Throwing Up My Hands

There are times in life when we have to be honest with ourselves. We have to step back, try to let go of our anger and take a deep breath.

Sometimes we have to admits that our continued struggle against a particular foe is pointless. We have to release our determination to “win.” We must, at those times, admit that the war is over. We must learn to embrace our enemy.

For example, let me tell about me and Rusty. We have been at odds for months.

It all started when a bought myself a clear acrylic bird feeder that sticks on my picture window. I loved watching the birds! I used to have a long feeder that hung out on a pole in front of the house. It was great.

Right up until the April night when a bear ripped it out of the ground and walked away with everything except the steel pole, which was bend all the way to the ground.


I was delighted when Amazon and I worked together (again!) to find me a window feeder. I was so excited with it that I bought another one! And my grandkids and I have spent hours watching the lovely little birdies that flock to the window for food.


And the feeders were set way up high. The bottom of my window is a good 10 feet off the ground, and the feeders are three feet up the window. No bear could get into those things!

I relaxed. I was thrilled with my cleverness. Take that, Mother Nature! You’re no match for a smart Nonni, are you?

Ah, the joys of birdwatching from the comfort of my living room!

“Look, Ellie! I see a chickadee! And a male cardinal! And a junco! And a big, fat squirrel…..”  WHAT?!

red up high

        Note the squirrel tracks in the yard. Also notice the BIRD SEED spread on the snow.                        For the squirrels.


The squirrels recently discovered all that beautiful birdseed in my window feeders. At first I was completely baffled. How the hell did he get up there?

Aha. The lilac bush is close enough for them to jump onto the windowsill and the up to the feeder.

I wasn’t having it, though, oh no. If I could outsmart a bear, I could outsmart a little rodent, right?

First try: I hung a string of brass bells on the window, touching the feeder. Clever, clever old lady!  I watched the window carefully. I was smug. I saw him approaching…..

The cute little red squirrel hopped up onto the window and “jangle, jangle, jangle”! He froze. The he reached out one little paw and jangled it again. He grinned at me through the window. Then he jumped up, ate 30 dollars worth of seeds, and hopped back down. He rang the bells at me on his way out.

Next attempt: I left the window open just a crack. My dog Lennie has a voice that can break glass, I’m not kidding. His bark is so high pitched that it makes my teeth hurt. So, I figured, let the mighty hunter dog scare him away. I sat back, ready to triumph.

“Red” jumped up onto the lilac. Lennie growled. I smiled. Red leapt onto the window ledge. Lennie barked. I covered my ears. Red scrambled up onto the feeder. Lennie jumped at the window, knocking over a picture and two wooden trains. BAM! CRASH! HOWL!

Through the cacophony, I heard the sound of chewing. Red was in the feeder, happily gorging on the sunflower seeds. I wrestled Lennie back down to the floor, the two of us panting and growling. Why wasn’t the squirrel afraid?

“What the hell?!” I yelled at him. “Why aren’t you scared?!” He stuffed another handful of seeds in one cheek, knocked on the glass with his tiny knuckles and winked as he strolled away.

He rang the damn bells on his way by.

A couple of days went by. I refilled the feeder every four hours. I would NOT give up my birdwatching.

I googled “squirrel proofing” for ideas. I plotted. I planned.  I armed myself with a spray bottle and hid behind the curtains, waiting for him to show up.

He jumped into the feeder. I flung open the window and sprayed him right in his tiny face. Bam! Take that, you little red thief!

He jumped, seemingly in a panic, into the lilac. I stepped back. “VICTORY!”

He jumped back into the feeder. I flung open the window and spayed him even harder, aiming for that little black eyeball. Direct hit!

He jumped into the lilac and down to the ground. I stepped back. I waited.

He jumped back into the feeder.

This went on for a full ten minutes. Back and forth. Jump, grab seeds, spray in the face, jump down, jump back up, grab some seeds, spray in the face. Finally I ran out of water. I slumped to the floor in defeat. Red cleaned out the feeder.

The other day I covered the lilac with a sheet and attached it to the window. No squirrel.

Then the wind kicked up, the sheet billowed in the air in front of the window. Ellie shrieked in terror, Lennie barked in reaction to her shriek, Johnny burst into a wail when the dog barked.

Red took the opportunity to jump into the feeder.

I put a full bowl of bird seed on the snowy ground in front of the house. I sprinkled seeds on the snowbank. I have thrown almonds at the squirrel. I’ve yelled at him. I have moved the feeders three times.

No dice.

This morning I woke up to see this.

Red in the feeder

Morning, Nonni! Nice day for a healthy breakfast, no?

So I am admitting defeat.

We are no longer at war with the red squirrels in the feeder or the huge gray squirrels who have eaten every suet cake all winter.

I am embracing their furry cuteness. I am learning to admire the courage and tenacity of these wild creatures who are determined to survive.

The truth is, if I had to work that hard to live, I’m not sure I’d make it.

So come on, Red. I’ll put Lennie outside for now.




A Parable For Today


Once there was a village. It was deep in the forest, in a place filled with trees and grasses and beautiful birds.

The people of the village worked hard, but they had a good life. There was enough food and there were safe places to sleep.

A stream ran through the village. It was clean and clear, but it was powerful, too. The people used the water to drink, to stay clean and to cool off on hot days. Every adult used the stream, and some of the kids learned to swim there.

As time went on, and the generations passed, the little village grew in size and prosperity. The settlement became a town, with paved roads and stores and groups of houses. The stream still ran through it, winding gently along the main street. Some people still used the water for everyday chores, although most people had plumbing in their houses by now.

The stream became a place for recreation and sport, but was no longer key to the survival of the townspeople. It was just a nice little relic of the past. A good place for picnics on hot summer days.

One day someone decided that it would be fun to dam up the water. He wanted to make a pool where people could not only fish, but also swim, dive and jump off the steep banks. It sounded like fun, and so it was done.

As the years passed, people got used to the pool and to the bigger, more powerful flow of water that moved through town below the dam. Some people used the pool but feared the faster stream. Some loved  all of the water and used it everyday.

Life went on.

A few more generations passed, and another water-user decided that it would be fun to narrow the flow of water below the dam. “It will go faster,” he thought, “It will have more power.” When he presented the idea to the townspeople, some told him that they thought the water was powerful enough already.

“We have water in our homes to drink and bathe. We have a pool for fun, and a quick running stream for excitement. Why would we need a more powerful flow of water?”

The water-user and his friends thought about this for a bit. They really wanted to play around with stronger, faster water. How could they convince people to let them have more a powerful water source to play with?

“I know!” said one water-user. “The water can protect us! If invaders come to our town, we can escape quickly on the fast moving stream!”

People are funny. Even though the town had never once been invaded in its entire history, the threat of war was enough to convince the leaders to invest in the narrower, stronger stream.

Little by little, year by year, the water-users of the town continued to work on the pool and the stream. Most people paid little attention to the changes that were made. They were busy with jobs and families and school and sports.

Slowly and steadily the water grew higher, faster and less controlled. It began to frighten people when two small children were swept to their deaths one winter evening. A few people suggested that it might be time to slow the water down. But many people enjoyed swimming in the pool, kayaking on the upper stream and even riding the white waters of the swift lower channel. So an argument broke out.

“Let’s not overreact,” they said. “We need the water for fun. And what would happen if the running water in our pipes ever stopped, or if dangerous invaders came through? We need our water! It’s our right to have this water!”

Heads nodded. Beards were stroked. Nothing was changed.

Every year that passed saw slight changes to the riverbed and the water’s flow.

And every year that passed saw more people dying from the increasingly powerful waters. At times of heavy rain, the lower stream would flood. Entire families were swept away, scooped right out of their beds by the raging torrent.

Now the people of the town began to complain to their leaders.

“We’re afraid of this water! It’s just too much. Something MUST be done!”

The leaders were confused, unsure of what to do. But the water-users offered to help.

“We know what to do” they said. “We will offer free swimming lessons to every person in town! We will sell fabulous water wings in the local stores.”

That quieted things down for a bit, and the demands to slow the water faded away. But not for long.

After a few more years,  the water-users had created waterfalls, rapids and even faster and narrower streams running through town.

“So much safety!!!” they cheered. “No invaders will ever be able to defeat us!”

Then one spring, without warning, the weather turned terrible and stormy. The rains fell for weeks on end. The waters in the pool rose ever higher. The stream below the dam became a raging, screaming whirlpool. Some people in town were terrified, but others found it exciting.

Exciting, that is, right up until the moment when the flood burst through its banks and smashed in all the windows at the nearby school. As the children screamed and drowned, all of the adults raced to the rescue. They cried as they pulled the drowning children through the broken glass. They treated the survivors with tenderness and care. They sobbed and they grieved as they buried the little ones who could not be saved.

They were united in their sorrow and in their determination to make the town a safer place. One grieving mother asked,

“Now should we do something to slow down the water? Now can we drain the pool?”

The town leaders and the water-users thought about it. They were just as sad as everyone else, but they weren’t ready to let go of their best defense against potential dangers. They weren’t ready to let go of all the fun that the water offered.

“How about if we rebuild the school so that it has no windows anymore?” they suggested. This would certainly take care of the problem of water breaking the windows.

The school was rebuilt without a single window. The children and the teachers went back in to recreate their learning space in the darkness. They huddled there in fear, but they hoped that the leaders were right and that now at last they were safe.

But one year the raging river flooded again, and this time it was the door that was broken. More children and teachers died.

Again, the town grieved and wept and swore to make things safer.

This time they bricked up all the doors and put a locked bulkhead on the roof to let the children and teachers in. Every morning, the children watched as their teachers pulled the bulkhead door open. Every morning, they climbed down into the darkness.

And when the bulkhead was swept away in the next flood, the town leaders gathered once again.

“Now what?” they asked the water-users. “Now how do we keep our children safe?”

This time they decided that every classroom should contain a boat. A special safety boat that would be deployed only in the event of another flood.

By now they knew that the river was out of control, that the cataract could not be contained, that the school would once again be hammered by the deadly force of the water.

They put their hope in the boats.

When one timid child asked why they didn’t try to slow the water instead of imprisoning the kids in a school filled with rising water, the leaders only patted her on the head and told her to leave it to the adults.

I know, I know. I am not subtle. And I’m clearly not a fiction writer. But today I watched America’s children marching out of their classrooms because they are terrified that they will be murdered in the place that should be the safest place in their lives. Some of them were babies, as young as third or fourth grade. They had tears on their cheeks. I watched, I sobbed, I paced. I am a mother, a grandmother, a teacher. My entire life is about nurturing and protecting children.

Now I am watching them fight to protect themselves. I can’t get over my anger, rage, sorrow and shame. I WILL march on the 24th. I will scream, yell, cry and clap. And I WILL vote very, very carefully.



My Father’s Hands

My father was a builder. He could build a shelf, a shed, a stool. He could turn an unfinished cellar into a beautiful bedroom, laundry room, rec room and bathroom. My father had hands that could turn a simple piece of wood into a cross for the local church.

My father’s hands were strong, capable, rough to the touch.

They were gentle when they cradled his children. They were strong when they were asked to move rocks in the backyard.

When my sons were small, my Dad built each of them a little wooden train. The cars connected with a simple peg and hole design. Each train had an engine, a set of following cars, and a small caboose. Each had the name of one son carved into it.

I watched my boys play with those wooden trains. They drove them down the hall, across the kitchen, over a mountain of stacked books. The little wooden wheels rolled effortlessly through our house. The engines were crashed together, driven down our front steps, and taken out into the yard on warm summer days.

My father laughed with pleasure when he saw his grandsons racing the trains, crashing them into walls and taken them apart over and over again. “They’re toys,” he said when I worried about the boys breaking them. “They’re supposed to be played with! Let them play.”

So I did. I let them play. I let my beautiful boys use those wooden trains to create new worlds and gain control of those worlds. I held my tongue when I wanted to tell them to be careful. I stopped myself from putting the little trains up on a shelf.

And my boys grew up. The wooden trains were left behind, with the hot wheels and the books and the leggos.

When I knew that they had truly grown and gone, I carefully picked up each little train car. I dusted them, cleaned them with lemon oil, gently attached each car to it’s neighbor. I placed them up on a shelf, surrounded by my favorite photos and souvenirs of long ago vacations.

And there they sat, for too many years.

But now I have my grandchildren in my house. I have a toy box, a book shelf filled with favorite stories, baskets of dress up clothes and stuffed animals.

And the wooden trains have come back out.

This morning as I watched the kids at play, I looked up to see the baby, little Johnny, holding one of those wooden train engines in his hand. And it hit me with the force of all that love and sorrow and joy.

His little hand, the hand that contains the essence of his great grandfather, was rolling the train across my floor. He was cooing and grinning and giggling with happiness. I watched my sweet baby Johnny as he lifted the wooden toy to his mouth and then held it out to me. He seemed to be saying, “Hey! Would you look at this!!! A TRAIN!”

I looked at his little hand, his dimpled knuckles and chubby wrists. And I saw my boys right there in front of my. My own sweet little ones, racing those trains across this very same floor.

And I saw the hands of my father. Those capable, gentle, strong hands, creating years and decades of pleasure for those who would come after him. I saw his hands right there over Johnny’s. I saw the hands of my boys, holding those same little trains in the very same way.

What a gift.

Today I saw my Dad, gone now for more than ten years. I saw him smiling at my little grandson, guiding him as he learned how to roll that wooden train across the floor of my living room.

What a gift.

My father’s hands, and the hands of my baby Johnny.

Johnny train


A Letter To the Parkland Teens


Dear young activists,

First of all, I am so sorry. I don’t know how to address you. To this 62 year old grandmother, you are children. But I see your strength and courage in the face of tragedy, and I know that you are already grown. To this retired teacher, you are students. But as I watch you lead this lost country toward a better future, I know that you are our teachers.

So I will not call you “children” or “students”. I will go with “young activists,” as I send you this letter.

Dear young activists,

My heart is broken for you. You should NEVER have had to cower in fear in your classrooms. You should never have had to text “goodbye” to your families. You should never have had to bury your friends.  I grieve for you and with you. I wish that my tears could wash away this terror and this pain.

But my dear young powerful Americans,

I thank you. I have been fighting for sensible gun control in this country for so many years. I took my then teen aged daughter to the Million Mom March back in 2000. In those early, innocent days, we were fighting to limit access to handguns.  No one had even imagined semi-automatic rifles.

Can you even imagine?

My dear young survivors,

I want to hug you. I want to take care of you. I am old enough be your grandma. Please remember that even as you call upon all of that incredible youthful energy and rage and fire, you are still only human. Take care of yourself.

I can’t make you a nice plate of pasta, as I constantly wish I could, but I can offer you these few words of advice, taken from my many years of activist work:

  1. Trust yourselves. Stick together. When outside forces seek to weaken you by comparing you to each other or singling one of you out, stay strong, stay true, stay together. You will never find better friends or allies than those who stand with you now.
  2. Keep to your message. The media and the public will try to move you onto other topics, other problems, other issues. Be true to your cause.
  3. Take care of yourselves!! Sleep. Rest. Eat good food. Eat delicious but bad-for-you food. Laugh. Cry. Watch some mindless TV. Recharge. I know too well that we all operate like rechargeable batteries. Don’t let yourselves be drained.
  4. Don’t listen to anyone other than each other. Take every bit of adult advice, suggestion and guidance with a big old grain of salt, including this one. YOU know who you are, and what you need to do.
  5. Let us help you as we can. Let us send you money, but don’t listen when we tell you how to spend it. Let us drive you to your interview, but don’t let us give you a script.

My dear young activists,

I’m sorry that you find yourselves where you are.  I’m so happy to find you in the place where we most need you. You have a very rare and unique opportunity to change the world for the better. And that puts all of you in a very vulnerable place.

I wish you all success and strength and power. I wish you peace, and healing and an end to your sorrow. I wish you a safe place to learn and to grow.

And when the limelight fades, I wish you lives of ordinary beauty and everyday joy. I wish you moments of reflection when you can look back and think, “I made the world better.”

We will march with you on March 24th. We will continue this long, long fight for sanity and safety. 

Love and thanks,

One inspired Nonni



I’m Thinking of Writing a Cookbook

I actually am thinking about writing a cookbook.

I need a source of additional income, and my only two reasonable skills are cooking and writing. Hence: a cookbook!

I know, I know. The market is absolutely flooded with cookbooks right now.

But MINE will be special.

You see, I have been experimenting with some truly unique recipes.

Here’s the backstory.

My grandson Johnny loves to eat. His nicknames include “Johnny Cheeks”, “Big Goomba” and “Johnny Pork Chop,” At a mere nine months old, the kid can chow down with the best of them.

johnny's first pastina

Good for him, right? Nothing makes Nonni happier than feeding babies.

The thing is, he’s still an infant. He’s supposed to be getting his nutrition mostly from breast milk. His mother is a milk producer par excellence. Think Holstein and you get the picture. She has enough of nature’s perfect nutrition to feed a whole barnful of Johnnys. She wants him to have her milk. She says it’s the best possible food for him.

He doesn’t particularly agree. Maybe he doesn’t want to seem immature, you know? Or maybe once you taste meatballs there’s no going back. I’m not sure.

All I know is that my boss  daughter leaves me 8 ounces of fresh mother’s milk every day, and my job is to get it into the Goomba. I’ve tried his usual bottle, a sippy cup, a straw, a spoon, and a bottle with handles he can use to feed himself.

No dice. No matter what I try, he pushes it aside and reaches for the nearest ham sandwich.

So I have become an expert at hiding breast milk in everyday foods.

Oatmeal in the morning? Sure! We cool it off with breast milk. Pastina? Yup, breast milk goes in there, too. Scrambled eggs with spinach and breast milk? One of his faves.

I have even given him risotto with carrots, peas and chicken. Made with….you guessed it. Breast milk.

Can’t you just imagine how awesome my cookbook will be once I pull it all together? How unique, how different? How useful?

I’ll need super shiny, fancy photos to grace every page. I figure I know enough cute babies to pose them with my breastmilk and maple sugar pancakes. They can even give the testimonials for each dish.

Johnny oatmeal

“Mmmmmmm. Numnah!”

Naturally, I’ll need to come up with chic hipster names for each recipe. I read “Bon Appetite.” I know how this works. You have to include at least one non-English word in each title, and it has to be served “with” something.  All the new restaurants and cookbooks feature items like “Wild boar ragout with chanterelles and persimmon sauce.”

I have a few recipes already, and plan to spend the next three months perfecting others. Right up until the Pork Chop is fully weaned.

How do these sound to you? Delicious? Be honest. What do you think?

“Bananes frites with mother’s milk and fresh blueberry sauce.”

“Best of the Breast omelette with mushrooms.”

“No Cow Juice For You Fruit Shakes- a healthy mix of Mom’s pride and fresh fruit.”

“Pastina con latte materno.”

“Risotto a la Mamma Mia.”

I think it will catch on. I can’t wait to start working on desserts. Just think of the creamy custards!

The Times They Are A-Changing

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

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

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

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

We did NOT wear makeup.

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

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

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

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

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

But…Being bad at make up had another effect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


I was gray. All gray.

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

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

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

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

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


So here I am. Just about to turn 62.

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

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

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

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

Ah, well.

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

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


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

Oh, Charlie


Dear Charlie,

Dear sweet, lovable Charlie,

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

Dear Charlie,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, sweet Charlie.

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

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

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

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

We all will.

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

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

Rest, little guy. You’ve earned it.




I once had a job that changed my life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can still see her.

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

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

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

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

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

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I remember.

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


Never again.

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



The Goddess


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

God was male.

But I’m not a little girl anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But she was.

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

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

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

And I saw the Goddess.

I saw the body that gave me my life.

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

My beautiful, fragile, goddess Mother.

And now I think I understand.

The deity is a Goddess. The deity is woman.

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

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



Holding On, But Not Too Tight

Ellie and Johnny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want them all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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