Well, I barely know how to go on. My Mom, my beloved, kind sweet MOM, whom I looked to for the most important guidance of my life….that woman actually and deliberately TOLD ME A LIE.
It was a bad one, too.
Sure, she raised me in safety and love. Sure, she fed us and kept us clean and entertained us. Yadayada.
She still LIED.
I remember it so very clearly. Mom and I were standing in the bathroom in the house where I grew up. I was looking in the mirror. I was HORRIFIED, I tell you, just HORRIFIED.
I think I was thirteen. I had big brown eyes and nice thick dark hair. I was, to be honest, kind of cute. But: I had my very first ZIT.
There it sat, right on my chin. Big, and red and ugly. How, I asked Mom in despair, how can I ever go to seventh grade tomorrow with THIS on my face?
It is hard to describe the panic and disgust that I felt as I stood looking at my horrifically deformed face?
My Mom, she of all wisdom and grace, put her hand on my shoulder. I remember her chuckling a bit, and telling me this:
“Don’t worry, honey. People have acne between the ages of 13 and 19. Then it’s all fine.”
That was true for HER. Her skin was perfect. Her hair was perfect. Her freakin’ fingernails were perfect. She probably had two zits in her entire life.
I, alas, was not so lucky. I remember trying desperately to pop a zit on my cheek when I was about 16. I failed. I was left with a HUGE, red, pulsating, crater on my face. I tried to cover it with makeup, but I remember that when my family arrived at my Grandparents’ house, my Grampa took one look at me and asked, in his Italian accent, “What happened? Did a cat scratch you?”
I have yet to live that moment down with my sister.
Here I am. I am sixty-six years old. My mom died in November, and I am still missing her every day.
This morning I went into the bathroom, and looked in the mirror.
WHAT THE ABSOLUTE FUCK IS ON MY FACE? There it was, right next to the wrinkles, the dry spots and the gray hair. A giant, pulsing, red ZIT.
I am old. I have arthritis and fibromyalgia and back pain and not one, but two brain tumors. All of that sucks, but not as much as HAVING A GIANT ZIT AT 66!!!!
I am enraged. I am furious.
Mom said they’d go away at the age of NINETEEN!!!!
I am not happy.
Can you seriously be in the hospital for your old lady brain disorder and have a young intern say, “You know, I have something for that huge zit.”?
I know, I know, I have to right to this feeling, but here it is.
Well, here we are. On the cusp of summer. A time of relief, a time of freedom, a time of joy for every teacher on earth and almost every kid.
But I’m not feeling wahoo.
I know. I have absolutely no right to this feeling that is pulling me down like an anchor into the deep. I have been the luckiest grandmother I have ever met. I say that in all seriousness and all honesty. I have pinched myself a million times over the past seven years.
When I was pushed out of teaching, I stepped right into the most wonderful role in the world. I became the primary daycare provider for my grandchildren.
I am so lucky!
So why am I fighting off tears this week?
Well, I guess because all good things come to an end. And because my last go-round with the empty nest resulted in a whole lot of sadness, grief, reinventing and a fair amount of disbelief.
Tomorrow will be the last time I will be Johnny’s caregiver. He has delighted in twice-a-week preschool and is off to conquer the world of kindergarten next fall. He is more than ready. In spite of his nerves, he is eager to head off to school every day with his Mom, who teaches at his school, and his sister who will be entering the second grade.
My heart is so heavy. How did this happen so fast?
I know, I know, I know. I am being ridiculous.
I have friends who would love grandchildren but don’t have them yet. I have friends with grandchildren across the country or across the globe. I know too many people who are estranged from their children and don’t know those beautiful grandkids. And I have friends who have suffered real grief, true grief, as they have lost their children.
So I promise, I am not whining. I know, I know, I believe that my luck and my blessings are far more than I deserve or have earned.
Tomorrow will be the last time that Johnny will come in for breakfast and ask for “all the cereal, all together, with milk!” We won’t have our daily game of hide n’ seek or Pirates. I will no longer sit beside him with a bowl of pretzels as he explains which guys are villains and which are good guys in his shows.
I think that this time it is harder for me. Ellie moved on to public school at the beginning of this year, but because of Covid, I got to see her progress through kindergarten online. I got a bonus year.
But as she went into first grade last September, I realized just how different our relationship would be. Sure, she still loves me and tells me that often. She asks to sleep over. But she isn’t that little needy girl anymore. She has her life, her friends, her preferences.
And that’s GOOD! As it should be.
I don’t care that it’s good. Not deep, deep down in my heart. Down there, I want to go back to the days when she needed me because she couldn’t open a box, or because her nose was running or because she felt sad.
She went off to school and I miss her.
Next year, I will miss Johnny.
It is what it is, and it is as it should be, and I am so lucky and I feel like a fool.
But I am sad today. I do not have the many talents of so many of my retired friends who paint, and garden, travel, and refinish furniture. I have one great skill; I take care of kids.
I hope that next fall I will have Max here with me. Our funny, smart, goofy 2 year old Max. I so hope that he will be my charge for next year.
But there’s a medical issue that might make that difficult. I don’t know yet, and won’t know until mid-summer when I find out if I will need invasive surgery or non-invasive to deal with a benign tumor on my acoustic nerve. I feel like it’s all out of my hands, and that is a feeling that old Nonni here does NOT enjoy.
Today I am sad.
I hope that my ridiculously good luck will hold for a bit longer and Max and I will spend next year playing, cooking, reading books and making decorations for various holidays.
But I am grieving, as silly as that sounds, because Johnny is flying from my nest.
I have tried to write this post at least 20 times, but my embarrassment has stopped me.
I live in a relatively rural place. It’s Massachusetts, so you know it isn’t all that wild. But for someone who grew up in Greater Boston and has lived, studied and worked right in the city, our part of the state is like living in the wilderness.
We have a big male black bear who cruises the neighborhood, and a gorgeous bobcat who peeks out once in a while. We have deer and foxes and turkeys and coyotes. There are more birds than you can begin to appreciate.
And for the past three years, for some reason, we have sweet little cottontail rabbits.
While these little guys used to be a rarity, these few years we have had one or two living right in the yard and sharing the dandelions with us.
This year’s bunny is named Barney. I don’t know why exactly, except that the alliteration must have appealed to my grandkids.
We first noticed Barney back in about February. The ground was frozen, and the earth was clumps of mud and dead leaves. We saw his tiny grey face one morning in the protective cover of a fallen pine tree. The kids and I watched his little twitching nose as he washed his face with one white paw. Then he squished himself back under the log.
I worried about him that night, as an icy rain fell. Silly, I know. I told myself that I worried because he was important to the kids. I didn’t want them to be sad. But I knew that wasn’t really it. I worried because he was so small, and fragile. He was alone in a cold, dangerous world. His innocence touched my heart and I imagined getting him safe and warm somehow.
Over the next few weeks, Barney would make an appearance some days as the sun set. He would hop along, carefully avoiding snow and ice clumps. I watched him chewing on dry oak leaves. I saw how he stood on his hand legs to carefully peel the bark of cherry saplings.
I started to leave him bits lettuce, carrot tops and celery leaves. He ate them, but never while I was watching.
He began to seem like a pet to me.
As the spring has come, Barney has grown considerably. He still lives under the fallen tree, but he spends time in a windfall of dead branches and hops between my rhododendron and forsythia, where he can hide when he feels scared.
With everything that is happening in this crazy world, Barney has become both a talisman and a mentor to me.
If I go two days without seeing him, I find myself up early peering out the windows. I feel responsible for him in a ridiculously inexplicable way. I am anxious when I don’t know that he has survived another night in the land of foxes and fishers and coyotes and cars.
But then I see him. My heart rate slows. I smile.
I often see Barney outside now. Right there on our front lawn, almost always with a dandelion stem in his mouth. He no longer accepts my offerings of food, and I laugh when I imagine his reaction to seeing them. “Great,” I imagine him thinking. “Dead, wilted, human scented, soap smelling green stuff. I live in a literal giant salad bowl full of clover and grass and leaves and shoots and dandelion stems. And she thinks I’m gonna eat THAT?”
Sometimes when I see him, I stand very still. He goes about his business with me there, chewing rapidly and fixing his shining black eye on my presence. I have noticed that he seems to have a good sense of social distancing. He is almost always about 6 feet away. If I take a step toward him, he takes a hop away.
The other day my little grandsons and I were out in the yard. We were admiring the millions of little Forget-me-nots that bloom all over. As we reached in to pick some, we saw that our Barney was sitting very still in the middle of a patch of flowers. He wasn’t moving at all. We stood there, admiring him, and making soft noises.
After a minute or two in which I guess he realized that we weren’t planning to eat him, Barney hopped, rather calmly, out of the flower bed and under a bush.
The kids were enchanted. I was inspired.
This is how I want to meet the challenges of my world. I want to go on calmly eating in the face of danger. I want to take my time to assess how real a threat it is that I am facing. I want the courage to calmly keep myself generally safe, while also having the confidence to live under my own fallen tree.
Barney, as far as I can tell, spends no time at all wondering if he should have done something differently. He doesn’t appear to be worried about tomorrow; unlike the chipmunks that race around here all day, he is not storing food for a later date.
Instead, he is soaking up the sun, eating what tastes best to him, avoiding disaster as long as possible and having a good bunny in the summer life.
The terrible massacre in Texas is awful for all of us. But for some of us, for teachers like me, it is particularly horrifying.
I taught fifth grade for a decade. My babies were ten and eleven years old. Just like most of the little ones who were slaughtered in Uvalde. I was in charge of a class of kids when the Newtown massacre happened. I know, in the very depth of my soul, how innocent and how promising our children really are. I know too well how deeply they love and how intensely they hope.
Tonight we were watching the news. PBS had extensive coverage of the slaughter in Texas. We watched it all. But at the end of the show, they turned to a roll-call of the children who were murdered. I started to cry, of course. My loving husband stood up and went to the TV.
“Let’s turn it off” he suggested, worried about my emotional state.
Part of me agreed. How would it help to see this? How would my tears make anything better?
But then I caught myself.
“These precious little kids deserve to be fully mourned. They deserve my tears. My pain and sorrow is only a millionth of the pain their parents and grandparents are feeling at this moment.”
We left it on. We saw each sweet young face, each gently smiling child. We both cried, and we both felt awful.
As we should.
I am thinking, at this moment, that our entire nation is in desperate need of a huge, national day of mourning. We do NOT need any more moments of “silence”. Instead, we truly need many moments of rage. Moments of sorrow. Moments of regret.
We need an outpouring of national grief. The kind of deep, soul-shaking grief that is the only proper response to the brutal assassination of our children. We need to close everything down, for a day, or a week or a month. No more work. No more school. No more students sitting quietly at their desks.
We need to take to the streets and open our hearts and our mouths and we need to give voice to the terrible, terrible pain that we Americans are feeling.
“Stop!” We need to scream. “Stop!”
“You cannot keep slaughtering our children just because you want to play with guns! You cannot continue to make your desire to play soldier more important than our desire to raise our children in safety.”
We need to shout. We need to wail. We need to hold a huge, national, public day of sorrow and rage and we need to honor every single life that has been stolen in the name of pseudo macho bullshit.
I am here in my little house, on my couch, sobbing again. Thinking of those kids I taught and those kids whose lives are gone. I’m sobbing and mourning and thinking of the deep levels of terror and survivor guilt and complete confusion that will now envelope every single child who was in the building when the attack happened.
But it’s not enough.
I really, really think that we need a national day of mourning? grief? rage? sorrow? before schools reopen in September.
My mother died in November, the night before Thanksgiving. It had been a long and sad journey, and it was not an unexpected death. Still, she was Mom. I found myself mute in her absence.
And I have had some crazy medical challenges myself in the past few months, including a tumor on my right acoustic nerve which resulted in many many many conversations that included the words “Huh? What? Say again?” and “Why are you mumbling?”
I find myself contemplating the end of my own life in ways that I never have before. For the very first time in my existence, I thought the other day, “There’s no point in replanting this lilac sprout. I won’t be here to see it bloom.”
That kind of thinking is NOT what I want. Not at all. I want to be the old woman who says, “I will plant you today and someone will love you later!” I want to be the woman who thinks, “Well, life has been great so far! Let’s see what’s next.”
I’m trying to be her. I really am. I think about her. I channel her. I embrace her spirit as I walk around my spring-filled yard.
But sometimes I can’t do it.
Today I was able to embrace that “here I am” woman all day. I pulled some weeds from my perennial beds. I did laundry and I cooked good food for my son and daughter-in-law as they prepare for their first child. I walked the dogs and I looked at the sky. I breathed in the scent of lilac and lily-of-the-valley.
And then I came inside. I turned on the news. I saw that another group of innocent children was slaughtered in their classrooms by an angry man with a lethal weapon.
I broke at that moment. I broke.
I lost my hope. I lost my belief in my country and in my fellow Americans.
So. Here I am. Back in this space where I have found support and encouragement over these many years. I need you all, dear readers. I need a reason to believe that all is not lost.
I am at a funny point in life. One of those odd, serendipitous moments that seem to follow me.
Tomorrow Paul and I will head to Florida to visit two of our very best friends. The kind of people who you trust implicitly. The kind of friends who, on the eve of your visit, when your husband hasn’t really started to pack, you think to yourself, “It’s OK. Dave will have something that fits him…..”
As we plan our trip, the first vacation we have had together since the summer of 2019, I find myself obsessing over how I look.
I turned 66 this week.
I have jowls. Actual JOWLS. I am gray, I am pale, I do not look like anyone’s version of a woman who should be walking the beach.
Or am I?
As I contemplate my aging self, I take stock of the multiple leg bruises caused by my dogs, my blood clotting issues, my awkwardness. I look at my doughy middle. And my sagging “ladies”.
Why do I feel shame?
I used to be young, pretty, smooth, fresh.
But then I lived my life. I had three kids. I aged, as does every human who is lucky and blessed.
This morning, at about 3 AM, I woke up thinking about the arm that I injured yesterday while trying to clean out the house where my parents lived for 60 years. Yesterday I gently, lovingly wrapped dozens of pieces of glassware to be donated. I carefully sorted through the kitchen drawers, wrapped in memories of dinners past, and placed each spatula, each knife, in a box for someone to take away.
As I thought back on the day, I reached out to find my ice pack, wrapping it around my forearm. I remembered the moment when I had been pulling down my Dad’s old gardening tools to toss into the dumpster. An ancient string trimmer had become rusted to the rack my Dad had built to hold it. As I pulled, it fell down with a crash, catching my arm as it did.
I barely noticed the damage at the time. But when I got home, I saw the swelling, the broken blood vessel, the emerging black and blue.
Do you know what I thought at that moment?
I didn’t worry about my health. I didn’t worry about the fact that it actually hurt like a toothache. No. Instead what flew through my head was this, “But I’m going to Florida! I don’t want to have an ugly bruise on my arm!”
Not painful. Not aching. Just ugly. That was my fear.
As I drifted back to sleep last night, ice pack wrapped around my bruise, I suddenly remembered a woman I saw in Germany a few years ago.
Our German hosts had taken us to the gorgeous island of Sylt, way up on the North Sea. We went to the beach, of course, and it was absolutely breathtaking. I wanted to swim, but there were no dressing rooms, and our young German friends informed us that if we wanted to put on a bathing suit, we should just do it on the beach.
I didn’t. I felt fat. And old. And silly.
I was experiencing my one and only time to visit the North Sea, but what I was thinking about was my flabby thighs. I was far too embarrassed to change my clothes on a mostly empty beach in front of people I would never see again…..
So I waded into the water, but only up to my knees. Where my shorts began.
As we walked along the gorgeous, wild, impossibly amazing shoreline, we saw other people enjoying the day. One was a woman that I cannot forget. I so wish that I could talk to her tonight, before I head South to put my full old lady on display.
This woman was lying on her stomach on one of the many beach lounges that line that stretch of shore. As we passed, I realized that she was both completely nude and completely at ease. I kept a view of her out of the corner of my eye, as I strolled through the very edges of the waves in my shorts and t-shirt.
After a few minutes, the woman arose from her lounge. She stretched for a minute, then ran her hands through her hair. Slowly, with great grace and an obvious sense of pleasure, she walked across the sand and into the pounding surf. She raised both arms above her head and dove into an incoming wave.
I watched her for five or so minutes as she endured in that very cold water. Then I watched her elegantly and nonchalantly walk back to her lounge, where she lay back down in the August sun.
I think of her often. I am thinking of her tonight.
I wish that I could talk to her.
I would say, “Thank you for the model you have shown me.”
I would ask, “How is it that you are so comfortable with your old body? You have short gray hair, like me. You have round hips and a belly, like me. How do you dare to walk in public showing your every flaw?”
Of course, I could never really say any of this, but I do imagine how she might answer. I think that she might say, in complete seriousness, “This is what a grandmother looks like. I have gray hair because I have been lucky enough to have lived for several decades. I have wrinkles because I have laughed and cried as the situation has demanded.”
I think of her looking at her sagging breasts and belly, and imagine her saying, “I gave birth to my children! I fed them. I cooked for them. I worked hard.”
I imagine her telling me, “This is the body of a woman who has lived. Be grateful that you were able to achieve this.”
And then I try, very hard, to imagine myself telling her, “You’re right! My bruises and bumps and wrinkles are nothing to be ashamed of!”
And that is profoundly confusing for me. I have always had words. I was the second-grader who got in trouble for bringing a book into the girls’ bathroom so I could get to the end of my chapter. I was the third-grader whose teacher pulled her aside to say, “Honey, I know you have a lot to say, but can you practice waiting to say it later?”
I have always processed the entire world verbally. If I didn’t talk about it, I wasn’t sure it had really happened.
But I am out of words right now.
I feel stiff. I feel frozen. I feel as if every one of my deepest and most profound emotions is stuck in my throat.
I am learning that grief presents itself in strange ways.
When my Dad died, I cried and mourned and wrote about him and talked about him and somehow put everything in place.
But with the death of my Mom, I find myself at a loss for words.
One of the many things that Mom and I shared was our love of the spoken and written word. We were both readers. We were both writers. We both preferred verbal puzzles to mathematical ones.
We were also both more emotional than logical. We both struggled to force our hearts to follow our brains, instead of the other way around.
And now she is gone.
And I have no words.
I have tried and tried and tried again to come to this safe space where I can write just what I feel. But I can’t quite get my arms around the hugeness of the hole in my world.
I have no words.
Mom was graceful, even when she was unaware of that grace. She was stylish, as I can attest now that my sister and I have sorted through the 12 bags of her clothes.
Mom was opinionated. She was strong. She was fragile and breakable, and we all spent so much energy trying to protect her from the life around her. She was never able to fully grasp how much we loved her and looked to her to guide our way through this life.
I have no words to express the strange feeling that I have without her in my life.
One moment I feel like a balloon that has escaped its knot, rising and rising into the stratosphere with absolutely nothing to guide me.
The next moment I feel like the wise woman of my own village; the oldest and wisest, able to fold my mother’s lessons into my own.
I am here because I am afraid that if I stop writing, stop speaking, I will simply disappear. Without the reflection of my Mom in my mirror, am I really there?
I have lost my words.
I believe that they will come back. As I embrace my beautiful granddaughter and watch her falling into a good book, I see my Mom.
Life is a journey. Life goes on, no matter what we think about that fact.
My Mom is gone. For now, my voice has gone with her.
I will look to my children and to theirs, and I know that I will find it once again.
I am a summer person. I love the heat. I love the sweating and the thunder and the bees and the barbecue. I love the beach.
But even I have to admit, I really love a good snowstorm.
I love blizzards and nor’easters here in Massachusetts because they are such a visceral reminder that while we think we are in control of our own lives, nature is laughing right out loud at us.
I love these big storms because they force me to look beyond my usual safe and secure and technologically supported life. They force me to think, “Oh, oh….if the power goes out…..” I feel strong, smart, and prepared when I plug in my portable battery, double-check my generators and make sure the solar-powered flashlights are all charged up.
I feel excited and ready for a challenge when I make batches of calzones that can be eaten either hot or cold. And when I charge up all the flashlights. And bake some cookies because……really?
All of this preparation and pioneer-womaning is great and it all makes me appreciate a good snowstorm. But there is something I love even more.
I love a good snowstorm because it leaves behind it a small patch of untouched perfection.
No footsteps mar the perfection of the white. No dirt is anywhere in the image. No human impact can be seen on the landscape.
A good snowstorm is the ultimate “Do Over”. It allows me to look out my window, watching the birds flit from branch to branch. It lets me watch as a tiny chickadee picks the seeds out of an overgrown perennial.
A strong storm is a reminder to all of us that earth has been here a lot longer than we have. It reminds us that the roads are only a recent addition to the earth. It shows us that if mother nature set her mind to it, we’d be gone.
I love it.
I love the expansive spread of pure white snow across a yard.
Today’s New England blizzard is reminding me of one of my favorite memories as a teacher. I arrived at school one morning after a storm of some 12 or 14 inches. My students gathered in the classroom as usual. They handed in homework, did the “attendance” record and sat down to do “Before School Work”.
At exactly the moment when the official school day began, I told them all to put on their coats, snow pants, and boots. As I recall, they were excited and bewildered in equal measure. I lined them up. I walked to the door of our classroom, and then led them down to the outdoor exit. The exit that would take them outside to the playground.
To the playground that was covered with pure, untouched, sparkling snow.
“Nobody has been out here yet,” I told them. “Go!”
There was a short frozen moment of hesitation. And then the door burst open and out they ran. Twenty-four ecstatic ten-year-olds burst out into the pure, untouched snow. They laid down their footprints. They rolled in the snow. They buried their faces in the snow.
THIS is what I love about snowstorms.
They let us start fresh. They let children feel the miracle of laying down the very first footprints on that pristine palette.
A snowstorm tells us to stop, to slow down, to savor the moment. It tells us that no matter how powerful we feel ourselves to be, our footsteps will not last in this world. They tell us to embrace the moment of icy, sparkling joy. And they remind us that those moments are not eternal. They remind us that the snow will soften. It will become gray and icy and old.
A good snowstorm reminds us that every moment of joy is a moment to treasure. And it reminds us that even if it’s cold out there, we should go out and jump into the drifts.
Life and love and joy are all as ephemeral as a snowstorm, I guess. And that’s why we have to embrace and enjoy every one.
This is not our usual ‘New Year’ celebration, is it? We are now two full years into this relentless pandemic. We are, as Americans, at each other’s throats every single day over concepts both serious and stupid. Should we work to protect the rights of all voters to express themselves in each election? Should we push back against the biases we see in our media outlets? Do we really have to wear masks in the grocery store? Why do I need to get a vaccination if I’m not likely to die from this disease?
This year we find ourselves facing a New Year’s Eve that is fraught with anger, with frustration, with fear, with sorrow.
For me, and my immediate family, this is the year without our parents. This is our first look into a future with neither Mom nor Dad. A year in which we feel unbalanced, unanchored, adrift.
I want to write the usual hopes for the upcoming year and the usual funny looks back on the mistakes and mix-ups of last year.
But I can’t.
This year, I find that I am simply blank. There are too few thoughts in this weary head.
As I watch the waning days of 2021, all I feel is resignation.
I am resigned to the fact that more and more people are going to get sick in the next few weeks. I’m resigned to the realization that our country, and humanity as a whole, has completely mismanaged the enormous challenge of our global pandemic. Even though we KNOW that viruses cross borders, that viruses do not care what languages we speak or which gods we honor, even though we KNOW that every human on this little planet is at risk, we have still failed to look out for each other.
We have vaccines, but we aren’t going to share them because…..money.
My disappointment in the human race is profound.
I am resigned to the fact that the country in which I live is headed off a cliff, and that there is nothing in the world I can do to make it better.
Politicians will continue to yell and scream about nothing. People will continue to insist that they are on the “good” team. Temperatures will rise, storms will rage, glaciers will melt.
I’m usually able to summon up at least a modicum of hopefulness; I am a woman who surrounds herself with children, and that in itself is usually enough to keep me optimistic.
But as we come up on the first anniversary of our near insurrection, I read that our government is “weighing the possibility of seeking criminal charges”. And I realize that none of this theater is actually about stopping us from charging off that cliff. It’s about stringing things out until we get close enough to the famous “midterms” to impact the way we feel, and the way we will vote. It’s about liars, cheaters and traitors trying to wiggle out of the responsibility they have for what happened, and about those who are supposed to be holding them accountable finding the most politically expedient way to do that.
As our children are about to head back into schools that are literal petri dishes of infection, with no actual plan in place to keep anyone safe, I am aware that as a society we are happy to sacrifice our youngest children and their teachers so that the factories can keep churning out the endless piles of junk that we all so enjoy ordering online.
I have no uplifting, hopeful, empowering thoughts for next year.
I am blank. I am bereft. I am as empty as any candidate’s promise to save us.
I wish you a 2022 of abject boredom, in which nothing remotely dangerous or scary happens to you or to anyone you love. I wish you a year empty of new variants, devoid of new mask recommendations, extra boosters, or anything involving the word “antibodies”.
May your greatest surprise in 2022 come in the form of an unexpected blossom on a plant you thought you’d lost. May your biggest challenge be trying to remember the name of that wonderful teacher from elementary school.
I wish you peace. I wish you rest. I wish you at least one fabulously delicious meal shared with people who make you laugh out loud.
Most of all, dear friends, my New Year’s wish for all of us is that one year from now we find ourselves saying, “Well, that was certainly an improvement.”
When I was a child, Christmas was really magical. I mean, seriously magical. As part of a giant Italian family, the celebration of Christmas spread over several weeks.
There was the night when Dad placed the bright, hot orange window candles in our bedroom, and my sisters and I would fall asleep bathed in that magical glow. We’d whisper about hoped-for gifts, promised treats, and the possibility of actually seeing Santa this time.
There was the setting up of the tree and the hot dusty smell of those huge old painted bulbs. Do any of you remember those? For a few years they would be perfect, but every time they were lit, they’d heat up and cook the paint that covered them, eventually leaving it cracked and peeling. That hot paint smell is one of my best and sweetest Christmas memories.
And we had the joy of a Sicilian Christmas eve. Oh, the food! Octopus, cooked perfectly by my Grampa, salty and “al-dente”, studded with green olives and tiny capers. Exploding in my mouth, telling me that Christmas was truly here. The shrimp, the pasta, the array of cookies.
And the exchange of gifts. On Christmas eve, we got gifts from our Nana and Grampa and from our loving aunts and uncles. Dolls, books, playdoh, brand new crayons in the box with the sharpener.
These Christmas Eve gifts were the appetizers of the Big Day for us.
Because when the evening was over, we’d head home to await the big guy. Oh, my gosh, the memories of trying to sleep with those warm orange lights!!
One year, my sister Liz and I woke up in the night. CHRISTMAS EVE night. We heard sounds on our roof. Seriously! We mean it! There were sounds on the roof!~ We were shivering with excitement.
The next morning, we woke up and ran outside. It had snowed that week, so the roof was coated in a nice white layer. And there on the roof, right in front of our wondering eyes, were long, thin trails where something had been dragged across the snow……
We knew, without a doubt, that we were seeing the tracks of Santa’s sleigh. We had no thought for the tall willow trees that stood beside our house or the way that their long branches used to drape across the roof in the wind.
It was Christmas magic.
When I grew up and was the mother of young children, the magic of Christmas happened through my kids.
Oh, I know how trite that sentence is. I know it’s boring and cliche and completely unoriginal.
But in my case, it’s completely true.
I remember coming out of my parents’ house on Christmas Eve. My Grampa was gone, but the tradition of the Sicilian Christmas Eve was carried on by my Mom. The octopus was there. The shrimp was there, along with the meatballs, the eggplant, the ridiculous supply of cookies. My kids opened gifts from aunts, uncles and grandparents. They played with cousins. They became more and more wound up as the party progressed.
I remember trying to get them out the front door and into their car seats. I remember pausing, somewhat obviously, and gazing up at the sky over the house. We live in a very rural area, far from any airports. My parents’ house was less than 20 miles from Logan Airport. So as you can imagine, there is always a flight or two overhead.
“Oh, wow,” I remember saying, pretending to be casual, “Do you kids see that red light way up there? I wonder……just thinking…..could it be…..?”
Invariably, all three kids would jump into the car and demand that we “get home, get home! Hurry!”
That was a kind of magic. And the magic of staying up until 2AM trying desperately to get all those presents out of the attic, wrapped, put together and placed around the tree….while not waking up any of the three kids. Well….that was a wonderful magic that Paul and I complained about but loved so much.
I remember one year when the toys were finally placed by 2AM, and the kids woke up at 4. I love looking back on our sense disbelief when we heard those little voices whispering, and asked each other, “This can’t be the end of the night, can it……..?” I remember falling asleep in front of a movie, on the living room floor, at 6pm with our youngest in my arms.
Now the magic of Christmas is found in the simple repetition of traditions. Now I make the octopus. Now I fry the shrimp.
Now I give gifts to my grandchildren a day or two before Christmas. I am the “appetizer” to the big event.
Now the magic comes to me in the annual gathering of cousins and the few remaining aunts. It comes from seeing my Grampa’s eyes in the faces of his grandsons. It comes from the taste of the octopus, cooked by my little brother, as perfectly flavored as Grampa ever did it. It comes from my sense that life goes on, that children still believe, that a few marks on the roof can give little children faith in something more beautiful and profound than our everyday lives.
There is magic.
Christmas is magic.
Tomorrow morning I will lie in my bed, with a dog on each side and my old husband snoring beside me. And I will smile, knowing that my daughter and her husband are probably looking at each other in the earliest light of dawn, asking “This can’t be the end of the night, can it……..?”
Buon Natale a tutti.
Merry Christmas, friends. I hope you are able to find your magic.