Remembering “My” Kids


I went into my daughter’s classroom for a visit last week. She teaches a loop, so she has her students for two years. Now it’s June of her second year with these lovely sixth graders, and everyone is tired, emotional, and ready to move on. I brought Kate’s kids in to the classroom to say goodbye.

Naturally, just stepping into the school building where I taught for more than two decades had me nostalgic.

All the way home that afternoon, I thought about “my” kids from over the years. Here are a few of the stories that have been on my mind.

The Bombs Below

One year I had a boy in my class who had spent about half of his ten years of life in his native Pakistan. His family had moved back and forth from the U.S. to Pakistan a couple of times, and were intending to return again. My student went through the year with one foot here and one over there.

In the early fall of that fifth grade year, we all went on a three day trip to the mountains. The trip included environmental studies and team building. It was hard work for this old teacher, but it was fun! One of the best parts was a hike up to a small mountain peak near the camp. We would all scramble through the woods for an hour or so until we came out to the summit, where the students would gather and gaze down at the camp, far below. Part of our tradition was to call out a greeting from the summit to the camp below. The kids below would hear us and call back.

That particular year, there was some construction going on at the camp. From the summit, we could hear distant hammers and faint booms as piles of wood were unloaded from trucks.

I stood with my Pakistani student, asking him if he could hear the kids calling up from below. He frowned behind his large glasses, squinting at the lake in the distance. “Listen carefully,” I told him. “We’ll yell and the kids on the athletic field will yell back.”

The kids gathered around me, giggling and clearing their throats.  “How, How!” we yelled. We waited, and then it came, “How, How!” from below. I turned to my student with a smile. “Did you hear it?”

He shook his head.

“All I can hear is those bombs down there.”

That’s what it’s like to leave a war zone. This poor kid heard distant hammering and simply assumed that bombs were going off.

He didn’t even react.

What grade am I in?

Many years ago, before I became a classroom teacher, I was the speech/language specialist in our school. I worked with kids who had communication disorders due to learning disabilities, hearing impairment, intellectual impairments and other challenges.

One year I was asked to evaluate a student who had recently immigrated to the U.S. from Brazil. The boy was tall, gangly armed in the way of pre-adolescent boys. He had a huge grin and sparkling brown eyes. Everything made him laugh.

His English was poor, but growing rapidly. He had a quick wit and warm charm that made him instantly popular with his classmates and teachers. He had very few academic skills, which was why I was doing my assessment. We weren’t sure if this young man had an underlying learning disorder that had held back his ability to read in his native Portuguese. We needed to find the best way to help catch up.

Although this student was old enough to be enrolled in our fifth grade, he had been placed in the fourth grade to give him time to catch up.

When I began my language assessment with a casual conversation, I learned why he was struggling so much.

“What grade were you in when you were in Brazil?”

“What grade? I don’t know. How do I know what grade I am in?”

“Honey, how many years of school did you do?”

“Oh. I don’t know.” I remember that he shrugged and grinned, looking up from beneath the brim of his cap. “I would go when there was a teacher. Sometimes I would go but there would be no teacher, so we just played or went home.”

I found out later, through an interpreter at a meeting with his Mom, that this boy had never completed a single year of school. There was no set curriculum, no continuity of lessons from year to year. Most troubling of all, teachers would come and go all year, often missing weeks of teaching time without replacements.

“This is why we left our country,” the Mom explained. “We wanted him to go to school.”

That handsome, charismatic, bright little guy was at our school for only a year. After that, we lost track of him as his family struggled to find a place to settle safely.

I think about him often.

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In honor of every single child who needs safety, education, and love.

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I Am Officially Ridiculous


Oh, brother.

What a wuss. What a jerk. What a stupid, weepy old woman.

I can’t stop the tears.

Some of them are from the horrors going on at our border, but others are more personal. It’s the personal tears for which I am apologizing now.

As some of you know, I have the best job on earth. I live a life that most humans can only dream about.

I stay at home, all day, every day, with my two grandchildren. These kids are also known as the cutest, sweetest, funniest, most easy going babies on earth.

Seriously. These are the people I play with all day.

The world’s cutest kids, right?

So, what’s the problem?

Oh, boo-hoo, poor me. In one short week, I will be heading off to Europe with my husband. We will celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We’ll spend some time with our dear friends in Germany, then head into Italy. Our two sons and their partners will join us.

Heaven, right?

The Alps, the Mediterranean, the food, the wine, the music, the beaches, the desserts!!!!

Oh, sole mio! It will be (not kidding) the trip of a lifetime!!!! I am SO excited that I have already packed and repacked my suitcase three times! I’m ready! I am so. ready. to. go.

But.

(the sound of brakes screeching)

What do you mean, three weeks away from Ellie’s eyes? What do you even MEAN, three weeks without one single Johnny hug??? What if he takes his first steps? What if she forgets our morning ballet routine? What if when I get back they don’t even care?

Oh, this old Nonni is a nutcake. She knows it.

But.

I love my days with these goofy, happy, messy, exhausting little people. I can’t imagine surviving three long weeks without them.

Please tell me that I’m an idiot. Please remind me that the kids will be with their Mom and Dad, and this is how it’s supposed to be.

Tell me to shut up and get over it.

Remind me that I’ll be soaking up the sun and drinking great wine with the love of my life.

I’ll nod, and smile, and tell you that you’re right. Then I’ll no doubt sob a little and pull up pics of the kids on my phone.

Sigh.

I’m ridiculous.

What The Kids Are Learning


I used to be a teacher. I used to spend a lot of time ruminating about what my kids were learning. I used to evaluate my lessons in order to carefully measure the exact idea that was being taught, and how well each child had mastered that concept.

I know, after thirty or so years of teaching kids, and after raising three of my own, that kids learn a LOT from what they observe. They don’t always grasp the fine points of the various graphs and pictures in their text books, but they do learn from what they see and hear.

So I’m wondering.

I’m wondering what our 8-16 year olds are learning in the age of Donald Trump. What are they taking away from the ongoing drama that keeps unfolding on our TV’s, in our social media, on the front pages of our newspapers? What have they figured out about successful behavior from the actions and reactions of their parents and other adults?

I have a few guesses, based on my decades of assessing children’s learning. See what you think, and let me know if you agree.

1. Lying is a powerful tool

Even though I’m sure that every kid in the country has gotten into trouble at least once for lying, they must be learning that if you lie often enough, your lie will be accepted.

I’m sure that our kids are watching as their President makes claims that are OBVIOUSLY lies. He claimed that thousands of Muslims were out on the streets of New York cheering when the towers came down on 9/11. There is no proof, no evidence, no pictures, no reports, no corroborating reporters. But Trump repeated the lie so many times that you can find people on Twitter now who repeat it as fact.

Our kids are learning how to lie. Do it often. Repeat as needed. Act completely convinced of the righteousness of your lie. Repeat again. Never back down.

Bam. Your lie has won the day.

2. Bullies Win

Donald Trump appears to have won the most important and powerful job in the country by being what every elementary kid would recognize as a bully. Our children have learned that its a good idea to call people ugly names. “Crooked Hillary”, “Little Marco”, “Slippery James Comey”.

Every kid at recess must be thinking about the social stature he can earn by making fun of “Fat Georgie” or “Jimmy the Fag.”

They must be wondering why their teachers pressure them to accept their disabled peers. I mean, Trump was applauded for publicly mocking a physically disabled reporter. Why should they be kind to that weird autistic kid in their math class?

Teachers and parents can’t really compete with the image of the most powerful man in the country and his powerful bullying attacks.

3. Blame everyone else

What can I say?

Donald Trump is happy to blame his spokespeople for repeating his bullshit. He is delighted to blame nonexistent voter fraud for his loss of the popular vote. He blames the “fake media” for pointing out his many lies, distortions and screw-ups.

The lesson for our children surely must be that best way to avoid the consequences of bad behavior isn’t to behave well. It’s to do whatever the hell you want, and then point the finger at someone else.

Awesome.

4. Take NO responsibility for any error. Ever.

Trump and his team have absolutely mastered the skill of looking right into the camera and saying, “I forgot.”

“Did you or any of your staff ever meet with any Russians, anywhere, at any time?”

“No, no, again we say, no!!!!”

And then when it is proven that your campaign manager, your top advisor, your own damn SON, actually met with a whole boatload of Russians on a whole boatload of different dates, you just shrug your shoulders and say, “Gosh. We forgot.”

Never mind the fact that if you guys actually are so addled and mentally deficient that you DID you forget, then you aren’t in any shape to be running the country.

Never mind that you are clearly demonstrating dementia.

You have taught our kids how to respond if we ask them, “Did you eat that chocolate cake I left on the counter for my office party?” Our kids will just give the big eyes and say. “Nope.”

When we point out the frosting smeared across their faces, they will just shrug their tiny shoulders and say, “I forgot.”

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“I didn’t throw that toy in the toilet. It was that stupid kid. Or, if I did it, I just don’t remember.”

None of this is funny, although I’m trying my best to make you laugh.

None of this is normal.

We will be working hard for the next decade, at least, to undo the damage done by this lying, self absorbed, irresponsible blowhard and those who follow his lead.

This is awful.

 

 

 

The Little Things


I miss my father.

I miss the fact of him, the sense that everything would be OK, just because he was in the world.

Dad left us ten years ago, or at least he left this earthly plane ten years ago. He hasn’t gone very far, though, even after all this time. I see him in the raised eyebrows of my baby grandson when I do something silly. I see him in the skeptical frown of my granddaughter when I try to fool her.

I hear him, right in my ear, as I reach up to his work bench to return a set of pliers that I have borrowed. His voice is so clear that I find myself answering out loud, “Of course I’m going to clean off the dirt before I hang them up!” I hear us laughing together as I do just that.

I miss so many of the little things about Dad. I miss the smell of his skin when I’d kiss his cheek. I miss the Old Spice on his shirts. I miss being called “little girl.”

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I miss the way Dad would grin and rub his hands together to signal that it was time for a cocktail or a glass of wine. I miss sitting and sipping good Scotch together.

I miss how my Dad could make a bad day turn fun. I’ll never forget when he and my Mom and sister came to visit us during our graduate school days. Dad had come with a very good bottle of expensive Scotch, and we had promised to take them out for dinner. But it was a summer weekend, and every restaurant in town was booked solid. We ended up in our tiny apartment, crowded around the kitchen table. We dined on salami sandwiches, a bag of chips, and that excellent Scotch. We had so much fun laughing at ourselves, because my Dad set the tone.

I really miss seeing my children with their grandfather. He was the Grampa who played checkers and dominoes for hours. He taught them how to sand wood and hammer in a nail. He was the Grampa who sat on the floor and let the kids use him as a climbing toy.

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He listened to the kids when they talked to him. He looked into their eyes. Grampa made them feel special, and so they were. I miss the sound of those high voices calling, “Grampa! Grampa!” as they came in the front door.

He wasn’t perfect, our Dad. He was just a regular, hard working family man who loved his wife, loved his kids, loved the life he lead. He laughed more than he frowned, and even when he was mad, he was never scary.

He was solid. Dependable in all ways. He was a man of black and white views about what was right and what was wrong, and so was not a man of nuances around truth and integrity.

But he was always compassionate, always generous, always true to himself.

I miss him.

I feel him in the room with me, even as I write this piece. But I miss him, so very much.

Happy Father’s Day to all the men who love and nurture families.

Too Shocked To React


I wonder how many of you find yourselves filled with a sense of impending doom. Or with a profound but diffuse anxiety, like a balloon filling up ever more tightly in your chest. I wonder how many of you walk around waiting for that balloon to burst.

I feel these things every single day.

I blame Donald Trump.

Why? What’s going on? I have some thoughts.

Maybe our reaction is simply one of stunned disbelief. Maybe its the reaction of the sane and reasonable in the face of insane and unreasonable actions.

I remember once when my kids were very young, I took them to our local mall to pick up some new shoes. There was another Mom there, with her two kids. They were acting up, and the Mom was clearly frazzled. I remember that at first I was sympathetic, but then she suddenly turned on the two little boys. She started to scream and swear at them. As the kids began to yell back, she suddenly flicked out a hand and slapped one boy across the face.

Everyone around went into immediate shock. We all made quiet protest sounds, “Jeez,” and “Oh, no!”  But nobody yelled at the woman, nobody grabbed those crying children. No one called the cops. No one spoke or took a breath. We avoided each others’ eyes.

After a few more seconds, the angry woman grabbed her boys by the arms and marched out of the mall, still cursing, but no longer violent.

I remember that I stood there in complete disbelief. This is simply NOT how people in my world behave. This is not how we respond to cranky children.

I was stunned.

My family finished our shopping, and drove home. I don’t remember what I said to my children.

But I remember the feeling of failure that stayed with me for weeks. I remember feeling enraged, helpless, frustrated with myself for my inaction. I remember the feeling of having swallowed a balloon filled with rage, and being unable to push it away or empty it.

Why had I done NOTHING?

After talking with my husband, I realized that the woman’s horrific actions had just completely stumped me.  I think that when someone behaves in a completely shocking and unexpected way, we revert to our most polite, appropriate selves. Maybe we’re trying to show the culprit that THIS is the correct behavior. Maybe we fear that we’ll sink down to the same low level, and we can’t let ourselves go there.

Or maybe the whole situation is so completely surreal that we have no idea of how to respond. We witness something so unbelievable that we can’t force our brains to accept it.

Is that what’s happening with the Trump administration?

Are we all just getting too shocked to react?

What we are hearing and seeing is so completely abnormal that we simply stand there.

First the President tells a straight out lie. It’s an obvious lie, easily disproven. He lies about crowd size, about immigration numbers, even about his own previous statements.

Lots of his lies are only aimed at making him look better to the world at large.

“A reporter for Time magazine — and I have been on their cover 14 or 15 times. I think we have the all-time record in the history of Time magazine.”

No he wasn’t. And that was easy to prove, since Time keeps records.

People call him out, point out the lie.

Trump and Fox and that whole group immediately repeats the lie a hundred times. It starts to sound like it might possibly be true. I mean, come on, would an entire White Staff and a whole news station keep telling the same lie? We start to doubt ourselves.

But people in public and the media call it out again. “That’s a lie!”

Trump and Co. respond by screaming about bias, liberal dishonesty. They stay on the attack.

We are stumped. Stupified.

The next day it happens again.

And again.

Today we heard the President of the US wistfully stating that he wishes “my people” would sit up for him like they do for President Kim of North Korea.

“Hey, he is the head of a country and I mean he is the strong head,” Mr. Trump told Fox News’ Steve Doocy on the White House lawn Friday. “Don’t let anyone think anything different. He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”

Because we have studied history, we know how awful a thought this is. We are astonished. We don’t know if the man is delusional, dictatorial, stupid or all three. We hardly know how to react.

The media points out how completely wrong, undemocratic and dangerous the comment is. The Trumpers immediately yell about media bias, call the critics “haters” and fall back on “It was a joke.”

Trump is winning, just like that horrible woman won when she smacked her child with no repercussions. He is winning because every time he says, “witch hunt”, “Crooked Hillary” or “fake news”, we are swept by a feeling of “why bother?”

I wake up in the morning. I check the news, look at the latest Twitter rants. I see Trump blaming the Democrats for his abuse of children at the Southern border. I see him trying to tie FBI mistakes to the Mueller probe. I read the words “witch hunt” and I want to scream about the number of witches who have been indicted or jailed already.

Then I do nothing. I don’t write. I don’t call my representatives. I am helpless. My stomach fills with that same helpless rage and I want to cry.

I hate this situation. This is the country that my grandparents embraced in immigration. It’s the country my father defended in World Word II.

Now it has been reduced to “You’re a liar!” “No, you are!” “Nuh, uh! You lie!” “You do!”

We can’t win an argument like this. There is no sense to it. There is no reason. Logic has no role, nor do facts.

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“He likes me.”


I used to teach fifth grade.

I remember about ten thousand conversation where ten year old children were whispering to their friends that “He likes me, but I don’t know if he LIKES me.”

I remember at least 20 thousand conversations where one child confided in another, “I like her, but I don’t LIKE HER like her.”

They were little kids. They were trying to work out the nuances of enjoying someone’s company while a) not necessarily sharing any interests b) not necessarily agreeing with each other c) not wanting to run off and get married and make babies (how do you do that, anyway?)

When I was a teacher of young and innocent kids, these conversations made me smile. They made me appreciate the innocence of youth.

Now that I am a retired old grandmother, and the “He likes me!” comments are coming from the 73 year old, three times married President of the United States, my reaction is somewhat different.

I’m fighting off simultaneous urges to vomit and to run screaming into the night.

Yesterday I listened to Donald Trump’s comments as he left the G7 summit. I listened carefully to his every word.

And I must say, I have not changed my view that this man demonstrates a very significant language disorder.

He made many incomplete utterances. He left out specific nouns and verbs, leaving the impression that his ideas were drifting and pointless.

I suggest that you watch this video. Watch what happens when Trump strays from the script at about 3:18.

Note the incomplete, rambling thoughts.  Note this mess:

“From the standpoint of trade and jobs and being fair to companies, we are really, I think,  committed, I think they are really starting to be committed to a much more fair trade situation for the United States because it has been treated very unfairly…. Last year they lost 800, we as a nation, over the years, but, the latest numbers 817 billion dollars on trade and it’s unacceptable and everybody was told that.”

Say, what?

And then there was Trump’s assertion that our trade and international relationships were “a ten”, because the members of the G7 were reasonably polite to him.

He insisted that the relationships are fabulous because none of the leaders of the developed world stood up and called him a doody pants.

No matter what they thought of the big lying buffoon, all of the OTHER leaders of the free world had enough self control to be at least marginally civil to Donald J. Trump.

Unfortunately, that gave our incredibly immature national leader the impression that all of those other powerful people “liked” him. And that was enough for him.

He assumed that because they “liked” him, he could safely call them names, accuse them of theft, criticize his predecessors who had been dealing with them for decades, and then tell them exactly what they had to do.

He thought that being “liked” meant that nobody would get mad at him, no matter what.

I must tell you, as a former teacher of fifth graders with autism, oppositional defiant disorder, cognitive disabilities, language disorders and other learning and behavioral challenges, that this underdeveloped ability to comprehend the nuances of human relationships is a major problem.

Our country, our beloved United States of America, is in the hands of a person whose intellectual and emotional development has not yet reached the level of a ten year old. A person whose mastery of the English language is both immature and obviously disordered.

I have no idea what it is that goes on the mind of Donald J. Trump, but I am very, very sure that whatever it is, it is based on the ideas and beliefs of a selfish child. I am very, very sure that what he thinks is never articulated in a way that makes any sense.

I am very sure that we are in a very dangerous place right now. This country is being led by a pouting, angry child whose emotional, intellectual and linguistic development are all dangerously impaired.

“I don’t like him. And I don’t know what to do.”29381357345_27b53e0902_b

 

Oh, Mother Nature…


Have you ever had one of those days when everything just seems to be perfect? One of those days where in spite of the day-to-day stresses of bills, mosquito bites and political overload, the universe seems to be perfectly aligned?

Welp. I have.

They don’t come around all that often, but yesterday was one of them.  I woke up to the realization that my colonoscopy was over, I could eat whatever I wanted, and most of my body was pain free. Huzzah!

The day was warm, sunny, gorgeous.

Spring in Massachusetts, brief as it is, reminds us all that Mother Nature must surely love us. The lilacs were passing, but the peonies were just about to open. The irises were in full and glorious bloom, and the grass hadn’t yet turned brown.

My yard, if I do say so myself, was fabulous! “Holy rhododendron”, I thought as I looked out my front window, “I am a gardening goddess!”

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There were butterflies on every blossom. Darling little chipmunks were racing around the bushes. Robins and Phoebes were singing.

Ah, nature!

It was an amazingly natural day. I loved my dear Mother Nature.

Last evening, my husband and I did something we rarely do anymore. We went out to hear good music. We drove about an hour west to meet up with our kids and some of their friends. It was a blast.

Wahoo! Great finale to a great day, right?

Then, after a truly fun and completely wonderful night of great music from Upstate Rubdown, we headed home.

We made the hour long ride home with glorious silver stars shining overhead. We were in a mood of pure elation.

As we made our winding way through the small roads of Central Massachusetts, we found ourselves commenting on how lucky we are to live where we do.

At one point, the headlights of our little car caught the glowing eyes of a possum, and we slowed to watch it amble into the woods. “Eat those ticks!”, we cried, laughing.

We counted ourselves lucky to have seen the funny little guy.

But there were more delights in store for us before we made it home to our beds.

We were absolutely thrilled to see a beautiful raccoon waddling across one lawn in a nearby town. Next we noted a delicate young doe standing in the tall grass along the road, her fur illuminated by the gentle starlight.

Mother Nature, you give such beautiful gifts! Angels were singing. Angels, I tell you.

And then, just as we turned into our very own rural neighborhood,  we found a little family of foxes playing on the grass. How beautiful! Those little golden red faces! The Mamma fox, rushing her babies out of harm’s way!

Oh, Mother Nature! You wonderful goddess, you!!

We finally got home, and congratulated ourselves on having landed in such a beautiful place, so full of the love of nature. We fell asleep to the sound of barred owls calling. How lucky we are, we told each other, how blessed to live in such a gorgeous, natural, sylvan setting!

We fell asleep.

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And we awoke to another gorgeous early summer day.  I got my beloved little grandchildren ready to play outside. I was just so filled with gratitude toward Mommy Nature!

Out we stepped, into the golden morning sun. The flowers were in bloom. The grass was green. The angels were freakin’ singing in my ear.

I moved happily toward the new screen house that we’ve set up on our glorious green lawn. I moved inside the sheltered room.

I looked up. I saw a few bees and flies attached to the inside of the screen. A few as in roughly 5, 000 bugs. All attached to the INSIDE of my bug shelter.

I gulped.

Oh, well, I thought, that’s just part of nature!

“Oh, my!” I chirped to my baby grandson, who was sitting wide-eyed on my left hip. “The buggies flew inside our screen house, honey! Let’s go outside and knock them off the screen so they can fly away and be free!”

I stepped out of the screen house, moved gracefully across the gorgeous lawn toward the outside of the screen. I thought that I could just knock on the outside of the screen and thereby send the zillion icky buggies out the open front door.

I squared my shoulders. “Nature”, I told myself, “It’s all just a part of nature.”

I raised my right hand, preparing to tap on the screen. “Look!” I said to my sweet Johnny. “We can make the little buggies go away!”

At this point there were still angels singing. Mother nature and all that crap were still humming along in my mind and heart.

I prepared to lower my hand so I could knock on the outside of the gazebo.

And approximately 2 milliseconds before I lowered my palm onto the screen, I happened to notice THIS GUY.

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The. Spider. From. Hell.

I did not scream, drop the baby and set the yard on fire.

For which I am extremely proud.

However.

I did decide that the sun was too darn hot for us today. I did bribe the kids with ice cream. I did get us all safely inside where I made everybody strip down, allegedly for a “tick check” but really for a “could the world’s biggest spider possibly be hiding in our underwear” check.

I didn’t lock every door or window, but I did double and triple check every screen.

Holy horror, Batman.

After a nice lunch (eaten up at the highest table and after I checked the floor six times), I got all of us into bed for our afternoon nap. Naturally, I pulled back all the covers and looked under the bed, bureau and bookcase before we laid down. I checked the window screens a few times and stuffed a bunch of pillows between the bed and the wall.

And as we drifted off to sleep, my beloved babies cradled against me, my sweet doggie at our feet, I thought to myself,

“Mother Nature, you fucking old bitch.”

 

Aging Gracefully and Gratefully


I have been thinking a lot lately about how I want to age.

I mean, I’m already aging, obviously. I’m a grandmother. I’m retired. My hair is 90% white.

But I think about how I want to proceed through the next part of my journey. How I want to walk toward the exit. Do I want to move with dignity and humor towards that final exit, or do I want to go kicking and screaming?

It’s hard to say.

When I was a young woman of 23, newly married, and with all of life still spread out in front of me like a banquet, I got a job as an interpreter for Russian Jews who were leaving the Soviet Union to resettle in Boston. I helped people find apartments, set up utilities, and enroll in English classes. Mostly, though, I made appointments for the immigrants at Beth Israel and Children’s Hospitals, and I accompanied them to those visits.

I clearly remember one woman whose experience was both heartbreaking and terrifying. She had come to the U.S. with her husband and adult son, hoping to live a better life here in the States. But she had fallen ill on the journey from Leningrad to Boston, and I had taken her for several appointments to find out what was wrong.

I was with her when she had an MRI and a meeting with an oncologist. Through me, the doctor explained to the woman that she had an advanced cancer, and would need both surgery and chemotherapy. He left, and I waited with her as the staff prepared to admit her.

I remember that her face was puffy, her skin white and lined. In the few weeks of our acquaintance, I had found her to be unpleasant, angry and often critical. I can’t say that I liked this woman, although at that moment I felt profound sympathy for her situation.

As we waited, I tried to make conversation, but she was deep in her own misery, and didn’t respond. I remember that I stood beside her gurney, looking helplessly at her. I felt completely unsure of what to do or say.

She turned her head and looked at me. Straight into my eyes. Hers were dark, dark brown, filled with a bitter rage.

“Stop looking at me,” she snapped. “I was once young and beautiful, too.”

I didn’t know what to do, where to look, what to think. I was embarrassed by my youth, by my lack of awareness. I didn’t feel beautiful, I just felt afraid. I felt useless.

I crossed the room, leaving her alone. I leaned against the wall, silently wishing to be anywhere but where I was.

Forty years later, I still remember that woman, and how she faced her mortality and her age. I can still see the folds of puffy flesh that surrounded those venomous eyes. That she hated me in that moment is something I will never doubt.

I don’t want to be like her. I don’t want to face my aging or my death that way. I don’t want to pour bitterness onto those who are there to help.

Then I think of another woman. One that I’ve known for some twenty or so years. She is one of the smartest, most literate, most well read people that I have ever met. She loves her family, she loves her husband, she loves her life.

She grew up in rural Kentucky, but has lived for many years now in New England. She is a political activist, an active church member, a feisty, funny lady.

Now in her 90’s, this woman needs a walker to get around the assisted living facility where she resides with her husband. When we have been together at family events, she laughs off her frailty, bragging about how great it is to have a basket on her walker so she can carry her sweater or a good book. Recently she made her way slowly down the aisle of a theater where her grandson was performing. As she did, she chirped, “Get outta the way! Coming through!”

She doesn’t complain, or look constantly to the past, although she has surely seen her share of grief. She lives in the moment. She laughs. She enjoys her food and her wine and she comments on the beautiful weather. She stays up to date on what is happening in the world around her.

This woman also has lines on her face, and puffiness around her eyes. But she is absolutely beautiful, because all of the love in her soul shines out whether she wills it to or not.

I admire her so much. I want to be like her.

I think about those funny Appalachian apple dolls, the ones that wrinkle up into old people faces. I find myself walking around with a deliberate slight smile and raised eyebrows, just so I can age into a happy old apple doll.

So as I age, I am trying to be mindful of how I grow and change. I want to be the second woman in my story. I want to embrace everything and keep moving forward and keep on laughing at my increasingly creaky old self.

But sometimes, when the fibromyalgia flares up, or the vertigo hits, or the joints just ache, I find myself cranky and irritable. I find myself looking at the beautiful, carefree young women at the farmer’s market or the park. And I feel myself morphing, ever so slowly, into that first woman.

That’s when I force myself to laugh at me. To turn my wrinkles up to the sunshine, to remind myself that nobody gets out of this life alive and that every day lived is another good day.

If you see me out and about, I hope I look like a happy old Appalachian apple doll to you.

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Still rockin’ out. That will be me.  Mebbe.

Dear American Adults,


Dear fellow American adults,

I submit the following for your edification, enlightenment and possible humbling mortification.

I used to teach fifth grade. The kids in my class were all about ten years old. They were old enough to understand the basic rules of how to get along, but young enough to still need a lot of guidance.

They were kids.

Young, young kids.

This essay is a composite of about 853 such conversations that I had with students over my ten years as a classroom teacher. The names were changed because, seriously, this could have been any fifth grader at any time in any place.

“Karen, I need your help! Jackie was mean to me!”

“Jackie, what did you do to Jason?”

“Nothin. I just called him a fat wussy pants jerk face noodle head.”

Jason sniffles and looks at me with huge blue eyes, filled with righteous pain and anger. “See? He was so. MEAN.”

I sigh. I rub my forehead. I look at the culprit, sitting in front of me in his baggy blue shirt, with his recess sweaty hair in his big brown eyes. He looks away. He knows he did something mean. Fifth graders know mean when they see it, even if it comes from themselves.

“Jackie? What do you have to say about this?”

A shrug. “Well, I didn’t mean it. It was a joke.”

(Are you following this line of reasoning, Roseanne Barr, Michelle Wolf, Orrin Hatch, Ted CruzKelly Sadler, Donald Trump?)

I look at my little student with my most serious teacher face.

“Jackie,” I say sternly. “You know what a joke is. What makes something a joke?”

He drops his head. The shrug reappears.

“A joke is something that makes everybody in the room laugh. A joke makes people feel happy inside. Did your words today make everybody laugh? Did everyone feel happy?”

“No.” It’s only a whisper, but, still, he said it and I am proud of him.

“What you said wasn’t a joke because it hurt someone. It hurt just as much has hitting with a fist would hurt. What you said wasn’t a joke. What was it?”

Now the shoulders are drooping, the chin is almost on the chest. Now my ten year old student is truly feeling bad about what he did.

“I was being mean. I was making fun of someone.”

“I’m proud of you!” I tell him honestly. “You admitted that you were wrong. You are a strong and brave boy. Good for you. Now what do you think you should do?”

Jackie looks at Jason, a classmate he’s known for years. Both boys are teary eyed. Both are tender.

“I’m sorry.”

Jackie thinks that he means it, but I have to push a little bit more.

“OK,” I say. “You said you were sorry. Do you think that takes away your bad choice? Does it take away Jason’s sadness?”

The answer is obvious to any ten year old. A simple, “sorry” doesn’t erase the pain or the hurt. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t screw up. It doesn’t mean that you don’t need to make amends.

At this point I would usually let my two students hug or shake hands or say, “It’s OK.” I’d send them back to class.

But before the end of that day, I’d catch up with “Jackie” again, and ask him if he had thought about what he could do to show Jason that he didn’t mean those cruel words. That he had respect for his classmate and that he wanted to make it right again.

In the world of elementary school teaching, this is called an “apology of action.” It is designed to make the one who did the hurting take some kind of definitive action to elevate the one who was hurt. In that world, it means picking the one you targeted for the recess basketball team, or letting them sit in the best spot in the library. It means giving them some of your snack or choosing them for your math buddy.

Ten year old kids are able to understand that “It was a joke” is a very feeble excuse for being a jerk. They were able to grasp that a simple, “Sorry” can’t take away the hurt that words have caused.

They are little kids. But they get it.

Are you listening, adults in Washington DC, Hollywood, the media, the networks? Are you listening?

We know you by your words and by your actions. And we know it isn’t a joke if most of us aren’t laughing.

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“I Got Better….”


Way back when, way way back, my husband and I went to see the ridiculously funny movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” We laughed, hard. In fact, all these years later, we’re still laughing over some of the lines from that classic.

Lately I’ve been particularly drawn to the line, “I got better.” In the movie, the line is said by a peasant who has been clamoring to have a local woman declared a witch. While everyone is yelling about her, he cries out, “She turned me into a newt!” Everyone turns to look at him, standing there in an obviously ‘non-newt’ state. He shrugs and says quietly, “I got better.”

So here I am. Better.

You see, I started this blog way back in 2011, when all three of my beloved children moved out of the house within a few weeks of each other. I was bereft, crushed, inconsolable. I cried myself to sleep for months. If you doubt that, go back and read some of my first posts.

Pathetic.

I missed my children the way you’d miss an amputated limb. I yearned for them. I craved them. I sent wishes to every first star, every birthday candle, every dandelion seed. “Please, oh, powerful universe!” I would lament, “Let me have one night with my three best beloved babies under my roof!”

Oh, the joy of those first few holidays, when I would wake up at 3AM and wander the house, just listening to the sound of their breathing (snoring, but still.)

I was a freakin’ wreck.

But ya know what?

I got better.

And this is how I know.

Yesterday we hosted the family for a triple birthday celebration. Our baby Johnny is turning one year old this week! And Uncle Tim (my ACTUAL baby boy) is turning 26. Papa, my darling husband and the best Dad/Grandfather ever, is turning 62.

So, in spite of the fact that I was wicked, wicked tired, I prepared to host a big family fun day.

I didn’t clean, because my back hurt. I mean….it’s just the kids, right?   I didn’t put toys away because, hey, the grandkids would be here. I didn’t bake a cake. I mean, seriously? Can’t one of the kids make the cake? (They did.)

And I didn’t get up early, even knowing that they were coming. I was tired. I slept. I rested. I waited for them in my pj’s for the most part.

Then, at last, they all arrived! We were so lucky! We had my daughter, our son-in-law and their two incredibly adorable kids. Yes. Yes, I am obsessed with these two.

We also had both of our sons and one ‘if-all-goes-well’ future daughter-in-law. Only one ‘if-all-goes-well’ daughter-in-law was missing. But her band is on tour and I’m a huge fangirl, so…..it was OK.

It was really, really fun! We ate too much, we drank a lot of delicious beverages and we laughed together. As the day went on, and everyone realized that the Celtics would be playing the key game of the season at 8:30, they all decided to sleep here at our house.

My reaction?

“Oh, my GOD! If they all sleep here, I can go to be early with ELLIE!!!!!”

Which I did. We laughed, we giggled, we snuggled, we snored together.

At no time did I wonder where my kids would sleep (they outnumber our available beds). I didn’t tell them how much I loved them. I didn’t make sure they had pillows, or sheets, or blankets, or even beds.

I just grabbed Miss Ellie, and cuddled her until we both fell asleep.

Heaven.

Papa joined us at one point, and so did our puppy, Lennie. Whatevs.

All I remember is feeling Ellie’s arm around my neck, her hand on my cheek, or breath in my hair.

Angels were singing.

We all woke up, had a big breakfast cooked by my son Tim, and sat around sipping coffee and playing with the kids.

It was only late this afternoon, long after everyone had headed home and I had put the house back to the way I like it, when Papa sent me a text from work. “What a great couple of days, huh? When was the last time we had all three of our kids sleeping here at once?”

The fact that I didn’t know how to answer is what lead me to this post.

“I got better.”

And it’s all good!

Ellie and Tim

“I love my Uncle Tim!”