The Passing Years, and How to Count Them


My family is enormously lucky because we live in a place that is green, and beautiful. Our house is surrounded by trees.

We’ve been in this house for 30 years. That seems so hard to believe. My husband Paul and I raised our three kids here. We’ve had two cats and five dogs at different times in this house.

Parts of the yard have been, at various times over the years, a baseball diamond, a hockey rink, a vegetable garden, a flower bed, a strawberry patch and a place to put the swings.

Now the kids are all grown up and on their own, and it’s time for us to start looking forward. In another ten or so years, we plan to sell this house and move someplace with less upkeep. It’s time.

With that thought in mind, we’re hiring someone to help clean up this huge yard and make things look neater and less overgrown. I have mixed feelings about it, isn’t that weird?

I walk around and I look at what is now a big rock buried in raspberry and blackberry vines. I remember thirty years ago, when that was the site of my first little garden. I planted “hens and chicks” and other succulents, thinking it would be a rock garden. I didn’t anticipate the encroachment of the woods. It didn’t occur to me that Mother Nature had her own plans.

The arborist is going to take down a tall, slender oak tree near our driveway. It is competing with other trees for sunlight and is now leaning toward our deck. It shades an entire section of lawn. Everything will look more open, more sunny, when it is gone.

But I remember one warm summer morning when that oak was about my height. I laid on the grass with our new puppy in my arms and looked at the sky through its leaves. That puppy is long gone now, crossed over the rainbow bridge in his old age. I look at that oak tree, and I remember his soft ears and his puppy smell. I don’t really want the tree to go. But it’s time.

There is a little grove of baby white pines that need to be taken out, too. They stand together, like a little family that has silently stepped out of the forest and into our yard. They silently watch the grass where my kids used to play “desert land.” They need to come down, but I will miss them.

I can count the passage of our family’s years by looking at the tree stumps that now stand in the yard. There’s the stump of a tree that once held a toddler’s swing. There is the stump of a pine that used to guard a squirrel nest.

Time passes, and we know we are aging. My mirror and my bones tell me that!

But I forget sometimes that this house and this yard are aging, too. It will be good to have it cleaned up, and to have the woods retreat back to where they belong.

Still, there is a little piece of me that wishes for something else. Perhaps it would be magic, I think, if we simply moved away and let the forest gently and slowly enfold the house where our children grew up. Let her cover it up and keep it safe, like a tender memory that can only be revisited in dreams.

Image: “Pine Tree and others” by scottc320 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dad Made Things


My Dad was a pretty typical father of the 50s, 60s and beyond. He went to work while Mom stayed at home with the six kids. He earned the money. He was the provider.

Dad came home every evening right around 6pm. Dinner was just about ready, and we were around the table. A drink was made, Dad took a sip, then settled down for dinner with the brood.

He was a good provider. He was a breadwinner.

But that isn’t what I remember tonight, as I think about Father’s Day and what my Dad meant to me.

What I remember about my Dad was that he made things.

Just for fun, just for a sense of creativity, my Dad made things.

When I was a very little girl, he made pancakes. He did it every Saturday morning while encouraging my Mom to sleep in a bit. Dad would get up with all of us, and he’d make batch after batch of pancakes. We’d eat them up while watching “The Little Rascals” on tv.

As I got older, Dad made things like shelves, and picture frames and other small wooden items. On the weekend, Dad would go down to his workshop in the garage, where he’d make step-stools and Confirmation Crosses and bookshelves.

After his retirement, Dad made more decorative items, just for fun. My parents had a beautiful in-ground pool, and Dad made planters for the flowers that Mom placed around the patio.

When my family was young, and settling into our first and only home, Dad helped my husband to build a shed to store the garden tools.

Dad isn’t here with us anymore. He went on to the next step back in 2008.

But tonight, as we prepare to celebrate Father’s Day without being able to hug our kids, I am thinking of my Dad and of his legacy of creation.

I’m thinking a lot about the fact that although I am his daughter, I don’t really take after my Dad. I don’t know how to hammer a nail or saw a board or make a shed. I’m not good at math, the way that he was. I don’t have Dad’s sense of detail and his ability to create logical, sequential plans. That skill is shared by my sister, but not by me.

That thought made me a little bit sad today.

Then I took a walk around my garden. And I thought a bit.

Maybe I’m stretching it, maybe I’m making it up, but it seems to me that in a different sense, I do share Dad’s ability to “make things.”

I have made a garden out of a yard that was once completely wild. Slowly, step by step, blossom by blossom, I have turned my wild property into a pretty, fragrant, welcoming space.

Making something out of nothing is perhaps a skill, or a desire, that I do share with my Dad.

Maybe the bread that I make from my own sourdough starter is a way for me to create something, too.

What I know is that I miss my Dad. I miss his smile, his humor, his hugs. I even miss his rigid sense of right and wrong. I miss his love. I miss the things that he made out of nothing.

So tomorrow morning I will walk in my garden. I’ll salute my Dad as I admire the coreopsis growing in the goose planter that he built. I’ll take a lawn chair out of the shed that he built in our yard.

And I’ll water the wild roses and irises and herbs that I have planted here in what was once a piece of woodland.

I’ll think of my Dad and I’ll treasure the small ways in which I am like him.

Lily of the Valley


When I was about 8 years old, I discovered the huge swath of lily-of-the-valley. They were growing all along the driveway at my grandparent’s house.

The house was in a relatively urban town just outside of Boston. As I look back at it now, from the vantage point of my current rural life, it seems like a house in a big city.

But it was the home that my grandparents bought after leaving the inner city life of Boston during the Great Depression and the Second World War. For them, as immigrants from Sicily in the days of the Industrial Revolution, this house was like paradise. It had a porch, a yard, and even a garage.

I remember that the right side of the house, the side away from the driveway, had a fence to separate it from the neighbor’s. I remember that fence because it was lined with a row of lovely roses, each one carefully pruned and shaped, each a different shade of red or pink. They were gorgeous, all of them, and my grandfather was so proud of them. His bride, my Nana, was named Rose, and he grew them to show her his love.

But even more than the roses, I remember the blossoms that grew along the neglected driveway on the other side of the house. It was a long, narrow path, marking the border between the houses on that suburban street. My grandparents’ side of the drive was line with huge, towering, pines. They were spaced about 20 feet apart, and each had a strong, straight trunk. I thought of them as guardians when I was a child. I felt that each one watched over our Nana and Grampa and the home that held our family’s heart.

I loved those big trees.

And then one day, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I wandered out to where the trees grew. It must have been early May. I found thousands and thousands of tiny, perfect, beautiful white blossoms, each one dangling along a thin green thread.

The smell of them was intoxicating. I had never in my life seen or smelled or even imagined anything so perfect. I remember that I picked one delicate stem, so carefully, and ran inside to my Nana.

“Nana! What is this? Where did it come from??”

She told me that it was called “Lily-of-the-valley” and that someone had planted a few of them at the edge of the driveway before she and Grampa had bought the house. She explained that they were a kind of “wild flower” and that they’d spread along the entire length of the drive, making a sweet carpet under those huge pines.

I was amazed, enchanted, captivated. “Lily-of-the-valley” was such a magical name! But where was the valley? I could only see the thin strip of land along the driveway. I saw no valley.

But I imagined one.

I created an imaginary valley full of grass and wildflowers and those gloriously fragrant bells of lilly.

For the next decade, at least, I went back to revel in the glorious magic of those little blossoms. I played along the drive when I was a girl. I imagined tiny fairies, dressed in silver gossamer, dancing under the lilies. As I got older, I’d pick a bouquet of those fragrant blooms, knowing that their magic was fleeting.

I remember holding my baby girl, my first born child, and showing her the rows and rows of beautiful lily-of-the-valley.

And when my Nana died, at the accomplished age of 99, I went to her house and I dug up some of those tender flowers. I brought them to my house, in a more rural part of Massachusetts, and I put those ten little shoots into the ground.

Flowers can be a legacy. These are surely a reminder and a marker of my Nana and her life.

My garden is now full of lily-of-the-valley. They burst into bloom at the same time as our lilacs, filling the air around our house with pure heaven.

And every time I walk along my walkway, I think of Nana. I think of those big pines, and of the fairies that I imagined making tiny houses under the arching stems of those lily-of-the-valley.

Yesterday I brought some shoots of those glorious flowers to my daughter, in the new home that she has made for her young family.

I love knowing that my Nana’s love, and her grace, and her natural strength and beauty, will pass through me to my daughter, and hopefully then to hers.

I lie in my bed tonight, breathing deeply, taking in the perfume of those magical blooms.

Life goes on, and on and never stops.

The lily-of-the-valley is my proof.

I Still Love You, My Grown Children



It’s the night before Easter. I know, we aren’t exactly practicing Christians. We haven’t followed the whole Catholic thing for decades.

But this is the night before a holiday. It’s the night when I used to put out the pretty eggs that you all had colored the day before. I’d get the baskets ready, adding the eggs, and the jelly beans and the chocolate bunnies. Dad would make a huge arrow out of candy on the floor of the hallway, as if you didn’t know that you should come into the living room to find your treats.

He and I would spend an hour hiding chocolate eggs and jelly beans all around the house. In the morning, you three would get up, all excited. You’d find your baskets and hunt for candy. There would be laughs as one of you located a chocolate egg in a shoe or inside of a Kleenex box.

Breakfast would consist of candy, hard boiled colored eggs and a slice of cassatta, in keeping with our Sicilian tradition.

When you were little ones, we’d go to Grandma and Grampa’s house for a dinner of ham, and pasta and more candy. The cousins would all run around, the aunts and uncles would talk, laugh, argue about politics and drink wine.

I miss all of that.

I miss the morning hugs. The sweet pajama clad three of you with your baskets in your hands. I miss the big dinner.

Mostly I miss the feeling of joy and celebration.

Spring is the idea of renewal, rebirth, returned hope. Spring is the time of flowers and trees bursting into life. It’s when our gardens are still dreams and our thoughts are all about warm beach days and barbecues with friends.

Spring lets us ignore the truth of our lives for a bit. Easter is the definition of that forward looking hope.

This spring is so different, though. This Easter feels like something unknown.

We don’t know when or if there will be a rebirth. We are beginning to wonder if the true rebirth will come without humans. Will there be lambs, and chicks and baby birds and buds on trees, but no humans anywhere to be found?

We don’t know. We are living our lives in isolation now. Living in fear of an enemy we cannot see.

But it’s the night before Easter. My dear children, my adult children, I am sitting here tonight thinking about those Easter Baskets, and that candy and those hopeful springs.

I miss you.

I wish that you were here for some eggs and some cassatta. I wish that you were here for some ham, and some potatoes. And for some hugs and some laughs.

I love you all just as much as I did on your very first Easters.

Easter is about hope and renewal. It’s about a better future.

I miss you.

Happy spring. Happy renewal. Happy hope, my dears.

I still love you so.

Post-Apocalypse Thoughts


From a time before COVID-19

The economic crash of 2008 hit my small rural community pretty hard. By the Spring of 2009, our neighborhood held as many empty homes as full ones. As the summer came on, even more homes were foreclosed on or simply abandoned.

The woods behind our house began to seem wilder as the humans moved away, and there were entire days when I never heard a sound other than the calling of jays and the hammering of woodpeckers.

During those bleak months, I used to walk my dogs around the block, passing one empty house after another. Sometimes I’d look at the plants growing along the roadside, or at the ducks in the pond across the street, and I’d let my mind wander.

“What if something really terrible happened to the world, and hardly anyone was left?” I’d think. “Could I manage to feed my family with dandelion greens and fiddleheads? Could we learn how to trap birds, or kill ducks or turkeys for food?”

I always had a slightly romantic view of how things would be, of course, because this was just a daydream. All of my grown kids would somehow manage to make their way home, and we’d combine our skills and strengths to build a big garden in our yard. Maybe we’d raise chickens.

I was sure that I’d come through the trauma as a stoic, cheerful, no-nonsense kind of Mamma. I’d clean the fish and make the dinners and be happy to use the bit of power we could get from our solar generator to keep everything clean.

There was a gauzy haze over this dream, as I walked around the quiet streets.

I never thought anything would actually happen.

Now, in the midst of the pandemic of 2020, as we sit in isolation from each other and wonder what in the world will happen next, the reality of a global disaster seems far less romantic.

After about a month of worsening news and scarier headlines, I have come to an interesting conclusion.

I don’t want to forage for edible weeds in the woods. I don’t want to fight my neighbors for toilet paper or soap or cans of tomatoes.

The reality is that not only can my adult sons not move here with their partners, we can’t even get together to share a meal right now.

My daughter and her family live a mere half a mile away across those fertile woods. I’ve been caring for her children every work day for five years. But now, in the age of Covid19, we can’t be together at all. I haven’t seen them since the day that schools were closed, almost three weeks ago.

And I don’t know when I’ll see them again.

We are staying apart, staying away from all other humans, because my daughter is due any day to give birth to her third child. If I leave my house to go to the grocery store, there is a risk that I might bring the virus back and could contaminate Kate and her children.

Because she sees her doctor at our local hospital once a week now, she is afraid that she might contaminate her father and I. So we simply stay apart. In our own little self-isolation pockets.

We’re all living in fear. And we’re all dealing with a total lack of control. Nobody on this entire earth knows what is coming next. Will the virus sputter out in the summer? Will it roar back in the fall? Will a vaccine be found, or a treatment?

Or will millions die? Will the economy of the world totally collapse, based as it is on a continuing flow of commerce?

Will schools ever reopen? Will governments implode into chaos? The truth is, we just don’t know.

Once, a few short years ago, those thoughts were just a way to pass the time as the dogs sniffed the fallen leaves.

Now they are right in front of me. And I am discovering that I am not the hearty pioneer woman I always imagined I’d be. Instead, I’m just another scared and overwhelmed old woman who desperately misses the touch of her children and grandchildren, and who has no desire to harvest cattails for dinner.

No, I Am NOT in a COVID Panic!


But I could be. Soon.

I’m trying to stay calm. Really.

But when my beady little eyes popped open at 6 AM, my first thought was,

“ARGHGHGHGHGHGHG!!!!!!”

With consciousness came awareness, and I remembered a few things. Like the fact that my life savings is worth about half of what it was a month ago. And I’m retired.

Like the fact that the first really progressive candidate of my life is getting smoked by a guy I could never support.

And like the fact that the world is in the grips of the most serious pandemic of modern times.

Yeehah.

I couldn’t decide if it was good that I’d probably croak from the new virus before I end up living under a bridge, so I decided to get up.

I checked the news, because I’m stupid. I saw that last night our President gave a speech intended to reassure us. Unfortunately, between the thick layers of bullshit and the slurred speech, it was hard to tell whether everything will really be OK or Trump is taking all the Zanax left in DC.

I closed the computer and started breakfast for the kids.

The front door opened and in came my son-in-law with my grandkids.

“Good morning!” I chirped in the happiest fake voice I could muster. “How are you all?”

“Fine. Except that Ellie doesn’t feel well.”

GASP.

I got four year old Ellie settled on the couch and asked how she was doing. “I have a cold.” The juicy sneeze that followed told me that this was true. As did the cough that followed it. “I have the chills.”

She closed her eyes. I clenched my jaw.

Her little brother hopped up on a kitchen chair and asked for a waffle.

I. Did. Not. Panic.

But I washed my hands. And my face, where the sneeze juice had landed. I hummed to the tune of Happy Birthday as I rubbed my skin raw.

“Happy Sickness, oh jeez.

I’ve been slimed by a sneeze.

We’re all gonna get it.

Staying safe ain’t a breeze.”

I plastered my smile back on, and went to give Johnny another waffle, a banana, a bowl of blueberries and a piece of toast. I obviously won’t be avoiding the grocery store any time soon.

My husband came down the hall to give me a desperately needed hug. I felt a little calmer, until I saw that he was dressed in a jacket and tie. My heart sank, as I remembered that he was headed to the funeral of a good friend. I worry every day about my husband’s health, and about the level of stress that he deals with in his job as a psychologist.

My anxiety ticked up a notch, but I reminded myself that everything would be OK. Paul would come home, I’d have a nice dinner for us to share. Ellie probably just has a cold, I told myself. I probably washed away the germs before they could infiltrate my mucous membranes.

I took a deep breath and sent a quick to text to my daughter to let her know about Ellie’s symptoms.

And to see how she was feeling, to be honest. Because she is 36 weeks pregnant with her third child. She’s been having contractions so we know that she’ll be having that baby any day now. Right here in our local hospital. The one in our community, where all the schools are closed because of…..yup….the dreaded virus.

The virus that might be in her own house in the sweet little nose of her very own daughter.

Noticing that I was getting a little dizzy, I forced myself to start breathing again.

I headed down to my freezer to get out some chicken stock. I grabbed a frozen mason jar.

Yup.

A frozen mason jar of chicken stock.

Did I mention that I’m stupid?

I noticed that there were some cracks showing in the glass. The kids were safely snuggled on the couch and I had cleaned up most of breakfast before John asked for his first snack.

I picked up the jar to show to Paul, and a huge chunk of glass fell off. The whole jar started to slip out of my fingers, and I grabbed for it with my right hand. The entire slippery thing shattered as I grabbed it, and I found myself clutching about 40 shards of broken glass.

Bits of glass and greasy frozen chicken covered the floor. It had ended up in one of my cabinets, too.

Paul grabbed a broom and got the dogs outside as I bent to pick up the biggest pieces, cursing the whole time. (In Russian, French and Italian. I’m not a completely irresponsible old lady.)

Between the blood, the glass and the chicken fat, the floor was a huge smeary mess. It took a while, but eventually Paul and I had managed to scoop, wash, wrap, bandage, vacuum, throw out and scrape up most of the mess.

He headed off to the funeral and to work. I made a cup of “Tension Tamer Tea” and sat down with my bandaged and throbbing fingers. I was trying to tell myself that the day would get better from here. That everything was OK. That it would be fine. No need to panic, I murmured.

I gently picked a few tiny glass needles from my palm. I sipped my tea and smiled at the kids.

Then I heard a strange crunching noise coming from the kitchen.

Bentley, the canine Hoover, had found an inch long piece of glass under the stove and sucked it out and into his mouth. Because chicken.

As I carefully pried the deadly glass out of his slightly bleeding mouth, I decided that enough was enough. I gave up. I let the anxiety wash over me.

So I’m not technically in a panic this morning. But I am definitely in a “WTF-Might-As-Well-Eat-The-Donuts” frame of mind.

If you need me, I’ll be in the locked bathroom. Bathing in vinegar and bleach.

The Sad, Sad Story of Nonni’s Birthday Cake


Oh, joy, oh rapture! It’s Nonni’s birthday!

Yup.

This “mature” lady has hit the glorious age of 64. As Paul McCartney famously asked, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four.”

I am hoping that my beloved boyfriend of almost 50 years still plans to hang around. I mean, at our age, it would be just too hard to switch to someone new. Am I right?

Anyway.

Here I am. Aging and not entirely thrilled about it.

Last night I spent the night with my almost 90 year old Mom. I made us dinner, poured us each a celebratory glass of prosecco, and opened the sweet card that she (my sister Liz) bought for me.

This morning I headed back here to take care of my grandchildren. I had decided the other day, as I was shopping, that I would buy myself an angel food cake. For most of my childhood, my Mom made me an angel cake for my birthday. I have so many lovely memories of that delicious, sweet, special cake. The feeling of it melting on my tongue, mixed with the richness of the whipped cream that most often topped it. I can picture my Dad smiling at the table, and all of my siblings gathered around as I opened my birthday gifts.

At sixty four, it seemed like a good idea to revisit childhood.

So my little two-year old Johnny helped me bake my cake. When his sister Ellie came home from pre-school, we whipped the cream, adding just a bit of vanilla and a bit of sugar.

When the kids’ friend Annabelle arrived, it was time for Nonni to light the candles and join the kids in singing Happy Birthday to Me!

It was great! The kids were excited, both by the idea of a Nonni birthday and the idea of a cake that angels might eat. The whipped cream was a topic of great debate; to top the cake or not to top the cake?

How the heck old is 64 anyway, they wondered? It was a number they couldn’t even grasp.

In the end, we all scooped a pile of sweet cream onto our cake and we all dug in.

A half- hour later, Annabelle had gone home with her Aunt, and my daughter came to get her kids. As a confirmed Italian Momma, I took one look at my girl, and at her 36 week pregnant belly. I saw her cheekbones, her jawbones and her skinny hips, and I had one thought:

“Give this woman some cake!!!!!”

Kate loves angel cake, and is one of those rare women who lose weight when pregnant.

(She did NOT get the latter characteristic from her Momma.)

So. I cut my remaining cake in half, and sent a big chunk home for my girl and her baby.

After helping Kate get her two little ones into carseats and headed home with cake in hand, I turned and went back into the house.

I was so looking forward to my roast pork dinner with my husband, complete with roasted veggies and cold prosecco. And I was really looking forward to my big old piece of angel cake with whipped cream.

I came up the stairs. My hyper dog Lennie was dancing around the living room, delighted to see me after three minutes away.

My food-addicted basset hound, Bentley, was lying on his back, showing his belly and gazing at me with love and guilt.

This is the sad, sad sight that met my disappointed eyes.

“But, Mom” Bentley seemed to be saying. “What were you thinking? You left the house and there was CAKE on the table. What did you think would happen?”

And thus.

An old woman’s dream has been destroyed. My hopes were crushed. Alas.

My birthday dessert tonight may well be a Milkbone.

Yes, I AM a Good Mom!


My serenity face, at my daughter’s wedding.

I think a lot mother’s question our success. We go through the day, juggling jobs, shopping, cleaning, homework, hockey practice, girl scouts, track meets and band concerts.

We do our best to be supportive and loving and patient, but we aren’t always sure that we’ve hit our goal.

A lot of mothers, I think, lie down at night and wonder, “Was I OK today?” We hope that we have done a good job taking care of our kids and our homes and our spouses and our actually paying work.

I was one of those working moms for 24 years. I often found myself hoping that I’d done it well. My kids were happy and secure, so I felt OK about it, but like many mothers, I found myself focused on every time I’d raised my voice and every time I’d given in when I shouldn’t.

I was never sure that I had been a good mom.

Well.

From the vantage point of a 64 year old grandmother, and the mom of three adults, I can tell you now that I absolutely kicked ass. I was all that and a bag of chips. I killed it. I nailed it.

There is no more successful momma than me.

Oh, yeah.

(Insert image of old chubby lady doing the happy dance.)

How do I know that I have been a totally successful mother?

Ha.

I look at my kids, that’s how.

I have a daughter who in many ways has followed in my footsteps. She became a teacher, like me. She is about to become a mother of three, like me.

And she has surpassed my achievements in every way.

I have always believed that teaching is both an art and a science. I was very, very good at the art. And I was fair to middling with the science.

My daughter excels at both. She is one of the most beloved teachers I’ve ever known. Kids, parents, colleagues; all of them appreciate and value her. And she’s been chosen by the school district to take a leadership role with the curriculum.

I did a good job as a follower; she is a leader.

And my sons have outpaced me, too.

I have always dreamed of being some kind of musical performer. I wanted to sing. I wanted to learn the guitar. I wished to be a soloist.

My sons have taught themselves to play music on several instruments. They write music. They sing. They have been performing with a bunch of local groups.

This weekend they’ll be in the recording studio making a recording with some of their very best friends.

I’m so proud of them!

And both of them have lived up to their vows to contribute to their communities. They are hard working, humble, kind. They work every single day to make life better for kids, teens and families at risk in the small city that they have made their home.

I must have been an amazing mom. My husband must have been a remarkable Dad. Our children have grown up to be kind, giving, generous. And all three have gone beyond my life’s achievements.

I know I’m a good Mom because I’m so happy to have written the paragraph above. I feel no competition, no challenge, no need to hold onto my place.

I am happy, so very happy, to cede the position of most beautiful Mom, most patient Mom, most beloved teacher to my daughter.

I am proud and delighted to hand over the title of family musicians to my talented boys. I am proud beyond belief.

And I no longer lie in bed at night and wonder if I did a good job.

The proof is in the next generation.

I’m happy to sit back and enjoy the reflected glory.

Those Grandma Jokes Got It All Wrong


Before I became a grandmother, I remember everyone telling me that the best part of being a grandparent is that you get to send them home after they visit.

Sure, there are lots of times when that’s true. When everyone is healthy and energetic and we spend all day riding bikes, painting, baking cookies and dancing….yes, that’s when I find myself counting the minutes until Mom arrives to take them home.

When it’s the last day before vacation, and we are all sick of our daily routine, this stay-at-home Nonni is more than ready to send them out the door as soon as I see those headlights in my driveway.

But.

When the little ones are sick, everything is different.

I have spent the past two weeks taking care of my grandchildren as they fight off a nasty virus. Their Mom is pregnant and is saving her sick days for when she gives birth. Dad works from home. Nonni here loves having the kids and loves the feeling of taking care of little loved ones who really need her.

But.

I raised three kids with lots of allergies. My two sons had pretty severe asthma. One had intermittent moderate asthma (but ended up in the hospital once for three days). One had chronic severe asthma and could go from perfectly fine to wheezing like you read about in ten minutes.

I was on red alert for about a decade. My medicine cabinet had six inhalers, four allergy meds, cough syrup, decongestants and every known herbal remedy. During those days, you could have woken me up at 3 AM and I’d have been able to tell you exactly what meds we had and how many doses each contained.

I got to the point where I could tell that one son was beginning to experience lower oxygen by looking at his little face. When it was as white as milk and his eyes had blue rings under them, it was time to grab the inhaler.

I was able to simultaneously sleep and listen to the gentle wheezes of his younger brother. There was a certain pitch that had me on my feet, grabbing the asthma meds.

I have spent nights with a nebulizer, walking from one side of the crib to the other, hoping to get the mist into the lungs of the baby who kept rolling over. I have slept upright in a recliner with a baby in my arms more nights than I can recall.

Of course, it was terrifying to leave my boys in day care. I once got a call that my son was in distress after a field trip to a farm. I made it to his daycare before they had to call 911, and took him in my car to the ER. He was treated and sent home with me. My husband and I spent the next three nights taking turns using the nebulizer every two hours.

So.

Here I am, taking care of my little grandson as he fights off a nasty virus. He is sneezing, nose dripping, running a fever, and coughing very hard. His parents are aware, and I KNOW that they are on top of it.

Still, I am feeling a huge sense of PTSD from this whole thing. I am scared that I’m missing something. He doesn’t have asthma. He isn’t wheezing (yes, I have been checking with my trusty stethoscope), but his cough is tight and harsh and he tells me that it hurts. His nose is running like a hose.

I am sitting in my recliner, rocking him in my arms as he sleeps.

And I am feeling the scariest sense of deja vu.

I trust my daughter and her husband completely. I do! They are remarkably calm and patient and attentive parents. I know that they are on top of whatever this virus is doing to our little guy.

But you know what?

The worst part of my day, now that my little guy is sick, is the moment when I peel him out of my arms and give him to his parents to take home.

Yes, I need the rest. I am not a young Momma anymore.

Yes, he needs his parents. Duh. Of course!

But.

I wake up at 2AM straining to hear the sound of his breathing. Sometimes I have a brief moment where I think, “I hear him and his breathing is fine.”

Then I realize that I’m hearing my young and healthy dog, dreaming away on the couch. This makes me roll over, look at the clock and calculate how long it will be before he is back here with me, where I can check him out.

I am a neurotic, crazy, traumatized Grandma.

And I am here to tell you that the whole “you get to send them home” thing is a sham.

Excuse me while I go make a big batch of homemade chicken soup for tomorrow.

Marriage Advice For My Kids


Having been (mostly) happily married for 42 years, I think I know what I’m talking about.

Me and my honey, still hanging in there.

“Love is patient, love is kind.”

Well, sure. Especially at the beginning. Love thinks it’s adorable that she loves Russian folk music. Love is delighted to learn all about the rules of the professional basketball world that he loves so much.

Love is starry-eyed and golden and filled with many-splendored things.

Until love has been through a few years of bill paying, work, shopping, oil changes and bouts of stomach virus. Then love is a whole lot less patient and kind. Love is still love, but now it looks a bit more like a negotiation between equal partners in a business. You want to watch another NBA game? Cool. Next week we’re going to a folk music show.

“ I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach.”

When we fall in love, we feel that our love is greater than anything that any other human has ever known. We feel our souls soaring above the mundane worries of the world.

But then we come down to earth. We might not want to, but we have to find a company to take away our trash, and that sort of breaks the spell. We need to set up a compost pile and we need to buy toilet paper. None of this is romantic. None of this makes our souls reach for the heavens.

We still love each other, of course, but now it feels a little more mundane. Our souls go back to sleep and we find ourselves thanking our beloved for remembering to scoop up the dog poop in the backyard.

“How do you know you’ve found ‘the one’ for you?”

Oh, my dears.

There is no “one.” It isn’t magic. It isn’t kismet or fate or meant-to-be by some amorphous power.

I’m a really nice person and a good wife. I was pretty damn cute when my husband fell in love with me back in the day.

But I would never for a single minute think that I’m the only person he could have ever loved.

Love, and falling in love, is dependent on time, place, circumstance and luck. Don’t ever question the love you have because you wonder if there is someone else out there for you. Of course there is “someone else” out there! But the someone you have now is the one you need to think about.

“You have the perfect relationship.”

No they don’t. Nope.

There is no ‘perfect’ relationship, just as there is no perfect person.

Good relationships are about laughing at each other and at yourselves. They are about having very short memories, and letting go of the little transgressions.

Love is about endurance. It’s about giving in. Love is about not counting and not measuring and not worrying.

Love is trust.

Love is the realization that all day long a part of your brain is thinking, “I can’t wait to tell him this.” It’s about the tiny moments of adjustment that will make her life a bit easier. Turning on her coffee pot when you hear her step out of the shower. Making him a sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch, even if he didn’t ask for it.

Love is letting go of the things that bug you.

It’s about picking up his socks every day for 40 years, knowing that one day those socks might not be there. It’s about not eating pasta three times a week, even though you thought you’d married an Italian cook.

Love is about not saying some things, but being sure to say others.

It’s about thanking each other for the things we’ve done for decades. It’s about acknowledging the struggle.

There is no “one” for you. There is no “perfect” relationship, no perfect marriage, no perfect love.

But long term love, the kind that lets you grow and learn, the kind that makes you the best person you can be, that love is out there. You just have to let go of the poetry and embrace the daily grind.

Then you’ll find that the stars really have aligned and you have actually found that most elusive of human experiences.

You will have found true love.