How Do You Sleep At Night?


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Dear NRA leaders, lobbyists and supporters,

No. I do not want to see guns brought into our schools. I do not want my former colleagues to be armed on the playground.

No. I do not want soldiers, swat teams or retired service people stationed around my local school. I do not want my daughter to have an armed guard outside of her classroom door.

Want to know why?

1. Kids are unpredictable

Sometimes the people who are killed by the guns are killed by accident. You know, the 7 year old with ADHD who pulled the fire alarm at my school could just as easily have grabbed a gun out of a pocket, a drawer or a holster.

If you think it makes sense to bring more deadly weapons into our classrooms, I have one question for you.

How do you sleep at night?

2. Humans are fragile

I have had students with severe emotional disabilities. Wonderful, smart, beautiful children who have struggled with anxiety, depression, PTSD, even psychosis and schizophrenia.

I have had colleagues who have struggled with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorder.

Sometimes humans, even the little ones, become overwhelmed and think that suicide is the right answer. Sometimes they act out. Sometimes they even succeed.

If you believe that adding loaded guns into this type of setting is a good idea, I have one question for you.

How do you sleep at night?

3. Schools are big places

There are a whole bunch of you out there trying to convince us that armed guards outside of our schools would keep us safer. But how many guards are you planning to add? Do you want to put one outside the front door? My classroom was just inside of a side door.

So what if we put a guard outside of every side door? Do we need one at the loading dock, too? How about the gym? The kitchen has an access door, too.

Snipers on the roof, maybe?

Couldn’t a bad guy with one of those awful guns shoot out our windows? Do you we want guards all along the streets that surround the school?

Would you want to put an armed guard outside of every classroom? Every three classrooms?

What do we do about recess?

If you think placing armed guards in schools can help protect us, I have just one question for you.

How do you sleep at night?

4. Should guns be visible or concealed?

This one is tricky, right?

Let’s start with the idea of arming teachers. Let me imagine myself in my fifth grade classroom. If my gun is loaded and on my body, I’d theoretically be ready to shoot the bad guy, right?

But if I want to get my gun and shoot before I”m killed it would have to be readily available. I guess it would be in a holster on my chubby hip. As a middle aged woman kneeling down to work with the kids, I often banged my hip on a desk or chair. Sometimes I dropped my pen, my notebook or my text book as I moved from desk to desk.

Sometimes I had to climb up on chairs or counters to set up the classroom or get materials ready.

Imagine all that with a loaded gun.

Bad plan.

So if its a bad idea to have a gun right on my hip, what about if it is kept in a drawer in my desk?

My unlocked desk, where I rarely sat because I was busy teaching. I guess at the sound of gunshots from outside my classroom I would shut off the lights, lock the door, gather the kids in our safe spot and grab my gun out of my desk. Unless I had put the gun in a place where a kid couldn’t grab it either accidentally or on purpose.

In which case I’d have to dig around for a bit while the AR-15 was shooting outside my door.

Great idea, you say?

How do you sleep at night?

5. Schools are NOT prisons

Teachers are not first responders. Children are not inmates.

Schools, when they work well, are centers of community life. They are places of thought, of friendship, of social engagement.

In healthy schools, teachers and children feel safe and respected. They share a sense of community and belonging.

It seems obvious to this former teacher that spending all day in the presence of armed guards would make it impossible to feel anything but trapped and under siege.

So.

If you honestly believe that the best we can do to protect our children is to keep them under armed guard, rather than taking away the danger that faces them, I would ask you this one simple question.

How the hell do you sleep at night?

 

 

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My Terrible Truth


I try to write carefully on this blog. I try to be thoughtful, to be careful of what I say and how I say it.

I try not to be awful.

But I have learned a terrible, terrible truth today, and this post will focus on that fact. I am afraid that my words will not be chosen carefully today, because they are being lit by the fuse of this terrible truth.

I discovered today that if the circumstances were right, I could kill another human being.

I do not say this lightly. I have often wondered if I would be able to kill an animal if I had to do it in order to feed my family. I’ve never been sure.

I know that I could kill a fish, having done that more than once. I have no qualms about killing and eating a fresh, sweet clam.

If the dark days ever came and my grandkids were truly hungry, I think I could force myself to kill a duck or a turkey. But I doubt that I could ever, ever kill a deer. I can’t stand the thought of killing something so beautiful and so alive.

I see myself as a coward when it comes to taking life. I eat meat, and I don’t condemn those who hunt for food. Still, I have never believed that I myself could actually make the kill.

Until today, I was sure that nothing in the world could ever make me take the life of another human being.  I’ve never served in the military. I’ve never been in law enforcement.

I’m a gentle, tender hearted, nurturing mother figure. I have been a teacher, a speech therapist for disabled children, a mother, a nonni. I rock babies. I cook nutritious soups. I capture spiders and put them back outside.

I hate violence of any kind. I won’t watch violent shows or movies. Other than mosquitoes, I don’t kill anything.

So today, as I sat rocking my 8 month old grandson in my arms, watching the winter afternoon drift by, I thought of myself as a giver of life. A giver of life and tenderness and understanding.

As I sat breathing in the sweet baby smell of my little Johnny’s hair, I didn’t expect the terrible truth to assault me the way that it did.

But the news was on.

And I saw yet another public school surrounded by swat teams, and armored vehicles and men in combat gear. I saw even more children running out of their classrooms with their arms in the air.

Another school shooting. The 18th in the past 6 weeks? The 19th? We are nearly at one a day!

“Again?!” I gasped out loud. “Again??!!!”

I held Johnny tighter. I thought about his mother, my daughter, my child. She is a teacher. She trusts me to keep her babies safe while she nurtures and cares for other people’s children. I am so incredibly afraid for her!

I thought of my former colleagues, at the school where I taught for two decades. I am afraid for them.

I am afraid for every child in this country who kisses their momma goodbye and gets on that big yellow bus.

And as I rocked my baby boy and cried into the softness of his silky hair, I was hit, hard, by the realization that I would happily, joyfully, gleefully blow the fucking heads off of those who have allowed this country to become a place where public schools are shot up every single week.

I tried to stop that thought. It goes against every instinct that I have to harbor such violent wishes.

But you know what?

Just once, just this once, I wish that I could use the complete lack of gun control to satisfy my own desire to protect our teachers and our children.

If I had the guts…..no, let’s be honest….if I had the opportunity… to be in the presence of Wayne LaPierre (head of the NRA), any NRA lobbyist, or any of the members of Congress who have taken money from the gun whores of the NRA…..

I would happily take my legally obtained AR-15 and cheerily insert it directly into the open mouth of any one of them. I would pull the trigger with a sense of relief and pleasure. I would step over the ugly mess that their brains and skull bones made as they were spattered on the nearby wall.

Then I’d offer their families my thoughts and prayers and deepest condolences.

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The face of a killer…in the right circumstances.

The Times They Are A-Changing


I came of age way back in the early 1970s. It was a time of newfound freedom for women, in the early days of the Women’s Liberation movement.

I became a woman at a time when we were just beginning to discover our power and our strength. We were just beginning to push back against the pressures of society to be beautiful and silent.

In other words, I came of age at a time when high school girls had thrown out the cashmere sweaters and poodle skirts and had embraced the freedom of jeans and flannel shirts.

Back then we wore our hair long, frizzy and parted straight down the middle. We were proud of our red canvas high top sneakers and our bleached bell bottom jeans.

We did NOT wear makeup.

(Except for cherry flavored, unbearably sticky lip gloss that came in small pink pots. For unknown reasons, we all seemed to be addicted to that stuff. I can still taste it. It reminds me of 8th grade algebra class.)

Not wearing makeup was fine for me in those days. I had big brown eyes, long dark lashes and naturally tanned olive skin. I was cute. It worked for me.

At some point in my 20s, I remember trying to use makeup. I remember purple eye shadow, frosted lipstick, rosy pink cream blush.

I also remember that I looked remarkably like a clown while wearing said make up.

By the time I was in graduate school, and through my 30s when I was a young mother, I had reduced my daily makeup to a few strokes of mascara and a little foundation. It took under two minutes, and there was no big crazy Bozo the Clown looking back at me from my mirror.

But…Being bad at make up had another effect.

I never did learn how to take care of my skin. How to clean it, moisturize it, smooth it out….I was young, I was attractive, I was blessed with nice Italian coloring. I washed with soap and I called it a day. I never really thought about skincare.

When I hit my 40s, I realized that I should probably start to worry about wrinkles. I can remember buying myself a 4 dollar jar of some kind of generic face cream. I bought a makeup remover, too. They both lasted at least a decade before I decided to throw them out because they had become solid masses of grayish white goop. I just never got into the habit of taking care of my skin.

All of this information is to set the stage for my awakening this past winter.

My first clue that I was missing the beauty boat came during a weekend away with my closest women friends. These women are smart, powerful, independent and beautiful. I love them dearly.

But they were all with me in that whole “coming of age when we didn’t pay attention to beauty” thing.

Somehow, they had managed to learn a few things over the decades that eluded clueless Nonni here. They talked about facial and leg hair removal, waxing, skin smoothing, lotions, potions and notions which left my tiny head spinning.

I had never thought about any of those things! I hadn’t even known they existed.

H’mmmm.

My second clue came while reviewing photos from various Christmas gatherings this past December. Although I had been right there in the middle of the fun at each of them, in all of the photos I looked like a big gray blob standing in the background.

Really!

I was gray. All gray.

I have gray hair. Or as I like to tell myself, I have white and black hair. Gleaming white and dark deep black.

In the pictures, though, that hair was just colorless. As was my face. My once dark eyebrows were gray heading toward white. My once olive skin, in the dead of winter in Massachusetts, was as gray as ash. My lips? The same pasty color as my face.

And what the absolute hell was I thinking when I picked out my Christmas clothes? Black sweater? Gray shirt? White vest?

I was a ghost. An old, faded ghost with old faded skin.

Even I could hardly see me standing there with my invisible arms around my glowing, colorful, vibrant family.

Yeeesh.

So here I am. Just about to turn 62.

I am now the proud owner of one bottle of expensive makeup remover. I have not one but TWO containers of retinol/hyaluronic acid moisturizers. My bathroom shelf now supports two shades of “all day” lip color, one bronzer, one tinted moisturizer and a whole new palate of “mature woman” eye brightening makeup. I have wrinkle remover, wrinkle blender, concealer, eyelid moisturizer and lip cream.

As the owner of a head of hair that has not only lost its color but also its glorious thickness, I am also now in possession of specially formulated thickening shampoo, special conditioner, bamboo fiber thickening and enriching cream, volume enhancing gel and two kinds of scalp treatments.

So I’m sure you want to know: am I looking younger, more vibrant, more dewey and moist?

I don’t know. At my age, the whole looking in the mirror thing isn’t that successful. I think I can see me in there if I squint.

Ah, well.

At least I didn’t discover all this beautifying stuff until I had retired. This way I actually have the 45 minutes every morning and night to goop myself up before I have to face the world.

I don’t know if its working, but at least I know that my grandkids see me at my best when I’m scraping poop off their butts. And at least I know that I’m doing my best to support the beauty products industry.

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Don’t I look vibrant and dewey?  Johnny thinks so!

Oh, Charlie


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Dear Charlie,

Dear sweet, lovable Charlie,

This is a love letter to you, beautiful tuxedo cat Charlie. This is a letter of thanks, of love, of appreciation and it is a letter of sorrow.

Dear Charlie,

When you came to Mom’s house, it was because my brave sister Liz wanted Momma to look forward into her future with happiness. You came to her house after Dad died, when she was at her most fragile and at her saddest. You brought your silly kitten energy, and that made her laugh.

You brought your sweet kitten neediness, too, and that was even better. Every night, as Mom sat in her glider and watched her favorite shows, you jumped up onto the footrest and asked to be brushed.

There were so many evenings when I sat there with Mom, unsure of what to say or how to act, when you would give your little “brrrrrp” sound to make sure we knew you were there. Then you’d leap gracefully onto the footrest of Mom’s glider chair, where you’d curl your tail around yourself as if it was the robe of the Emperor. You’d open wide those beautiful golden eyes and you’d stare at Mom with perfect confidence until she reached for your brush and gave you the attention you so obviously felt you deserved.

Charlie, you were so smart. So agile and graceful and sweet. My Ellie, at the tender age of two, fell in love with your yellow eyes and your sense of calm detachment. She adores you.

I do, too, Charlie. I adore you, too.

But no one loves you more than Grandma, for whom you have been the best of boon companions.

You cheered her up on lonely days, Charlie. You made her laugh when no one else could. You sat beside her when she felt sad and weak.

Oh, sweet Charlie.

I remember that shortly after she got you, Mom said to me, “I worry about what will happen to Charlie when I die.” I tried to suggest that perhaps you would go before her, but Mom was having none of it.

“I’m old,” she assured me, as if I didn’t know it. “Charlie is only a baby.”

And yet here we are. At the end of your life. Watching you struggle to eat, to walk, to rest comfortably. After surgery and medicine and more medicine and every kind of loving intervention, you’re telling us that you really do need to go.

Mom will miss you more than any of us can say. She will miss your antics, your silliness, your presence, your big yellow eyes.

We all will.

Charlie. I’m so sorry. You gave it your very, very best. You are a champ, my darling little boy.

I’ll take you to rest in a couple of days, honey. I promise. And I’ll hold in these tears until you are gone, over that rainbow bridge. Then, I promise, I will bawl like a broken hearted toddler as I mourn the loss of your sweet presence.

Rest, little guy. You’ve earned it.

 

She was only a baby


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There was another shooting at another school in the United States this past week.

I know. Yawn, yawn. It doesn’t even make the headlines anymore.

But still.

Think of the teachers who kiss their children goodbye every morning and grab their travel mugs of coffee as they head to school. Think of the parents, millions of them, who pack lunches for their kids and check homework. Picture them kissing their children and putting them on the big yellow bus.

Think about how much trust it takes to send children off to spend the day in the care of other adults. Think about how much trust it takes to go into work every day as a teacher. Think about the number of school shootings that take place in this country every month.

I used to be a teacher. I went to those terrible, horrifying trainings on how to react to a live shooter in our school. I had to keep my door locked at all times, in the event of a shooter coming in to get us.

I used to stay awake at night picturing how I would react if someone burst into my classroom with a weapon. I imagined using my broom to hit the bad guy in the chest or the throat. I imagined telling my ten year old students to lie flat on the floor as I did this. I thought about kicking the weapon away from the killer and I thought about hitting him with my broom, or my feet, or with a big dictionary.

It never felt real. And it never felt it would be enough.

What kind of country asks its children to practice hiding from guns, rather than keeping the guns out of the schools? What kind of insane society asks its teachers to practice taking out a murderer during a reading lesson?

The other day a little girl took hold of a gun and brought it to her Los Angeles middle school. She shot her classmates.

She was 12 years old.

Let me say that again.

She was TWELVE.

She was too young to vote, to order a glass of wine or to get a credit card. She was too young to understand that death is eternal. She was a child. A young child. She was an unhappy pre-adolescent girl who felt bad about herself.

What kind of country would allow her access to a weapon? What kind of sick, twisted, insane society would put this kind of gun into the hand of a sad little girl who doesn’t understand its power?

I am so ashamed to be an American. I am. THIS is why.

I am ashamed because I live in a country that believes that the right to shoot for fun outweighs the rights of children to go to school in safety. I am ashamed because I live in a country that has decided that the millions of NRA dollars are more important the lives of millions of teachers.

We have so completely lost our way, America.

A TWELVE YEAR OLD brought a gun to school and shot up the kids who were bugging her. And nobody in power gives a shit. It didn’t even make the front pages of our national newspapers.

We have lost our way. We are lost. We have abdicated our right to call ourselves merciful, kind or nurturing.

I am sick at heart. And I will forever mourn the adults who let this little girl destroy her own life and the lives of her classmates just so they can tell themselves that they are big old badass gun toting Mericans.

If Canada would have me, I’d be there next week.

 

How I Became One of the Cool Kids


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Upstate Rubdown. The actual cool kids.

I think I was about 10 when I realized that the world is made up of those who are cool and those who want to be.

I wanted to be cool.

I wasn’t.

I tried to be less of a nerd, but I was known as one of those kids who would sneak a good novel into my desk during math class.

Fashion seemed like the obvious way to become cool, but by the time I realized that hiphuggers were in, they weren’t any more. Nehru jackets in the late 60’s? Yup. I got mine in 1971.

Epically uncool.

But there was ONE thing I did manage to do in my life that shot me straight into the cool kid stratosphere. I discovered some really great musicians before they became huge.

So cool! The coolest!

Nothing turns a nerd cool faster than being ahead of the musical curve, you know what I mean?  Imagine having someone put on a CD of their new favorite band and being able to say, “Pshaw. I’ve been seeing them for years!” Coolness, hipness and general superiority come flooding right down over your nerdy little head.

Well, my friends, this is YOUR chance to become almost as cool as Momshieb.

Because I have a tip that you honestly can’t ignore.

Introducing “Upstate Rubdown,” my new musical obsession!  We first heard them two years ago on the advice of our already musically cool sons. Both Paul and I fell in love with the harmonies, the energy, the uniqueness of their music.

We have seen them about a dozen times since then and we listen to their first album so often that my 2 year old granddaughter can sing every word.

You need to listen to Upstate Rubdown. You owe it to your former nerdy self! You owe it to your musical self. You can find them on Facebook and on YouTube. Go!

But then come right back, because this is the coolest part. Upstate is working on a new album! For reasons that defy comprehension, they have not yet been signed by a record company. So they are funding it through a Kickstarter campaign.

You need to click right HERE so that you can send them some money, preorder the album, and insure your place forever in the pantheon of cool kids.

How can you say no?

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It doesn’t get much cooler than this.

To be completely truthful (“in the interest of transparency”) I have to tell you that both of our sons fell in love with the music, too. Then one of them fell in love with one of the beautiful singers.

That means that we know these young people. We are big time fans (just ask them how goofy we look singing along at their shows). But we also know that this band is the real deal. They are hardworking, smart, kind and so talented that I constantly have to fight the urge to ask for their autographs.

Go listen. I’m not kidding. You will NOT be sorry.

NEVER AGAIN


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I once had a job that changed my life.

I was 22 years old, a recent graduate with a dual degree in political science and the Russian language. It was 1978.

I was hired by Jewish Family Services of Boston as an interpreter. The agency worked to resettle Soviet Jews who were beginning new lives in the Boston area.

My job was to interview the new families, and to interpret between the immigrants and their social workers. I also took them to the doctor. I was an interpreter of Russian at Boston’s Beth Israel and Children’s Hospitals.

At the innocent age of 22, this Italian Catholic had the opportunity to learn all about the lives of Jews who had lived through World War II. I had the honor of interpreting their stories to social workers, doctors, psychiatrists, landlords, dentists, eye doctors and obstetricians. I interpreted at a birth, and at a cardiac catheterization. I learned so much about medicine.

More importantly, I learned what it is to live history. I learned what it meant to have survived the Holocaust.

I knew a woman who had lost part of her eyesight from untreated diabetes. I took her to the eye doctor. I can still see her, her gray hair curling and thick, her sky blue eyes staring up toward the ceiling. As we waited for her turn to see the doctor, she told me about living through the siege of Leningrad. She talked about eating her shoes as a child, about her father going out onto the ice of the frozen Neva River to bring home meat from the horses that had died trying to drag supplies across the river.

I can still see her.

There was a woman who was very hard to understand. She had a badly scarred face and a poorly repaired cleft lip. She was old, overweight, always angry. She was hard to like. One day she wanted to cook for me and her social worker, as all of these immigrants did to show their gratitude. She made us a pile of Ukrainian dumplings called pelmeni. As we ate, she told us her story.

When she was a young wife, the war broke out. Her husband went off to fight against the Nazis. She was left at home, pregnant and raising a two year old girl. Her village was attacked by the invading Nazi army. Every house in the Jewish town was set on fire. The young mother ran into the woods, her two year old in her arms and her 7 month fetus safely under her heart. As she turned to look back at her burning home, a bullet hit her in the face, tearing through her upper lip, her palate and the back of her throat. The bullet fell back into her mouth, having failed to kill her. She spit it into the grass and kept running.

I will never forget her face as she told the story of sleeping in the woods with her terrified daughter, or of walking through the forest to find safety in another little town.

I saw the tattooed numbers on the forearms of many people. They were grandparents now, leaving behind everything they had ever known so that their children and grandchildren could live in a country where nothing so horrific could ever happen. They brought their scars, their fears, their illnesses, their terror. They brought their determination to become good Americans.

They brought their faith in the American dream and in the populism of American society.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I remember.

And I vow to fight as hard as I possibly can against a repeat. I will fight with everything I have against labelling an entire religion as “terrorists”. I will fight as hard as I can against the demonization of an entire nationality and against the naming of “us” and “them.”  I will not sit by while a giant wall is built between this country and its neighbor. I won’t stay quiet as people in my community are rounded up and thrown out.

NEVER AGAIN.

Never again.

It’s in our hands to make sure that when we say never again, that is what we truly mean.

 

 

The Goddess


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I grew up as a good Catholic girl. In my world, God was man. He was a tall white man with a light brown beard and a white robe.

God was male.

But I’m not a little girl anymore.

Now I am a mother. I saw my own body grow and stretch and bend itself to give life to my three children. That made me wonder if perhaps the true deity was a woman.

I have been lucky enough to watch my daughter become a mother.  I watched her body grow and stretch and bend itself to give life to my grandchildren.  That made me suspect that I was right is seeing the true deity as a woman.

Today I helped my 87 year old mother as she took a shower, washed her hair, got dressed and settled herself into her favorite chair to rest after those efforts.

It wasn’t easy for Mom. She was embarrassed to realize that she needed me to do something as simple as taking a shower.

I need to tell you that my Mom was a power woman. For all of my 61 years of life, my mother has been tough, strong, proud and independent . She was the first feminist in my life. She was my role model.

But today she needed me. She is almost 88 years old. She is recovering from pneumonia. She has difficulties with her memory and her cognition. She is old.

Today she needed me. She didn’t want to need me. She didn’t want to be so frail that she couldn’t bathe herself or dress herself.

But she was.

And she had the strength and the grace to accept that fact. She let me turn on the shower. She let me help her to undress.

“Well” she said, with a smile, “here I am in all my glory.”

And I looked at my mother. Thin, frail, too weak to stand on her own.

And I saw the Goddess.

I saw the body that gave me my life.

I saw the strength and the beauty and the courage that has shaped all of her life.

My beautiful, fragile, goddess Mother.

And now I think I understand.

The deity is a Goddess. The deity is woman.

God or Goddess; the deity is love. It is the desire to share ourselves with others. It is the desire to love and to be loved.

Now I hope that one day I will have the grace and the courage to face my own frailties, and to let my children help when I am no stronger than a baby myself.

 

 

Holding On, But Not Too Tight


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The grace and wisdom of grandparenting comes from knowing just how quickly these days will fly away.

One day in the not so far away future, I will be in my living room alone. I’ll have a good book, probably a laptop, and a dog or two snoozing at my feet. Life will be OK.

But what I won’t have on that future day is the sound of little voices filling the air with bubbles of joy. I won’t have the always amusing lilt of Ellie as she narrates our day together.

Last night as I was falling asleep, I kept hearing the sound of her words, complete with every mispronunciation. I thought to myself, “I hear her say my name hundreds of times every day.”  I never ever want to forget the way she says it. “Nah-nni” she calls, as she points out every event. “Nah-nni.” My heard floods with salty love at the thought of her speaking my name.

“Nonni, why is this happening? Why is this box not fitting on my head?”

“Nonni, know what I was thinking? I was thinking about cookies, Nonni, are you thinking about cookies?”

“I love my pretty goolie, Nonni! (jewelry).”

“Where are your ancestors, Nonni? Where are they now?” (We’ve been watching Moana.)

Or those moments when she is sipping from her cup of “milkies” and leans that curly head against my shoulder. She’ll sort of just murmur, her lips still clasped around the straw, “My Nonni.”

I want to save it. I want to record every word. I want to capture every question and keep it frozen in time. I want to preserve the feeling of her hair on my cheek. The feel of her breath on my closed eyelids as we fall asleep together.

I’m selfish. I want to keep these moments.

I want them all.

And then there’s Little Johnny, our beautiful boy. Every tiny new skill is a miracle. He can chomp on his own toes! He can raise his arms to ask me to pick him up! He is starting to babble, and to say “Mama”. He eats and its a hilarious festival of goofy faces and veggies up the nose.

They’re both just like every other miraculous child who has ever lived. But they’re OURS. In my Nonni heart, they’re MINE.

And I want to keep every second. I want them all to myself. I don’t want to share them, or miss them, or forget them. Ever.

Because I know this time around that before I can even catch my breath, the lilting little voices will be gone. The baby smiles will pass. The tender hugs and whispered words, “Oh, my Nonni” will have given way to the rest of their lives.

I can’t save these moments, any more than I could have saved the same tender moments with my own babies. We aren’t meant to hold onto time. I know that.

I know that time has to move. I know that. I can’t hold these days in my two hands.

But I can breathe in the emotion. I can swallow the love and plant it deep inside of me, in my very soul. I can feed it with my memories, and with all the love that I pour back into my little ones.

And one day, when I am sitting in my living room all alone, I will close my eyes. I will conjure up a picture of Ellie dancing in the living in room in her tutu and her “goolie” with a box on her head. I’ll see Johnny’s big shining eyes as he gazes up at her in adoration.

And I’ll remind myself that I have been the luckiest Momma and the luckiest Nonni who has ever lived, anywhere, anytime.

“Oh, Nonni, you are a silly lady!!! I love you, Nonni!”

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Visiting the Shit Hole


Guess where I’m going next July?

I’m going to be celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary in Italy! Isn’t that wonderful?

Our two sons and their beloveds are coming, too! We’re going to see Rome, and the Amalfi Coast. We’re going to stay in Pompeii, and walk through the Cinque Terre and drink wine in sidewalk cafes wherever we can find them.

And, perhaps best of all, we are going to visit the little villages that hold our ancient roots. My father’s family came from a small town outside of Naples. They were farmers, providing mostly for their own families. They lived simple, difficult lives.

Back at the turn of the twentieth century, that part of Italy was facing hard times. Life there was….I don’t know…how shall I say it?

It was a shit hole.

And my mother’s family came from Augusta, Sicily. An even more impoverished part of Europe during those first couple of decades of the twentieth century.

Even more of a shit hole.

My family, my grandparents, left behind every single thing that they knew and loved. They gave up home, safety, family, love, language, music, friends. They dared to dream of a better life, and they boarded those overcrowded ships. They waved goodbye. They looked forward.

They left those shit holes, and they entered Ellis Island.

They weren’t quite brown, but they weren’t blue eyed blonds, either. They faced the discrimination of the lighter skinned, English speaking immigrants who had come before them.

But they stuck it out, and they made a great new life for their children. And their grandchildren, like me.

Their efforts gave rise to several doctors, some lawyers, business people, teachers, nurses, EMT’s, musicians, actors, therapists. They are my heroes.

So next summer, I will go to the places where they lived and grew and fell in love with a better idea. I will honor and bless the ground where they walked. I will give thanks for their courage.

And I will vow, right out loud, to do everything I can for the rest of my life, to make sure that no matter what kind of “shit hole” other humans are living in, I will welcome them into my country, my state, and my own home.

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Angelina Fantasia and Carmine Merullo with their youngest son, my father.                                         My heroes, all of them.