Giving Her “Grit”

There is a new buzzword in the world of education, and its a real eye roller.

The word is “grit” and it means the ability to handle difficulty; to persevere, to deal with opposition. It’s actually a fabulous idea, and one that a whole lot of parents need to learn. But I guess its an eye roller because so many parents of my generation already know this stuff.

Anyway, the idea of giving a child “grit” means that as adults we step back and let the kids struggle a bit. Its the idea that unless the child has worked hard and struggled at least a little, his success won’t feel like anything much.

I agree.

I was a teacher for a long time. I raised three kids. I grew up in a family of six kids with two busy, working parents.  I know about grit.

I know that too many children are rescued by well meaning parents when their social lives run into conflict. I know that too many kids are celebrated when they haven’t actually achieved their goals. I know that stressed out families try to shield their children from any anxiety or struggle, in a misguided belief that those are dangerous emotions.

But I also know that when I was a child, I didn’t feel particularly excited to get good grades in reading or writing. Ho, hum. I could ace that stuff with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back.  But I was thrilled to get a C plus in chemistry, because THAT was some serious crap.


Years ago my youngest son, Tim, was learning to play hockey. Early in his skating life, he came across a mean spirited, nasty coach. I remember that I picked my little boy up from practice one night. On the way home, I noticed that my 9 year old was in tears in the back seat. When I pressed him, he told me that his coach had called him a “baby” because his wrist shot was so weak. I was outraged, of course. My very best Mamma Bear self reared up to defend my cub. But he was much smarter than I was. When I expressed my outrage and told my boy that I planned to talk to the idiot coach, he said, “Don’t, Mommy.  Just let me think bad words about him in my head. Don’t talk to him.”

So I didn’t.

A few days later, my Tim came home from school, put on his skates and his hockey gloves and headed out to our backyard rink. I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, but I kept peeking out the window at him as the afternoon wore on.  Finally, just at dark, he came in the front door.  Throwing down his gloves, my sweet little boy looked up at me and said, “There! Now I have a damned wrist shot.”

The coach never teased him again.  Grit.

Now I am taking care of my sweet baby Ellie. She is a serene, happy little thing. Up until now, she has rarely cried.

But she has suddenly hit a point in her life when she desperately wants to MOVE! She can scoot on her butt and turn herself around. She can roll over and back again.  But she can’t quite get herself propelled forward to reach her toys. She can’t yet pull herself up.

So I sit with her on the floor every day. I watch her reach for the stacking cups, and pick them up. I watch as one rolls away and I watch her struggle to stretch herself out to pull it back.  She grimaces, she groans.  Sometimes she squeezes her eyes shut, shakes her fists and howls.

I sit beside her. I tell her “Keep going.” I smile and I nod.  I say, “Ellie, you can do it!”

Sometimes she fails.  But sometimes she manages to lean herself forward so far that she is almost on her knees, and she hooks one determined finger around that errant cup and she pulls it back and picks it up.  And then I breathe a huge sigh, and I cheer her on. “You did it, honey! You got it!”

Grit.  I hope that I am giving her a sense that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to accomplish.  I hope that I am giving her, even at this tender age, the realization that she doesn’t need Nonni to do what she wants; she can do it all by herself.

I hope that I am giving her grit.


“I got it, Nonni!”

Ah, Miss Ellie……


Rockin’ her Daddy’s hat.

Way, way back, in the dawn of my history, when Paul and I were very young, we used to think about the upcoming weeks and tell ourselves, “I’m glad there is something to look forward to!”

Which means, of course, that there were times when we’d look at each other and think, “Ugh,  there is nothing to look forward to!”

I look back now, at my 22 year old self, and I think, “Are you kidding me? You’re twenty something, and you don’t think you have something to look forward to? You only have your ENTIRE LIFE, you idiot!”

But at 22, I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking, “What wonderful adventure is out there for me in the next week?”  I was young. I was foolish.  I didn’t really get it.

And then, at the wise old age of 29, I gave birth to my first child.  My wonderful, beautiful daughter Kate.  And everything changed in an instant.

Suddenly, I knew that I had “something to look forward to” for at least 20 years.  Every morning with my baby was a new beginning.  Every bath time was a treasure. Every meal an adventure.  I was enraptured, enamored, in love, entranced, enthralled.

Life was very, very good.

And then it went on.  Kate’s brothers were born, and the rhythm of my life was set.  I was a happy, busy Momma, and every passing week meant something new to look forward to. There were milestones and holidays and vacations and camping trips.  Birthdays and new schools and sports and plays and music.  Life was one big streak of “something to look forward to”.

And then they all grew up. And they moved away and started their own lives.

There suddenly wasn’t quite so much to look forward to, you know? Life was still happy and full, but the magical moments were gone.

And now, here I am, the full time day care provider for my little Ellie.  Now I am back to the days of making pancakes for someone who will light up with joy at the new taste. I am back to singing brand new songs, and reading exciting new books.

Tonight, when supper was over, I put our leftover coconut rice into a bowl.  I added an egg and some cream and cinnamon. I baked it for 20 minutes.  It smells fantastic.

I will go to bed tonight with something to look forward to.  I will give my beautiful Ellie a bowl of rice pudding for her breakfast tomorrow.

Life is a very beautiful thing.

Something to look forward to

When my husband and I were very young, in the very beginning of our life together, we often found ourselves saying, “I’m so glad we have something to look forward to!”

Of course, we were young, in love, starting our lives.  We had friends and jobs and an entire future ahead of us.  Still, sometimes the weeks seemed to stretch out ahead of us with nothing but work, classes, work and more classes.  We used to need “something to look forward to”.  Something to get our excitement up, our adrenaline rushing, our moods lifted.  It could be a party, a trip, a concert….it didn’t really matter, as long as we could hold it up in our immediate future and get a lift out of the anticipation of the event.

I remember Christmas of 1985.  I was very pregnant with our first child. We didn’t know yet who this child would be.  Male or female?  Dark eyed or light? Happy? Cranky? Healthy or not?  We didn’t know.

But I remember one night, just a few days before Christmas and perhaps two weeks before my due date.  Paul had fallen asleep, but my back was hurting, and so I was still awake.  I lay on the sofa in our little run down apartment in one of Boston’s seedier neighborhoods.  I had a blanket over the mound of my stomach, and my hand was resting on the place where my baby moved.

I had turned out all of the lights, leaving only the Christmas tree illuminated.  I lay there, looking at each ornament, watching the way that the lights reflected off the garland.  I felt myself breathing, and listened to the imagined heartbeat of my baby.  I looked at the lights.  I waited.

“You know what?”, I whispered to my big gray cat, who sat beside me in my midnight vigil.  “I’ll never ever have another moment with nothing to look forward to.”  I smiled to myself, the palm of my hand feeling the gently rolling movement of my firstborn inside of me.

And I was right.

Twenty nine years later, I am lying on my couch, my eyes taking in the color of the Christmas lights.  I can see the pile of wrapped gifts with my granddaughter’s name on them.

“You know what?”, I whisper to my old dog. “I have so much to look forward to!”

Magic Words

Magic book with magic lights

Oh, don’t you wish that there were magic words?

Wouldn’t it be just wonderful to have magic phrases that could bring peace, healing, love, rest?

I wish that our world contained real wizards.  Men and women of such wisdom that they could simply say those magic words and hearts would be made whole again.

In a world that seems to have gone so wrong, I wish that there were special words to make things right.  I wish that I could open an old and dusty book, placed high on a wooden shelf in a long forgotten shop.  I wish that I could turn those ancient pages, slowly, and so carefully.

I wish that I would catch my breath in wonder, and run my finger slowly and carefully under those magic words.

Don’t you wish that with me?

Don’t you wish that somehow we could turn to those around us who are in pain, and that we could whisper those special words that would mend the terrible wounds in their hearts?

I do.

I wish that there were magic words.

I wish that I knew them.

Wishing all of you peace and safety and laughter and love. Wishing you a home without strife, a country without war, a kitchen without hunger, a group of loving friends and family to embrace you.

Wishing you magic words to heal you.


Don’t be fooled by the MOB.

Well, the wedding has come and gone.  Phew!


Don't mistake this look for serenity.

Don’t mistake this look for serenity.

This seems like a good time to give you an insightful glimpse into the mind of the MOB (which is what they call you for a about a year before the event in which you will be the “Mother of the Bride”.)

For some of you, it may be helpful to learn about what happens in the mind of the MOB as the big day approaches; after all, a lot of you will be a MOB yourself before too long!

For others, this post may help you to cope when your own wife/mother/sister/friend becomes a MOB.

And the rest of you will probably just laugh and think, “Thank God this will never happen to me because  a) I am a man; b) I am never ever ever planning to have a kid;   c) I am an old lady raising cats who now feels a lot better about my life choices.”

The pressures on the MOB before the wedding cannot possibly be overstated.  This is especially true if the bride is a mature, independent, capable young woman who doesn’t need or want you to do much.  At first this will seem like a blessing, but as the wedding day gets closer and closer, you will begin to wish that you had been included in every single tiny detail.

You see, the week before the wedding, people will start to ask you a lot of questions that you can’t answer, so you immediately go into a panic.  Kind of like this:

“What are the groomsmen wearing?”   “Um…..pants?”

“What time will the caterer arrive?”  “Not sure. In time to cook!”

“Where should we put all the wine?”  “Ah…I…um…just leave it with me.”

You’ll also start waking up in the middle of the night (as the day gets closer, the wake-ups happen more often.  By the night before the rehearsal, you’ll wake up every 14 seconds). You will be jolted out of sleep by burning questions like, “What if a sudden tornado blows through and everyone is lifted up and dropped over Kansas?”  and “What if I fall off the dance floor?!!”  In the brief periods where you do sleep, you will be overwhelmed by nightmares featuring giant black bears invading the wedding venue, drunken Uncles brawling on the porch, and suddenly realizing that you are on the dance floor stark naked.

What this all means, of course, is that by the time everyone you know and love appears in a giant throng to take endless pictures of you, will look like a refugee from a war zone. The bags under your eyes will be bigger than the big white wedding tent.  Your hands will shake, and the golden tan that you so carefully worked on last week will have faded to the color of pasty oatmeal.  This is the image that you will have of yourself:

The internal MOB.

The internal MOB.

In spite of all the stress, though, the big day will eventually come. You’ll carefully pack every single item that you or the bride could possibly want or need, and head off for the weekend.  You’ll arrive at the hotel that you chose months ago, only to find that there are no more “non-smoking rooms” available, and that you and your kids are booked into “rooms-so-filled-with-smoke-that-we-offer-free-asthma-inhalers”.  You’ll do your best to put a positive spin on the situation, telling yourself that it will be awesome to sound like Lauren Bacall at your daughter’s wedding, and ignoring the fact that you will smell like Humphrey Bogart at your daughter’s wedding.

You’ll go to the rehearsal with your family and the wedding party, where (if you are half as lucky as we were) the wonderful minister will manage to keep everyone under control long enough to do a run through of the event before they dive into the Irish Whiskey. You and the MOG (figure it out, people) will gulp your wine and compare notes on your respective neuroses.  You’ll try to figure out if its a good thing or a bad thing that you’re both having nightmares about black bears.  You’ll reassure each other a thousand times that “everything will be fine!”

And then the wedding day will dawn.  You’ll drink four gallons of water because your throat is so dry from nerves.  But you will immediately realize that you’ll have to pee 700 times before the ceremony. You are a middle aged woman.  This can be a problem. This fact will make you more nervous, meaning you’ll need more water. You will wonder when you can switch to wine.

You’ll take the kids out to breakfast at a cute little diner where everyone moves at roughly the speed of a melting glacier.  Your face will smile and chat with the family, but your brain will run a constant loop of reminders: “flowers, basket for flower girl, petals for basket, gift for the bride, make-up, computer for the music, deodorant, green tablecloth….flowers, basket for flower girl….”  

Even though you know that you have brought every single thing you could possibly need for the celebration, the bride will text you to ask you to stop for hairpins and cold cuts. You’ll be happy to have something constructive to do as the clock inexorably ticks down toward the ceremony, but you’ll have a mini-panic attack when you realize that you’re in a far off land where you don’t exactly how to find a grocery store or a CVS. Lucky for you, the young people at the table know how to use an iPhone, and you’ll plan out your route.

At last, at last, the time will come for you to rush frantically back to the hotel to get dressed and ready.  This is a day that you have dreamed of for years.  Your emotions are on high.  You and the FOB keep looking at each other with sappy grins.  The two of you share memories of the cute little girls who once played “brides” together on your lawn, and who will now fulfill the roles of Bridesmaids, Maid of Honor and (gulp) Bride.  Your nerves begin to settle, and you are filled with love and appreciation for the wonderful privilege of seeing your daughter married to a man who loves her to distraction.

You will step into the shower, humming the song that will always make you think of your baby girl and how intensely you will always love her.

Then you’ll step out of the shower and think to yourself, “What kind of freakin’ idiot thought it was a good idea to put a full size mirror opposite the shower?” 

Just remember, no one has ever said, “It was a great wedding, except for that scab on the MOB’s elbow.”  You and the MOG were right; everything will in fact be fine. Everyone will smile, and hug and wipe away tears as the truly happy couple exchanges vows. You’ll dance and sing together, you’ll toast each other, you’ll introduce your friends to your family.  It will be incredible.

And at the end of the night, your beautiful daughter will kiss you and thank you and say, “Mom, this was so perfect! Thank you!”

Oh, Shenandoah


A million or so years ago, my young husband and I took a drive down South.  We wanted to visit some college campuses, because we were looking for graduate schools.  We made some appointments, got into our old brown Toyota Corolla and headed South.

We stopped in New Jersey, on the very day of Bruce Springsteen’s 31st birthday.  We went on to Delaware, to Maryland, and then to Virginia.  We camped, in Shenandoah National Park, in a place called “Big Meadow”.

We were young, and open and ready for the world to show us what it had to offer.   Shenandoah showed us mountains, and fields and deer and music and a gentle beauty that we could not forget.

We went back there, of course.  We stayed in a cozy cottage for two, in the fall. We watched the sun set over those mountains. We walked at dawn in a dewy field filled with does and fawns.

And we returned, first with our little girl, showing her the rosy light of dawn in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We brought her hiking, taught her to pick blueberries and raspberries in the wide, wild field.  We fed her pancakes and bacon in the homey restaurant of the Big Meadow Lodge on Skyline Drive.

We came back again, with her brothers. Camping on the edge of the Appalachian Trail, singing with the guitarist in the lodge, walking the wide meadow at sunset, hiking the beautiful trails.

And every time we’ve been there, every memory that our family has made there, has had a soundtrack that has run beneath it all.  The songs have changed as we have grown and changed. But one song has been there through it all.

“Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you

Away, you rolling river.”

In a few days, my daughter will be married.  That little girl who I held on my hip as we watched the sunset on the Shenandoah Valley will bind her hand and her life to her love, and will become a married woman.

At some point during the celebration, she will stand and walk to her father, who will take her hand in his.  They will smile, and embrace, and dance together as they both think back on the history of all that they have shared.  The song will be “Shenandoah”, by Van Morrison.


Listen to this, and think of us: Shenandoah

Turn around…….

unnamedI am in that very strange, surreal space that descends upon parents when their babies are about to get married.

Two weeks from today, our oldest child, our only daughter, will be married.

She is an adult. A professional.  A strong, independent, capable woman.  She is more than ready to be married.

Wait, what? No she’s NOT!  For God’s sake, she was just born about a month ago! I can still remember every pain, every push, every ear infection, every diaper.   What do you mean she’s ready to get married?   No, no, no!!!! Every milestone in her life flashes before my eyes.   I see her playing “wedding” with our next door neighbor. I see her getting on the big yellow bus for the first time. I see her first date, her first job, her first day of college…….

She is marrying a great guy.  He is smart, lots of fun, and he clearly loves my daughter to pieces.

Hold it!  He’s a BABY!  Is he even old enough to shave? (OK, well he has an absolutely epic beard, but that was just a euphemism.) How can this boy be the future father of my future grandchildren?  What?!

The wedding is all planned, all ordered, all pretty much set to go.  Kate has her dress, I have mine. The food is ordered, the tent is ordered, the music is being organized.  Kate and Sam are all set for decorations, for rings, for flowers.  The wine is ready to go, sitting in its cases in my basement.  The kegs are on order.

Now all we have to do is wait.

And think, and ruminate, and dream that she is a baby again, held in my arms.  All we have to do is blink hard, admit that time has flown more quickly than we could ever have predicted.  Admit that this day is really, truly coming.  Our baby girl will be beautiful and radiant. She will walk with us toward her young man, and they will bind their hands and their lives together.

All we have to do is keep our eyes fixed firmly on the future, never acknowledging the pull of the past.

When she was very little, I would sing this song to Katie, and she would hold her hands on my cheeks as I cried.

Where are you going, my little one, little one?

Where are you going, my baby own?

Turn around and you’re tall,

Turn around and your grown.

Turn around and you’re a young wife

with babes of your own.

How can this day be here?

‘Round and Round

I know that I keep writing about this, but I am so often struck by the ways in which my life keeps showing me all of its connections.

I find myself reminded, over and over again, of how every relationship, every person we love, creates a connection to other people and other loves and other actions.

I’m sorry if this is repetitive.

Actually, no I’m not.   This theme is repetitive because it just keeps on happening to me.  Life is a series of synchronous connections. We are all enmeshed in a web of love.

Today I had yet another reminder of the circular nature of life.  It was…….

I can’t describe it.  It was lightning striking.

Two years ago, my young colleague was planning her wedding.  Our good friend, Lesley,  was the seamstress who was making her dress.  Two years ago, nearly to the day, my friend tried on her homemade dress in the bathroom at our school. We all peeked in, we oohed and aaahed and told her that she was beautiful.  Because she was!  I wiped a tear as I looked at her, remembering my own wedding so many years before.

Two summers ago, my young colleague got married, in her home stitched dress. Paul and I were there to celebrate with her. Our daughter Kate was there, too, with her new boyfriend. It was a magical night and all four of us had a wonderful time.

Today my daughter tried on her wedding dress. She is marrying the “new boyfriend” in a few weeks.

The dress is being sewn by our good friend, Lesley, who made the one two years ago.  In fact, the pattern that Lesley is using is the very same one that she used to make my colleague’s dress.

One dress was palest pink, one is vibrant green; both are beautiful and both fit the bride who chose it.

Today, almost two years to the day after watching my friend try on her dress, I stood in the same school bathroom, smiling at my radiant daughter in her lovely green gown.  I wiped away a tear as I looked at her.

And today, two years after her wedding, my friend is in labor, working to give birth to her first child.  I’ve spent all day worrying, thinking of her, sending her support and love and deep, cleansing breaths.

Around and around and around.  Life goes on and passes its magic and flows from one dream to another.

Tonight I am so filled with hope; waiting for my daughter to be married in her sylvan gown; waiting to hear that my friend is holding her son in her arms at last.

This ol’ body

Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “Seriously?”

When I was twenty, I was sure that I would manage to be one of those women who age gracefully. You know, slender, fit, silver haired with long dangly earring, sipping a fine wine at a cafe in Rome.  I imagined my face to be serene and smooth, with just enough laugh lines to give me character.

I had a vivid imagination.

Reality is a little bit different, you see.  (sigh)

Of course, I still have the image of that beautiful older woman in my head. Which why I’m always sort of shocked to see the stocky, round faced lady with the bifocals standing there in pictures of me.

Sometimes I’m a little annoyed with my body.  How did it manage to get so creaky? Why do so many parts of it hurt these days?

And what’s with all the extra padding?

Sometimes I get frustrated when I wake up with a sore neck just from sleeping.

Or when my legs are aching from a half hour on the elliptical.  Or when I’d really like to go hiking with my husband, but I know my heart would palpitate me right off the mountainside.

Sometimes I don’t appreciate my body at all.  “I’ve been feeding you salad and kale shakes”, I tell it. “Shouldn’t you be a lot leaner and meaner by now?”   My body doesn’t usually answer me.  Frankly, I don’t think it hears as well as it used to.

At times like these, I think back on all that this body has done for me.  I make myself remember all the things I put it through in college.  I think back on all of the hikes and camping trips in the rain.  All the rocks and dirt I’ve made it haul around as I built my gardens.

I start to feel a little sheepish.

I begin to remember the times when my body acted like an absolute champ.  When it performed miracles.

I think about my three pregnancies, when I made that body incubate a real-live human and then give birth to it.  I remember labor and delivery when my clumsy, swelled-to-ridiculous-proportions body turned into an Olympic Champion and did what had to be done with precious little help from me.

I remember my body pregnant with one while chasing the other two around the house. I remember it staying up all night to rock a sick baby, then going grocery shopping in the morning.

So I pat it on its chubby little shoulder and tell it that I’m sorry.

I guess this body has earned its creaks and aches and padding.  I guess I should learn to appreciate it.

After all, I don’t imagine its going to get much more spry in the future!

Waterworks alert.

Sometimes  life seems to conspire against us.

Or for us.  I’m not entirely sure.

But there are key points in life where every event seems designed to wring emotion from our hearts.  Where all of life’s resonance seems work together to create a touching and beautiful chord.

I am in just such a place right now, and I find myself compelled to warn my friends and relations. “Waterworks alert!”  I tell them. I say,  “Every part of my life is coming together to capture me in a net of emotion.  I will be teary.  Don’t freak out; just hand me a tissue.”

I’ll give you an example of  what I mean.  Last Thursday I went to a meeting with a lawyer, checking on the status of my Mother’s estate.  My Mom is healthy and hearty and living independently in her own home, but the conversation itself was a reminder that she is nearing her final chapter.  I find myself wanting to simplify and clarify my relationship with her while there is still time.  I want to be sure that I say everything that needs to be said.  It makes me sad just to think about it.

And my middle child, my sweetly idiosyncratic boy, came home last week for some loving care while he was recovering from oral surgery.  While he was here we had a small bulldozer working in the side yard.   The last time that a bulldozer worked here, Matt was a year and half old, and he had to stand on a stool to look over the windowsill that now comes to his mid-thigh. As we watched the work,  I looked up at his six foot three inch frame. I could clearly see the golden haired boy who once stood at rapt attention gazing out the same window, breathlessly recounting every move of the tractor in his husky baby voice.   I felt the pressing of time on my neck as I watched him, remembering the baby he was such a short time ago.  My heart squeezed.  More emotion.

Add in this fact: My third child, my baby, is graduation from college next week. Wasn’t he just born a year ago?!  How do I begin to understand that my last “dependent” won’t be one any longer?  I am excited for him, but I suspect that it is hard for him to be leaving his happy college days behind him. Is he worried about the future? Is he sad to say good bye to so many friends?  How can it be that I don’t know the answer to these questions? I gave birth to him! I held him under my own heart; how can he be so grown up that I don’t know what he is feeling? So much emotion!!

And then there is this: My only daughter is getting married this summer.  I spent today shopping for her dress.  We were with her Maid-of-honor, a beautiful young woman who I have knowns since her birth.  When they were little, the girls used to play “Double Wedding” out on the lawn.  I am breathless with the realization that both are now planning weddings, and that they will stand up for each other.  Just the way we once dreamed…….

And yesterday I was at school with my fifth grade team.  We were having our weekly meeting, talking about lessons and kids. I am the wise old woman on our team.  Another teacher, Amy Jo,  is new to the profession, but is a young mother of two girls.  The third member of our team, Caitlin, is my daughter’s age, and is due to deliver her first child in a few short weeks. We were going over our usual teacher business when suddenly Caitlin grabbed my hand. “Want to feel the baby?”, she asked with a smile.  I placed my hand on her swollen stomach, and Amy Jo put hers right next to mine.  We all paused, waiting. I looked at our three hands; the hands of three women who love each other and who love this not-yet-known little boy.   I could feel how connected we all are, how much our lives have been woven together.  I felt that little boy moving, and my mind went right to my own little ones, who I first met as they moved inside of me.

I looked at our three hands, and I thought of the healing power of love, and of the “laying on of hands”.  I thought about how time moves in unending circles, and my eyes filled with tears.

Time is not a river, or a ribbon, or a journey.  Time is an eternal circle, coming back again and again to the moment when a woman comes to know the brand new being who lives and moves within her.

Waterworks alert.   I can’t believe that I am the wise old woman of the village. I can’t believe that Caitlin is having her baby. I can’t believe that my boys are all grown up, or that my own baby girl will be getting married and starting her own life circles.

Around and around it goes.  Life conspires to remind us that it is all about change, and growth and moving on.

Waterworks alert.