My Dad


My Dad could fix anything. He fixed pipes, cars, broken toys, cracked walkways.

He was a builder. He built shelves and storage sheds. He created furniture and toys and additions on the house. His hands were sure and capable. He frowned when he worked, puzzling over a problem, a pencil always over his left ear.

On Saturdays, he’d work in the yard. He would weed, screen loam, spread grass seed, prune the bushes. There always seemed to be something for him to be doing.

I remember him coming in for lunch, in a white t shirt or a sweatshirt, that pencil still on his ear. We would have Italian cold cuts. Mortadella, salami, capicola, provolone cheese. He’d put hot peppers on his sandwich if he had a cold.

On hot days, Dad would sprinkle salt into his beer. I never asked why, but in my childhood it seemed like a right of passage.

Dad could make pancakes. On Saturday mornings he’d let my Mom sleep in a bit, and he’d sit with his kids watching the Three Stooges and the Little Rascals. He’d sit on the floor, his back against the couch. We would perch on his legs and nestle into each side of him.

He’d laugh. Loud and exuberant, unrestrained, big open mouthed guffaws at the antics on TV.

Then he would make us pancakes.

Eventually, Mom would come down the hall, in her robe. Dad would always grab her and kiss her with the ardor of a teenager. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he’d ask his wide eyed children.  We readily agreed.

Dad was patient. He tried like a saint to teach me the concept of algebra. I never mastered it, but he never gave up.

Dad was generous. He was honest. He had more integrity than anyone I’ve ever known.

When my Father died, the line to get into his wake was so long that it wrapped around the building. People he’d known for years mixed with people he’d met in his job. They came with thanks, and they came with sadness. They came to tell us how much he’d meant to them.

Our Dad was loving. His adored our Mother, the love of his life. He loved all six of each children, and every one of his grandchildren. He made time for us. He listened.

I see him in the dark brown eyes of my granddaughter, and I see him in each of my children. I hear his voice as I walk in the quiet woods. I feel his breath on my cheek as I drift to sleep with a baby in my arms.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

I love you.

My name is…


I’ve been thinking about names lately. My daughter and her husband are going to have their second child soon. We know that it will be a little boy, and they have settled on a name for him.

He will be named for a well loved Great Grampa who died a few months ago. It’s perfect, right?

But I’ve been thinking about how names sound, and the impression that they give. I’ve been thinking about names that sound like a person you’d trust. And names that make you shake your head and wonder if those parents hated that kid.

As a confirmed lefty, I’ve been doing my part to support the Our Revolution movement. That’s the next step in the Bernie Sanders movement, if you don’t know. Very vibrant, very interesting group, and I’m happy to help! So I’ve been doing some data entry for them.

Which means that I have been seeing some amazing names.

I won’t use any real ones here, of course, but to young parents everywhere, let me just say that before you slap a monicker on that adorable little bundle, THINK about how that name will read in 30 years when some old lady is putting it into a data base.

Some names inspire trust. I would want my doctor to be named “Michael Hampshire.” Solid, not too flashy, unpretentious. “Jennifer Worth.”  Yup. She can do my cardiac surgery, for sure.

Other names make me want to write a short story that involves a diner, a lonely waitress and a quietly insane fry-cook. “Sarah Bluette” and “Jace Pratchett” fit right in there, don’t you think?

Then there are the names that you know Mom and Dad chose because they were so adorable and original! They did not picture the kids in sixth grade making fun of little “Sharley McRoggle” or “Kerreigh Koyne.”

And some names make me just feel humble. The names that ring of truth and strength. Names that are unapologetically ethnic or racially proud. Names that mean, “I am not going to melt into the pot, no sir. I intend to be the spice in your potato soup.” Names that are spelled originally or names that hark back to older generations. “Karim” is a personal favorite of mine. “Sasha” or “LiYu” or “Epiphania” or “Dougal” or “Shaquan.”

My mom’s name is Vincenza, but she is known as Zena. That’s very cool.

Our names are, in some odd ways, our destiny.

I was aware of this when I was at the Woman’s March in DC not long ago. I was with my High School friend, Karen. As we moved through the surging crowds to get onto the Metro, we heard a voice calling, “Karen! Over here!” We both turned, of course, and we saw a woman our age, waving to her friend.

All the Karens in the US, it seems, were born between 1952 and 1958. You’re not going to find a Karen in kindergarten, although you might very well find a “Helen,” an “Alice” or an “Ed.”

When I was naming my own kids, I was careful. Paul and I thought about how the names sounded. We like the ‘th’ sound, it turns out. We have Katharine, Matthew and Timothy in our family. But we were also thinking of nicknames.

Being named Paul and Karen meant that we didn’t have a lot of nicknames. There’s not much you can do with the labels we got at birth.

We wanted our kids to have some flexibility. If they became businesspeople or lawyers or politicians, those full names would work. If they became teachers, or coaches or athletes, they’d have cool nicknames. Katie, Matty, Timmy.

Naturally, all three of them now go by Kate, Matt and Tim.

Still. A lot of thought went into those names. A lot.

Yours truly,

“Boots” aka “Karen” aka Kira aka Karima and now known as Nonni.

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Rock maple and dovetailed joints.


 

32235_398975950898_543400898_4765939_6508281_nMy Dad could do anything with his hands. When we were little, he used to spend a weekend taking apart a car engine, cleaning everything, then putting it back together again.

He could fix leaky pipes, he could paint walls and trim. My Dad could lay down carpet, strip wallpaper, rewire lights, plane the bottoms of doors so they wouldn’t stick.

Most of all, though, my Dad could bring out the life and the beauty of wood.

He made shelves, and little stools and steps and work sheds.

My Dad made my sons tiny wooden train sets that fit together perfectly. Each car had one of the boy’s names on it.

They are still here, in our house. The golden stained wood still gleams. The pieces still fit, 25 years after he made them. They are still beautiful.

Last weekend I drove two hours out to the small city in the Berkshire Hills where my boys live. I got a tour of the classic Victorian house where my son Matt is living.

As soon as I saw the old wooden floors, and the built in shelving, and the gorgeous dark wood bannisters on the stairs, I though of Dad. He would have loved that house!

We went up into Matt’s room, and there I saw his bureau. An old, golden hued wooden bureau, in Matt’s bedroom.

And it was if Dad was standing there beside me.

I started to laugh, but there were tears in there, too.

“Oh, man! I forgot that you have this bureau!” I said, running my hands across the smooth top.

“This is rock maple.” I said it reverently, although I have no idea what “rock maple” is. I could hear Dad saying those words to me, and they were filled with respect and pride when he said them.

So I repeated them to my boy.

This old bureau had belonged to my husband in his childhood. He doesn’t know where it came from, but he grew up with it. When we got married, it became our bureau. It was in our first apartment in the corner of the bedroom. It travelled with us to grad school in New Jersey, and then to our first apartment after graduation.

When our baby was born, we moved for a while back into my parents’ house. We needed to save money and we needed a safe, clean place to live. So back “home” we went.

And that’s where my Dad taught me how to refinish furniture. We took that old bureau, scratched and dinged and dirty, down into Dad’s garage workshop. And he stripped the old stain off, and sanded it, and sanded it again. I learned about the grades of sandpaper, and the use of a good “tack cloth”. I learned to use mineral spirits to clean up every speck of dirt and sawdust.

I learned about the proper use of stain, and how to smooth it on evenly. Dad pointed out the dovetail joints in the bureau drawers, telling me that you don’t see those very often any more.

Together we chose the stain, a very light golden oak that brought out the warmth in the hard, hard wood. Dad showed me every grain in that wood. He showed me how to be sure that every rough bit was smoothed away.

“Like a baby’s bottom,” he’d say when we got a drawer face perfectly smooth.

It was so special to work there beside him. He never got impatient. He never seemed in a hurry. I saw how the wood came to life under his hand. I saw how he was able to coax beauty out of something rough and old and stained.

I had wanted to toss out that old piece of furniture as soon as we could, but Dad was horrified at the thought.

“This is rock maple!” he’d said. “Those are dovetailed joints!”

Together we worked on the old wooden bureau, and I learned that my father was an artist, though he never described himself that way. I learned to be patient when polishing the top of a refinished piece of furniture with wax.

I learned how to listen, to watch, to imitate. I learned how to see the strength and the beauty under the rough exterior.

I learned how much my father loved a job well done, and I learned how much I loved my father.

Last week, standing in that bedroom in that old Victorian house, I caught sight of that beautiful bureau, with my son’s belongings sitting on top.

“This is rock maple!” I told him seriously. I pulled out one of the drawers. “See?” I asked him and  his bemused friend, “These are dovetailed joints.”

They agreed that the bureau is a real beauty. They were smiling at my earnestness.

We left then, turning off the lights and leaving the old rock maple bureau in the dark, in that old, old house.

It’s hard to say how much I love the thought of my son sleeping every night beside that wood that had felt my Dad’s loving hand.

I hope Matt keeps that bureau. I hope he gives it to a child of his own one day.

I hope that he tells that child, very seriously, “This is rock maple, you know.”

 

 

Memories of Motherhood


This post started out to be humorous, but it just changed. Very suddenly.

Oh, life, you funny old thing.

I spent today, as I do every Monday through Friday, with my best buddy, my heart, my love, my granddaughter Ellie. I am in love with her eyes, her grin, her crazy curly hair. I am in love with the shape of her nose and her long fingers and toes. I practically swoon with pleasure when she waddles across the room to throw herself into my arms.

I get to snuggle every day with her warm little head pressed to my cheek. I get to hear her say, “Hi” when she comes in and “night, night” as she falls asleep for her nap. I have no more work stress, no more long commute. No paperwork. My only boss is my first born child, who is definitely not bossy.

Today I thought to myself, “I don’t remember motherhood being this perfect and sweet!”

Yes. I did jinx myself.

Our Ellie is a little peanut of a girl. We try to give her high calorie foods because she’s just tiny. She eats like a starved wolf, but she doesn’t seem to put on weight. She did NOT get her Nonni’s metabolism.

However, she poops more than the average baby. Or the average horse, I’d dare to say.

So this afternoon, after having fed her breakfast, played with her, put her down for a nap, changed her poops twice and given her a bath, I found myself faced with yet another poopie diaper and a little red bum. I said to her, “You stay naked for a bit, and I’ll run downstairs real quick to get the laundry.”  I figured that the air would be good for her skin.

I left her in one of those cute onesie shirts with the snaps between her legs open and the front and back flapping along in the breeze. She stood at the gate at the top of the stairs and I ran down, pulled the clothes from the dryer and raced back up.

There she stood, bent forward at the waist. Playing with both hands in a lovely puddle of pee all over my floor. She was literally splashing it.

I burst through the gate, threw the clothes onto a chair and scooped her up. Her shirt was soaked. The floor was soaked. Her hair was….well….soaked. Back into the tub. No more empty hamper. I washed the floor as I held Ellie on one hip.

Holy exhaustion, Batman. I just remembered that motherhood is not all warm snuggles and adorable shampooed curls. Motherhood- and grandmotherhood- is back aches and endless repeated chores. And puddles of pee.

Then I logged onto Facebook so I could show nice clean Ellie the pictures of her new baby cousin.

I saw a picture posted by a young relative. A beautiful young woman in our family sent a happy birthday message to her 95 year old Great Grandmother.

And I thought, what a gift! To live long enough and well enough to celebrate with a great grandchild. Wow.

So tonight, as I sink into my hot tub with a glass of wine and get ready to clean up the dozens of toys on the floor and the mess on the table, I’ll appreciate every bit of today. I’ll hold onto the kisses and the laughter. And I’ll make myself enjoy the memory of that baby girl splashing in a puddle of her own pee on my floor.

Ya gotta love it.

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A Warm Spring Night


It was a warm, wet, humid spring day today.  There was a low overcast all day. The wind was strong, and the clouds were racing from South to North.  Not a usual New England pattern on April 1st. Not at all.

I took Ellie outside. She sat in her stroller, watching me with her wise dark eyes as I raked up the straw and pine boughs that had covered my perennial beds. The wind blew strong and the pines creaked and moaned. Ellie watched. She watched me stoop and scrape and gather up the winter coat of the garden. She watched the birds darting back and forth and up and down. She tipped her head back and watched the tops of the trees as they swayed back and forth above her.

Tonight, after I had taken Ellie home to her Mom and Dad, I stood on my deck. The night was coming on fast, and rain threatened to fall.  There was thunder in the distance, making my old dog Sadie shiver and quake at my feet.

I looked out, across our property, to the wetlands beyond.  I strained a bit to hear what I so wanted to hear.  And there it was.

The spring song of the “peepers”, the tiny green tree frogs whose voices fill the evening air of New England springtimes.  I smiled, remembering all of the years when my children and I had stood in this same spot, waiting for that springtime call of love and hope.

I thought about Ellie. How funny, I thought to myself.  This is her first spring time!

I thought about the rhythms of life. About Ellie hearing and smelling spring for the very first time in her life. I thought of myself, remembering so many springtimes in the past.  I thought of my Mother, feeling and hearing spring in her 86th year, wondering how many springtimes are still before her.

I stood on my deck, in the damp warm evening. I breathed in the smell of the leaves and the warming smell of the earth. I listened to the peepers in the marsh, seeking love.

Ellie has so much to look forward to in this beautiful life.

Ah, Miss Ellie……


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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!”

Its a “Do Over”.


Happy Nonni

Happy Nonni

Did you ever see the movie “City Slickers”?  You know the part where one of the guys is telling the other guy that his divorce isn’t the end of the world? He tells his friend, “It’s like you’re getting a do over.”

That’s how I feel right now.

I feel like I am getting a “do over”.

Next November, I will become the daily caregiver for my very first grandchild, a little girl who will be born sometime in August.

I am incredibly excited about having the chance to take care of her, and to be able to help my daughter and son-in-law with the struggles of working parents.

I am so lucky!

And I’m scared to pieces.

What if I don’t remember how to rock a baby with an earache?  My own baby is 23, for God’s sake!  What if I can’t calm her down?  What if I forget how to soothe a baby through the teething stages?  What if she doesn’t like me? What if I don’t have the stamina for this?

Oh, brother.  Thus runs the mind of a true neurotic.

At 3AM I convince myself that I am a hopeless excuse for a Nonni.

At 7AM, all I can think of is this: “I am getting a do over!”

I picture a day in early winter.  The cold rain is pouring down outside, but the house is cozy.  There is a big pot of stew on the stove, enough for Paul and I and enough to send home to Kate and Sam.  I have bread dough rising, and I am sitting in the rocker with the baby asleep in my arms.  A warm fleece blanket is draped over us both.   I am humming a song, soft and low, and my cheek is resting on hers.

It is a do over.  A chance to revisit my very best days.  A chance to hold and cuddle and nurture one more life.

When my own babies were little, I had to drop them off at daycare. I had to rush out the door, into the wintery winds.  I had to leave the rocking and the singing to others.

Now I have a chance to do it over again.  Now I can relax, and stay at home, and give myself to the little one.  All the love and caring that has gone into my 25 students can now be poured into her.

I am getting a do over.

I am so very, very lucky.

I can’t wait.

A Dog and His Boy


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There is just something about a dog and his boy.  My dogs just love our boys.  In fact, they love pretty much any boys.

Now that our sons are grown and gone, we can get the same squeals of delight from our dogs when our nephews, cousins, neighbors or any other boys come to the house.

There’s just something about a dog and his boys.

So I’m sure that my dogs will be very happy to hear that we have a boy, an honest-to-God boy, coming to live with us for the rest of the school year.  He is a sixteen year old German exchange student.  He was in need of a home, and this nest was in need of some life.

I’m sure that Tucker and Sadie will be almost as happy as I will be to have him here.

I hear that he likes to eat.  And as you may know, I like to cook.  Perfect.

Of course, I’m pretty nervous tonight.  He arrives tomorrow.  I have baked chocolate chip bars.  There’s chicken brining for dinner.  His room is clean, his bed is made, and I have mopped the floor.

I want him to be happy here. I want him to be comfortable.  I want him to feel that he is welcome.

When I was his age, I was the student, far away from home, looking for acceptance and love in a new family.  I was lucky.  I found both.  My Tunisian family took me in, fed me delicious meals, entertained me, laughed with me, took me to see the sights. I remember the meals, the conversations, the music. I remember the smell of the summery air, and the sound of the wooden carriage wheels on the cobbled streets outside my window.

I don’t remember noticing whether or not the house was clean.

Still, tonight I am cleaning and organizing and scrubbing.  I have even brushed the dogs.

I know I’m being silly.  He won’t care if there is dust.  But another woman’s son will be coming here, to our house. Another woman, far away, will be trusting me to care for her boy.  She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that I’ll be kind.  She doesn’t know that the dogs will be here to greet him, with wagging tails and doggy smiles.

So as I wait for the bars to cool and the laundry to finish drying, I think back to my arrival in Kairouan, so long ago.  I think about how easy it was for me to settle into my Tunisian home, with my wonderful family. I want that experience for our guest!

And I look at the dogs, snoozing on the nice clean floor at my feet. I reach down to pat their soft heads, listening to the comforting sound of their snores.

“Guys”, I say, although neither of them moves, “I have great news.  Dad and I have decided to get you a boy.”

 

Your Every Christmas Wish


603733_10200837417355233_1874374034_nWhen I was little, I could fill myself with the feeling of Christmas by lying in bed in the glow of the orange window lights. The bulbs were hot, so hot that we had to be very careful to keep the shades hight above them, and the curtains fully open.  The warm orange glow was so different from the usual pale nightlight glow that as we fell asleep, my sister and I would feel as if we were being wrapped in magic.  I can still conjure the feeling of drifting to sleep with my face turned toward that orange, orange light. Waiting for Santa and for the magic of Christmas morning.

As I got a little bit older, into my teens, I learned to lie on the rug with all of the lamps in the room off. I would lie as close to the Christmas tree as I could, after turning all of its big bright colored lights on. I’d look up into the branches and squint my eyes a bit. The fat, bright lights would reflect in the long silvery strands of tinsel and I would get that feeling in my stomach; that “Christmas” feeling.  I’d think about what gift I might get (new albums by Joan Baez, Fleetwood Mac, Judy Collins were high on my list).  I would be filled with giddy anticipation and that magic feeling would flood me again.

Then I became a Mom. Christmas was more magical than ever.  That feeling, that magical Christmas feeling was all about them.  I could fill myself with the magical feeling of Christmas by looking at their beautiful eyes, reflecting the glowing lights of our tree. Motherhood is magic; Motherhood on Christmas morning is indescribable.

Now they’re all grown up.  Our familiar fake spruce tree is long gone.  I sit here alone in my quiet house, resting up a bit before the big family celebrations begin.  I’m thinking about later tonight, and tomorrow morning. I’m thinking about the few hours when I can gather all of them around me, my beautiful daughter and her smiley eyed husband, my two handsome sons, my husband.  I think about “that Christmas feeling”, and how much I’m looking forward to holding it close.  Tomorrow that feeling will come when there is a moment with all of us in this room.  There will be half filled coffee cups everywhere, and piles of wrapping paper on the floor.  The house will smell of bacon, and the dogs will be watching eagerly for a crumb to fall. Paul will be wrapped in a blanket, dozing a bit.  I’ll stand in the dining room for a minute. I’ll look around the room.  I’ll stand where I can see all of them, all of their familiar faces.  The conversation will be completely casual, about nothing much.  Someone will say something funny, like they always do, and everyone will laugh together.  I’ll wipe my hands on my apron, look from face to sweet face, and laugh along with them.

I’ll be filled once again with the magical orange light and sparkly tinsel feelings of Christmas.