Why I think I’m an elf.

I first read “The Hobbit” in the fifth grade, and “The Lord of the Rings” when I was in the seventh.  I fell in love with the characters, and I wanted to be a hobbit for a long time. Like a hobbit, I love comfort, I’m always ready to eat or take a nap, and I have thick wavy hair. I love to grow flowers, and I’m a good cook.  All I needed, I thought for many years, was a house with a little round door.

But now that I am older, and have owned my own home and yard for many years, I can see that I was wrong. Now I’m pretty sure that I am an elf.

Oh, I know. I’m not tall, blonde or graceful, and I sure can’t shoot an arrow. But I most definitely feel an affinity for the trees.

This beautiful sugar maple stands just off my deck, at the spot where our yard meets the woods. I have watched its leaves open for 22 years, have enjoyed its shade every summer, have admired its golden orange foliage every October.  Paul and the boys used to tap it in February to make maple syrup.  It’s like a beautiful guardian of our property. Like a lovely old friend.

Yesterday I was home alone, because the kids and Paul were hiking for the weekend.  It was early evening, and I was on the deck, grilling my dinner.  As I stood there in the silence, with the sun setting behind me, I looked out into my woods.  I was struck by how the sugar maple had grown.  When we moved in here, it was a medium sized tree, and I could look over its head into the sky above the forest.  Now it fills that area of sky, spreading its branches over what used to be part of our lawn.

I looked around the yard, thinking of how the trees have changed in the time that we have lived here.  They grew up with my children.  And some have gone just as the children have.

I remember when this pine was taken down, after we realized that it was too old and too unsound to remain where it might fall on the roof.  I remember how sad I have been each time we have had to bring a tree down.  The loss that I felt as each of our sentinels crashed down to earth in a shower of broken limbs.

We have lost branches to ice storms, wind storms and even a hurricane or two.  Like an elf, I suffered the pain of each break, feeling it deep in my own heart. Each snapped branch has felt to me like a broken arm, but one I can’t soothe or cast or ease in any way.

Like one of Tolkien’s elves, I also celebrate the new growth of my trees.  Yesterday, as I walked around the yard, I was aware of how steadily the woods are growing into the yard. There is a beautiful stand of hemlock on the edge of the woods in a spot that used to be all grass. There is a group of new young white pines, clustered together like the children of the trees we have lost.And everywhere I look, I see new saplings rising.  Maple saplings grow on the stumps of old pines.  Hemlock, pine and even a spruce or two pop up in every sunny break in the woods.  There is such a feeling of “life goes on”, of renewal, of hope in the future.  The trees keep coming, keep growing, keep filling in the spaces.

Like Legolas Greenleaf of Middle Earth, I am happy to see each baby tree. I greet each one with a smile and some words of encouragement.  And I let them grow, even when they are in the middle of my daylillies.

Too fast

It happens too fast.  It happens before I am even ready to begin to get ready. It happens in the blink of an eye.

I wait all winter, through the dark days and early dusks.  Every cold, icy morning as I leave the house, I look with longing at the barren branches of the lilacs.  When the dawn is barely breaking on cold February mornings, I peer so closely at the tips of the silvery branches, sure that I can see the infinitesimal swellings of the buds.

As the weeks slowly pass by, and the sun begins to linger more lovingly in the evening sky, I start to really yearn for those lilac blooms.  I imagine the heady purple scent, the warm breezes, the grass below the feet of the healthy plants.  It seems to me that the sight of those beautiful blossoms will bring me back to life after my long winter hibernation.

And spring inevitably arrives, with the pebbly snow mounds melting away, the robins arriving, the daffodils emerging from the frozen ground.  I watch it all, but I wait for the lilac blossoms.

The sun gets warmer, the kids put on shorts and come to school with their summer buzz cuts. The peonies push up, the irises arise, the daisies spread out.  We mow the grass and breathe in the perfumed air.  We clean the grill and wash the windows and put the snow shovels into the shed.

And still, I wait for the delicate, glorious clusters of lilac blooms to open and bow and send out that crazy, too sweet smell.

Each day for at least two weeks, I watch each tiny bud on each lilac cluster, waiting for the first little gem to open its eyes and start to sing.

At last, at last; the lilac blooms.  The air is almost too intense; the sweet purple scent mixes with the hundreds of lily-of-the-valley that cluster along our walk. The sun comes out and warms the grass, the woods, the flowers themselves.

The lilac have bloomed, and spring is really here.  I sigh in delight.

And then, in what seems like only hours, but what is really days, the blossoms fade and turn brown and fall to the ground. They have been and gone.

How did I miss them?

And so the metaphor is clear, obvious to even the most obtuse.

So often in life, we wait and wait and hope for something that isn’t here. We yearn for something just a little bit sweeter than what we have before us. We convince ourselves that this one little pleasure will make everything just right.

And then it comes to us, and bursts into being. But before we can catch it or name it or breath it in the way we were always sure we would, it has passed us by, and we are back in yearning mode again.

Like childhood, like new love, like a vacation on the beach, the lilacs come and go before we are even ready to get ready to capture them.

Play ball!

Some things defy definition. They can’t be easily explained. Some things can only be experienced, they can’t be described.

So I won’t try to explain why I am sitting inside the house on a perfect afternoon instead of walking in the woods or gardening under this cloudless sky. I won’t be able to make you understand what it means to me to have TV on, or why I am wiping away the tears that keep coming, one after the other. You probably wouldn’t understand it anyway.

Instead, let me tell you a story.

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher was a crusty, demanding older woman. She wore tweed skirts and sensible shoes. She read to us every day and she always made us go back and try again when we didn’t know how to solve a problem. She hated noise, and she loved the Red Sox. In May of that year, she took the whole class to a game. I had never been to one before, and had no real expectations. But I still remember coming up from the darkness under the grandstand and stepping into the light. The grass of the Fenway Park infield glowed like a jewel, spread out before me in all its glory. I was breathless.

It was 1967. The Red Sox won in extra innings, and I was in love.

That was the “Impossible Dream” summer, where the Red Sox went from last place to winning the American League Pennant. It was the year of my first crush: Tony Conigliaro, the dashing, handsome young star who was downed by a fastball in August and never recovered.

That incredible summer and its story of impossible dreams was the first time that Boston baseball fans hung banners from buildings and screamed for their team as they arrived at the park.

Since that magical summer, baseball has continued to be the soundtrack of my life. The sweet crack of the bat, the distant calling of the vendors in the stands, the voices of the announcers coming late at night through my transistor radio. Baseball has been there.

For me, baseball has always meant hope: As a Red Sox fan for many lean years, I learned long ago to think “Wait till next year!” and to recognize unfounded optimism rising like maple sap every spring. In spite of past history, there was always hope of victory, hope of triumph, hope of undeserved good luck.

Baseball games were always on in the background as my Dad puttered around the yard on summer days. Baseball games accompanied barbecues and picnics, family vacations and camping trips. Baseball players were my heroes and my secret crushes. Handsome Pudge Fisk, Dewey Evans, Nomar and Captain Varitek.

Baseball means summer. It means youth and strength and unbelievable grace. Baseball, since October of 2004, means magic and crazy rituals to bring luck. It means belonging to a group that is larger than any I’ve ever known, sharing the most intense of emotions with millions of strangers as the Red Sox win and lose. It means always wearing a Sox hat or shirt when we travel, so that we can find other members of our tribe when we are far from home.

Baseball means America in all its innocence and optimism. It means Cooperstown and “Field of Dreams”. The smell of beer and the taste of peanuts. Fingers crossed, rally caps on. Baseball means a link to the past, to the history that we have all shared here in this “new world”.

Today as I sit watching Fenway Park celebrate its 100th birthday the sky is blue and cloudless, the sun is bright, the organ is playing. Time seems to have rolled back as we remember the first pitch thrown out by Honey Fitz, then Mayor of Boston.

On this exquisite afternoon, there are no steroids, no growth hormones, no cheating. Boys play baseball for the joy of the game. America is still the land of opportunity, and anything is possible.

Play ball!

Marching on

I was born in March, which is really very fitting.  March and I have a great deal in common.

We both tend to swing between lion and lamb, rain and sun, sweet and wicked.

Like March, I am often blustery.  Just mention the word “politics” and I will get my windy self all worked up.  I can blow and puff and push things around as well as the best March morning.

March is full of dark and glowering clouds that seem to linger for days; as I head out into each gray dawn lately, I find myself glowering at the other commuters, my hapless coworkers and even, alas, my students.

But like the month of my birth, I try to work towards a sunnier and warmer personality, and once in a while I succeed. As I speed down the highway, my eye is drawn to the soft pink that is just beginning to appear at the tips of the maple branches and my mood lifts.  As I line the kids up for recess, I let myself be drawn into a silly discussion about pie, and we all laugh together as we tromp down the stairs.

Like March, I am quick to change, too, swinging in one day from teary to joyful. The dogs make me laugh; a picture of my children makes me cry.

March and I want to give you spring, but we struggle with those icy patches that hide under the dark trees, refusing to thaw and reminding us both of the cold.

This week was a typical March week for me. It started with my birthday party, a day spent with all three of my kids plus one significant other. It was everything I had wished and waited and yearned for, especially when my “baby” Tim came in the door and I hugged him so hard that I couldn’t breathe.  He spent the night with us, which I love so much. There is something completely fulfilling and affirming for me when I wake up in the night and know that he is here. He left on Sunday to spend the week with his brother, a choice that makes me proud, happy, jealous and sad all in one big lump.

The week itself was up and down; small conflicts with a colleague, behavior issues with some of my class, a wonderful field trip, a sweet visit with my Mom, a backache and too many errands to run. Up, down, up, down. Blustery and calm; stormy and sunny.  Typical March. Typical me.

Yesterday was my Mom’s birthday; most of my siblings and many of my nieces and nephews gathered at her house for food and wine and gifts and green cake. The sunshine was the pleasure of seeing everyone in one place; the rain was the absence of my Dad. And today is the end of Tim’s spring break, and I am spending the precious hours of the day cooking for him, helping him wash his clothes, walking the dogs through the marshy woods behind the house.  March today is warm, sunny and calm.  I am, too.   But later today, Tim’s friend will pull into the driveway and he will pack up his groceries, his clothes, and his books. He will hug me, kiss my cheek and wave goodbye.  He will head back into his life, and I will head back into the house.

Tonight, I suspect, March will bring us a steady, quiet rain.

A wrinkle in time.


When I was in the fifth grade, I somehow stumbled upon the wonderful book  “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. It was probably my friend Sue who lead me to it.  She was my literary mentor and hero; she read more books more quickly than anyone else in my world. I followed her through the library that year and many that came later.   Fifth grade was the year when I fell in love with books, and the year when I fell in love with the idea of time travel.  I still love them both.  I have read more books on time travel than on any other subject I can recall.

Mostly, of course,  I am happily secure in my time.  Sometimes as I walk the woods around my home, I wish that I could see these same forests and streams 250 years ago, when Europeans were just beginning to settle here.  Sometimes when I teach my class about the American Revolution, I wish that I could stand on the banks of the Concord River and look at the first North Bridge, as it stood in April of 1775.   But most of the time, I’m fine with my very own time. Really!

Its just that once in a while when I am not paying strict attention, time seems to slip just a bit, and I hit one of those “wrinkles” in the ribbon of my life.

This morning I was walking the dogs.  I walked around the block, and down a few streets, hoping to get some of the energy out of our poor cabin-fevered pups.  As we headed back toward the house, I wasn’t really focused on the here and now.  My mind was wandering, slipping forward and back again.  I thought about the upcoming gardening season, and what I should plant. I tossed around some new ideas for my classroom, and wondered how to reassure the parent who doesn’t feel comfortable with my use of an on-line discussion board for homework.

I thought about dinner.  I thought about new shoes.  My mind was happily jumping around, as it only does when I am truly relaxed.

As we came down the street toward our property, I steered the dogs toward the break in the trees that we used to use to move our old camper in and out of the yard. I took the little shortcut back toward our house, happily looking around for signs of spring.

I stepped out of the trees, and onto our big patch of rye grass. My eye fell on the spot where the ground slopes down into a natural, sandy pool.  And before I could catch up with it, my brain thought, “Maybe this summer the kids will……..”

And I was suddenly and profoundly reminded that the kids are gone.

Like a slap in the face.  Like a dousing of ice cold water.   Like the sound of derisive laughter.

The kids don’t live here any more.  They grew up. They don’t play in the yard, run the sprinkler, dig in the sand.

How did I manage to lose track of that fact, even for a second?

I think that it was just a little wrinkle in time.   It isn’t that I still grieve for the days when I held them so close.  It isn’t that I feel unready to move into the next part of my life.  I live a full and busy life in the here and now.  I am not always looking back.  I’m really not!

But just for a little moment there, just for a brief second, I saw my kids in the sunshine before me.  I saw them laughing and running, getting ready for summer.  I saw them.

I stepped into a little wrinkle in time.

This street.

Last evening I was out walking along our street.  It was a hot, muggy night, and the neighborhood was nearly silent.  I was alone as I walked past the fence next door, and down the hill toward the bus stop.

I wonder how many times I have walked this same path?  Going back 21 years, to when we first arrived, how many times have my feet landed on the very same stones?

I remember walking with my little girl in the weeks before our second child was born. I clearly remember having the realization that I had better make sure to head downhill instead of up as I made the loop of our streets; by the end of that pregnancy, I needed my husband to push from behind if I was going to be moving uphill at all!

I remember countless early morning walks to the bus stop, and countless late afternoon pickups there.  The time when I left sleeping baby Matt in his crib, and went to the bus stop with baby monitor in hand to wait for Kate to get off the kindergarten bus.  The icy January day when the bus failed to arrive, and the moms all huddled in one car, with cranky bundled toddlers on our laps, to figure out what to do.  With no cell phones yet, we decided we’d all head home except for one who stayed at the stop. One made the call to the bus company and quickly spread the word that the bus was stuck on a steep hill and was being rescued by a sand truck. Such sweet relief, and such a sense of community with the other Moms!

I remember the day when Tim got off the bus barely breathing, his asthma had become so severe on the long ride home.  How slowly we walked home that day, and how I berated myself for not having Ventolin in my pocket!

I remember so many first days of school.  The kids lining up, new backpacks on display, posing for pictures. I remember little Alex, his hair carefully combed, grinning in the sunshine.  I remember the nerves, the mad dashes out the door; I remember chasing the bus to put the kids on at the next stop.

As I rounded the corner last night, I looked up the length of our street.  At the places where the tops of trees had been snapped off by ice, and places where new young trees crowded the driveways.

I remembered the kids riding bikes up and down, yelling and calling out to each other.  I could see them playing “Orphans” at the end of the drive, using sticks and little stones to dam up the snowmelt into “rivers”.  I remember dogs now gone, racing around our legs as we walked.  I remember the big, gentle horse who lived for a time next door to us, and who showed up unexpectedly one morning on our lawn, looking as confused as I was.  He seemed grateful when I hesitantly lead him back home to his stall.

I remember other summer evenings.  Walking in the dusk with the kids.  Smelling the coming fall, checking the garden for pumpkins.

How many times have I walked this path, and how many memories have I stored up to revisit?

The smell of childhood

Some things seem to last forever.  Sometimes you can bite into a food, and be instantly transported back in time to a special dinner, a certain holiday, a loved kitchen table.  Sometimes you catch a glimpse of a face or a view or a curving road, and you are flooded with memories of times gone by.

But for me, it is the smells in the world that are the most evocative.  Certain smells are little puffs of time travel, sweeping me back on their fragrant winds.

Yesterday was a hot, dry, sunny day.  I mowed the lawn, and then did a little weeding in the flower beds.  The soil looked powdery and dry, so I set up the sprinkler and turned it on full.  I went inside to watch the Red Sox and read my book.  After an hour or so, I stepped outside and turned the water off.  The sun was shining down hard, and the yard was filled with hot, moist steam, rising off the grass.  Every flower, every leaf, every stem was covered in dazzling diamonds as the sun struck each little drop.  I stood on the steps, in my bare feet, the warm water like a little bath for my wiggling toes.  I breathed in deep, and closed my eyes.

The wet, hot smell of the grass pulled me back, back, back and I could suddenly remember every detail of running through the sprinkler in my family back yard.  I could feel the slickness of the grass on my feet.  My skin remembered the sweet sudden shock of cold drops of water on my sun warmed back.  My lips recalled the taste of those little drops as they made their way down from my wet hair, over my forehead and down my nose, to land as salty treats in my mouth.

I could hear my sister’s voice, laughing, calling, the two of us taking turns running full speed toward the whirling sprinkler, trying to jump right over it as it spun and splashed.  I could see our friends, with their wet ponytails swinging, racing through the cold spray.

I remembered, too, the taste of popsicles, snow cones and drumstick ice creams.  I remembered us all trying to walk on the scorching sidewalk, challenging each other to see who could last the longest.  I remembered the feeling of freedom, the sense that each day would last a week, and each week a year.  The feeling that summer would be an endless stretch of beach trips, waiting for the ice cream man, neighborhood games of “52 Scatter”, and marathon sessions of “Risk”.

I stood on my steps, in my empty, silent yard.  I tilted back my head, drawing in one more summery breath of childhood revisited.  I held that breath for as long as I could, letting it out slowly and with regret. I turned and went back inside.

Publicize? Or not?


Taking a big old risk here.  I have a question for anyone out there who happens to have logged on (Patty, I know you are there!  Mom, you are, too! Auntie T, you are my best inspiration!)   I started this blog as therapy last September. I wrote my deepest pain and thorniest issues and every week more people seemed to be reading it. I was surprised and scared and thrilled. I mean, I’ll be honest, since the age of about 10, I thought that one day I would be a writer.  People I didn’t even KNOW were reading my words!  Yikes and yikes again!!

Then, after hitting a peak in April, my readers have fallen off sharply.  I am left with several questions, and I am asking you to answer them (please???? even if you are my friend or relation?)

1) Why do I care? Why am I reading the site stats anyway? If this is supposed to be therapy, does it matter if anyone reads it other than me?

2) Am I just plain whining at this point?  I mean, even I am confused by my mix of “where are my kids?” and “why are my kids all here all the time?”  Did I get wicked boring? (fishing…)

3) Since it is obvious that I DO, in fact, care……should I take some steps to get my blog “out there”?  Like, for example, should I turn on the “publicize” feature, which means that FB will announce each new blog? (cringe…….)

I feel embarrassed, sweaty, red faced and ridiculous when I envision my friends and relations thinking, “Oh, jeez, time to block her……”   I don’t want  people to read because they are feeling guilty (“I knew her in High School. I should just click on it….”).  But I really, really liked having those comments from people I didn’t know!  I got some from Europe!  And New Zealand!  Who WERE those people? And why did they read my little blog?

So….if you are one of the few folks left who is clicking on this blog….what do you advise?  Publicize, or just keep utilizing this wonderfully low cost therapy?  Enjoy the anonymity, or go for the public voice?     I am putting myself in your hands!  What do you say?

And I think you can log on without using your real name, if what you want to say is, “Seriously.  Stop it.”


Losing my voice

So if you are a somewhat regular reader of this blog, you are no doubt thinking the same thought that I have been thinking recently:

What the heck?  These blogs are getting so boring and so mundane!

Well, yes.  Yes, they are.

I have been really wondering about this phenomenon lately.   I seem to have totally lost my voice.  I no longer feel the intensity of emotion that crafted the first ten months of this blog. I no longer suffer from the pain and sorrow of the newly empty nest, and I no longer feel the deep, sweet pain that colored my first entries.

The kids have moved back home, temporarily, but intensively.  They are here, they have brought their food, their soaps and shampoos and lotion. They have piled up their shoes, their shirts, their towels. The refrigerator is filled with tempeh and tofu and all natural yogurts.  The cabinets overflow with brown rice and craisins and herbal teas.  I can’t walk into the laundry room without tripping over someone’s shoes or sleeping bag or hamper.  I fumble my way around my own closets, pushing aside winter coats and hiking boots to find my vaccuum.  The nest is filled, to overflowing.

And so I have lost my voice.  My writing was shaped by my pain.  It was created and ordered by the depth of my sadness as I contemplated my empty, childless house, devoid of chaos or clutter or laughter or tears.  I hated the empty nest and all that it implied, and I used that hatred to create my early entries. I was lost, and I was articulate.

Now, I am surrounded by a steady swirl of children, returning to the house to eat, or sleep or sing or do laundry.  Each day brings a new surprise, a new face, a group to feed or entertain.  I am happy once again as I clean and organize and cook and eat and laugh.  My heart is filled and my blog is empty.

If you read this blog, and if you find something here that speaks to you, I ask you to show patience.  This summer of visits and dinners and grown children come home will soon be at an end, and I will return, with all of my sadness intact, to the world of the “empty nest.”  My voice, alas, will return.

My mother


When I was a child, my mother was the center of my universe.  She was the holder of all knowledge, the keeper of all that was important in our lives, the provider of advice, and wisdom and acceptance.

I spent my entire adolescence trying to be as good as my Mom; as worthy a woman, as loving, as accomplished, as confident.   I wanted to grow up to be her.

In my late twenties, I finally had a chance to emulate Mom.  My first child was born, and I was eager to achieve the same level of incredible Mommy wonderfulness that I felt my Mom had achieved.  I cooked nutritious dinners, read bed-time books, rocked and hugged and kept the house clean.  I tried my very best to live up to the unspoken expectations of being Zena’s daughter.

I remember a night, when I was about 13.  I woke up from a terrible, gut wrenching dream.  In that dream, my Mom had died.   I had watched as her body was taken out of our house, but it had only been put in the garage, awaiting the weekly trash pick up.  In my sorrowful dream, Mom was waiting patiently on a shelf in the garage, unable to leave or to come back upstairs, aware that she had died.  But she was awake and alert, giving me advice and orders, even from her perch on the other side. “Put away the syrup.”, she said, “Give the boys the rest of the pancakes, but be sure that you put the syrup away.” In my dream, heartbroken and sobbing, I had cleared the kitchen table, carefully put the remaining maple syrup into the refrigerator, then turned to embrace my mother, who was about to leave us forever.  And in that dream she gave me a hug, a bit cursory and cool, then held me by the shoulders to say, “Make sure that you always put away the food after you eat.”

And then she was gone.

So what is the message in this strangely sad dream, recalled after more than 40 years? Is it that we need to always put away food? I don’t think that was the intention of the dream.

Is the message that we should value those we love while we still have them?  As valuable a message as this is, I don’t know that this situation would have been the one to bring it to focus.

So what did I learn from this old dream?

I learned that it is in the very mundane and casual details that the essence of every situation can be found.  I learned that it is important to put away the syrup, if the syrup has some meaning to the family. I think that the message of the dream is that we must work hard to protect those ideas that serve as the backbone of our lives.  We must embrace and accept and hold on to all of those ideas that make our families what they are.

I look at my children, coming and going from our house this summer.  And I am reminded that I am both “the center of the universe” and the “holder of all knowledge”.