I Dreamed of My Father


Some dreams are only dreams. They come to us through the mixing of our yearnings and our fears. They drift through our sleep, filled with images and sounds forged from both memory and wish.

They feel as insubstantial as clouds. They exist, but they are made of nothing we can touch.

But some dreams are more. Some of them, when we are very lucky, are truly visits from those we have lost.

Last night my father came to see me. He came to me as I slept because he’s been gone from this earth for more than ten years now.

I dreamed of my Dad.

I dreamed that I was walking in a foggy place. I couldn’t see what was around me, but I felt myself moving. And then I saw him, my Dad. Right there, right in front of me.

I felt myself begin to cry. I felt the pain in my chest, and in my throat. There were tears on my face that I felt as they moved down my cheeks. I sobbed and felt the loss of breath.

In my sleep, I reached for Dad, expecting to be aware of him only as a dream. I expected the one dimensional feel of him; an image that I could see but one that would have no substance.

Instead, as I hugged him, I felt the warmth of his breath in my hair and the feel of his arms around me. A shock of recognition and awareness jolted through me, and I said, “Oh, Dad, it’s really you!”

He laughed. His real, Dad laugh, and put his hand on my cheek. “Oh,” he said, in his own voice. “I’m here! Don’t cry!”

I held his hand in mine and looked at his fingers, his knuckles, the way the skin was pulled smooth across the back of his hand. I felt the rough texture of his palm and the pads of his fingers.

These were details that I’d forgotten about him. Awake, I would never have known them again.

But he was there. Smiling at me, laughing at the foolishness of my grief. As often happens in these vivid, “visitation” dreams, I knew what he was thinking without hearing all of his words.

“It’s OK! You’re fine.” I felt that he was amused and touched by my sadness, but I knew that it didn’t worry him.

And then the visit was over.

I don’t remember him leaving, but I remember waking up, feeling comforted, but feeling cheated, too. He had been there, for really real, but he was gone again.

I dreamed of my Father. I smelled his skin, felt the softness of his hair. I was held in his arms, against his familiar chest.

It was him. He was here.

I want to go back to sleep. I want him to come and see me once again.

Dad and I, once upon a time.

Those Long, Long Days


I remember when I was a young Mom, feeling as if some days just lasted forever.

Like. For-freakin’-ever.

I remember hot, hot summer days, the ones where I was home alone with all three kids. I can clearly picture myself looking at the clock after having cooked, served and cleaned up breakfast, broken up two fights, done a load of laundry, swept the floor and helped to make four beds.

I remember it like it was yesterday, glancing up at the kitchen clock and thinking, “Damn! The battery must have run down. No WAY it’s only 9:15 in the morning!!!!”

I remember being wrong. It was, in fact, early morning and I had many, many hours ahead of me.

At the age of 35, that was not a pleasant realization. I remember the way that those days seemed to tick by with each second taking longer than the one before it.

I just wanted to get to dinner time, to have Dad home, to get everyone into bed and to Go. To. Sleep.

But now I’m older and wiser.

I’ve made more than a few journeys around the sun on this old planet. Now those long, long days have a whole different feel to me.

I’ll give you an example.

Yesterday was one of the very few gorgeous fall days that New England has experienced this year. It was breezy, cool, bright and perfectly sunny. The sky was a deeply calming blue, with cartoonishly puffy white clouds drifting slowly by. The leaves were gently twirly and falling through the soft air.

The kids wanted to go outside, so outside we went. Coats on, mittens slipped over reluctant thumbs, sneakers firmly attached to feet, out we went. All three of us stopped on the front step, breathing in the clean, clean air.

Ellie, our three year old explosion of joy, threw out her arms, twirled on the wet grass and crowed, “I am Elsa and Anna and we are so so happy!!!!” Little 16 month old Johnny looked up at me with a drooly grin and chortled, “aha!!!!”

They ran, they jumped, they picked up leaves, they screamed at the pure pleasure of jumping into puddles.

I was happy that they were happy, but to be honest, I was also tired. Nonni here has been fighting off a strangely lingering throat infection, and sleep has been eluding me. So as we walked down the driveway and splashed in every puddle, there was a piece of me that kept thinking, “Is it time to go in? Is it time for nap?”

I wanted to lie down.

Then I remembered those long, long days of my children’s past. I remembered the yearning I felt for bedtime.

I stood there, watching the kids play. And I looked up at that sky and watched those swirling, dying leaves.

And it occurred to me that I don’t have as many days to wish away as I did all those years ago. How many more fall days do I have left out there? How many times will I stand in the glorious sunshine watching two beautiful, happy, beloved children dancing with joy in front of me?

I pulled in a breath, smelling the wood smoke of my neighbor’s chimney, the wet, earthy musk of the decaying leaves, the sharp pungency of the pine trees around us. I looked at the kids, both jumping in the mud, both grinning, sharing a moment of pure bliss with each other.

Life is short. And every year it gets shorter.

If one of my days stretches out and takes forever to pass, well, that can only be a good thing. Now I’m old enough to know that a day like this is a blessing unsought.

Let all of my life slow itself down and take its time to pass.

And may I have many more days to simply stand there, motionless, watching beautiful children at play.

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Heaven is a puddle on a sunny fall day.

Nothing Lasts Forever


When I was young, and newly in love, the song “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas was a big hit.I loved that song. I still love it. I love it for its harmonies, its tender thoughts, its melancholy.

I remember being a young wife, thinking, “I don’t want all of this beautiful life to simply fade into the wind! There has to be a way to make it all last!”

But you know what?  Now that I am a grandparent, I have a very different feeling about that song. I feel differently about the idea that nothing lasts forever.

Now, instead of feeling bereft at the thought, I feel comforted.

Let me try, in my limited way, to explain what I mean.

At the age of 28, I was so filled with life and new love that I thought the world must surely embrace and celebrate my feelings. I knew that I was only one tiny person in a wide world of others, but the strength and the depth of my feelings were so intense that I could not believe they would ever go away.

Then I gave birth to my first child, my perfect, most beloved, most cherished little girl. When I held her in my arms, it was impossible to me to imagine that the universe could fail to recognize the power of my love and the impossible gravity of her life. As I rocked her against my heart, I could not believe that there could exist a time in universal history when her life would not have the power to move us all.

I honestly did not believe that anyone else had ever felt this same miraculous love. I thought we were unique.

Back then, “Nothing lasts forever” was the worst thought that I could possibly hold in my head. I held myself firm against the very idea. I WOULD keep my love for my children alive! I would! I took photos, I wrote notes, I kept cards and letters and little mementos. I loved my kids so hard that I thought I had created an eternal monument of my devotion.

We were here. Our love for each other was too strong to ever fade. We mattered in the life of humanity, and I refused to believe that at some future point we might simple cease to register.

“Everything is dust in the wind….”

I hated that. Hated it.

But time has passed. Time has changed my view.

Now.

Now I have a whole different view, although it’s no less loving and embracing and proud. It is just maybe a bit more wise.

Now I understand that the love my grandparents felt for their children was every bit as intense, as strong, as deep as what I felt when I first held my own. Now I understand that the families that my grandparents created were meant to be islands of strength in a world of turmoil, but they were not ever meant to be eternal.

My maternal grandmother, my Nana, was such an important figure in my life. She was the matriarch. She was the hostess of the holidays, the provider of Sunday dinners, the center of our Italian-American existence. She was Nana. She was the center of it all, of all of the family tradition on my Mom’s side.

But when she died, I began to realize that her time in the spotlight had died, too. I mean, I still teach her recipes to my granddaughter, Ellie, but they don’t help to bring the real, true Nana into existence. Nana was the center of my Mom’s life, a huge part of my life, an important person in the lives of my children.

But Ellie doesn’t know her. Ellie and Johnny will never hear the sound of her laugh or eat a piece of apple that she sliced for them. They will never have the “Nana” experience that we have had.

Because they can’t. They shouldn’t.

Life can’t be all about the past. It can’t be a ceremony of love for those who have come before us. Life has to be about life, about this moment. It has to be about the people we hug and touch and love every day.  Life has to be about the new loves and the new families and the new memories that shape the world today.

So.

I don’t think I’ve don’t a very good job of expressing this at all, I truly don’t.

But let me end by saying that I am now happy to be “Dust in the Wind.” I know that for every day of their lives, my children will remember me and think of me with love. I know that my Ellie and Johnny will live every day of the rest of their lives knowing me and understanding my love for them.

As for their children? I hope that they grow up having heard my name and maybe a funny story or two. They don’t need to hang on to my old possessions or my faded photos.

Love goes on. Love moves from one family unit to another.

That’s just the way it should be.

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Nana with her great grandson, Atticus. 

 

Immigration…and Emigration


For my entire life, I have thought about the idea of immigration. I was raised on the stories told by my grandparents and great aunts and uncles. Stories about coming to America. Coming to the land of education, opportunity, promise.

I have always, for all of my 62 years, viewed my heritage through the lens of immigration to the United States. Growing up in a middle class suburb of Boston, I was aware that my grandparents had raised my parents in far grittier, far poorer, far more crowded areas of my home state.

I knew that my grandparents had left Italy in the earliest years of the twentieth century. I knew that they came here because they wanted to find work. They wanted a steady income. I knew that they came because they wanted their children, my parents, to have an education and a chance to escape the endless pressure of poverty that had marked their own lives.

As a child who came of age in the 1960’s, I was raised on the idea of the American “melting pot.” I grew up with the image of Lady Liberty holding her torch aloft. I imagined my grateful grandparents arriving in this country.

I never thought about those same grandparents leaving everything they had ever known and loved.

It wasn’t until my just finished trip to Italy that I stopped to think about the leaving part of immigration.

Last week I traveled with my husband, our two sons and their future wives to the small village where my paternal grandparents were born. I had always heard about the little town in the “hills above Naples.” I had always heard about the difficult agrarian life, about the lack of opportunity.

I wanted to see that little village because it was the place of my roots. I wanted to see it because my father always talked about it, and because I have missed my Dad every single day for the past ten years.  I had a romantic image of what it would be like to walk on the streets where my ancestors had walked.

But when I got to the little town, winding up its narrow streets, my husband and I were with our sons and the women they plan to marry. I didn’t expect the rush of emotion that struck me when I came into the tiny town center. Getting out of the car in the blistering heat of Italy in July, I felt as if I was carrying the weight of my father and his parents on my aching back. I walked to the small stone monument dedicated to those who had died in the World Wars, and there I read the names of ancestors I would never know.

I was sobbing when the church bells rang at noon, holding onto my youngest child, but thinking of the thread that tied him to my great grandparents. Did my grandmother and father hear those same bells every day? Was this the church where they were brought to be Christened as babies?

The day went on, filled with more blessings than I can name. I met loving, gracious, kind relatives that I had never know before.  I stood on the terrace outside of the little local church, with the most gorgeous valley spread out below us. I heard my sons and their loves talking about marriage. I hugged my husband of 40 years, knowing that he understood how precious this moment was for me. After all this time, to be standing in this place…..

“It’s so beautiful,” I kept saying to myself with real surprise. “It’s so peaceful and so rugged and so beautiful.”

Later in our trip, Paul and I went to Sicily. The kids had gone home, but we had more time and we wanted to see the home place of my maternal grandparents. These were the grandparents I knew best, and I felt my Grampa with me every step of that trip. We got to Augusta, where my Grampa had grown up and where my Nana’s parents had lived.

I smelled the sea and the orange blossoms and the dry wind, and I was struck right in the heart with how beautiful it all was. While I was in Sicily, I ate seafood, I swam in the Mediterranean, tasted the wine, saw the olive trees.

And one thought kept going through my mind, “How did they ever leave this place?”

We had hugged our kids goodbye as they headed back to Massachusetts, to jobs and friends and lives. I was truly sad to see them go, and there were a couple of tears when they left.

But now that I had begun to think of immigration as “emigration”, all I could think about was the leaving that my family was brave enough to endure.

How did they do it? What desperation, what fear, what sorrow could have pushed my young grandparents to leave behind their language, their food, their music, their parents, in search of something better?

What desperation, what depth of love, what deeply held hope could have given my great grandparents the courage to hug their children goodbye as they boarded the ships that would take them across the world forever?

I thought about the beauty of the sunsets in Sicily. I thought about the light on the mountains of Avellino. I thought about how hard it was for me to give up the sound of English for three short weeks.

And I thought about kissing my children goodbye, knowing that I might never see them again.

I’ll never think about immigration in the same way again. Those who leave behind all that is known and secure must be powered by a hope that I can only imagine.

 

The Little Things


I miss my father.

I miss the fact of him, the sense that everything would be OK, just because he was in the world.

Dad left us ten years ago, or at least he left this earthly plane ten years ago. He hasn’t gone very far, though, even after all this time. I see him in the raised eyebrows of my baby grandson when I do something silly. I see him in the skeptical frown of my granddaughter when I try to fool her.

I hear him, right in my ear, as I reach up to his work bench to return a set of pliers that I have borrowed. His voice is so clear that I find myself answering out loud, “Of course I’m going to clean off the dirt before I hang them up!” I hear us laughing together as I do just that.

I miss so many of the little things about Dad. I miss the smell of his skin when I’d kiss his cheek. I miss the Old Spice on his shirts. I miss being called “little girl.”

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I miss the way Dad would grin and rub his hands together to signal that it was time for a cocktail or a glass of wine. I miss sitting and sipping good Scotch together.

I miss how my Dad could make a bad day turn fun. I’ll never forget when he and my Mom and sister came to visit us during our graduate school days. Dad had come with a very good bottle of expensive Scotch, and we had promised to take them out for dinner. But it was a summer weekend, and every restaurant in town was booked solid. We ended up in our tiny apartment, crowded around the kitchen table. We dined on salami sandwiches, a bag of chips, and that excellent Scotch. We had so much fun laughing at ourselves, because my Dad set the tone.

I really miss seeing my children with their grandfather. He was the Grampa who played checkers and dominoes for hours. He taught them how to sand wood and hammer in a nail. He was the Grampa who sat on the floor and let the kids use him as a climbing toy.

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He listened to the kids when they talked to him. He looked into their eyes. Grampa made them feel special, and so they were. I miss the sound of those high voices calling, “Grampa! Grampa!” as they came in the front door.

He wasn’t perfect, our Dad. He was just a regular, hard working family man who loved his wife, loved his kids, loved the life he lead. He laughed more than he frowned, and even when he was mad, he was never scary.

He was solid. Dependable in all ways. He was a man of black and white views about what was right and what was wrong, and so was not a man of nuances around truth and integrity.

But he was always compassionate, always generous, always true to himself.

I miss him.

I feel him in the room with me, even as I write this piece. But I miss him, so very much.

Happy Father’s Day to all the men who love and nurture families.

Love Makes Fools Of Us All


Ah, love.

Is there anyone alive who hasn’t fallen victim to the whims of love?

When we fall in love, we give up our ability to make sane choices for ourselves. We see our beloved through misty eyes. Every fault is airbrushed out, and we only want more. More time with our beloved. More closeness. More intimacy.

When we truly fall in love, we let go of our own egos. We allow ourselves to make decisions that are not in our best interest. “But it will bring me closer to my beloved,” we tell ourselves. “This is going to be great!” All we want, when we are flushed with love, is to be near our beloved. We want to touch, to kiss and hold and nuzzle and dream.

Ah, love.

You lead us all astray. You take away our ability to do what is truly best for ourselves. When you have stormed our hearts, we care nothing for ourselves.

How do I know this, you ask? Ah, I have a confession for you all.

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Who, me? Ruin your sleep?

When we lost our beloved Wolf King last month, Paul and I found ourselves with a big, huge hole in our hearts. To say we miss the old fool would be the understatement of the century. Paul, in particular, was absolutely bereft without his best buddy sleeping on the dog mattress on his side of our bed.

So.

I invited Lennie to come and sleep with us.

See, up until that point, Lennie had been sleeping (all alone) in the living room. That just seemed too sad to me. So I got out some doggie treats and coaxed him into our room, and onto the newly abandoned dog bed.

He wouldn’t stay.

So.

Um.

I coaxed him up onto our bed. With doggie treats. It took some time and some effort, but….I was falling in love with my puppy! I needed him! I wanted him nearby!

The mists of love covered my eyes, and I got the (not so) little guy to stretch out on the bed between us.

He liked it!

And there he has stayed. Every night. Stretching his full length with his head on my hip and his butt on Paul’s shoulder. Or vice versa.

We now attempt to sleep in a queen sized bed where a 50 pound dog has half the mattress and the humans have about a quarter each.

On a good night.

This is not the best situation for aging humans who need our rest. It is not best for our creaky backs or our stiff spines.

But we won’t be changing it any time soon.

Love hurts.

What can I say?

Love makes fools of us all.

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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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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The Wolf King and the Princess


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I am the Wolf King. I fear No Human. I am strong. I am fearless.

But I shake like a leaf in a windstorm every time Woman Who Feeds Me brings the Tiny Human into our house.

The first time that it happened, I was unprepared. I am used to the usual Humans Who Visit. They are loud. They march boldly through our door and up our stairs. They rub my ears and say, “Good dog!”

They smell like sweat and digested meats and, often, of fermented fruits.   I know them.  I do not fear these humans.

But the first time that Woman Who Feeds Me came in the door with a small package in her arms, my warning alarms went off as if I had stumbled into a skunk den. I approached Woman and tried to sniff the package.

“Alert! Alert! Alert!”

The tiny package moved on its own, and made strange squeaky sounds. As I approached to smell it, I was rewarded with a lovely whiff of poop. But the humans who were holding the package made me back away and sit down.

“Good boy,” they said. So I sat.  But I was on alert. I did not know what the small poopie package was made of. I did not know if it was human, or if it was prey.

So I sat. But I had my eye on it.

Some number of days went by. I began to feel accustomed to the package. It arrived every morning, and was passed into the arms of Woman Who Feeds Me. She made strange cooing noises when she held it. She completely ignored me when it was at our house. Of course, she also ignored Man Who Walks Me, so I didn’t feel all that bad.

After a few days, I had smelled the poopie package often often enough now to know that it was human. It smelled of human sweat and human poop and human skin.

It was a human. But it was a really strange human. It did not move around the house. It did not pat me or feed me or rub my ears. It said no words that I understood. It never said “cheese” or “come” or “lie down.”

It was very strange. But for some reason that I do not understand, I found myself compelled to protect it.

I am, as you know, the Wolf King. Mighty and Proud and Strong. I bow to no man. (OK, except for Man Who Walks Me. He is so so sweet! I love him to pieces. He drops ham on the floor when he makes his lunch. Need I say more?)

Anyway, I will never forget the first time that Woman Who Feeds Me left the Tiny Poopie Human alone in a basket in our living room. She went down the hall.  She. Left. That. Tiny. Human.

I was aghast. I looked at Tiny Poopie Human. I smelled it. I walked quickly down the hall to the bedroom where Woman Who Feeds Me was doing something with a toothbrush. “Woof!” I said sternly. “Woof, woofie, woof, woof.”

Woman Who Feeds Me looked at me with a frown, as if she did not understand me when I clearly said, “Get your butt back to the living room! That tiny human needs someone to protect it and I don’t even have opposable thumbs!”

It has been a long and daunting few months.

I now know that Tiny Poopie Human is a female. It can move now. It scuttles along the floor like a sweet smelling crab and it grabs ahold of the fur on my neck. Tiny Poopie Human now pulls itself upright, holding onto my fur for balance.

I do not move. I do not protest.

I am the Wolf King.

It is my solemn duty, as the guardian of our family, to protect the Tiny Poopie Human and to keep it safe.

God knows that Woman Who Feeds Me won’t be doing that. She actually leaves us alone while she does pointless things like leaving her pee in a ceramic bowl.

Seriously.

These humans need me. Luckily, I am happy to yip and yowl every single time she leaves me alone with the crawling, fur pulling, babbling little bundle of poop and milk that spends all day with us.

I shudder to think what these humans would do without me.

 

 

Chance Encounters


I took Ellie to the grocery store today. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and I felt full of energy and strength.

So off we went to the supermarket, armed with an extra diaper, some wipes, a few graham crackers and our grocery list.  I put the baby into the seat in front of the cart, but realized quickly that the straps were too darn small to go around her, even at her tender age of 8 months.

So we went through the store with me carefully holding both of her hands as I steered the cart. When I needed to dash away to grab an item off the shelves, I did it with my heart in my mouth, fearing that she’d topple out and I’d lose my favorite job as “Nonni in Chief”.

We were doing fine, except for the fact that every adult over the age of 19 had to stop us to say how adorable Ellie is. Truth to tell? I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I kind of loved it when strangers would smile at her and she’d look up at me with those deep brown eyes for reassurance.

Anyway, as we made our way through the store we were greeted by two grampas, one grandma, a doting aunt and three young mothers.

I thought that we were on our way out the door when I suddenly noticed that Ellie was staring up with serious intensity at someone off to our right.  I looked over my shoulder and saw a tall, thin man in a tattered black sweatshirt.  He was looking at Ellie with the same seriousness, but I saw that his blue eyes were rimmed with red.  He had a scruffy beard and lank, not-too-clean hair.  His arms were cradled, holding an array of tall beer cans.

When our eyes met, the man quickly looked away.

“Wow,” I said to him as we passed, “She’s really looking at you so seriously!”  I smiled in his general direction, but didn’t think too much about it. After all, I had just spent an hour chatting with various strangers who had paused to admire the baby.

But this time it was a little bit different.  As I made my casual comment, the tall man met my eyes with a look that almost seemed like a  mix of hope and embarrassment. He tilted his head forward a bit, his black hood falling almost over his eyes.

“That is a really beautiful baby,” he said solemnly.

“Thank you!” I replied.

He stopped walking, and I saw that his hands were shaking a bit. He looked me right in the eyes with a sadness and intensity that tugged at my heart.

“No,” he said. “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to say that.”

I didn’t know how to answer him. I had such a clear image of this man, struggling and sad, gazing in silence at beautiful children.

We both moved on, and found ourselves in the same checkout line, where my friend Martha was waiting to ring us up. I caught her eye as the scruffy man placed his beer cans on her counter.  Before she could finish his order, though, he turned abruptly and walked back to Ellie and I.

He reached out his right hand, his fingers stained and bent.  He gently touched the soft hair on the top of her head, and leaned close to her face.

“My God bless you, beautiful baby, every day for the rest of your life.” Ellie looked at him, serious and intent, meeting his gaze.  I was silent, not sure of what to say.

He straightened up, and looked at me.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“I’m Karen,” I said. “What’s your name?”

“Michael,” he answered holding out his hand.

We shook hands, and I was surprised at how strong and sure his palm felt in mine.

“Nice to meet you, Michael,” I said, “Good luck to you.”

“Good luck?” He laughed, and pointed to Ellie sitting quietly in the grocery cart. “I already have good luck.”

I have no idea where Michael is tonight. Whether he is warm, safe, fed, comforted.  But all afternoon, as Ellie and I had lunch and played and sang and as I rocked her to sleep in my arms, all I could wonder was this. Was Michael someone’s Daddy? Did he once hold a baby of his own and gaze at her with love and tenderness? I don’t know.

But I do know that at one point in time he was some woman’s son. He was the beloved baby cradled in someone’s arms.

Whatever has happened to this man in his life, I find it profoundly beautiful that he has kept his gentle spirit intact, and that given the slightest encouragement, he is still able to share that spirit with strangers.