Predicting Love


Love is never predictable. When we’re young, we think we’ll fall in love with the perfect specimen of boyfriendness or girlfriendness. We think someone we have a crush on will be “the one” and life will be filled with rainbows and unicorns.

Then we meet someone kind and attractive and gentle and BAM. Not expected, not predicted, but there you have it.

Love.

I thought that after having been married to the same BAM guy for 39 years, and after loving and raising three children, that love would be exactly what I expect it to be.

I thought that love would be more predictable.

Two years ago, when my first child gave birth to her first child, I fell head over heels in love well before the baby was born. I intellectually loved her. I loved the idea of her, the fact of her existence, the philosophical meaning of her new life.

But as she grew, and became our funny, smart, loving little Ellie, I have fallen ridiculously, madly in love with her. I love her eyebrows, for God’s sake. I love her toes. I love the skin that gathers salty sweat in the folds of her neck. I love her breath and her teeth and her ankle bones.

I’m insane.  My whole world has been filled with Ellie.

Then, three weeks ago, her baby brother was born.

He is perfect and sweet and sleepy and he smells like a baby. I love the idea of him. I love the philosophical meaning of his life.

But you know what? Even when I held him on his first day, I wasn’t feeling that crazy kind of love. Even when I’ve been at his house to help change and care for him, I have only had eyes for Ellie.

I have been one very guilt-wracked Nonni, believe me. How could I not be feeling the same crazy depth of love for Johnnie that I had felt from the very first moment for his sister?

I didn’t know.  It didn’t make sense.

I knew that I would take good care of him, and would love him and play with him. But would I ever fall in love with him, the way I had with Ellie?

Today my son Tim and his sweet lady were here for dinner. My daughter and her family came, too. We sat outside on this gorgeous summer day, and Ellie played in the pool and picked strawberries with Papa.

We ate, we drank some beer, we talked and laughed and watched the Red Sox. It was loud and hectic and busy. It was fun!

But then, when dinner was over, everyone left to see a concert. Everyone except for me, Ellie and Johnnie and their mommy. Ellie went to take a nap, and her Mom went in to lie down with her.

The house was quiet, except for the whirring of the window fans. The dogs were asleep on the floor. A hummingbird was at the feeder.

Johnnie was in my arms, resting against my chest. One of my hands held his bottom, the other was curled around the back of his warm, silky head. He was murmuring and sighing, making the tiny noises of a newborn child.

I felt my heart beating against his. I breathed in his breath.

The house was quiet. I touched my lips to his cheek just as he touched his to my neck.

BAM.

There it was.

It isn’t rational, or explainable, this love for my grandchild. The words I am wrapping around it are only the faintest echo of the explosion that I felt.

My cells, my DNA, my soul were pierced by his weight in my arms.

I know. I’m crazy.

But love is unpredictable. Sometimes, like the love of a Nonni for her grandson, we know that it will strike us at some point.

It’s just that we can’t always say when.

BAM, little Johnnie. Welcome to my heart.

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Worth The Effort?


What is it that gives a person “worth?” I’m old enough, and self aware enough, to know that worth is not measured by money.

Hey, I was a teacher! I’m married to a therapist. Money has never been our goal.

But what is it that lets us move through our days with a sense of self-worth?

At the tender and transitional age of 61, I’m struggling with this question once again.

You see, I used to find my sense of worth from my work. I have always worked, and had a purpose.

When I was only 22, I was a Russian interpreter. I took new immigrants to the doctor. I sat in therapy sessions, helping patient and doctor to understand each other. I helped with surgery, translating what the doctor wanted the patient to do during cataract surgery and cardiac catheterization.

I even helped to interpret at a baby’s birth. I was valued. I felt my worth.

Later, I became a speech pathologist, a job I held for 20 years. I helped families learn how to communicate with their disabled children. I helped those children to find their voices.  I was valued. I knew that what I was doing was helpful and important.

And after many years I became a teacher. I taught fifth graders. I was a fun teacher. I was funny. I made learning interesting. No matter what, I will always know that I was very good at my job.

I felt so good about myself in those years. I felt worthy.

Then things changed. I lost my teaching job, and moved into retirement.

And this is where the question of worth has reappeared. When I have my granddaughter in my arms, I know that I am the most important person on earth. Ellie needs me. Ellie loves me. I am NONNI.

But it’s summer.

Ellie is home with her Mom and Dad and new baby brother. They are close by. I see them almost every day. I love them all more than I could ever express.

But.

Now I have no role. I have no job. I have no way to measure my worth in this lovely world.

So, dear blog readers, I guess I’m fishing. (Phishing?)

Now I wonder, is a gray haired lady still useful if she isn’t physically able to manage her garden by herself? Is she still worth keeping if her husband works hard every day while she stays home and cleans things?

Does it count that this house has NEVER been this clean? Or that the closets are completely organized?

What do I do with myself on these long days? How do I define myself?

Is it legal to actually have three months of vacation while everyone else is working?

I swear, in September I will be back to working hard. I’ll have both two year old Ellie and three month old Johnnie. My arms, my heart and my day will all be full.

But.

What about now? Do I earn some kind of Donna Reed points for the incredibly clean kitchen cabinets and the very fluffy towels in the bathroom? I was raised by one of the first feminists. I know that just being a “homemaker” isn’t an actual role in life.

But what else do I do while I’m waiting to go back to Nonni extraordinaire? How do I feel good about so many days where nothing is actually accomplished?

Sigh.

I have to admit. I think I’m nuts. I hate the fact that I do this to myself.

On the other hand, if anyone needs any alphabetized spices, come on over.

 

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Poor useless Nonni

It was the dowels


I was at my Mom’s house today.

At 87, she still lives in the house where she and Dad raised me and my five siblings. The house is getting old, but my parents were always careful and attentive, so it’s still in very good shape.

But there are corners, little places, where the effects of time are more obvious.

We used to have a beautiful pool in the backyard, surrounded by a paving stone deck that my Dad built. There were little round tables and wrought iron chairs where we’d sit under colorful umbrellas to have a snack and rest from swimming. There were redwood recliners and little wooden planters that my Dad built himself.

And there was a wonderful “pool shed” in the back of the fenced area. In the summer, my parents would set up a long table for parties and barbecues. We’d line up, in our dripping suits, towels casually slung over shoulders. Everyone would grab a plate and fill it with beans, salad, grilled sausages, chicken, burgers and dogs. There’d be coolers and tubs of ice cold drinks, and my sister and her husband would have huge tubs of Italian ice for dessert.

In the fall, that pool shed would become storage for the pool toys, the water wings, the chairs and the fish shaped placemats. The pool would be covered, the pavers washed, and everything tucked away neatly until the following spring.

The pool has been gone for about ten years now. As my parents got older, and Dad had health problems, the upkeep became too much. And they no longer swam or sat in the sun.

So the pool was taken out, the land was filled. A beautiful perennial garden was planted, with flowers and dwarf trees creating a spot of serenity behind the house. There was still space for the tables and chairs, the umbrellas, the placemats.

And the pool shed remained, its wooden doors occasionally opened for barbecues. We didn’t drip as we stood in line any more, but we still gathered and laughed and ate. We are Italians; we had wine and we still had wonderful food.

But the years have gone by. Dad left us in 2008. The garden is a little overgrown, in spite of our best efforts, with the roses and the lilac fighting for space. The redwood chairs have broken down and are gone. The tables are getting rusty.

And the pool shed has become the home of squirrels, mice and probably a whole group of unknown invaders. It has slowly seen the life vests and pool noodles chewed up and piled into nests.

This spring we decided it was time to really clean it out, once and for all. Big, black, plastic trash bags were filled with chewed up placemats, old citronella candles, chair pads, floats and plastic table cloths. Piles of molding paper, pill bugs, spiders and mouse poop were scooped up and deposited in the bags.

The pool shed is clean. It is empty of the old, the useless, the faded and torn.  It is empty of the past.

Even though I cried as I cleaned it, I was proud that we brought it back to a state that would make Dad happy.

So today I was at my Mom’s. A clean up company was coming to haul away all the old junk and trash that we had piled up. I was standing in the garage, making sure I knew what was supposed to go.

I was looking at the shelves. The rows of paint brushes, arranged by size. Untouched since 1995, but arranged by size. I picked up a roll of old tape, no longer sticky, no longer of use.

I tossed it in the trash with a feeling of accomplishment. Mom came in. We started to look through the stuff in the garage. In Dad’s garage. In the place where I know I can always find my father, although I find his gravesite empty.

We slowly and carefully took down a few small items. A roll of some kind of sticky felt paper. A gummed up, unopenable can of “goo gone”.  I tossed them in the trash.

Then I looked up. To the top shelf. To the highest of the 3 shelves Dad had built for his garage. There were boxes of items, mostly shoeboxes. Each was carefully marked.

“Mom” I said with firmness. “We can probably get rid of the box marked ‘adhesives’.” I knew that whatever was in there wasn’t going to adhere to much of anything anymore.

Mom didn’t answer. Instead, she pointed to the next box on the shelf. “What are those?”

I looked up. It was an old shoebox, closed tightly. On the side, in my Dad’s careful handwriting, was the single word “dowels.”

Who else except my Dad, the world’s more organized and careful handyman, would have a shoebox marked “dowels?” I stood there. Mom stood beside me.

“I guess it has dowels,” I said. Mom didn’t answer for a minute.

“Let’s just leave this,” she said.

I have never agreed with my Mom more than I did right then. I wiped my tears with dusty fingers, then reverently replaced the ‘adhesives’ box.

I think we were almost ready to let some of it go. But we were stopped by that one word. “dowels”

We miss you, Dad. I’m not even sure what a dowel is, but I can’t throw yours away,

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My Dad


My Dad could fix anything. He fixed pipes, cars, broken toys, cracked walkways.

He was a builder. He built shelves and storage sheds. He created furniture and toys and additions on the house. His hands were sure and capable. He frowned when he worked, puzzling over a problem, a pencil always over his left ear.

On Saturdays, he’d work in the yard. He would weed, screen loam, spread grass seed, prune the bushes. There always seemed to be something for him to be doing.

I remember him coming in for lunch, in a white t shirt or a sweatshirt, that pencil still on his ear. We would have Italian cold cuts. Mortadella, salami, capicola, provolone cheese. He’d put hot peppers on his sandwich if he had a cold.

On hot days, Dad would sprinkle salt into his beer. I never asked why, but in my childhood it seemed like a right of passage.

Dad could make pancakes. On Saturday mornings he’d let my Mom sleep in a bit, and he’d sit with his kids watching the Three Stooges and the Little Rascals. He’d sit on the floor, his back against the couch. We would perch on his legs and nestle into each side of him.

He’d laugh. Loud and exuberant, unrestrained, big open mouthed guffaws at the antics on TV.

Then he would make us pancakes.

Eventually, Mom would come down the hall, in her robe. Dad would always grab her and kiss her with the ardor of a teenager. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he’d ask his wide eyed children.  We readily agreed.

Dad was patient. He tried like a saint to teach me the concept of algebra. I never mastered it, but he never gave up.

Dad was generous. He was honest. He had more integrity than anyone I’ve ever known.

When my Father died, the line to get into his wake was so long that it wrapped around the building. People he’d known for years mixed with people he’d met in his job. They came with thanks, and they came with sadness. They came to tell us how much he’d meant to them.

Our Dad was loving. His adored our Mother, the love of his life. He loved all six of each children, and every one of his grandchildren. He made time for us. He listened.

I see him in the dark brown eyes of my granddaughter, and I see him in each of my children. I hear his voice as I walk in the quiet woods. I feel his breath on my cheek as I drift to sleep with a baby in my arms.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

I love you.

And Then There Were Two


When I finally, after a lot of struggles, had my first baby, I fell madly and deeply in love.

She was perfect. She was beautiful and smart and incredible and breathtaking. In my entire life, I’d never felt such a deep love. Ever.

Then some time went by, and we wanted to have another child. It was an abstract idea. We loved being parents, we loved our girl so much.

Let’s do this again!

Then, at last, after even more struggles, I found myself pregnant again. I was thrilled, of course. I was delighted.

Right up until the little one started to move around in there, and it suddenly hit me, right between the eyes.

“Oh, my God.” I realized with complete shock. “I can never, ever, ever love another child as much as I love Kate.”

Oh, crap. What had I DONE?

What would I do? How would I ever be able to cover up the fact that I simply could not possibly love number two as much I adored number one?

I suffered in silence for a few weeks.

Then I gave birth to my son.

My perfect son. He was beautiful and smart and incredible and breathtaking. I fell head over heels in love.

Well, lookit that. You can love more than one child just as deeply and just as intensely.

When I was pregnant with baby number three, I didn’t worry at all. I knew that my crazy, loopy, besotted love would just multiply itself like magic. And it did.

So why have I been worried for the past three months about grandchild number two?

I mean, I’m supposed to be the expert here! I should already understand this stuff. My daughter, the mother of both babies, was her usual serene, happy self. She wasn’t worried at all.

But me. The Nonni. The one who should be the glue, the center, all that stuff…..Why was I waking up at 2AM thinking “Oh, my God! I can never ever, ever, ever love another child as much as I love Ellie!”

I felt guilty months in advance. I stayed awake at night, trying to formulate my response when my daughter asked me why I didn’t love her second child as much as her first. I had no answer.

I tried to love him, this unborn boy, in advance. But all I could think was, “Now it won’t be me and my beloved Ellie here every day.” I was sad. I was conflicted.

I was a crazy, neurotic nutburger of a grandmother.

And then, suddenly, as if I hadn’t planned for it for months, I got that middle of the night call. “Hey! It’s time to have a baby!”

And off I raced, to spend the night with Ellie while her parents went to have the baby. I paced, I prayed, I worried. And deep in my heart, a funny little golden spark began to fizz and crackle.

The next day, while I was giving Ellie her lunch, I got the message. Baby John was born and healthy and my daughter was doing just fine.

We gave it a little bit of time, one last me-and-Ellie-nap, and then we went up to see them.

That tiny boy. So perfect. So beautiful. His dark blue eyes trying hard to stare back at me. His tiny lips in a bow of concentration. His soft hair and silky skin.

One look. One touch. One kiss.

I was in love. Head over heels. Madly and deeply in love.

Why does this still surprise me?

Love is the most powerful force on earth. I wonder why that still surprises me.

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Rompers, Uncles, Memories


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What an interesting, emotional time of life is middle age.

I’m finding so much joy in the smallest things. Watching Ellie sleep. Rubbing my puppy’s little belly. Eating olives and cheese with my Momma.

I’m finding so much sadness in the speed of life and how it changes. I miss my old profession, and I miss my teaching friends. Those supportive relationships meant more to me than I even knew.

And death is a more common part of my life than it once was . Losing my father, my grandparents, beloved aunts, uncles, in-laws.

But it also strikes me that one of the strangest parts of being this age is how the happy and the sad keep bumping into each other.

I have a story from today that shows that confluence of feelings. It shows how circular life is, and how nothing seems to ever really go away.

Today I opened a package of clothes I had ordered last week for my granddaughter, Ellie. It contained summer things, including the adorable little romper in the picture above. I had been planning to buy her some shorts and t-shirts, but her Mom told me that those cute one-piece rompers are popular now, so I ordered some.

And my first thought as I pulled the clothes out of the package was that my baby sister Liz and I used to wear those back in about 1960. I immediately pictured a matching pair of rompers, one pink and one blue. I remembered, more than five decades after wearing mine, how it felt with elastic gathering the material around my middle.

I also thought right away about my two Uncles, Bob and Joe. When we were little kids, and our parents were in their thirties, our Uncles were only in their teens or early twenties. They often baby sat for Liz and I and our older brother, Ed.

We were in awe of them.

We called them “Bobby and Joey” and to us they were an amazing mix of grown up and super fun. They always made us laugh. They usually gave in if we asked for something, like a cookie or a popsicle from the ice cream man.

They seemed to think we were amazing and fun, too, which made them seem like not-quite-serious adults.

One of my memories, so clear in my mind no doubt because it was traumatic, was a hot summer morning when Bobby and Joey were getting us dressed for the day. I think we were planning to go to the local playground, but I’m not sure.

I remember being excited, and I remember that I put my romper suit on. I was hoping that one of the big kid/grown ups could manage to put our hair into pony tails.

Suddenly, Uncle Joey said something that sounded alarming. It might have been, “What’s the matter?” or “What did you do?” I looked up from zipping my blue suit.

Uncle Bobby was kneeling in front of my baby sister, who was probably about two years old. She was standing perfectly still, but tears were pouring down her cheeks. Bobby and Joey both looked slightly panicked.

I remember one of them slowly unzipping Liz’s pink romper. And I remember the red line running down her skin.

She’d been caught in the zipper. Poor little kid!

I remember a whole bunch of reactions running through my four year old brain.

These two guys were definitely NOT real grown ups! And wasn’t it sweet to see how bad they both felt and how they cuddled Lizzy to make her feel better. It was funny to hear them kind of blaming each other, too. Like kids!

And, boy oh boy, this little problem better not stop us from going to the playground.

Today I smiled as I picked up Ellie’s little romper. I lifted it to my cheek to feel how smooth and soft it is. I thought about Ellie’s Uncles, Matt and Tim. My boys. How much they love her and how they play with her.

I hope that she grows up with memories of her time with them. I hope that they inspire her, as Bobby did when he refused to give up on his dream of becoming a doctor. I hope they make her laugh years after a great joke, like Joey did with me.

I hope.

We lost my funny, kind, smart, tender Uncle Bobby this morning. Right about the time I was unwrapping Ellie’s little summer outfit.

I’m definitely going to take her to the playground in it one day soon.

Oh, and I made sure that I didn’t order one with a zipper. I know my own limitations!

Thanks, Uncle Bobby. For the laughs, the love, the tender care. Sempre La Famiglia.

 

I Think I Finally Get It


For years and years, I’ve been hearing the same grandparent joke, over and over.

“The best part of being a grandparent is that you get to spoil them all day and then give ’em back at night!”

Heh. Heh. Heh.

Yeah.

I don’t get it.

I’m not in the regular grandmamma situation, though, so maybe I’m out of touch. But for me the joy and contentment of being with my grandchild is not about the moment I hand her back to her parents.

And it sure isn’t about the idea that I can “spoil” her and make her a brat and then laugh as her parents try to cope with the monster I’ve created.

No.

For me, since the moment I first touched the satiny skin of my first grandchild’s cheek, it has all been about the moments when our grandbabies are with us.

But even though I get to spend every single work day with my Ellie, I still didn’t really understand exactly what I was feeling. And even though I spent the majority of the past two years acting as Ellie’s Nonni, I still couldn’t find the words to describe the depth of my feelings for my grandchild. The firstborn daughter of my first born child.

It wasn’t just the dizzying idea that my baby had produced a baby. And it wasn’t simply the realization that I loved this tiny being with every single molecule of my self.

I couldn’t describe it as the feeling of relief that I honestly experience every day when I look back on my 24 years of raising children. It wasn’t only about the realization when looking back that there really isn’t that much we can do to screw them up completely.

I made about a trillion mistakes, but my three adult offspring are absolutely wonderful people. So, see? As a mere Nonni, I didn’t have to worry that much about my every move.

No.

None of those thoughts summed up the feeling of peace and calm and contentment that I am getting as the full time Nanny/Nonni for my very own flesh and blood grandchild.

But after I dropped Ellie off at home today, I listened to a piece on NPR. A young mother who had suddenly lost her husband was talking about how she managed to overcome her terrible grief and find joy again. She talked about forcing herself to find gratitude. She recognized that true joy, and true happiness, come in the small, happy moments of every day life.

And I thought about the tiny, normal, routine moments of every day with Ellie. The moment when she greets me. The moment when she asks for my hand. Or when our eyes meet through a car window as I fill my gas tank, and her face lights up just to see me.

I thought about watching her fall asleep. Or looking at her as she kisses my old hound dog so gently on his head. I thought about teaching her to brush her teeth. About the smell of her warm neck. The softness of the curly hair.

I thought about how incredibly lucky I am to have a new chance to wrap a wriggly little body in a warm towel and snuggle her until she is warm and dry.

Grandparenting, to me at least, is about having the time and the confidence to be grateful for every moment of every day with a baby in our arms.

I swear to you. It is SO NOT about the moment when you send them home.

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A life lesson…for Nonni


Before I start this sad, sad tale, I must tell you that I am a modern teacher lady. I am an up-to-date grandmother.

I know the buzzwords.

When I was a little child, our parents were very busy. They had a lot of us. They loved us deeply, but they didn’t make it their personal goal every second of every day to make sure that we were ecstatically happy.

If you grew up as a “Baby Boomer,” you know what I mean.

We lived our childhood lives, our parents lived theirs.

Then our generation became parents, and everything changed. Women went back to work. That meant a few things. It meant that Dads learned to vacuum.

It also meant that both Moms and Dads were buried under a gigantic avalanche of guilt. Your baby is upset because he didn’t like his broccoli? Oh, my god! That’s because I WORK! My mom didn’t work…I think we liked our broccoli…”

The truth of course is that you hated your broccoli, but your Mom just took it away and waited until the next meal, when she served you peas.

Our generation somehow got it into our heads that our children should NEVER experience the slightest difficult emotion.

As a teacher, I saw this a lot. Anxious parents, bless their well meaning hearts, asking for my help because, God forbid, the math was hard. I empathized with them. Kids cry over homework and it breaks a parent’s heart. I get it.

But I also understood, as a teacher, that if the math wasn’t hard, the child wasn’t growing.

I learned, as a mom and then as a teacher, that it is good for kids to experience all of life’s richness. Including the hard stuff, the sad stuff and the scary stuff. Otherwise how will they ever emerge as adults who are strong enough to cope with reality?

So. I know what the education gurus mean when they tell us that we need to teach children to be resilient. Or to have (cough, cough) “grit.” They need to just suck it up and deal with it when life is hard.

I was all about that idea.

Until this morning.

My beautiful, loving, funny, 20 month old granddaughter, Ellie, was helping me make a batch of meatballs. She was standing on a kitchen chair, with Nonni behind her. She helped me crack the egg, put in the bread crumbs, add the spices. She was in the process of peeling two cloves of garlic and an onion.

Suddenly both of us heard the sound of our puppy, Lennie, chomping on something deliciously plastic. Crack! Crack! Crunch!

I rushed into the living room, where I found the perp happily destroying the bulging plastic eyeball of Ellie’s absolutely favorite stuffy, Elmo. I grabbed the toy from the pup, swearing under my breath. I stepped out of the room, out of Ellie’s eyes, and looked at the damage.

Holy crow. Elmo was missing his right eye completely, with only sharp pointy pieces left. His left eye was broken, but still in place. I was immediately swept with fear.

My first thought was, “Hide him! Replace him!” I thought of a quick run to Amazon…a new, perfect Elmo could be here in 24 hours!

Then I thought about “grit” and resilience.

I slowly walked the wrecked little red guy into the kitchen, where my beautiful girl stood in her orange apron, garlic bulb in hand. I held poor Elmo out to her. I said, “Uh, Lennie chewed on Elmo…”

In a reaction that far outpaced her tender age, Ellie burst into tears and reached for her beloved friend. “Oh!” She sobbed, repeatedly kissing Elmo’s head. “Poor, Emmo, poor Emmo!”  She rocked him, she cried, she kept looking at me. “Nonni! Emmo!” I had no idea what to say to her.

“I know, honey. I’m sorry. Lennie broke Elmo’s eyes…”

“Poor Emmo! Emmo!! No, no, no!” She sobbed. She sat down on the chair, clutching broken, eyeless Elmo to her chest. She rocked and cried and kissed his chewed up face.

As an experienced, professional teacher/mom/Nonni I knew how to respond.

I grabbed both Emmo and Ellie to my chest and sobbed along with her.

“New Elmo!” my brain ordered.

But then I grabbed a tissue and gulped down my sadness. Lennie was curled up on a rug, looking guilty.

I thought about Emmo and his shattered plastic eyeballs.

I went to our medicine cabinet and pulled out a roll of self-sticking injury wrap. I grabbed a roll of bright red bandage, and wrapped up Elmo’s face. I presented the bandaged toy to Ellie.

“Emmo?” she asked. “This?” She touched the bandage and looked up at me with her huge, tear filled, dark eyes.

“Yes!” I said in my cheery voice. “It’s a bandage! It’s over Elmo’s eye. So he’s…um…he’ll be better! Ah…Elmo is OK!”

Carefully, with a grace I would never expect from such a little girl, Ellie gathered Elmo into her arms. “Emmo,” she murmured into his fur. “Emmo. Poor Emmo.” She kissed his cheek.

She was not fooled.

Ellie spent the rest of the day gently rocking and kissing poor Emmo. She napped with him, carefully tucked under the covers. He came with us to the grocery store, the hair salon and the vet, where lots of adults commented on his wrapped up head.

Ellie just stared at all of them. She didn’t say a word.

But she gently, gently kissed that funny bandaged head. She whispered, “Emmo” into his neck.

I guess Ellie learned something today. Life can be hard. Forgiveness is necessary. Dogs sometimes eat plastic eyeballs.

And I learned something, too. An idea on paper or in theory is very different from an idea in real life. I am fighting the urge to order that new Elmo at this very moment. And blind Elmo is sitting here looking at me.

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So I have a missing eye, but Ellie still loves me!

Oh, my sweet Wolf King


The Wolf King, my sweet Tucker Pup, is the first dog I have ever had who has lasted.

My first dog, when I was four years old, was smooshed by a passing car after only two weeks with us.

My next dog, when I was nine, was way too much trouble and was given away two years after I got her.

I never had another dog until I was 34, living in the first (and only) house I’ve ever owned. My two children were young. My third was still just a distant hope in my heart.

We got a dog. She was sweet, gentle, smart, a lot of fun. She was here with us when our third child was born. We loved her!

Then we discovered that the kids were desperately allergic to pets. After our son got home from his asthma/pneumonia hospitalization, we had to let her go. She was adopted by a local family, but we never saw her again.

Then, finally, we got Tucker. The kids were all grown up, all able to manage their allergy symptoms. All on their way to their own lives, away from here.

We got Tucker. Tuckerman. Our big (much bigger than we anticipated) hound dog.

The Wolf King.

He has brought us so much joy, love, aggravation, fur and pleasure. He was Sadie’s boon companion for the last eight years of her life.

Now he is an old man. He doesn’t see well. He doesn’t always digest as efficiently as our nasal passages would like.

His back and his hips are arthritic, aching, weak.

We got him, God help us, a puppy.

Who has made him remember what it was to play. The puppy has reminded him of the joy of chewing rawhide. Its been good.

Except.

The Wolf King sometimes can’t get back up the stairs after a romp in the yard with the pup. Sometimes he needs us to give him a push. Or a lift.

How degrading.

This afternoon the two dogs were outside, romping, jumping, pretending to be ferocious fighters. Bark, bark, growl, bark, jump, twist, bark, bark, YEOWCH.

The Wolf King couldn’t get back inside. We got the pup in his crate and we urged and encouraged and finally the old guy wobbled his way, step by aching step, up onto the deck. He shivered and shook his way into the living room, where he laid down on the rug.

We gave him his gabapentin. We put on an ice pack. I massaged along his spine. He lifted his regal head and looked me in the eye. “This sucks” his deep brown eyes said to me. “It does for sure,” I said out loud.

He fell asleep. I rested my forehead on his. My tears soaked his sweet, puppy soft fur.

What will I tell Ellie when her best beloved old Tucky isn’t around anymore to comfort her when she’s sick?

I know. He isn’t done yet. He still loves his walks and his chicken liver and his romps in the snow with the pup.

He still loves us.

And he sure does love his Ellie. Yesterday’s post proves that.

So.

I’m happy for every day with this old guy. I’m happy for every time that Ellie leans down to kiss his old head.

And you know what?

I’m happy for every single time that puppy Lennie gets him to forget his aches and pains for a few minutes.

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Ouchie. Ouchie big time.

 

 

Food is love


The idea that food equals love is not an original one. Years ago I had a friend, a teacher colleague, who used to talk about her own nuclear family growing up. They were Italians, like my own family, and her Mom raised her, as mine did, with the idea that feeding people is a way to show that you love them.

I totally live that way.

One of my favorite hobbies now that I’m retired is going through old, old cookbooks and reading about the delicacies of the past. I’ve been collecting old cookbooks that I read the way other people read a novel.

One of my favorites was a wedding gift to my Mother, given to her in 1950. The book was first published in 1901. It has tips on things like making a roast chicken. Step one? Kill the chicken.

Anyway, I was thinking today about the whole cultural idea of food as a show of love. And I think that feeding a hungry person is absolutely an act of love.

In my 61 years on this earth, I have brought food to friends who are grieving, family who are sick, friends and family who are celebrating milestones. I have made soup for fellow grad students on a snowy night. I’ve brought muffins to school on the morning after terrible and shocking events like 9/11.

And I’ve learned, slowly, to accept tortellini soup when I was the one in need. I loved it when a friend at school gave me a gift of lasagna for Christmas when I was a working mother of three little children.

So in the past few weeks, as Ellie has had her first bad cold and ear infections, I found myself thinking about “food is love” once again.She had the chills; I made her ginger lemon tea. Not from a tea bag. With actual grated ginger and lemon and honey.

I made soup. I had frozen chicken stock, made after we had eaten our locally raised, organic, sustainable birds. I cooked down the carcasses, peeled off all the meat, froze it into small cubes. Which I then cooked with garlic (antibiotic properties), onion, carrots, the herbs I dried from last summer……

It was good. She like it. She ate it. No biggie.

Except that I felt fabulous. I felt like Nonni of the year.

Why? I didn’t make her better; she still had to take her antibiotics and her nose drops. She still had her fevers and her chills.

But I COOKED for her. I showed her how much I love her. I gained a totally false but somehow satisfying sense of control over the microbes of the universe.

It was great.

Today Ellie and I roasted a big pan of beef bones, which we then put into a stock pot with veggies and spice.

It’s simmering on the stove right now. Just waiting for the next cold or flu to hit someone I love.

Food. Is. Love.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

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