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.

And Time Goes By


It’s really funny what little things in life make us aware of the passage of time. There are the big life milestones, like births and graduations and retirement. Moments which are designed to remind us the years are flying and that we are all marching onward into whatever the future holds.

But sometimes it is a very little thing that grabs us by the heart and squeezes. Sometimes it is almost nothing, but it feels like everything.

Time is moving. Life is passing. The only constant in life is change.

Today was one of those days for me.

I went for a haircut, as I do every 5 weeks. I got in the car and drove to my local hair salon. I’ve been coming to this same salon for my cut for about 25 years. When the place was sold by its original owner, I stayed. When it moved down the street, I stayed.

I’ve met my neighbors there. I’ve set up appointments at the same time as my friends on summer days, so that we could go out to lunch after our cuts and colors. The woman who cuts my hair was in elementary school when I started coming; she was a girl scout friend of my daughter back then.

They are both Mommies now.

For twenty five years, I’ve heard the town gossip while sitting in this chair. I’ve seen the flyers for fundraisers, for hockey games, for PTO events.

Years ago, when I was a girl scout helper, I met other moms and talked about upcoming scouting events. When I taught in town, I saw my students and their parents here. When I served for a few years on our local School Committee, I got more than one earful of unsolicited advice.

Long after my children graduated from our local schools, when the band concerts and hockey games were over, the salon was my one remaining connection to life in this small New England town.

The local grocery store on our Central Street closed long ago. The library is wonderful, but there is another one closer to my house. Most of my old town friends have moved away or have drifted from my life as the connection of our children has gone.

The salon was the one thing that drew me back into town, once a month, to catch up on the news and renew old ties.

But time marches on. The salon is closing.

Today I had my last haircut in the familiar, homey place. My last look at the photographs on the wall, done by a local photographer who I knew as I little girl. My last time checking out with the friendly young women who were babies when I started to come here.

Many years ago, when I looked in these mirrors, I saw a smiling young mother with thick, dark brown hair. Her brown eyes were clear and her jawline was smooth and slim.

Today I looked into that familiar mirror, from that so familiar chair. I looked into my tired eyes, framed now by glasses. I saw the white of my hair and roundness of my face.

I shared stories and laughs with my sweet hairdresser (who I will follow to her new salon). I paid for my cut, made my next appointment for the new place, and sadly closed the door behind me.

All that is constant is change.

It may be a while before I head back into my little town again.

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.

The Worst Thing About Retirement


There is a lot to be said for retirement.

And by that I mean, almost everything about retirement is great.

In my retirement, I’m able to sleep until 8 pretty much every day. I get to drink my coffee slowly, in my pajamas.

I haven’t worn “dress shoes” more than three times in the past four years, and those were all weddings.

When it’s rainy, I stay warm and dry in my house. When it’s snowy, I get to go out and play, then come right back in to the fire and the hot soup. I can cook to my heart’s content. I have the time and the mental freedom to learn new things, like my creaky violin and my rudimentary Italian.

I get the grandkids every day, and nothing in the world tops that.

Best of all, I NEVER have to go to meetings. There’s no paperwork and no deadlines (other than getting to the potty in time.)

Nirvana.

Almost.

Because there are a couple of downsides, too.

There’s the fact that it took less than a year for me to be completely out of touch with the newest thoughts about education. I feel left behind and dumped at the curb.

I often feel useless.

Now, don’t start with all that “but the kids need you!” stuff. I know that. My job as chief caregiver for Ellie and Johnny is the most important one I could have. I love them so much that sometimes it actually hurts. They love me back.

I know.

But every once in a while, I hear myself utter a sentence like, “Let’s make a playdoh castle for the trolls!” That’s when I wonder where my formerly intellectual self has gone.

I miss being a deep thinker. I miss having rich conversations with my colleagues about our students. I miss doing diagnostic work, and recognizing how a child was processing the world.

Most of all, I miss the feedback that came with my professional life. I miss the hugs from the kids. Those I miss the most. I miss their smiles, and the little shared jokes that came with every class.

When I was teaching, I knew that I was going a good job. I knew because the kids told me. “You’re a funny teacher!,” they’d tell me. Or, “You’re nice.” I had kids tell me that I helped them understand themselves better, or that I helped them learn how to make mistakes without feeling bad about themselves.

I miss the feedback.

A smile from a parent, a “thank-you” from a worried Mom, hearing a grandparent say, “I’ve heard so much about you!”

I once had a child bring me a rutabaga, six months after he’d graduated to the next grade. It was hilarious, a reminder of a joke that had lasted for his entire fifth grade experience.

I miss that.

And I truly miss the feedback from colleagues; working with very smart teachers and sharing lesson plans made me feel bright by reflection. Sometimes in a TEAM meeting, I’d realize that my observations helped to clarify how a child was struggling. And I knew I was good at the job.

I love retirement. I love being a stay home Nonni and baking cookies on cold days. I am happy to play with toddlers and to read familiar books while snuggled on the couch.

But once in a while, I’d love to have some of that positive feedback that used to make me feel smart.

At least there are no meetings.

What Learning the Violin Has Taught Me About Life


http://”Violin Still Life” by cbyeh is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When I was nine years old, my school offered the opportunity to learn an instrument. We were told that we could become a part of our school’s orchestra.

Wow.

I was thrilled at the idea, although I’m not sure why. My parents loved music, but neither was a musician. Still, I happily chose to play the viola, and joined the small group of music nerds in my elementary school.

I fell head over heels in love with the sound of that viola. I fell in love with the deep purple velvet that lined it’s case, and with the smell of the resin that I rubbed onto my bow.

As I played the viola, I learned about the joy of harmony, and was always thrilled to be the lower voice to that of the violin. To this day, I sing alto every chance I get.

My fourth grade year was largely shaped by my love of my Thursday morning orchestra rehearsals and my Tuesday after-lunch strings lesson. Sitting here right now, at the age of 63, I can still remember how I’d wish my Tuesday lunch time over, so that I could step onto the stage in our “cafetorium”, where the dusty curtain would be closed and the small group of violin, viola and cello players would practice in the musty warmth.

Playing my instrument, in a crowd of other young musicians, was magic to me. It lifted me out of my world and brought me into a world of sweetly entwining harmonies. I felt such a surge of power as I played my little beginners viola.

But at the end of that year, I learned that I wouldn’t be able to keep playing. My big family just didn’t have the money to allow me to continue.

I can still remember sitting in the back of the family car after our end-of-year concert. My parents were taking us out for ice-cream, to celebrate my musical achievement.

I couldn’t stop crying. Ice cream or none, I was heartbroken to give up my lovely, golden hued viola.

But life goes on, and childhood sadness fades away. I went on to have a happy childhood, a healthy adolescence and a very good adulthood.

Over the years, I’ve indulged my love of music by joining several choirs and by learning a little bit of acoustic guitar. I listen to music, of course, and I go to see live music as often as possible.

But I’ve still held onto the memory of that viola, of the sweet song of the bow being pulled across the strings. I never stopped wanting to try it again.

And here I am.

A grandmother, a lady with arthritic fingers and an achy back. A retired teacher. A good cook. A reader and a would-be-writer.

And I have once again taken up my beloved strings and bow. This time I am learning to play the violin, instead of the viola. This is in part because that’s what was available to me (thank you, brother Dave!). But it’s also because the violin is easier to learn.

Enter my wonderful, patient, talented, encouraging teacher, Susan.

My dream is coming true because of Susan’s gentle guidance. In the past four months, she has taught me how to hold my violin correctly, how to hold the bow and how to place my fingers. She’s shown me how to put enough weight in my wrist, and how to make “long bows” and “short bows.” The technical parts of playing are beginning to make some sense.

But here’s the best part of what she has taught me.

Susan has taught me to give myself some slack. She has shown me how to look at the goal, and not the individual steps to its achievement.

You see, I am kind of hard on myself when it comes to the violin. I know what a good violinist sounds like; they are sweet, and smooth and effortless. The voice of the instrument is tender and pure.

When I play, on the other hand, the strings tend to shriek. The bow bounces. My notes are either just a bit too sharp or just a bit too flat. I can’t seem to keep my aging eyes on the strings, the bow, my fingers and the music while also paying attention to the movement of my wrist and the position of my right shoulder.

I want to create the sounds that I hear in my head; I am not happy with the struggling, wobbling sounds that emanate from my violin.

Even my dog, Bentley, tends to howl when I play.

It’s demoralizing. It’s depressing.

But Susan keeps me on track. And here is how she does it:

Susan reminds me that children learn by simply doing. They do not think about each finger, they only think about the song to be produced.

“Look at the bigger picture,” she seems to say, “Make the music that you want, don’t keep questioning yourself.”

And she tells me to be patient with myself. She tells me that I am on a journey, and that every step is one to be celebrated. She constantly reminds me that this week I am able to play a simple song that was a struggle for me a week ago.

I am learning. I am growing. I need to embrace and celebrate my progress. I need to accept the fact that I am not an accomplished musician, but that I am someone who is moving forward.

The best part of what Susan has taught me, though, is that when I play music, I do it for myself. I am my only audience. I do this purely for pleasure.

This isn’t a job, or a class, or a medal to be earned. It’s a chance to express myself through music, through the music of a lovely, graceful stringed instrument. It’s a chance to send my emotions out into the air through my bow, through the vibration of these strings.

She is teaching me to take a breath, to do my best, to accept my mistakes and to enjoy my brief moments of musical beauty.

What I love is that these are the exact same lessons I have tried so hard to impart to my children, to my elementary school students, and to my grandchildren.

What a gift!

With my violin awkwardly tucked under my aging jaw, as I carefully pull the bow across those carefully tuned strings, I am reminded that moments of beauty, like moments of success, are both rare and precious.

Thank you, Susan!

Now I’m going to practice my Christmas Carols.

If Anthropologists Found Me


So I’ve been reading about ancient bones lately.

No, not the geriatric news report. More like the ancient skeletons that scientists seem to keep finding in strange places. The old bones of our distant ancestors what are unearthed when archeologist and anthropologists get grants to muck about in the wilderness.

You know what I mean, don’t you?

Take the old Kennewick Man, for example. This old native American lived up in what we now call Washington State. But he lived there around 9,000 years ago.

His bones were dug up and all kinds of smart and learned people started to analyze his life. What he ate, where he lived, how he hunted. They figured all this out just from looking at his dusty old bones.

And then there’s Ötzi the Iceman, whose mummified remains were dug up in the Alps. He did his hiking some 5,000 years ago and died on one of his treks. (One of the many good reasons why I have told my husband that I’m no longer interested in mountain climbing.)

When scientists analyzed these remains, they were able to describe exactly what the dead men had eaten, and how long before their deaths those meals has been enjoyed. They looked at the bones, at the hair, at the teeth and the stomach contents and came up with all kind of facts about the men. Where they lived, what they did for work, how far each walked in a year.

Fascinating.

So it got me thinking.

If I died today, and somehow got myself buried or frozen or mummified or hermetically sealed in a big old bag, what would future scientists make of my remains?

If they looked at my stomach contents, they would no doubt conclude that women who lived in my time were sustained by pasta, chocolate and a boatload of wine.

Suppose those future anthropologists examined my bones? I bet they would conclude that I had lived a highly active, athletic life. They might surmise that I had spent my adulthood working with my hands.

They would think these things because they’d see several broken fingers.

How would they know that all were broken when I tried to learn how to play basketball, but managed to jam my fingers more often that palm the ball?

They would see a broken bone in one foot and broken toes on each of my feet. “Athletic”, they might think. “Maybe a runner.”

I don’t suppose it would occur to them that I might have slipped off of a flip-flop while walking in the wet grass, thereby breaking a metatarsal bone. They’d have no way of knowing that I would have then stubbornly walked on that broken foot for six weeks before going to the doctor.

And there’s no way in the world that those future scientific geniuses would realize that by slightly favoring that right foot I would have caused my ankle to freeze up and for two of my toes to basically fuse.

I’m sure that if my old mummified carcass was examined closely by future scientists, they would see the scar tissue in my jaw, too. They might use that scarring to infer that I ate a lot of very tough and chewy meats. They might assume that I used my back teeth to chomp on fibrous vegetation, or large fruits and nuts.

How in the world could they know that my jaw was out of alignment because when I was 16 years old I accidentally threw away my orthodontic retainer, which my Mom had mailed to me while I was on a trip to North Africa?

They might think that the indentation on the right side of my forehead was caused by a fight, or a war or some other heroic action.

There is nothing about that divot to tell them that I dropped a huge canister vac on my head while falling down a flight of stairs.

So I wonder.

I wonder if Kennewick man was just a clumsy old dude who got drunk and landed in a bog? I wonder if Ötzi the iceman wasn’t really a high altitude shepherd with bad teeth from eating too much grain. Maybe he was a singer who was on tour in a mountain town when he passed out from a night of eating caramel corn.

Who knows?

I just know that we should question our assumptions.

And that if future anthropologist stumble across my frozen carcass, they will never guess what the tattoo on my back really means.

Dog Is My Copilot


The other night I had a very sweet dream. I dreamed that I was asleep, and that my Dad was hugging me. I could feel his arm around my shoulder, and hear him breathing in my ear.

My Dad has been gone from us for 11 years, but I still feel him beside me. I can still see his smile, and his uplifted eyebrows and his loving gaze.

I miss him every single day.

So my dream was sweet, and touching, and it gave me enormous comfort.

That arm around me. The gentle breath in my ear. The feeling of being loved.

As I slowly came awake in the light of an early winter dawn, I realized that my feelings of Dad were only a dream. He was no longer here with us. He was gone.

And yet.

There was definitely an arm around my shoulder, and it wasn’t my husband’s. There was a gentle breathing in my ear, but I could hear Paul snoring and I knew it wasn’t him.

I rolled over.

And found myself face to face with Bentley, our beautiful basset hound-labrador mix.

His front leg was, in fact, over my shoulder. His soft breathing was right at the level of my ear.

And I started to laugh. I laughed so hard, in fact, that I woke up my husband and had to explain what was making me so silly at 6AM.

You see, as I started to think about it, I could totally understand why I had confused my doggie with my Dad.

Both of them were given the special gift of being able to recognize people’s moods as soon as they were felt. Dad would ask me how I was doing when I was a mess of a teenager, seeming to know when I needed to talk even before I did. In the very same way, Bentley has the gift of showing up for a snuggle as soon as my spirits begin to sink.

Dad always gave unquestioning support just when a person would need it. Sometimes he’d just quietly sit beside me; Ben does the very same thing. He knows when my grandkids are sad, or upset, or not feeling at their best. He climbs up, sits beside them, and just gets ready to listen.

Dad and Bentley. I had to smile.

And the physical similarities really struck me, too.

Dad had short legs. Bentley is a basset hound. Nuff said.

Dad had a broad chest, and big shoulders. Ditto for Mr. Bentley Bass.

And the eyes; The big, warm brown eyes. Eyes that look right at a person and give them the feeling that their every word is a treasure.

Of course, not every feature can be complimented. The slightly large nose? Yup, and yup again. Two big schnozzolas. The bit of extra weight around the middle? More to love on both of them!

Dad had big ears. Bentley has ears so big that they get wet when he drinks.

And the personality quirks can’t be ignored, either. Both my beloved Dad and my darling doggie could be described as highly food motivated. Bring on a good meal, and Dad would be there before the table was set. Rattle a plastic bag, and Bentley will be in the kitchen before you can put it down.

Not to say that either could be called picky. Bentley will eat a bug if it’s the only thing around. I once heard my Dad say that the wine he was drinking was terrible, but he wasn’t about to let it go to waste.

When the kids get silly, and start to race around the house, Bentley joins in with delight, even when he clearly has no idea of what is going on. He’ll run in circles, bark happily, and chase kids up and down the hall for hours. The joy is the point, and he would never miss a chance to express it.

Dad was so much the same. I remember in my earliest childhood, sitting on his lap watching The Three Stooges. He would howl with laughter as he watched, and we all knew that a big part of his pleasure was in sharing the moment with his kids.

But for all of his joyfulness and all of his love, my Dad was also a very black and white thinker. Right was right, wrong was wrong and he rarely noticed a shade of gray. He could be rigid in his way, and very stubborn. He saw the world through his own lens.

My dearest doggie is the very same way. While he clearly loves his humans and delights in our happiness, he also sees the world through his very own eyes. ALL food is his food; if our other dog tries to eat at kibble time, Bentley is likely to stand over both bowls. It takes a stern human and some physical reorganization to get him to focus on only his own dish.

If we ask him to get up from the couch, or leave the kitchen while we cook, he will sit perfectly still and ignore us until a treat is proferred.

“Sure, I know what you want, ” he seems to be saying, “But I have my own way of approaching this problem.”

So much like Dad!

I’m not sure that I actually believe in reincarnation, but if I did?

Welp.

A sweet, smart, big old lug with a love of food and fun, and a tendency to gaze at me with his big brown eyes?

It could be either one of two beloved souls.

The Sunset of Life


Beautiful, peaceful sunset

My mother is in the sunset of her life.

She is 89 years old, and lives alone in the house where she and our Dad raised six children. Where my siblings and I learned to walk, talk, cook, read, play the drums, play baseball, take turns, rake the leaves……

She is in our home place.

Mom has no intention of leaving that home place, not until she has breathed her final breath. This is her home. Her kitchen. Her bedroom.

I get it.

But today I had one of those conversations with Mom that make me stiffen up and shake and want to argue.

You see, my Mom has some type of dementia. We haven’t bothered to go through the evaluations and tests that would give us a definitive diagnosis, because what would be the point?

We know that Mom has lost her short term memory. We know that she can’t recall the key details of her past, or of ours. We realize that no matter how deeply she loves us all, the details of our lives continue to elude her.

When I visit Mom each week, we talk about my children. She remembers that I have three kids, but confuses the details. She remembers that my daughter has children (two of her four her great-grandchildren) but she might ask me ten time in an hour if those children are girls or boys.

For the most part, these repeating stories are fine for me. I understand. Mom’s memory no longer works reliably. I know that she doesn’t remember the names of her grandchildren’s spouses without a prompt.

I’m always OK with that. I repeat things for her, patiently, feeling good about myself as a daughter.

But.

But then.

A moment will occur where Mom forgets some key memory from my relationship with her. “You came to the hospital to meet my first baby, ” I will say. Mom will jump in then,

“I remember! It was a boy and you had to stay in bed, so you couldn’t see him.”

My heart will race, my brain will screech, and I will carefully but firmly tell her, “NO. My first baby was Katie, remember? You came to see her at the hospital! Dad was with you.”

When she doesn’t remember that poignant moment, my heart will sink.

I know that my mom loves me, and that she loves my kids and theirs. I know this deep in my bones.

And yet, when I tell her something that seems important, and she changes the details, I feel betrayed and forgotten.

I want my Momma to remember our best times. I want her to remember how close we were, but I also want her to remember how much we fought. These are the key threads of my life; and they all involve her. I need to recognize those threads.

Today I visited Mom. I made her some soup, and helped her to feed her cat and clean out the litter box. I checked to see what groceries she’d need. I put lotion on the dry skin on her back, my hand gently rubbing in a circle, just as she’d done for me when I was a child.

Today I asked my Mom what she wanted to drink with her lunch of homemade minestrone. As she often does, Mom looked at me with a sparkle in her dark brown eyes. “How about a nice dry martini?” she asked with a grin. We both laughed.

But then she went on to tell me how fun it was when I first introduced her to martinis. “Remember?” she coaxed, “You made us both extra dry gin martinis! That was my very first martini!”

This is, of course, not at all what happened. In fact, my Mom had been a once-in-a-while martini drinker for years. She had learned about the famous cocktail back in the 50’s, when I was newly born. She used to tell me hilarious stories about getting together with the neighbors or her sisters-in-law and enjoying one too many martinis.

When my Dad died, and I started to spend one night at week at Mom’s house, we sometimes drank a vodka martini before dinner.

Her memory was a happy smooshing of both of these truths.

For me, her story came with pain.

I wanted to correct her. “No!” I wanted to say, “You taught ME about martinis!”

But Mom wasn’t having it. While she generally admits that her memory has lapses, this time she was adamant. She told, and retold, a story of the two of us making “extra dry gin martinis” in her kitchen. She was delighted with the memory.

“I think we got a little silly, didn’t we?” she asked with a laugh.

And oh, how I wanted to correct her.

But then I remembered what families of patients with dementia are told. “Don’t correct them. Those memories are real for them.” I took a breath. I nodded and tried out a smile.

Mom took both of my hands in hers. I felt the tender, brittle bones of her fingers in mine.

“Wasn’t that fun?” she asked.

And I realized that while my mother’s memory was a false one, it was also lovely, and happy and filled with her love for me. She had created a shared moment that hadn’t really existed.

But it didn’t matter. She held my hands, and looked at me with gratitude and love. I kissed her cheek, and then we went into the kitchen to eat our soup.

Halloween Heartache


When the kids were little, I loved Halloween. I loved decorating the house with scary witch cut-outs and pretend ghosts. I loved the excitement, the weeks of costume planning, the favorite candy discussions.

I loved….I really loved, carving pumpkins. And cooking the seeds.

I loved making Halloween treats like marshmallow witches and “ghosts in the graveyard” cake. The look of joy, excitement, and even slight fear in the eyes of all of the kids was a reminder to me, every year, that magic is real. Magic does happen.

When a shy six year old puts on a big hat and his Dad’s old shirt, he feels as if he has been magically transported into a world where everything is possible. When serious, strict teachers show up in the classroom dressed as light-up jellyfish, when tired parents put on silly wigs and clown makeup, that is magic. Children see that magic. They breathe it. They embrace it as only children can.

I’ve always loved the magic of Halloween.

As a child, I loved the planning and scheming that started in late winter and carried us all the way to October. I loved walking through the suddenly-spooky streets of my neighborhood. I loved the candy, but mostly I loved the idea of becoming someone else on that special night.

As a mother, I loved watching my three children filled with the tingling sensations that came with walking our safe streets at dusk. I loved seeing their faces light up at the sight of a neighbor’s jack-o-lantern in the window. I loved watching them feel powerful or beautiful or magical, just because of a bit of makeup or a piece of clothing.

As a teacher, I adored Halloween. The week before was filled with animated conversations about costumes. We’d spend most “morning meetings” planning our classroom party, choosing a song list, planning our games. We’d read about the history of Halloween traditions. Everything felt slightly more relevant and more intense than our regular history lessons.

Math facts and spelling rules faded into the background, where most of us felt they belonged.

And the day itself, the day of Halloween, was pure magic.

I have such clear memories of teaching a science lesson while wearing a tall black witch hat; few memories make me smile more than the image of myself nodding my head for emphasis and realizing that my witch hat was tapping me on the nose. The kids and I must have belly laughed for a full two minutes.

I miss that.

I miss the magic. I miss the transformation that comes so easily to children who put on a disguise. I miss watching how easily those children moved from shy, insecure little ones to all powerful super heroes just by putting on a cape.

I miss standing in the doorway of my house, handing out candy and expressing my delight at every adorable ghost and every terrifying 7 year old monster.

Today is Halloween.

It is a rainy, windy, strangely warm day here in Massachusetts. I spent the day with my two toddler grandchildren, eating healthy foods and watching Halloween videos. We made silly paper ghosts, played with playdoh, pretended to be various super heroes. Every hour or so, my little two year old grandson would shake and clasp his hands together:

“I so excited to go out Halloweening!”

His four year old sister kept asking how long it would be until they could go out to get the candy.

We had a sweet day.

But as it ended, and my daughter and son-in-law came to get the kids, the magic faded for me.

My husband and I have gone with our grandkids to Trick-or-Treat for the past three years. Every year, they join their friends, young parents we’ve known for all of their lives, and everyone has a wonderful time going to door to door in our small town, where every face is familiar.

The first year after our granddaughter was born, joining them was automatic: Of COURSE we’d want to be part of it all! The second year was the same. On the third Halloween, our sweet little grandson had been added to the family, and we wanted to be with him.

But at last reality has hit us.

We are no longer the Trick or Treat generation. We are the people who stand at the door to hand out the treats. We are too tired to try to find yet another costume. We are too tired to walk the streets at the end of a long day. Our doctors have cautioned us about eating all that sugar. Our back are too sore to carry tired kids home at the end of the night. The end of the night bath is so far beyond our energy level that we can’t even think about it.

It’s all good. It’s all correct. It’s all exactly as it should be.

I’m very happy that I can stay in my dry living room tonight. I’m delighted that I can put some ice on my sore back and pour a glass of wine and stay here with a good book.

But at the very same time, at the very same moment, my heart is breaking. I can still remember how much I loved washing the makeup off of the faces of the kids I loved so very much.

Life goes on.

And it leaves some heartache behind.

The Eye of the Beholder


It was a day today. Just a normal day.

It was a Sunday, in northern Massachusetts, in the last week of October.

It rained all day and the wind kept sweeping back and forth across our yard, seemingly intent on scrubbing away all signs of summer.

The yellow leaves swirled through the air like dancers and the newly empty trees bowed to the left and to the right.

I sat in my comfy rocker with a blanket on my knees. I watched the weather and smiled.

It was perfect.

Like every other adult in the world today, my days are packed with responsibilities. Taking care of my grandchildren and one of their friends, shopping, cooking, entertaining friends, helping to look after my elderly Mom, dealing with two young and energetic dogs……

All of it is good and all of really does bring me joy.

But I am exhausted. I’ve spent the past ten days or so fighting off a visit to the doctor. Refusing to go on medications that make me feel worse than I did before. The nose is stuffy, the lungs are wheezy, the aches are chasing the pains across my spine and I have a mystery foot ailment that has me limping like an old sailor.

I needed one day to myself.

And my dear friend, Mother Nature, has complied. It is cold. It is too rainy to work in the yard. Too cold to clean the garage. I had some new friends here for dinner last night, so there is no need clean anything.

Today has been spent reading a very cool mystery novel (The Nowhere Child). It has been spent sipping tea and eating mini cannolis brought by our friends. Dogs have been snoozing on my lap.

Even my workaholic husband has been reading, snoozing and playing games on his phone.

Perfect.

As I sit here now, I am looking out at a gray, dreary dusk. The rain pours down. The wind keeps blowing.

As I sit here, the light of my house shines in contrast to the cold night ahead. I am safe. I am sitting. I gaze out into the golden glow of the leaves that remain on our beech and oak trees. I can see the last bright sign of life from our “Burning bush”. I know that winter is heading our way.

But all will be well.

Because every now and then, a day will come when my body tells me to simply sit down and shut up. I’ll pour some hot herb tea, grab a good book, and fold the fuzzy blanket over the dog on my lap.

Life is good. Especially when we don’t expect it to be.