My mother was beautiful. She was elegant and stylish. She always looked immaculately put together and ready for anything.
She was a wonderful cook, and was able to keep 6 kids and our Dad happy, well fed, and healthy on a very tight budget.
Mom was an artist, and could paint and draw in ways that left me amazed.
As the oldest daughter in a family of six children, I grew up very much in awe of my Mother. She was fiercely opinionated, always outspoken and she never backed down from a conflict. I remember her as the champion of young girls in town when one historically snowy winter had her contacting the principal of the local Junior High School to demand that her daughters be allowed to wear pants to school. “I will send my daughters in skirts when all the boys have to walk to school with bare legs, too.”
She was my hero.
By the time I was old enough to understand the concept of time, I wanted to grow up to be exactly like my Mother. I wanted to be smart. I wanted to be artistic. I yearned to know how to cook and I was determined to become a mother myself.
So much of my life has seen me happily copying my Mom. So much of it has seen me wanting to echo her strength and her resilience.
But something has changed in the past few years, and it has shown me that my mother can still teach me lessons even as I reach the age of Medicare.
Mom is 91 years old now. She has overcome cancer, pneumonia and even Covid 19. She still lives in the house where she raised all of us, where she cared for our Dad through several illnesses, and where she watched as he died.
Most of her children are still around her, still sharing meals in that same kitchen, still watching TV in that same room.
Along with my brothers and sisters, I try to take my turn visiting Mom, and doing what little I can to help take care of her. She has a lovely woman living there as her Home Health Aide. She watches TV, and naps in her favorite chair, with her sweet little kitty on her lap.
I come to visit, bringing home made soup or a pasta dish. We chat and smile and watch a bit of TV.
Then I get back into my car and head home. And I think, for the first time in all of my long life, “Please, universe, please don’t let me be just like my Mom. I don’t want to live as long as she has.” Please don’t let me follow in her footsteps as she gets to the end of her path.
I love this life. I have had a wonderful, joyful, hilarious time on this funny planet. I am in no real hurry to leave.
But please, dear Universe and gods and goddesses and fates, please don’t let me live so long that I am unable to cook my own dinner. Please don’t let me live to be a woman who can no longer sing, or swim in the ocean, or pick my own herbs, or write a blog post, or read a good story. Please don’t hang onto me so long that my children worry over who will weed my garden and who will wash my hair.
Life is a sacred gift. Each of us has our turn on center stage. Life is a fabulous blessing.
I am eternally grateful for the life I have been given.
Please let me squeeze lots more laughter out of it. But please, please, send me on to the next big adventure before I am unable to remember the pleasures that came with this one.
I love spring. I really do. I love the smell of wet earth and the sight of the first few robins. I love Easter, and stale Peeps and the first time we roll out the grill and make some burgers.
But I’m realizing that there are certain parts of the spring ritual that are not really designed for the elderly. Especially the elderly like me who have the kind of memory issues that make us forget the arthritis in our spines and the nerve issues in our necks.
Today was a beautiful day out here in North Central Massachusetts. It’s been a pretty dry and pretty warm March. My crocuses are open and the daffodils and tulips are poking their heads up through the straw that I put over them last November.
Today was the first day of this year when the leaves piled on my gardens were thawed enough to rake. It was the first day when the soil was unfrozen, so that I could scrape back the mud and find the emerging shoots.
This was the first day of the miraculous rebirth that comes around every year. Hurrah! Time to get out there, old Nonni! Grab that rake, sweep up all those mouldering old leaves! Find the thyme plant and the phlox and the yellowish tips of the sprouting tulips!
So out I went, with my grandkids in tow. Five year old Ellie grabbed her child’s rake. Three year old Johnny grabbed a trowel. Almost one year old Max sat happily in the grass, but it was obvious that he wanted to taste some sticks and dirt.
With one eye on the baby and one on the barely surviving stems of my two year old hazelnut trees, I started to rake. And I raked, baby, oh did I ever rake. I sang songs to keep Max distracted while I raked every old leaf off the newest flower bed. I gave simple directions to Ellie and Johnny, who were simultaneously raking, arguing and pretending to be superheroes.
The sun was shining, the birds were singing and it felt fabulous to work hard in the springtime air.
Until it didn’t.
One of the funny/not funny parts of getting older is the way my body can alert me at the exact moment when it has had enough. Like a tornado siren on a summer night, it suddenly shrieks out of nowhere, shocking me into the reality that these old bones are no longer thirty. Every tiny nerve ending reacts simultaneously, which means every muscle seizes up and every joint freezes.
I went from Happy Farmer to Sobbing Zombie in about three seconds.
OWWWWWW!!! My thumb was screaming. A blister! And all the skin came off!!!!
YOWWWWW!!!! My lower back was shooting lightning down both legs and I was bent over at a ninety degree angle. I wanted to drop the rake, but my right hand was cramped into a claw.
Why was my calf cramping? And who applied a vise to my achilles tendon?
I took a breath. And wheezed.
Turned my head to look at the kids. My neck cramped.
The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. Step, ouch! Bend, ouch! Lift 25 pound baby, ouch ouchie mcouchums!!!!
I convinced the “big kids” to come inside with the promise of a cookie. Do. Not. Judge.
I am very happy to report that today is a rainy day.
There is no reason for Nonni to drag herself out there and scoop up the mountains of moldy leaves. Today is a day for the heating pad, the ice pack and the play pen.
Spring is a time of wonder and joy. It is flowers and baby birds and rainbows.
It’s also a time to check the mirror and look at the wrinkles before getting carried away in the garden.
Spring is always uplifting, always rejuvenating, always full of hope.
But after watching 64 springs come and go, I know that I can get a little jaded. I mean, of course I’m happy when the first few crocuses open and the daffodils start to push themselves up through the straw and pine needles.
The thing is, I am old enough to know that here in New England, it might snow again before it’s really time to relax and enjoy the weather. Yesterday I walked through my yard and what caught my eye was the mud, the downed branches, the many piles of deer poop all over the place. I saw the winter. I saw the work ahead of Paul and I. My back gave a twinge at the thought of raking up all those moldering oak leaves.
Spring. Yay. Whatevs.
But today. Today was a completely different experience.
That’s because today my grandchildren were here with me and we went outside to play right after breakfast. It was cloudy, there were puddles on the driveway, and every step resulted in the squishing of mud and poop and mulch under our boots.
I dragged out a lawn chair and plopped myself down as the kids began to race around the yard.
And they opened up my eyes and my heart in a way that only young children are able to do.
“Nonni!!!!” Johnny shouted it out with all the power of his almost four-year-old lungs. “Nonni! I see a beetle!!!!!!!” The nearly microscopic black beetle was crawling over a tiny rock in my flower bed. I would never have seen it in a million years, but Johnny did. His absolute delight had us both kneeling in the wet grass to watch the tiny creature make his arduous journey.
“Do you think he’s looking for food? Do you know where he’s going? I wonder if he’s a baby or a kid or a grownup bug.”
I had no idea, but I was thrilled to watch the light shining off of the back of the little beetle, seeing it reflected in John’s dark eyes.
“Oh, Nonni!” This time it was five year old Ellie shouting with glee. “Nonni, remember that sand we used to play in? It’s still here!!!”
A part of me chuckled, and thought, “Of course the sand is still here. This is my yard. It has sand.” Unfertile, annoying sand, right there over my septic field.
But the rest of me smiled, and opened my arms. Ellie ran into them, hugged me hard, and raced away to find a bucket. “Sand! And it’s WET! Sand castles!!!”
The kids are amazed and thrilled with everything this spring. The wet sand is an old friend who survived the long, long winter. The tiny beetle is a miraculous creature on his way to great adventures.
The red buds on the tips of the maples? Astonishing! How beautiful they are when we look up and see them against the blue blue sky!!!
The tiny shoots of grass that are beginning to turn green? Wow! Who could have possibly predicted that would happen?
And when the temperature rose suddenly today, and we went from 60 to 78 in a half hour, these two little ones peeled off their shirts and danced in circles around and around the pile of brush that we will need to burn soon.
Like beautiful woodland sprites, the held hands, they turned in circles, they shouted and laughed and kept calling out to me. “Nonni! Look! Do you see it? Oh, Nonni!”
Spring belongs to these young ones. Just as the future belongs to them. The purest joy in simply being alive, breathing in the warming air, celebrating the sight of a butterfly. All of these belong to the youngest among us, who are still innocent enough to be enchanted by it all.
I am so grateful that they are still willing to share that joy and amazement with me. I am so very grateful that I’m able to see the beauty through their eyes.
I know that this makes me look a bit ridiculous to some. I know that people think, “She’s giving up the best part of her retirement!” and “She’s letting herself be taken advantage of!”
I have many friends who tell me, “I am willing to babysit once in a while, but I’m not giving up my hard earned freedom!” They tell me that now is the time to focus on myself. Now is the point in my life when I should just have fun and do whatever I want.
Even after six years, I don’t know exactly how to answer them. I feel a little sheepish, honestly. I feel a little bit lame, a little bit silly.
At the not so tender age of 65, and dealing with a couple of minor health issues, it really can be a challenge to take care of one, or two or sometimes three children under the age of six. Sometimes I have all three for two days in a row, and when they go home, I am truly physically beat. Muscles in me hurt in ways I had never predicted. I’m often asleep by 8 pm.
But why does that matter?
You see, I take care of my grandchildren because every single day with them brings me moments of pure joy.
We older adults don’t often get a chance to dig in the dirt just for fun. We aren’t often asked to dance “really fast” in a circle while holding hands. After six decades of life, most of us don’t experience full on belly laughs that make tears pour down our cheeks.
I don’t know how to explain it, I guess. But I like the feeling of playdoh. I like fingerpaints. And I love walking around the yard with people who are amazed and delighted by a pile of deer poop or a pile of fungus on a log.
I watch my grandkids because I want to.
I just plain want to be with them.
Sure, it helps my daughter and son-in-law. Sure, it gives the kids a chance to leave the house in this pandemic year.
I don’t take care of these three beautiful, happy, loving humans because I want to be a martyr. Or because I want my daughter to feel indebted to me. I don’t do it because it helps them to save money. Or because I feel any sense of guilt or pressure.
I spend my days with these wonderful kids because the people I most enjoy on this lovely earth are people who are very young.
I really, REALLY prefer the company of kids to that of adults. I am good at this nurturing thing. I am! I am delighted to spend my time in the company of people who tell me directly, “Hey, can you be really silly right now?”
There is nothing in life I’d rather do with these wonderful years of hard earned freedom than to spend them with people who make me laugh, who tell me dozens of times a day that they love me, who grin from ear to ear when I sing a ridiculous made up song.
I do this for me. This time spent with my grandchildren is the gift I am giving myself. Nobody needs to think that I’d be better off going out to lunch or shopping or sitting at home with a book. The thought of those things makes my skin itch.
I do this because nothing else in the world would give me this level of pure joy.
Today I had all three kids, and it was busy, and stressful and fun and challenging and exhausting. At various times today, I wiped soup off the wall, wiped a poopy bottom, held a tantruming three year old, stopped a five year old from bossing her brother off of his bike and tick checked three little heads of thick hair.
I also said the word “hug” to a not quite one year old, and received a hug, a series of pats on the back and a heartfelt, “Awwww”. I was asked for snuggles three times, and watched a movie with a sweaty three year old on my lap. I got a kiss and hug from a sweet kindergartener who threw her arms around my neck and said, “Oh, Nonni! I love you so much!”
I would not trade one second of today for all the rest in the world. Not for a week on a private Caribbean island. Not for a billion dollars, or a chance to sleep in, or a month of travel in Europe.
I do what I do every day because joy is fleeting. Children grow too quickly. Life is made for love. I do this because this is what I want.
THIS is my best life. And I am so happy to be living it.
It never fails out here in suburban New England. One dog in the neighborhood lets out a bark, and the one next door feels compelled to answer. Then the hound across the street and the one around the corner join in. Pretty soon the air is filled with the howls and yips of a dozen pups, each one standing as close to their fence as they can possibly get.
So I was thinking this morning, as the canine cacophony made its way around the block, the life of a suburban dog is a lot like life in prison.
No, I mean it!
Think about it. The dog wakes up in the morning. He’s hungry and he has to pee. Can he just head outside and do his business before grabbing a bite to eat? No, sirree. Instead he has to wait patiently until the boss decides it’s time. If he gets frustrated and starts to make trouble, he’ll probably either be ignored or yelled at.
And when he’s finally fed, will he get a plate full of beef and cheese, or at least some toast and peanut butter? Nuh, uh, not in most houses. Instead he’ll get a metal bowl filled with a single scoop of tasteless, overcooked, unidentifiable “food”. Or if he’s lucky, a blob of vaguely meat smelling goop with embedded bits of orange and white stuff.
If he doesn’t eat it, he waits until the boss decides to feed him again.
And what does the dog’s day entail? Mostly boredom, right? He can nap, gaze longingly out the window at the world passing by, and dream of freedom.
If he’s a lucky dog, he’ll get a little time outside in the yard. Of course he’ll be confined inside the fence, or possibly allowed to “walk” alongside the boss. But he definitely won’t get a chance to run into the woods the way he wants. He won’t be allowed to roll himself in a dead animal or dig in someone’s compost pile.
Every minute of his day is controlled by the boss. Will he have a chance to play ball, or fetch a stick? That’s up to the bosses and their moods.
But the most striking similarity between suburban dogs and prison inmates, as far as I can tell, is the way they try desperately to communicate with each other.
Of course, I’ve never stepped foot inside of a human prison, but I do read mysteries and crime novels. I’ve seen Shawshank Redemption about 10 times, too. So I know that lonely inmates yell things to each other from cell to cell. I know that even when they can’t see each other, they call out, make jokes, complain and plot devious methods of escape.
Apparently they sometimes even tap on the walls or bars to send morse code.
They are desperate to connect with others in their same situation. They are determined to share their experiences with sympathetic souls.
Exactly like the dogs in my neighborhood.
Just this morning I was sipping my coffee. I hadn’t fed the dogs yet, but I had let them out the door and into the fenced yard. One of the big dogs down the street let out three loud barks. The little dog across the street from him answered. They went back and forth a couple of times, just short woofs and arfs.
“Gonna be warm.”
“Me, too. And I haven’t pooped yet.”
The next voice to join the conversation belonged to a Shepard mix a few houses past ours. His deep, bell like voice added a note of tension to the exchange.
“I smell chickens! You know the guy across the street is raising chickens, right? Chiiiiiiiiiiiickens!”
“And ducks! Ducks! I smell ducks! I want to eat duuuuuuuucks!”
By now my two dogs were standing at full attention in the farthest corner of the fence. Both had their heads up, noses twitching. Both had hackles raised.
“I WANT OUT!” One of them suddenly howled. “I gotta get outta here!!!” Every dog voice in the area joined the chorus.
Within a minute, the air was filled with howls, rising and falling in the morning air. You would have thought that a pack of wolves was out there. The howls were chilling in their desperate intensity.
The hair on my arms rose.
The inmates had to be restrained before there was an uprising.
“Come on inside, sweeties!” I called. “Time for num nums!”
I shook their metal bowls of crunchy food-like bits.
They came inside, but they weren’t real happy. They sort of slouched past me.
I swear the terrier mumbled something about a breakout.
Yesterday was the birthday of beloved children’s author ‘Dr. Suess’. It was also the day that the company which owns the rights to his books, Dr. Suess Enterprises, announced that it would no longer publish six of his books because of their outdated racist imagery.
Fox News and other conservative outlets spent the day ranting against “cancel culture” and bemoaning the loss of access to Suess’s work. Many, many Americans agreed, and social media was deluged with complaints about censorship, book banning and overreactions by “woke” leftists.
I am here to try to calm a few folks down. The prolific Dr. Suess did write 60 children’s books, after all, so even if six of them fall out of use, it’s not as if the man himself is being erased from history.
Here’s the thing, friends. Society evolves and grows. It changes over time, and that’s a very very good thing.
When my Dad was a child, back in the 1930s, he used to figure out whose turn it was to play by reciting, “Eeny-meeny-miney-moe, catch a n*^#ger by the toe.” By the time I was growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, we said “catch a tiger by the toe.” Because times had changed, and society was showing a bit of progress.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the first Black American actor to achieve success was known as “Stepin Fetchit“. He became a superstar in the 1930s by portraying a lazy, ignorant servant who got the best of his white bosses by refusing to work. Imagine that image on thousands of movie screens.
Now think of Chadwick Bozeman of “Black Panther” Fame. The King of Wakanda. Powerful, brilliant, sexy and strong.
Is it “cancel culture” that we would never again feel comfortable with a character like the former, but we are all in awe of the latter?
And if we want to talk about books, I can think back to the day when one of my favorite books was called “Little Black Sambo”. A little caricature of an African child is being chased by a tiger. He climbs a tree and gets the tiger to run in circles around it until the animal turns into butter (I know, right?) As a small child, I loved the pictures in the book. I loved the idea of tiger butter. I loved the color of the trees in the book. But I never even noticed the grossly enlarged lips or flattened nose of the boy.
I would never even consider showing that book to my grandkids now.
Is that “cancel culture”, or am I just more aware of racial stereotypes 60 years after reading that book? If that makes me “woke”, then I consider it a good thing.
Times change. Societies evolve. What might have looked funny decades ago is less acceptable now. What’s the problem with that?
If anyone feels a particularly deep love for “If I Ran the Zoo”, there are lots of copies in area libraries. Go get one. If somebody grew up just loving “To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street,” keep reading it to your grandkids. Nobody is coming to steal your books. Nobody is planning to throw them on the bonfire.
We’re just evolving and trying be better as humans and as Americans.
I’ve tried to write this piece five times in the past three days, but words keep failing me. Emotions rise up, my fingers tremble and I find myself thinking, “What’s the point of even saying anything?” And I delete everything. Then I try again.
This time I’m not going to think too hard. I’m going to just let it flow. I may need to apologize to some people, so I’ll do that right up front. I’m a teacher; we tend to be polite.
I’m retired now, but I was a teacher for three decades. My daughter is a public school teachers. I count many educators among my closest friends.
In my teaching career, I’ve heard that teachers are lazy. I’ve had many people write or say that teachers have the job so they can work those short days and have lots of vacation time.
In those same years, I’ve arrived at work in the dark so I could meet with a parent who had an early morning job. I’ve stayed at work until well past dark, eating a sandwich at my desk, so I could be available to parents who worked late. I’ve stayed at school so my class could perform a play for their families, show off projects they’d created, share books they had written.
All meaning that I wasn’t with my own kids at the time.
I’ve known colleagues who spent 2 full days of school “vacation” working in their classrooms. I’ve seen veteran teachers enrolling in extra classes so they could learn about new techniques for behavior management. I had a colleague who spent a weekend learning about deafness when she was informed that she’d have a hearing impaired student in her class.
During years of contract negotiations, I’ve had members of the public tell me that teachers are “greedy” because we wanted a 3% raise. I’ve been told that educators are overpaid because they only work 182 days a year. I once had a local man tell me that it was “ridiculous” to expect a salary increase when “the job is the same every year.” This guy lived in a house that I could only dream of, drove a car that cost more than the house I do live in, and vacationed in Europe with his family every year.
I’ve known teachers who bought soccer shoes for kids who couldn’t otherwise play. When I retired and started packing up my stuff, I realized for the first time just how much money I’d spent on supplies, furniture, books, toys, decorations and appliances for my class. Almost every teacher I know has had a stash of snacks for kids who don’t have one.
I recently saw a social media comment saying that “Unions are for teachers and school committees are for students.” As if TEACHERS are not there for STUDENTS. I’ve been told that teachers should learn to “put the kids first.”
I’ve known teachers who have gotten children medical help when parents were unwilling. I’ve known teachers who have gone in early every day for months so that a kid with school phobia could get to the classroom and get settled before the other kids. I can name teachers who have missed lunch twice a week for a year in order to give extra support to a child who needed it. And teachers who have pushed and pushed and pushed until their students were given the mental health and educational support that they needed. I’ve gotten myself in trouble with my administrators for working with kids outside of the school day.
And with all of our wonderful “Education Reform”, teachers have been told to stick strictly to the curriculum, because if we don’t, our kids won’t do well enough on the tests. Our grade level won’t see enough test score improvement. Our school won’t look good. Don’t deviate from the curriculum! No extra lesson on music, just because you’re an expert! No!
At the same time, everybody on the face of the earth tells us that “schools should teach banking skills and social skills and sex education and gardening and nutrition and the pledge of allegiance and health and anti-bullying strategies and anti-racism and why aren’t there more service projects? Why don’t teachers focus on teaching technology skills? And let’s not forget handwriting!
But do. not. deviate. from. the. national. curriculum.
I’ve been at parties where someone hears that I’m a teacher. If I had a nickel for every time someone responds with some variation of “You know what kids today need?”, I’d be able to supply a fifth grade classroom for a decade.
I once had an acquaintance tell me “If those kids had two days with me in charge you wouldn’t see any discipline problems!” This came from someone whose kids I know. Suffice it to say, he was full of crap. He wouldn’t have lasted twenty minutes in my classroom of 25 kids.
Find me a teacher who hasn’t heard someone say, “A swift kick in the butt would fix these kids.” Then let that teacher explain how many hours he spent working up a behavior plan to support the kid who keeps acting out, knowing that the kid’s parents were in the middle of a bitter divorce. Or his grandpa just died. Or his cousin overdosed. Or he was trying to figure out this reading stuff, but it wasn’t working for him.
When schools are shot up by madmen, teachers are expected to jump in front of those bullets with no questions asked. And most of us would. We’ve been told to carry guns, but that we can’t have coffee pots in our classrooms because they’re too dangerous. We’ve learned to comfort scared kids in lockdown drills. We’re left to explain to them that if they are in the hall when the lockdown call comes over the speaker, they need to go to the closest classroom. We are charged with guarding their lives, their emotional well-being, their sense of safety.
And now here we are in the middle of the worst pandemic to hit the earth in 100 years. Every single part of this globe has been hit. Everything has changed. Everything.
Teachers were told that schools were closing down, and a week later that they had to start teaching remotely. Teachers and administrators were told to get the kids in the air and build the plane while flying. All while trying to keep their own families safe.
And that brings me to right now, in the once admirable state of Massachusetts.
A state whose education commissioner has decided that ALL schools need to be completely open and running to ALL kids by April 1.
An insanely stupid and dangerous idea which once again puts teachers in the position of having to suddenly change the crazy, stressful, overwhelming routine that they’ve been using all year to teach kids remotely or in a hybrid model. No more social distancing if 24 kids are in one room. No more. Just masks (except for lunch!) and fingers crossed.
And teachers like my daughter are just going to have to suck it up and cope. As usual. They’ll have to figure out a way to merge two completely separate groups of kids who don’t know each other into one cohesive learning unit, a task that usually takes about a month at the beginning of a school year. They’ll have to put themselves at twice the risk of getting infected and bringing the deadly disease home to their spouses, their kids, and maybe the parents who are helping with childcare during this madness. They’ll have to just deal with is.
And I’m sure that there are thousands of people out there who haven’t stepped foot in a classroom since 1980, but who are more than ready to tell them what they’re doing wrong and how selfish they are to want to stay alive and how it’s time for the unions and the teachers to start thinking of the kids for once.
I lost my voice a while ago. Covid took it, and I had no idea how to get it back.
I’ve been enormously lucky, and I know that. As the United States passes the point of half a million deaths from this terrible new disease, I am one of the few who can say that I have not lost anyone close to me. Yes, my family has been hit by the virus, and we have had our terrified days of wondering how badly our loved ones will suffer, but to date we have not lost a family member.
We are lucky.
I know that.
But as we come closer, day by day, to the end of this seemingly endless stretch of pandemic days, I am ever more aware of all that we have individually and collectively lost. As that faint light at the end of our universal tunnel grows incrementally closer, I find it harder and harder to look away from all that has been stolen from us.
I will turn 65 years old in three short weeks. I’ll be able to get my vaccination, and within six more weeks, I’ll be essentially free of the fear that has gripped the world for the past year.
I can’t wait for that moment. I am truthfully breathless at the thought of being so free, finally, and so able to once again embrace my life.
But this “almost there” feeling has somehow catapulted me right back to the early fears of this terrible global disaster. And I can’t stop thinking of all that we’ve lost, and all that we now have a duty to mourn.
I am so sad tonight.
My heart is breaking at the thought of all the birthdays I didn’t get to celebrate last year. It hurts to think about the weddings that didn’t ever happen, including the wedding of my youngest child to his wonderful, beautiful, much loved partner. I was so ready to dance and laugh and celebrate with them last summer, but it didn’t happen because of Covid.
I cry when I stop to realize that my newest grandchild is approaching a year old, but has never even once been held by the aunts, uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents who love him so much. He is already saying words, crawling around the house and feeding himself, but the people who should know him best have yet to even kiss his forehead.
I dream every night of earlier times. I dream of my now grown sons, and of the feel of their arms around me. Sometimes I dream of them as children, when I could fold them against my body and know that I was keeping them safe. Sometimes I dream of them as men, and how I loved to rest my head against their strong shoulders, knowing that they were happy and strong.
It’s been an entire year without those hugs. A full year without one shared dinner. Without a single morning of waking up in the same space. It has been 12 long, painful, difficult, exhausting months of wondering what would happen to us next. Week after week after week of Covid data and conflicting news reports and promises of better days.
For an entire year, everyone on this small blue planet has been waiting for some good news. We are united in our uncertainty and we share a common sense of loss.
We miss our lives. We miss driving to work, and having lunch with colleagues. We miss live concerts and dancing together in courtyards and fields. We miss holidays and forced family togetherness. We miss crowding around the table and bumping elbows with cousins. We miss our friends. We miss hugs and kissing cheeks and holding babies and holding hands and holding ourselves together with our shared laughter.
We’re still here. And there is a light at the end of this terrible tunnel. We think that someday all of this may become a memory.
But we need to grieve for now. We need to cry. We need to mourn the births that we were unable to celebrate and the deaths that we could not honor. We need to look at each other, every single human one of us, and we need to let out a cry to the universe about all that we won’t ever be able to regain.
We have lost a year. It won’t come back. There will be no second chance to live these months.
I’m sitting here looking out my window. It’s cold and gray, and the woods look depressingly empty of life. The news is on, but I’m not paying full attention. I’m sad. I’m scared for the next few days in my country. I’m sad about the past four years. And actually the four before that. And going back even further.
I’m remembering the days of Occupy Wall Street, when thousands of people felt so cheated by the economic and governmental systems of the US that they took to the streets to protest. There were huge crowds of angry people blocking banks and businesses, demanding a fair chance. Demanding a share of the profits that Wall Street and its investors were reaping.
They were called leftists. Radicals. Socialists. Anarchists. What motivated them to protest was their belief that no matter how hard they worked, they’d never be able to get to an economically secure place in life.
The past several years we’ve seen more and more anger from people who are called “right wing” and “reactionary”. They’re labeled as racist, white supremacist, fascist, radical. This past week we were all horrified to see that rage erupting into a violent assault on the government and our elected leaders.
What are they so furious about? They feel like they aren’t being treated fairly by the economic and government systems. They feel like their lives are insecure. Like what they are entitled to have is being kept from them. They think they’re being cheated. They feel like no matter how hard they work, they’ll never be able to get to an economically secure place in life.
And it has all got me thinking.
What if everyone had a reliable income? I mean, like what if the minimum wage was actually enough for people to live on and to take care of a family? What if a person could work 40 hours a week and earn enough for food and rent?
And what if everyone could go through life knowing that if they get sick they can go to the doctor? What if parents knew that they would definitely be able to pay for a trip to the emergency room if their son broke his arm? If Americans, like people in nearly every other country on earth, got health insurance guaranteed, I wonder how that would impact the fear of losing a job?
I’m sitting here thinking. What if every single kid was able to dream of college? What if even poor kids in small rural towns knew that as long as they got good grades, they’d be able to afford college? What if that motivating dream was actually out there in front of every child, instead of just the wealthy one?
I know what you’re thinking. I’m a radical. A damn socialist. A leftist.
I just wonder if some of the rage that is tearing us apart would dwindle down in a country with less inequality. I wonder if we’d be less likely to attack each other if we weren’t afraid for ourselves and our families.
Given everything that has just happened here, maybe we should at least try it.
It’s late. The moon is just past full, and stars are peeking between the branches of the leafless trees. It’s cold, but not as cold as it should be in Massachusetts on the last day of the year.
My husband has gone to bed, but I am restless. I haven’t stayed up to see the New Year in a few years. But this year is different.
Everything is different.
This year the ending of the calendar count feels momentous. It feels like rebirth, like renewal. It feels like an ending, and this time it is an ending that we all crave.
I’m wide awake.
I am not sure why I’m so alert; I’ve been in bed by 8PM for months. Snuggled under the blankets with a book or the iPad, ready to rest. Ready to let go of another day in 2020.
But not tonight. No, tonight I am awake. I have a glass of wine, a bowl of popcorn and a dog on each knee. My right foot taps, taps, counting out the seconds. The curtains are drawn, but I feel the moonlight hitting the yard. I stand up, walk to the sliding doors, peer out into the woods.
All is quiet. I hear no owls, no coyotes, no restless neighborhood dogs. Everything is holding its breath. The night is holding its breath, and so am I.
I don’t know what I think will happen at the stroke of midnight. I don’t believe that the sky will fill with bursting light, or that night birds will break into song. I do not foresee a swirl of warm wind stirring up the leaves, or the sound of distant voices singing of freedom and love.
I don’t expect that the dogs, asleep in their canine curls, will feel the change in the universe.
But I will.
At the very moment when the second hand sweeps past the 12, and the meaningless human invention of the calendar turns to a new year, I will exhale. And I will lean over my knees, with my hands over my eyes. I might shed some tears.
In my heart I’ll say what I’m thinking.
“We did it,” I’ll say. “We made it.” I’ll think of how unbelievably lucky I have been, without having lost a single friend or family member. I’ll send out thanks to the universe for protecting me and mine.
But right after that, I’ll let the rest of my thoughts emerge. I just might open that slider and step out into the night. I might just howl into the darkness, a shriek of rage and frustration. If I do, I’ll be thinking of all of the lost opportunities. All the losses of every child who hasn’t been able to play with a friend. Of every teacher who has had to teach children she’ll never see. I’ll scream for the people who lost the businesses that they built step by step out of their dreams and their courage and their endless work. I’ll cry and shake my fist for everyone I know who has not yet met a grandchild, a nephew, a cousin. For every father or mother who lost a job in spite of every best effort, when the pandemic crashed the economy. For every loving couple who postponed a wedding. For every graduate who missed that chance to “walk” and accept a diploma.
I’ll scream for every friend who has had to say goodbye to a parent, a sibling, a friend, or a child.
I’ll bark and snarl into the wild woods, letting Mother Nature know that I am not amused at her sudden attack.
I know that we are lucky. I know. I thank the goddess, the universe, the powers of heaven, every single day. Every day. I have had my beautiful grandchildren in my arms throughout this terrible year. That makes me lucky beyond anyone else I know. My sister and my mom, both of whom I love beyond words, have survived this awful virus.
The last year, the infamous 2020, was a horrific, awful, exhausting shit-show of a year. From the political machinations, to the overt racism, to the incompetent government, it has been a year of disaster. Lost jobs, lost friends, lost classroom time, lost loved ones, lost hugs, lost dreams, lost opportunities. Twenty-twenty was full of loss.
I intend to tell it goodbye. I intend to tell it to go straight to hell, where it belongs.
Another fifty minutes, and I will stand on my deck. I will bang on a pot with a wooden spoon, ring some Tibetan bells and I will yell, most likely at the top of my aging lungs.
“Good fucking riddance, 2020!!!!”
Then I’ll probably cry myself to sleep, out of pure relief.