Dad Made Things


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

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

He was a good provider. He was a breadwinner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That thought made me a little bit sad today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lily of the Valley


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

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

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

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

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

I loved those big trees.

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

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

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

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

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

But I imagined one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life goes on, and on and never stops.

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

Living in Suspended Animation


“amber mosquito” by Oregon State University is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

When I was very young, perhaps 11 years old, I went on a field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. We saw all kinds of exciting wonders there, and I was enthralled.

But the exhibit that stuck in my mind all those years ago was a collection of ancient insects trapped in golden drops of amber.

I remember standing in front of the glass case, looking at the tiny, delicate wings of particularly beautiful little insect. Perfectly preserved and saved in time for us to examine tens of thousands of years after it had been caught.

I tried to imagine what it had been like for that little creature, moving through its everyday life, searching for food. Or simply enjoying a sunny moment on a tree branch. I pictured it sitting still, for just a tiny speck of time, not aware that a drop of tree sap was poised to drop from the branch right above it. Perhaps unaware as that drop first reached its head, still thinking of food or safety or procreation. And then, in the time it took for that tiny being to take a breath, it was encased in sticky sap. Unable to move forward or back, unable to escape.

Left to simply wait as the sap cooled, hardened, aged, turned into the gleaming jewel of amber that a wide eyed little girl was now examining.

For years after that trip, I wondered about that little winged insect. “What if the amber could melt away, and he could be alive again?”

What if.

I thought about that amber the other night, as I stood on my deck, looking out into the silent woods around me. Could something that was held in suspended animation, one wing lifted for flight, ever come back to the life it had known before?

I have now been inside my own house, except for my daily solitary dog walks, for 23 days. I am in suspended animation, like nearly every other human on this little blue gem of a planet.

I didn’t see it coming. Not until it was too late. On the last day that my grandchildren were here with me while their mom was at work, I had no idea that when I sent them home I would not see them again for weeks. I had no idea that we would first be told not to work, then not to socialize, and finally not to leave our homes.

The new coronavirus is our drop of sap. While we were all thinking about our next meal, our work deadlines, or our upcoming social events, it hung there above our heads. It wasn’t until it had dropped down onto us and encased us in its sticky depths that we realized we were caught.

Caught like that ancient fly, unable to escape, unable to save ourselves or those we love.

We are living in a state of suspended animation. All we can do is hope, and pray and trust in something bigger than ourselves.

All we can do is hope that this time the drop of amber will somehow melt, and we will all be free once again to embrace our boring, mundane, gloriously joyful lives.

Yes, I AM a Good Mom!


My serenity face, at my daughter’s wedding.

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

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

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

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

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

Well.

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

There is no more successful momma than me.

Oh, yeah.

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

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

Ha.

I look at my kids, that’s how.

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

And she has surpassed my achievements in every way.

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

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

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

And my sons have outpaced me, too.

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

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

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

I’m so proud of them!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The proof is in the next generation.

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

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.

I Met Someone


I met the most fascinating woman last weekend! Although I went to high school with her son, I’d never known anything about Jean before now.

But in meeting her, and getting to know a little bit about her life, I found myself enchanted with this older lady.

Jean was born in March, like me, but her birthday predates mine by 33 years. Even so, I felt like we were kindred souls.

I learned last weekend that Jean was born in the small city of Berlin, NH. My family has been going on vacation in the same area for almost 50 years, and I know Berlin very well! That was one thing that made me feel a connection. Jean described looking up at the beautiful Presidential Range which overlooks the city, talking about how deeply she appreciated the beauty of the spot.

It could have been my husband or one of my children talking! That range is their favorite place in the world.

As I learned more about Jean, I also learned that she loved music intensely. In fact, she loved it so much that she defied her penny pinching father by renting an instrument in his name and taking lessons that he ended up paying for. I laughed out loud at that story.

Like me, my new acquaintance was a young nerd. I’m pretty sure I’ve never been as smart or as studious as Jean, but like her I have always loved to read. We both love to learn new things, even as we age.

What I liked best about Jean, though, was her life philosophy. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was something like this: “To find as much pleasure as possible without hurting anyone.”

I want to be like her. I want to be as full of joy. I want to be as dedicated to enjoying my life.

I’m so glad that I got to meet Jean. I wish I’d met her years ago, when there was still time for us to be friends.

You see, Jean died last February, at the tender age of 95.

I was never lucky enough to have actually met her.

But Jean was a writer. She recorded the stories of her life. She wrote with love, and with humor. The warmth of her voice as a writer pulled me in and allowed me to feel like her friend.

What a gift!

Many thanks to Stacy and Louise for sharing Jean’s story with me!

Happy Birthday to Me


Today is my birthday.

Sixty three very short years ago, my wiggly little self made her way into this joyful world.

Today is my birthday.

For the first time in 33 years, I am not spending the day with my children. I think that’s a big step, and a sign of growth on my part.

As always, my kids reached out and asked, “Are we having a party or something for Mom this year?”

And I said, “Nah.”

Instead, do you know what I did to make the momentous occasion of my birth?

I went to see my Mom.

I mean, really now folks, what is more appropriate for celebrating your life than going to visit the woman who carried you around for nine months of life sucking, back aching, sleep stealing pregnancy? What’s more important than thanking the woman who spent hours of pain, more pain, wicked bad pain in order to push you out into the bright lights of your new world?

My Mom is 88 years old now. Her memory is not what we all wish it would be. She is frail in ways that shock me every week when I see her.

But she’s still Mom. She’s the woman who gave me her DNA, her time, her love of reading, her sense of humor, her temper, her recipe for red sauce and meatballs.

Mom was surprised when I arrived today with a bouquet of tulips. She’d forgotten that today was my birthday. But when I showed her the green/blue cake that her great grandchildren had made for me yesterday, she laughed. It only took a little bit of prompting to get her to retell the story of my birth, which she remembered in every detail.

She was embarrassed that she didn’t have a card for me. I hugged her, gently, and told her “You gave me life, Momma. You’re off the hook for a card!”

I don’t know if she really understands or accepts the fact that I don’t need a card of little gift from her. I hope that she does. I hope that she understand and realizes that with every trip around the sun, I am eternally grateful for the fact of her.

“Without you,” I said today, “I wouldn’t have a birthday, now would I?”

She looked at me and smiled, her familiar mischievous smile. “Dad and I did a really good job with you, didn’t we? You turned out OK.”

Happy Birthday to me.

Thanks, Mom.

Mom with her first great grandchild, my sweet Ellie.

Two Old Nuts in the Sun


Holy Heaven, my friends.

I could so get used to this life.

I’m writing tonight from gorgeous St. Pete Beach in Florida.

I’m here with my sister, my first true friend. Born only 20 months after me, Liz was something of a twin to me when we were little. As the big sister, I protected her from scary invisible monsters and bossy neighbor kids.

As the little sister, she gave me a sense of power by obeying my every command.

Then we both grew up, and began to lead our different, separate lives. Time passed and we had different paths to follow. We were no longer in touch every day, and no longer held key roles in each others’ lives.

Nevertheless, she has always been there for me, my husband, my children. I hope I’ve done the same for her.

The years have rolled on. We aren’t those two cute almost twin girls with our matching outfits and matching ponytails. We are no longer those two young women in our new marriages.

Now we’re two aging ladies who have been through joys and struggles. We’re gray. We’re not as svelte as we used to be. We’re quirky.

Now we’re just two old nuts.

Liz lost her husband not long ago. He was the absolute love of her life, her other half. He was her partner in everything.

For 23 years, the two of them spent winter vacations on St. Pete Beach, always staying at the same resort motel. They made dozens of friends and thousands of memories. This place became a cherished second home for both of them.

I’m here because Liz needed to come back to this place. She wanted to make some new memories and to regain a little of the happiness she knew here. She needed a side kick, as it were, and I’m lucky enough to be in that role.

So here we are. Swimming in the salty waves of the Gulf of Mexico. Collecting shells, watching the sunsets, drinking wine.

There are some happy ghosts here for Liz, to be sure. But I think that there are also some new laughs.

In the end, we are just two old nuts strolling along the tide line with our very first friend.

What We Wish For


When your children are born, all you want for them is…well, everything. You want to protect them from every possible bump, bruise, scratch, insult, injury, sorrow.

As they begin to grow, you realize as a parent that you can’t actually protect them from the world, from life.

But your initial hope remains true. When all is said and done, what you want for your children is happiness.

Every parent has thought it. Every one has said it, “I just want my children to be happy.”

What that means is something different from family to family, and it changes over time.

But in the end, if we can distill our deepest and truest wish for our children, it is this:

“I wish you a life that brings you pleasure. I wish you a job that makes you feel good about yourself. I wish you friends who laugh with you and share your best and worst times. And more than anything, I wish you love.”

We want our children to find their loves. To find someone who brings out the best in them. To find someone who is their own best with our child beside them.

Of course we may not realize it when the kids are small, and we may not say it out loud when they are older, but we also want them to find someone that we can love, too.

As parents, we wish for our children a life of equal parts adventure and predictability. We wish for them to grow and learn and get stronger every day.

When my three children were little, I imagined them eating good food around their own tables. All of them have achieved this. I desperately wanted them to find a community of like minded souls who would support them, challenge them and laugh with them. All three have that, too.

And I wish, most of all, that all of them would find a solid life partner, like mine, who would be there through all of the financial crises, the health issues, the emotional swings and the changing times. I wished each of them a partner who desired them, cared for them, missed them, stored up stories of the day to tell them.

All of mine have also, miraculously, found partners who bring out the best in them, who love them deeply, and who we love as well.

That’s a mother’s best wish. It’s any parent’s best wish.

“I just want my child to be happy.”

We all say it.

We all mean it.

Last weekend, my youngest child, my sweet baby, proposed to his own true love. We were there to share the excitement. She is the one who fills every one of our wishes for our boy.

Sometimes life give us exactly what we want, exactly what we desire.

This was one of those times.

Yay, Tim and Sweens!!!!! You guys make dreams come true, and not only for each other!!!!!

Before he proposed to Sweens, Tim came with me to see my 88 year old Mom. She was married to my Dad for 58 years. They had one of those magical  and loving marriages that you only read about. She said to Tim, upon hearing his news, “I wish for you the same kind of relationship that Grampa and I had. We were best friends and we always looked out for each other.”

To every parent out there, I hope you all have happy children. There’s nothing more important, and nothing more gratifying.

It doesn’t get much better than a moment like this one..

Motherhood


It was so many years ago, and it all seems almost like a dream. Even so, I remember all of the sadness, the struggles, the joy. I remember it the way you remember those things that change you at the most minute level of your every cell.

More than three decades ago, when I was a young, healthy woman, Paul and I finally came to the point in our lives when we were ready and eager to start a family. We’d been to college, had our first jobs, gone off to graduate school.

The age of 30 was looming ahead of me, and I was getting anxious about putting off motherhood. After all, I was the oldest daughter in a family of six kids. I considered my own Mom, and her mother before her, to be the epitome of women who were fulfilling their life’s true purpose.

Of course I knew that times were changing, and that women of my generation were expected to have college degrees and jobs and careers. I was delighted by all of that, but I still longed for the chance to become a mother. I had fed and changed and cradled my youngest siblings, and my maternal instincts were incredibly cranked up.

So we put aside the birth control and waited for the miracle. And we waited. And waited some more. My heart became heavier with each passing month, and eventually we realized that we’d need some medical help.

My deepest and dearest wish seemed to be out of my reach.

But at last, at last, at last. Just before my dreaded thirtieth birthday, I conceived. My dream was coming true. Slowly, through those long, anxious months, I began to believe that I would finally hold my own baby.

And it happened. On January 11th, 1986, after more hours than I want to think about, my beautiful girl came into the world. I took one look at her and my heart melted into a pool of motherly smoosh.

THIS was the most gorgeous, most perfect, most lovable and loving human being that had ever been born. I immediately felt badly for every parent who had to learn how to love their inferior children.

I’m not kidding.

I was beyond in love. The smell of her cheek, the darkness of her brown eyes, the shape of those tiny lips…..all of it was completely intoxicating to both Paul and I.

At last, I was a mother. My dream had come true.

Now it is 33 years after that life-changing moment of birth. My beautiful, perfect little baby girl has become a strong, passionate, smart, funny, wonderful woman. She is a fabulous teacher, loved by her students and their parents.

She is a mother of incredible humor, grace, gentleness and love. She is a better mother than I was, and I was pretty damned good. She’s a great cook, a loyal and devoted friend, a supportive colleague. She is a political activist, a well informed and passionate progressive.

She is still a miracle to me. I am still so in love with the beauty of her smile, the shine of her gorgeous hair, the strength that I see in her interactions with her kids.

Happy, happy birthday to the incredible young woman who I still consider to be the most excellent and perfect of dreams come true.

My lovely girl with her lovely girl.