No Guilt Nonni


Oh, my. Poor Nonni.

If you’ve read my recent post about snow tubing, you’ll know that I have a pretty badly bruised right arm and some cracked or bruised ribs.

This is, without a doubt, my biggest ever “ouchie”. I am finding it very hard to sleep (did you know that you need your thoracic ribs to roll over?), to laugh (holy chest pain), to sneeze (catch me, I’m going to faint) or to cough (I’m going to throw up, I mean it, get that bucket, I am serious!)

My right arm just keeps swelling, getting more and more purple/black/orange/blue/yellow with every passing hour.

Me no likies. Me wicked sore.

Nevertheless, being Nonni, I agreed to watch the kids yesterday. My daughter stepped up on Tuesday, so I did get a whole day of rest after my big tubing adventure.

But after that, I really wanted to see the kids. I missed them! I needed them! So yesterday I took care of my two grandchildren. I wanted them. I needed to be with them.

And I wanted to prove that I could handle a little ol’ tubing crash without missing a beat.

So I lifted Johnny with my left arm (ouch. I didn’t know my ribs would be so connected). I snuggled Ellie on my lap (Yikes, did you know your ribs were connected to your lap?) I changed some diapers and served some meals and some snacks. I helped Johnny climb into his crib for a nap (oh, man, ribs are used for lifting on the other side?), but I had to lift him out when he woke up (ouch, ow, ow, ouw).

You get the picture, right?

One cannot Nonni with only one working arm.

Last night I woke up every time I tried to 1) roll over 2) cough 3) breathe. Every rib I have ever met seemed to be screaming at me.

When I got up this morning, I was surprised (and completely disgusted) to see that my entire right arm was swollen like a sausage.

Yuck.

But what could a Nonni do? I got up, took my shower without looking at the ugly purple appendage on my right, and got ready to take care of the kids.

I tried. I did.

But.

You cannot wrestle an 18 month old boy out of his poopie clothes and into his clean ones without your ribs. You can’t snuggle a sad 3 year old in your arms without using your right arm. No matter how hard you try, you can’t wipe down two wet dogs with one working arm. You can’t make pasta, or a sandwich, or get a snack for three hungry toddlers without dragging that aching right arm into service.

So.

I did it.

I did what no self-respecting Italian Nonni would ever do.

I asked for help.

I texted my daughter, telling her that I wasn’t able to keep the kids safe with my one working arm. I told her that she needed to come home from work early, and that I didn’t think I should have the kids tomorrow.

I felt breathless with guilt. I felt weak, worthless, upset, guilty.

And then my daughter came home.

“Mom,” she said calmly, “You’re hurt. You can’t watch the kids. It’s fine.”

And just like that, the guilt and weakness and oh-poor-me lifted off of me.

Tomorrow I plan to sit still, with ice on my arm. I plan to read. I plan to take my ibuprofen and use my ice packs.

Tomorrow I will be Boo-Boo Nonni instead of Super Nonni. And I will be OK with that.

It isn’t easy, let me tell you, but even an Italian Nonni can find a way to give her swollen purple arm and her smashed up ribs a chance to heal.

Thanks, Kate!!!

This was the first night….you should see how gross it is now…….

Who Are They?


I had the grandchildren today, for the first time in almost two weeks. I was absolutely filled with joy to have them back.

But I was also absolutely beat beyond belief when they went home.

So after they left, I started dinner, and poured a big glass of wine. Then I went out into my hot tub.

I turned on the jets, aiming at the sorest parts of my neck and shoulders. I sipped. I sighed. I laid my head back against the side of the tub. And I looked up.

I saw the many stars arching above me. I saw the undersides of the trees around my yard.

And I saw the blinking lights of the jets passing by so far overhead.

I couldn’t help but wonder. Who’s up there? Where are they going?

I live in Northern Massachusetts, so I know the general flight paths that cross over my head. I know that many of the flights coming from my West will turn toward the North, to Canada and the maritimes. The ones that come from my South will eventually make their way toward the Canadian maritimes, and will then swing out across the North Atlantic toward Northern Europe, or they’ll turn toward the South and aim for somewhere to my West.

I watched the lights crossing my sky. I thought about the passengers whose flights I was seeing.

Of course I had no idea who was up there, but that’s the beauty of it, right? I was able to make them up. To imagine the lives of the people who were silently intersecting with my own life.

Maybe, on this flight from West to East, there was a woman in her 70s. Maybe she had lost her husband five years ago, and was struggling mightily to move forward into some kind of future. I pictured her opening a letter from an old friend, someone she’d known decades ago in college. “Come to visit, please!” I pictured the note saying, “I’ll meet you in Shannon and drive you out to our place in Connemara. You can meet our friends and have some fun.” I saw the women frowning, shaking her gray head. I saw her waking up in the darkest part of her lonely night, reading the note again.

I imagined her buying her ticket, telling herself to go.

I wished her all the best as her flight crossed my path.

Then there was the jet that ran from South to North, too high in the sky to have come from Boston.

On this one, I saw a young woman. I imagined her feeling stuck in a dead end job, wondering where all of her dreams had gone. I saw her in her little apartment in Charleston, eating a lonely take out meal and opening her mail.

Now I pictured her on the flight above me, heading toward a meeting with a man she had so far only met online. I could imagine her friends telling her to go, but to be careful. I saw her mother, looking very much like me, telling her not to go. Telling her that she could find someone right here, right in our very own town.

I saw her, as my head lay back against the edge of my hot tub. I saw her brown hair, recently done up with highlights. I saw the hope in her heart and the caution in her mind.

I watched her fly across my deck. I waved as she passed. I wished her luck and courage and strength and love.

Our lives cross back and forth every day with so many people we will never meet. How lovely to imagine their paths. How powerful to wish them well.

Who are you up there?

I Dreamed of My Father


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

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

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

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

I dreamed of my Dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the visit was over.

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

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

It was him. He was here.

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

Dad and I, once upon a time.

Pretending


I’m 62 years old. My back hurts pretty much every damn day. My neck is stiff. My knees are achy.

But.

I’m Nonni.

I have kids here in my house. Ergo: I must pretend.

Today my little Ellie asked to watch her favorite movie, “Frozen.” I agreed right away because I love the music in this movie. And I love the lesson that it teaches, too. “True love” isn’t necessarily found in the arms of the cute guy who makes you swoon.

True love is found when one truly loves.

Great theme. Great music. Great imagery in the movie.

So when Ellie asked to watch, I was happy to say, “Sure!”

But.

After watching roughly a quarter of the movie, Ellie announced, “I’m done with the movie, Nonni. Turn it off!”

And I did.

Which meant that Ellie came running into the room with her “Elsa dress”, asking me to zip her into the dress and give her “one big braid”, just like Elsa. I did what I was told to do and before I knew it, I found myself playing the role of little sister “Anna” to Ellie’s Queen “Elsa.”

Now, given the fact that we have little Johnny in our care, as well as two small but energetic dogs, we had pretty much the main cast of the movie right in our living room.

“You’re Anna!” Ellie told me. “You need to try to follow me, but I will run away!”

Johnny was given the role of Olaf, the snowman. Lennie was the snowmonster and silly Bentley was put in the role of “Sven” the goofy reindeer.

To be clear, we didn’t actually follow the story line of the movie. But we did spend almost an entire day running up and down the hall in our house, shouting with intense emotion.

“Elsa!” I would yell, “My dear sister!! Don’t leave me!”

“Stay back!!! Stay away!!!!” Ellie yelled back over and over again, “I love you, but I will freeze your heart!”

“ahhhhhha! Mmmmmmah!” Johnny/Olaf crowed every time the two of us ran down the hall.

“Grrffffff..mmmmmmm…..?” the dogs would whine as we ran past them through the house.

This went on for hours. The entire day was taken up with Elsa, Anna, Olaf and the meaning of “true love.”

And as I sit here tonight, my back throbbing and my neck sore, I think I understand what Princess Anna meant when she talked about true love.

I think she meant the joy that an old lady could feel when asked to pretend once again. I thinks she meant the feeling that a Nonni could feel while sitting back and watching her grandchildren completely embrace the role of magical movie characters.

When I held Ellie on my knee today, watching the end of the movie, I was overwhelmed with the magic when she turned and whispered in my ear, “Look, look! That’s me making the ice castle! Look! It’s me sending you away!”

Ellie lived completely within that movie today. She WAS Elsa, the Queen who was afraid of her own emotions. And that let me live for a while as Anna, the Princess who loved and trusted her sister.

What a gift.

What an amazing and incredible gift it is to spend time in the imaginary world of the very young.

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Yup. That’s Ellie and me. Looking amazing.

Pez Hoarding


I had a great day today.  I took my sister Liz to see a live production of the Wizard of Oz. When we were kids, she absolutely loved that movie. It used to run on the weekend after Thanksgiving, back in the days of yore, when you could only watch a movie if it was shown on network TV. We waited all year for it, and my parents would let us all stay up late to sing along with the Munchkins and shrink in fear from the flying monkeys.

When we were in High School, my sister performed in a spoof of the Wiz of Oz at her Senior Talent Night. That meant that for the next few decades every birthday, Christmas and joke gift to Liz had a Wizard of Oz theme. She’s got the flying monkey signs, the Wicked Witch cups, the planters, dish towels, earrings, ruby slipper socks and Tinman toenail clippers.

She even has two complete sets of Wizard of Oz Pez dispensers.

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I know this because my three year old granddaughter Ellie came with us to the show today. As usual, Auntie Lizzie was her generous and thoughtful self. After the show, when the three of us went out for dinner, Liz pulled out a beautifully wrapped gift with Ellie’s name on it.

Inside the package was a really cute t-shirt with Dorothy’s blue gingham dress printed on the front. Ellie gave it a quick glance, but then went right for the second item in the wrapping.

It was a complete set of those Pez dispensers.

You remember Pez, right? Those weirdly creepy plastic toys wearing the heads of popular figures from TV and the movies? The heads that you could flip back with just a quick flick of your thumb, nearly decapitating the character you loved? And right there under the wrenched-back head, right where the old Adam’s apple should be, you’d find a rounded rectangular piece of candy in some pastel shade. That little coffin shaped goody would poke right out of Mickey Mouse’s slit throat and you’d pop it into your happy little kid mouth.

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Sort of explains a few things about the mental state of today’s adults, I guess. But I digress.

Anyway, Ellie recognized the familiar faces of the characters from the show, but she had no idea what the toys were supposed to do. We took them out of the plastic and she started to play with them. The Cowardly Lion was dancing around the table with the Wicked Witch and all was well.

But then she noticed the candy. “What are these?” she asked in pure innocence.

Now, Auntie Lizzie loves us all very much. She doesn’t have any intention of poisoning her great niece. So she pulled out one of the packages and reminded me that she’d been hanging onto the set for a while.

“These candies are OLD,” she said sternly. “Like….old.”

“Years,” I suggested.

She shook her head. “Decades.”

The people at the next table were listening in. They were about our age, so they recognized the Pez dispensers for what they were. I could tell they wanted to see us fill up all those plastic necks with pastel coffins.

Ellie sat there quietly, holding onto the packaged candy, waiting for one of the adults to make a move.

“They probably shouldn’t be eaten, ” Liz said.

I held one pack in my hand. It was wrapped tightly in cellophane. Under that was a paper wrapper that contained a foil wrapper. And of course the whole damn set had been sealed in that super thick plastic that you have to cut with a blow torch to even open.

I decided it would be safe to try one.

Besides, I wanted to see if I could still remember how to load them up.

So for the next five minutes Liz and I, the people at the next table, and one young waitress all worked on remembering how to stuff candy pellets into the Scarecrow’s esophagus. We had to do it one at a time, even though I’m pretty sure that in my youth I could slide a whole package into the plastic gullet with one move.

Anyway, at some point, I popped one of the pink candies into my mouth. It sat there for a minute, tasting like a chunk of plastic. Gradually, slowly, it softened just enough to emit a faint taste of something between chalk and sugar. It was hard as a rock and I had to use my imagination just a bit to detect anything you might call “flavor.” I tried to bite it, but feared that my jaw would break. So I tucked it into my cheek and waited.

The crowd of onlookers was spellbound.

“Well?” Liz asked.

“It tastes exactly the same as it did 40 years ago! Hasn’t changed with age!”

Everyone took a breath and we all started to chatter. We realized after a little bit that Pez were invented back in the days of “Tang“, the powdered orange juice that was supposed to be preserved well enough to travel into space. It came of age in the time of freeze dried soups and Velveeta cheese product.

In other words, those little pastel coffins will probably outlast both Liz and me, not to mention the folks at the other table.

“In fact,” I said after swallowing the last bit of candy, “If there’s ever a nuclear holocaust and we’re the only remaining survivors, we could probably live off these things!”

Can’t you just picture it?

A dark bunker, somewhere deep underground. One dim light burns. There are a few human figures huddled around. Two of them are chubby gray haired ladies wrapped in baggy sweatshirts.

One of the old ladies is clutching something in her hand. She shuffles over to her sister and the two crouch in a corner, stealthily sneaking a life saving snack into their now toothless mouths.

What is it that they hold so closely, so secretly? What is it that keeps them alive in such stark surroundings?

Why, it’s Glinda the Good Witch. With one swift move, the older sister tears back Glinda’s shiny pink head and a little yellow coffin pops out below her chin. The younger sister grabs it and tucks it between her gums.

They cackle.

“Good thing we were hoarding Pez for all these years, right, sister?”

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“I’m even creepier with my head ripped off.”

 

 

Those Long, Long Days


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

Like. For-freakin’-ever.

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

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

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

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

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

But now I’m older and wiser.

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

I’ll give you an example.

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to lie down.

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

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

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

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

Life is short. And every year it gets shorter.

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

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

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

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Heaven is a puddle on a sunny fall day.

The Amazing Oozing Puppy


When we adopted our latest doggy, little Bentley, we were told that he was sweet, affectionate, funny and sometimes stubborn.

Nobody mentioned the fact that this adorable little basset hound/ black lab mix has the incredible ability to ooze across the floor like a freakin’ amoeba.

No. We were left to discover this skill on our own.

Here is how it works.

I sit the kids down at the table to eat breakfast. I serve up some fruit and some nice buttery waffles.

Bentley immediately jumps to attention and runs under the table. As the strong, alpha, leader member of our family pack, I stand up and command, “Bentley, out!” My adorable little floppy eared baby boy looks up at me as if he has never heard this word before. “Out?”, his big brown eyes ask, “you mean, like sit down and beg?”

“OUT!” I say more sternly.

“You mean crouch down under Johnny’s baby seat?” the puppy asks, all innocence and sweetness.

“OUTIE OUT OUT OUT!!!!” I cry.

Bentley lowers his head, and acts as if he’s embarrassed by my lack of self control.

I flash back to the wonderful puppy training classes that we took with Lennie when he was an obnoxious little pain our new puppy. I remember how our trainers, Karen and Claudia, told us to use positive reinforcement to get the dogs to obey.

I change my tone, and grab a few little treats. “Bennie, honey, come!” I hold out my hand. Bentley looks at me and conveys the words “you gotta be kidding” with his eyebrows.  I go to the fridge and grab a piece of cheese.

“Bentley,” I say firmly. “Come.” I hold out the cheese.

He comes. He eats the cheese in the living room, away from the kids. “Good boy!” I say. “Now stay!”

I go back to the table, serving up more fruit and toast and a couple of newly toasted waffles. The kids eat. I sip my coffee.

I look for Ben.

He is lying on the floor, his nose just barely across the dividing line between “under the table” and “out.” I can’t really object because, you know, most of him is actually “out.” I sip my coffee. I take a bite of toast. I glance back at the doggie.

H’m.

He is in the exact same position as the last time I checked on him. Nose on paws, looking half asleep.

But now he’s four inches closer to the table. How did he DO that? I frown. “Stay out”, I tell him sternly.

Johnny asks for more fruit. By shrieking at the top of his lungs. I grab the bowl of apples and kiwis and start to slice. I give John a helping. I glance back at Bentley.

Same damn position. Same appearance of sleep.

But now his big nose is within an inch of my foot.

“Ben!” I hiss. “Stay. Out.”

He looks up at me, his entire demeanor one of innocent outrage. “I haven’t MOVED”, his face proclaims.

But then….how is it that he is suddenly all the way under Johnny’s chair? He’s still lying still, still resting his nose on his big paws. Still looking Totally. Innocent.

Really?

What the absolute hell, I ask myself. Has anyone else out there ever experienced the phenomenon of a dog who can actually ooze across an entire room? I swear, this dog is like an oil spill. You think he’s contained. You don’t ever see him move. But there he is, all the way across the room from where you thought you had planted him.

It’s a damn good thing he’s so cute. Or else I’d be ready to mop him up with a ShamWow and send him off to someone in need of a nice oozing puppy to slide across the bed and land on their backbone at midnight.

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Oozing my way into your hearts!!!

Just a Ripple in Time


Girls at play

I was standing outside today, watching the kids play. It was a beautiful, cool fall day. The leaves were swirling around in the wind and the kids were running up and down the driveway. The smell of the air was musty, leafy, wet and so familiar.

I remembered walking through piles of fall leaves as a kid. I watched my grandchildren kicking the pine needles and leaves in front of themselves, and I remembered how the crumbly mix used to remind me of old cereal left in the bowl. I could feel myself back 50 years ago, walking through the neighborhood where I grew up.

As the kids raced by me, shrieking and howling and spinning with that special toddler mix of joy and unbounded energy, I realized that I was standing in Momma alert mode. You know what I mean? Johnny was running off to my right, and Ellie and Ella were off to my left. I stood with my feet apart, my hands clasped behind my back. I could survey the entire yard that way, keeping everyone safe and in my view, while still keeping my distance to let them play.

Ellie

There was, I swear, a little ripple in the air, and I suddenly realized that I had stood in that very same spot, so many times, watching different children run and play.

For a moment I almost felt dizzy. I looked hard to my right. Where were my little boys, my Matt and Tim, who used to ride bikes up and down this very same driveway? I turned to the left. Where was my baby girl, my Katie? Shouldn’t she be chasing her friend Jessica across the grass on this beautiful day?

I tilted my head back, looking through the branches of the pines at the bright, clean sky.

Of course my little ones weren’t there. They are grown now.

The shrieking, jumping, dancing little whirlwinds in front of me are Kate’s children, and Jessica’s.

The sky is the same. The grass is still my grass. My house stands right where it has stood for all these years. Some of the pines have come down, and there are newer, smaller trees. But the wind is the same, the smell is the same, the crushed brown mixture of cereal bowl leaves and needles is just the very same as it has been for all of my adult life.

I stand in the cool sun, my hands clasped behind my back. I close my eyes, just for a moment, standing perfectly still.

I hear them laughing and calling, I hear those playful voices. In this moment, I am not sure who it is I’m listening to.

 

Happy Labor Day


I have to admit. I have not always been a big supporter of labor unions. At one point in my life, I served on my local School Committee and was charged with negotiating a new contract with our education union.

I admit it. I was frustrated by the union, even though at the time I was a teacher myself. I thought that sometimes they were more focused on themselves than the kids. It made me angry.

But a couple of years after that experience, I took a class on the Industrial Revolution. We went to a bunch of mills, tenements, factories. We read a lot of first hand accounts of the young men and women who worked in these places. We learned about the originally altruistic intentions of the factory owners.

And we learned what happened when competition began to make it harder and harder for the owners to maintain those rich life styles. We learned about the increasingly long hours that were required from each worker, and of the decreasing salaries.

I was surprised to learn that when it became too expensive to pay local workers, the factory owners turned to immigrants to fill those jobs. At the turn of the 20th century, millions of desperately poor immigrants flooded into the United States. Legally. All were welcomed, because they were hungry enough to provide the endless hours of working hands that the new factories required.

Men willingly went to work gutting fish, shucking oysters, canning fish. Women and men signed on for 90 hour work weeks in the textile mills, spinning, weaving, cutting cloth. And children went to work, picking berries, harvesting potatoes, working in the mills and factories of the newly affluent United States.

Our class looked at photos of those immigrants working in our new industries. I saw these.

And I thought about how I would feel if my children were forced to work as these little ones were, just so that our family could survive.

I was shocked. I was brought to tears. This could have been my child. My Italian child. Instead of snuggling in my arms and reading books, or going to kindergarten to learn how to share, my child could have been in this field.

picking-berries

When I learned all of this, when I found out what had happened in my country just around the time that my family arrived from Italy, I was overwhelmed with anger and sorrow.

How could this have happened? How could children and desperate mothers be forced to work in such terrible conditions? How could this be the story of my country?

Luckily for me, our class went on to study the labor movement. We read “Bread and Roses” and “Triangle“. We learned about corporate greed and about desperate workers. We read letters and news reports and books and stories.

We learned about the people who stood up for their basic human rights.

We were taught the story of the American Labor Movement. And I was able to shake off my grief and embrace the power of united workers, united and supportive average Americans.

The professor taught us about the first Labor Day, and the significance of it’s recognition.

So.

I no longer feel frustrated when teachers demand a quiet place to work and plan. I no longer think that unions are simply self-serving.

Now I know that in the absence of workers’ unions, we would not have a forty hour work week, or mandated weekends. We wouldn’t have sick time, or vacations, or health insurance.

We would have no child labor laws. Can you even imagine?

Now I know that on Labor Day, we need to look at the tender faces of those little children working endless hours in terrible places. I know that we need to pull up the images of five and six year olds facing a life of physical labor, with no hope of education or betterment or a happy and healthy future.

Happy Labor Day.

I hope that on this Labor Day you will enjoy your cheeseburgers and your families and your ice cold beers. But I also hope that you’ll take a minute to think about the 146 young workers who died in the Triangle Fire. I hope that you’ll spare a thought for the thousands of little children who labored in our textile factories and our fish canneries and our berry farms.

I hope that you will raise a glass to the Union movement and that you will give a silent salute to those workers who fought and suffered and sacrificed so that we could have a weekend like this one.

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Try To Remember….


….the kind of September….

When I was a teacher. Try to remember the late August days that used to bring me anxiety, excitement, joy, a sense of purpose, lost sleep and far too many credit card charges at Michael’s Crafts.

I do remember.

I remember what it felt like to watch those precious days of summer begin to fade. I remember the excitement of facing a new school year.

I remember seeing my class list, and recognizing some of the names. I remember knowing some of the siblings of “my” kids. Knowing some of their parents. Recognizing the faces and thinking, “how can she be in fifth grade already?”

I miss those days. I miss them.

I miss the little heart flutters that used to come with printing out the tags to go in each hallway cubby. I miss the pleasure of opening up new boxes of clean, pure notebooks.  I miss throwing out the old broken crayons and replacing them with new, whole, optimistic replacements.

I miss the new books. The clean desks and shiny new pens.

I miss it.

I miss the long walks that I used to take in the week before school started, memorizing my list of students in alphabetical order. Walking, and reciting, and walking some more. “Adams, Bates, Cohen, Chevaliar, Dulakis…..”

I miss the first day of school, when I would look each child in the eye and tell them how nervous I was about meeting them. I’d tell them about waking up at night, worrying that they might not like me. I would laugh as I told them about picking out my first day of school outfit, and changing my mind five times before the first day.

I loved being a teacher. I loved the joy of taking a group of disparate souls and helping them to form a cohesive classroom unit.

Mostly I miss those completely unexpected moments when all 25 of us would break out in laughter.  I miss the hugs. I miss the snacks. The history lessons, the incredibly touching and surprising written words. I miss the smiles, the frowns, the pushing back against my “authority”.

I was a good teacher. I loved being with my students every day.

I wish that I hadn’t been pushed out of my classroom by an insecure and over controlling administrator.

I wish that this was that week when my stomach would fill with butterflies and my heart would skip some of its beats. I with that I was in my classroom, placing name tags on desks and getting ready to know and love and laugh with a whole new group of inspiring young people.

I remember what it felt like to come to the end of August knowing that you were about to enter a demanding and fulfilling September.

I remember.

And I’m sad.

I wish that I was one of those lucky teachers spending this week opening boxes of brand new markers.

I miss it.

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My old self……