parallel lines of holes, six on each side. At the ends of the rows, a larger hole was scooped out, forming a kind of collecting space to hold the shells each player had won.

I clearly recall feeling the soft, shining sand as it poured out of my hand. I feel as if I am back there on a hot summer day. I feel the bright pressure of the sun on the back of my neck, like a blessing hand. I hear the waves and smell the briny sting of the gentle breeze.

The game was played by putting four little shells into each of the twelve sandy holes. I’d be playing with one other person, and I can picture each of the smiling faces from that long ago adventure. My Tunisian sisters and brother. The other young American kids who were there with me that summer. I don’t know for certain how may of them played “The Shell Game” with me, or what we called it in either Arabic or French. I just remember that for me the game was a unique and wonderful part of my first travel experience. For me, it was a part of Tunisia.

When I returned to the US after three months with my Tunisian family and friends, I rarely played the Shell Game. I think I tried to teach it to some of my local friends, but it wasn’t the same on the shores of the Atlantic, and I put it back into its place in my memory. I rarely thought about it any more.

So it was with a great deal of surprise some years ago that I stumbled upon the game “Mancala” in the school where I was teaching. In one way I was happy to see my game again, but in another it felt as if I’d lost something special. If anyone could buy a wooden board version of my beloved sunny shell game, was my memory still unique and special? I felt as if those deeply visceral sensory memories had faded into pale and commonplace versions of themselves.

Mancala

But something wonderful happened last week, as it so often does in my absurdly lucky life.

I was playing with my little grandson, Johnny. At the age of four, John is learning all about game strategy. If you’ll permit a bit of grandmotherly bragging, I’ll tell you that this little boy is already mastering the planning needed to win at both Tic-Tac-Toe and Checkers. He beats me at both on a regular basis.

So when he wanted something new to learn to challenge his Nonni, he pulled out a Mancala board that had been stored in my closet. We set up the board and I explained the game to Johnny. We played one round very slowly, carefully counting out the shining stones that were in the set instead of the shells I remembered.

After one round, it seemed that Johnny was ready to get serious. He played with a determination and sense of joy that made me smile to myself with pride. I won a game, but he won the next. As we settled in for another competitive round, I looked at my beautiful boy. He was up on his knees, with one hand pressed to the dining room table, holding himself up above the board. His dark brown hair was curled over his ears and forehead. His shining dark eyes were fixed on the colorful stones as he carefully counted each step.

I saw his small hand, curved into the shape of a scoop, holding the stones as he moved each one along the board. And something about the way he bent his fingers to scoop up the little treasures suddenly transported me from my home in cool Massachusetts to a glorious beach filled with sunlight. Something about the tender shape of his neck took me back to the sight of my young friends. Something about the joy of that moment was a collapsing of time that put me right back into the joy of those long ago days.

I grinned at Johnny.

“I love this shell game!” I said happily.

“It’s a stone game,” he answered simply as he scooped out a pile and carefully counted them out for the win.

Go Gentle Into That Sweet Night


Photo by Altınay Dinç on Unsplash

You are a fierce warrior. You have stood up straight and strong for all of your nine decades of life.

You are powerful. You were the first warrior woman I ever knew. You stood up for yourself when the Catholic Church told you to stay quiet and obedient. You stood with your hands on your hips when the schools told you to send your girls out into the snow wearing skirts.

You have never backed down, even when the idea of standing up made your hands shake.

But.

You are a tired warrior now. I think that you have fought all of your battles, and I think that you have nothing left to prove.

You have raised a troop of healthy, happy children. You have watched your grandchildren grow and thrive and multiply.

I think that your journey is complete.

In my loving daughter’s heart, I think that you have earned your turn to rest.

I stand outside tonight, under the Hunter’s Moon. I breathe in the crisp scent of the dying year. The gentle exhalation of the oak leaves, the wet smooth smell of the soil, the bitter scent of fallen seeds. I pull them into myself. I hold my breath.

I think of you.

I think of how fiercely you are holding on to this life.

I wish that I could tell you that your work here is done. You have earned your gentle rest. You have been a loving wife, a supportive mother, a loyal friend. You have done enough. You have been both good and worthy.


“Please go gentle into that good night,

Old age should sigh and smile at close of day;

Embrace, embrace the dying of the light.

And you, my mother, there on the proud height,

Bless, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Please go gentle into that good night.

Embrace, embrace the glowing of the light.”

You can, if you choose, let go.

Strange, Sweet Memories


Photo by Mats Hagwall on Unsplash

I am at my mother’s house today. This is the house where I grew up. The house where I learned to read. To write. To understand math.

This is the house in which I learned what it meant to be a member of a family. I was one of six children here. One of a group. I was part of a team.

Today I am here, having lunch with my Mom. She is old now. She doesn’t remember much. Her spirit is still here, still strong and still powerful. But she is only a shadow of the Mom I knew when I was young.

I stand in the kitchen. My arms are crossed. I look out the kitchen window.

I remember.

This was once the spot where I stood observing the power of my Mother. I stood here. She stood at the stove, apron around her waist, spatula in hand.

This is the spot where I stood and watched as the meatballs were browned. Where the sauce was stirred. Where the chicken was sauteed and the stew was simmered.

I stand in the kitchen.

I look out the window, across the yard. I see the aging shed as it now stands, and I see the slightly overgrown garden that sprawls across what used to be our lawn.

But I don’t see today. I don’t see the aging of this yard, of this land, of this house.

For some inexplicable reason, as I stand in this small spot, I see one small memory from my childhood. I see it clearly. I feel it in the skin of my feet. I smell it. I hear the sound of that one afternoon.

When I was a child, my identity was largely shaped by the ethnicity of my grandparents.

We were Italians.

We were a part of that land. A part of that heritage.

We honored our Italian heritage.

So. As a part of that shared experience, my Grandfather Giuseppe took all of us to the beach. I remember it as if it had happened an hour ago. My Grampa leading the way across the rocky outcroppings, bucket in hand. I remember following each of his steps. He lead us across the rocks, down toward the tidal pools.

I remember the smell and the feel of the slippery green weeds, and how it felt to lift them up. I remember the feel of the small snails clustered on the rocks under the weeds. I remember, so very clearly, how it felt to pull them up and plop them into my bucket.

This was joy. This was summer. This was food. This was family.

We used to gather up buckets of “periwinkles” and bring them home to eat. We felt that we were a part of the earth, a part of the sea, as we’d capture our tiny prey and place them in our small beach pails.

It was magic.

But it was everyday life, too.

So today, as I stood in my Mom’s kitchen, a half a century past the last time I stood here with a pail full of sea snails, I felt my heart melting and pounding in equal measure.

I stood there in our kitchen. I looked out the kitchen window.

I didn’t see the overgrown yard or the falling shed.

Instead, I saw my young and tender self, seated on an old wooden picnic table, a shining silver pin in my hand. I watched myself laughing as I used the straight pin to spear a tender morsel of seafood and pop it into my mouth.

And I felt the salty, briny, sandy bite of that little snail. I felt the sun beating down on the back of my neck. I remembered the laughter of my siblings, and I saw the smile of my Grampa, watching us as we ate these tiny sea creatures.

Today I stood in my mother’s kitchen. I looked out into the backyard. I felt the sand gritting between my teeth. I felt the warm laughter of my Grandfather as he helped me gather a bucket full of food.

I stood still.

I remembered the sound of the little shells as they fell at our feet. I remembered the way that that the tiny “doors” would stick to the soles of our sandy feet after we had eaten our fill.

I remembered.

There is joy and purpose and meaning in the smallest of moments.

Today I remembered the feeling of the periwinckles on my tongue.

Tonight I wonder what small and tender moments my own grandchildren will take from having known me.

Loving A Grandchild


(Baby Ellie as a newborn)

He is only 18 months old, this youngest member of our family. He is barely tall enough to peek out the front window when a car goes by.

He was born with twisted feet, and needed a lot of support to get up and walking. He wears the boots and bar at night, after a full year of wearing them day and night for months after his scary mid-pandemic birth.

But he is strong. He climbs on every available surface, moving chairs across the room so he can turn on lights and ceiling fans. He jumps, he rides his little train, he hops on and off the couch.

He is sweetly unaware that he had a difficult start on his journey toward mobility.

He doesn’t talk yet, but he points and gestures and makes the most intensely purposeful funny faces. Everyone knows exactly what it is that he is saying, even without a real word being uttered.

My grandson. My youngest grandchild.

There were moments before his birth where I honestly asked myself, “How can I possibly love this third child as deeply and intensely as I love his older siblings?” It didn’t seem possible to me; it truly didn’t. I had fallen so deeply in love with his older sister, even before she was born. She was our first grandchild, and I was still reeling from the sadness of my emptied nest.

She came into our lives; I retired from teaching to become her daily nurturing caregiver and I was filled with purpose and joy and a depth of love that shocked me to my core.

When her brother was born less than two years later, I was once again swept up in love and excitement. This little guy was added to my daily life and nothing could have made me happier. I was the delighted Nonni of two perfect little charges.

I hoped and trusted that I’d love this third one just as much; but before I met him, I wasn’t sure that would be possible.

But you know what? Even as I thought those traitorous thoughts, I remembered how I’d wondered the very same thing as I carried my own third child within my body. As a fertility patient, a struggling momma wanna-be, I had been intensely invested in the gestations of my first two children. There had been medications, injections, high-tech interventions….but we’d finally had our first two children. A girl and a boy. What could be more perfect?

So when at last I found myself pregnant with my deeply wanted but easily conceived third child, I wondered if I’d be able to love him with the same depth of emotion that I’d felt for his siblings. Without that sense of desperation, would he mean as much to me?

Then he was born. Easily, happily, more gently born that my older two, this one came to us with a smile and a sense of humor.

I adore all three of my kids, but my third was far easier to love than I’d feared.

He was my boy. My baby. My funny, silly, goofy, gentle loving son.

So when our little Max, our third grandchild, was born, I reminded myself to think of my own third child. I reminded myself that love has a way of working into our hearts when we can’t fully predict it.

And of course, of course, I was right.

Tonight we hosted a dinner for our kids. Our third child, our funny young Tim, came for dinner with his brand-new wife, a woman we’ve loved for years. I pulled my boy into my arms and was filled with the awareness of just how much I still love this wonderful kind young man. He was still my easy boy, my gift, my son.

I stepped back, and let him go to hug his Dad.

And my legs were suddenly encircled by two little arms. I looked down toward my knees. And grinning up at me, with eyes full of love, was our little Max. His dimples echoed those of his Uncle. His grin was just as delightful and just as full of joy.

I looked into his eyes, much darker than his Uncle’s, but matching those of his Mom and Dad. I reached down and lifted him into my arms. He leaned his cheek against mine, chuckled, and murmured, “yeah, ah, yeah.”

And I had to ask myself: why on earth would I have ever questioned just how much love I’d have for any little one who comes into my life?

I don’t know.

All I know is this: I may be foolish, but I am far beyond blessed.

Pruning My Way to Mental Health


Photo by Yoksel 🌿 Zok on Unsplash

About fifteen years ago, we put a chain link fence around a section of our yard. We’d finally gotten ourselves a puppy, and it had taken no time at all for him to convince us that if we didn’t have a fence, we’d have a happy hound dog rambling around the neighborhood chasing every chipmunk in sight.

He was not going to stay in place unless we fenced him in.

So that’s exactly what we did.

It was a good move, puppy-wise, but that fence was less than attractive. I didn’t like the ugly steel look of the fence around what had once been our son’s baseball field.

So I did what any frugal gardeners would do. I looked at what plants were already thriving in our yard, hoping for some transplants. I planted a nice little row of forsythia babies along the fence. They were free. They were super easy to grow. Their deep roots kept the dog from digging out, and the yellow flowers and arching branches of the bushes gave a new level of beauty to our mostly wild yard.

For the first five years or so, I was able to completely ignore the bushes as they grew.

After that, I learned to prune them a bit each early summer, in an effort to keep them from becoming overgrown.

But the dog got older, and eventually crossed that rainbow bridge. The little pups that came after him enjoyed the fenced yard, and the forsythia grew by leaps and bounds.

My back got older, my bones got achier, and the once lovely arches of my forsythia grew through the fence, and sent ever taller branches up toward the sky.

My yard felt increasingly out of control.

This morning I looked out there, and felt my anxiety rising.

EVERYTHING in my life feels out of control these days. Literally everything. This was simply one more item that I could not tame.

For a few minutes, I stood gazing out the window. The news was on, the Sunday morning blathering causing my heartbeat to increase even more.

I couldn’t take it another minute.

I took a deep breath and a long drink of water, then headed outside to the yard. Clippers in hand, I approached the giant row of tangled limbs. I had to tilt my head all the way back just to see the top branches.

I reached into the middle of the first bush, and blindly started to cut. I snipped and pulled and wrangled, piling each chopped branch onto a growing pile.

I was not careful. I was not subtle, or thoughtful, or mindful as I hacked into the wall of tangled green.

My muscles hurt, and my back maintained a steady beat of complaint. But I felt GOOD.

I had taken control. This was MY yard, dammit, and these were MY plants. I could hack them right to the ground if I chose to.

As I clipped and cleared, it occurred to me that I had become the Prince in Sleeping Beauty, faced with a giant wall of overgrown roses and thorns.

Like the Prince in that old classic, I was wielding my sword against an overgrown and thickly tangled mass of vegetation. I felt that I was facing an enemy.

OK, I wasn’t fighting actual thorns, but my arms were definitely getting scratched by the branches. The deeply tangled limbs were doing their best to push me out.

And while I wasn’t in pursuit of a sleeping Princess, I was in search of a sense of empowerment. My Sleeping Beauty was my suddenly dormant sense of control over the key parts of my life.

So I hacked and I slashed and I chopped. I unwound branches from the coils of the fence. I piled more and more branches into the pile of brush that we hope to burn in the winter.

I sweated, and I cursed and I thought, “I am pruning you out of my life, stupid social media posts.” I thought about my constant need to monitor the news as I cut down a giant chunk of wood. “Take that, stupid CNN!” I said it out loud as the huge lump of brush fell at my feet. “Go away, idiot elected officials who think we’re all stupid!”

I may have shouted that last one as I clipped back one twisted limb. I was picturing the image of an actual elected Congressperson using a giant gun to blow up a car labeled “socialism”.

My rage grew as my clippers snipped.

I was panting and furious by the time I stepped back and surveyed the damage.

I felt good.

I felt strong.

I felt vindicated.

I know that next spring there will be no lovely yellow flowers surrounding my fence. I understand that it will take some time for these bushes to reform and reassert themselves along the fenceline.

Just as I know that my mind will soon be crowded once again with the annoying buzz of political lies, endless ‘spin’, self-serving opinions and all the rest.

I don’t care.

For now, my muscles and I feel both exhausted and exhilarated. We have seized control of at least one of our foes. We have asserted our power over one small piece of our chaotic world.

The forsythia will be back, but for now, they must bow to the woman with the clippers.

It might not be much, but it’s enough for me.