I’ve always been enormously grateful to have married into a fun, warm, welcoming family. My husband’s extended family is full of people I really, truly love. A lot. They laugh. They kiss. They’re just plain fun.
But from the beginning of our dating life a few decades ago, I’ve also been aware that I am a little more ethnic than all those gorgeous blonde cousins and their kids. I remember times over the years, where I just felt so ridiculously Italian.
Like the time I ate dinner with Paul’s family and was so impressed with the meal. I had never had anything like it! I was both delighted and amazed. “What do you call this?” I asked innocently. Even 35 years later, I remember the awkward silence, the glances around the table, and the answer to my question.
“It’s a pot roast.”
Yup. I felt a little out of the WASP world at that moment.
But one day Paul and I went to visit his Uncle, a man I hadn’t yet met. Paul was eager for me to meet Uncle Curt and his wife, Mary. All the way to their house, my sweetie talked about how much he loved the delicious veal cutlets that Mary cooked.
Mary, it turned out, was Italian.
When we got to their house, Mary greeted us with a big smile, a hug, and warm brown eyes. She took both my hands, we smiled at each other, and there was a magical little “click” somewhere in my heart.
I don’t remember much of the visit, but I remember that when I met Mary, I met an image of myself. I met a friend. I know that we laughed, we talked about red wine, we talked about food.
It was a wonderful day.
I’m not sure that I every saw Mary again. If I did, it was only once or twice, and only in a crowd. Still, she’s always stayed in my memory. Her lemon cutlets and her big smile.
And that “click”.
A couple of years ago, we were away on Paul’s annual camping family reunion. It was a beautiful July night, and everyone was gathering around the “Happy Hour” table. There were a few people there that were new to the yearly experience. One young couple came with their little year old baby boy. I didn’t actually get the details about who they were, and how they were related, but I smiled and admired the baby.
I was happy to meet everyone, but I was also a little distracted. You see, my daughter was within a couple of weeks of her due date to deliver our first grandchild. My thoughts were mostly on her as we all set up our campsites.
Still, as I talked to the young woman with the beautiful curly hair, as we compared our feelings about motherhood, as I looked at her warm, smiling face, I swear to you: I heard that tiny inner “click” once again.
But I didn’t have a chance to think much about my new “click” or what it meant, because my daughter went into labor at midnight, and instead of spending the weekend hanging out with relatives, I hung out in the maternity unit, meeting my sweet Ellie.
I nearly forgot about the “click”.
Until very recently.
Over the past two years, I have started to get together once in a while with that lovely young woman. She’s now the Momma of two beautiful boys, and I’m the Nonni of two little ones. We both love the time we spend with the kids, but we also both really love spending time with another woman in the same situation.
It’s kind of hilarious. My young relative, Angela, is young enough to be my own child. But when she brings the boys here for a play date once a month, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels instead like I’m with one of my friends. Like I’m with that rare and most prized person, a woman from my tribe!
When Angela and the boys are here, we push back the furniture. We put out bowls of snacks, let the kids empty out the toy box, and just watch what happens. The kids play. They argue. They take turns on the potty. They eat, they spill, they climb on the back of the sofa.
Angela and I drink coffee, begin sentences we never finish, scoop each others’ kids up, grab the milk, make peanut butter sandwiches.
And the years, for me, melt away. I am back in the days when I was a young mom, sharing the joys and stresses with my tribe of women friends.
For me, the “click” I heard when I looked at Angela has lead me to a place where I feel less alone. I’m not the only ethnic one around. I’m not the oddity of an old lady taking care of babies.
Instead, I’m a woman in our family. I’m a caretaker. I’m a maternal figure. Like my heart’s own “clicking” friend, Angela, I’m a diaper changer, bottle giver, bandaid applier, sharing-rules-teacher.
And I am not alone.
And it took me six months to figure out that Angela is Mary’s granddaughter. Isn’t that just lovely???