Well, happy Solstice, everyone! Yay! It’s finally summer, for real!
The days get shorter from here.
I guess you can see how ambivalent I am about the end of the school year. Now that I’m no longer a classroom teacher, the end of the year is less about having time off and more about feeling at loose ends.
My daughter has the summer off, which means I won’t have my grandkids here for a few weeks.
I mean, I am very, very happy to have some time to rest and recuperate. I love watching my grandkids every day. I really, really do!! Toddlers are magical!
So I obviously need some time to catch up on sleep. I need time to organize all these art supplies, old toys, and dried out play doh. I want to garden and read and maybe finally submit some writing somewhere. Summer is a good thing!
On the other hand, it’s amazing how dull it can be when the only one to talk to around here is me. I’m somewhat less riveting than I thought.
So day one is coming to a close. I’ve watched the news, read a lot, argued and snarked at people on social media and done four loads of wash.
I need to figure out how to fill my hours without the kids here to say, “Nonni, watch!” and “Nonni, guess what?” I need to feel useful without serving food every hour on the hour to hungry kids.
At least I have the dogs for company.
But you know what?
Both Lennie and Bentley spent this entire first day of summer wandering from room to room looking for the kids. They both spent a ton of time sitting in front of me with their big, sad, hound-doggy eyes.
We took a walk. They liked that!
But then we came home and they both went from bedroom to bedroom to kitchen to the deck. They both sighed. They both turned in circles. They gazed out the window. They chewed on their nylabones, but you could tell their hearts weren’t in it.
It’s going to be a long summer, pups. No kids until September, at least not on a regular basis. No games. No laughing. No sweet snuggly little girls to wrap an arm around your furry necks. No giggly little boy for you to chase down the hall.
Most importantly, no dropped cheese for many long weeks.
We’re the ones who don’t think in measuring cup increments. Instead we think in spice palette increments.
I’m one of those intuitive cooks. You know what I mean? We’re the ones who read a recipe in 30 seconds, then try to recreate it.
“mmmmmm, cumin with honey?” or “Oh, wow, rosemary and lime juice!”
We think of cooking as an art, not a science.
We toss in a bit of this, a smidge of that, stir it around and suddenly realize that it needs buttermilk.
Cooking is my creativity.
So it’s kind of funny that I have a cookbook collection. I have cookbooks from China, Russia, Germany, Italy. I have cookbooks about snacks, cookbooks about desserts, cookbooks that are for kids. And I have a whole shelf of amazing leather bound cookbooks from the past century that tell more about social expectations of women than they do about how to make a perfect squab. I often read them for fun.
Tonight, though, I found myself thumbing through my very favorite cookbook ever. My daughter Kate gave it to me for my birthday during her junior year of college.
Kate and I used to cook together, and often experimented on recipes that the men in the family consumed with pleasure.
When she’d moved from the dorm into her first campus apartment, I’d sent her with a cookbook full of my favorite recipes. She might not be at home in my kitchen anymore, but I needed to know that my girl had the family recipe for red sauce and meatballs at hand.
She’d loved the gift, and had added her own discoveries and creations during the school year.
So when my birthday rolled around, Kate gifted me with my very own cookbook of HER favorite recipes. It was fabulous! She included recipes for “Reverse Chicken Soup” (made with beef broth and ground chicken meatballs) and “Pasta e Fagioli Cucina Lavandino” ( kitchen sink pasta e fagioli).
It was hilarious! I loved it.
I put its pages into my own home made cookbook.
Every time I found a delicious recipe, or an enticing food idea, I included into this three hole punched cooking notebook.
Tonight I decided to add a new recipe, for the first time in years. I have started making more raw veggie dishes, and wanted to add in hand written recipes for two new favorites: Italian Cole Slaw and Carrot Cumin Salad.
I wrote them down, popped them into the cookbook, and then started to flip through the pages.
This is like the history of my marriage and motherhood years. It’s broken into sections (appetizers, main dishes, desserts) but each one is in chronological order. A stroll through these pages is a documentation of my evolution through the basics (meatballs, chicken piccatta, yellow cake) and into our early marriage years.
That was when we wanted quick, easy and cheap (The Sausage Casserole I invented in grad school when each dinner had to come in at under 3 dollars). Dessert was usually a couple of graham crackers.
The book moves on into the early parenting years, when I mastered “Mexican spiced chicken fingers” and a lovely dish called “Heavy Slop.” Filling, easy and healthier than Hamburger Helper.
It goes on through special events that gave us “Christmas Shrimp Cocktail” and even “Red Sox Noodle Dandy”. The latter was created during the playoffs of 2004, when the word “Yankee” was completely forbidden to be spoken anywhere in New England.
Now I find healthier, higher-end recipes being added to the book. Foods with less fat, less salt, more fiber. Dishes that cost three times what the first entries did. Now I see recipes for lamb, for shrimp, for exotic pastas and sauces.
I love them all.
But mostly I love the idea that my life has been recorded as a series of recipes.
I can’t think of anything that would be a better fit for me than this!
I find myself standing on the bridge between the past and the future, and it is a tender and poignant place to be.
I stand between youth and old age.
At the age of 63, it is of course natural for me to find myself in the middle of life’s journey.
But for me, the juxtaposition of what has been and what is coming is feeling profound right now.
My mother is 89 years old. She is 26 years older than I am.
Mom still lives at home, in the house where she and our Dad raised six kids. She is still there, still in her kitchen, where I learned to make sauce and meatballs. Still sleeping in the bedroom where she and Dad slept from 1962 until 2008 when Dad died.
I go to see her once a week. My siblings go at least once a week, too. Some more often. We are Mom’s supports, her cooks, her money managers, her cheerleaders as she heads on down the path toward her next step.
As my very wise sister put it, “Mom is quietly folding her tent.” She is gently withdrawing from her life, seeing fewer and fewer friends as her memory and her body fade.
But she is happy. Perhaps happier and calmer than at any other time in my life. Mom, once a power woman in control of all around her, has learned to accept help with grace. She has been willing to wear her LifeAlert, to have a home health aide and to welcome one of us every day (although she doesn’t often remember whose turn it is on any given day to have dinner with her.)
Mom is showing me how to exit gracefully, just as Dad did when it was his turn.
I am watching her. I am learning. I am coming to terms with some thoughts of my own about my life going forward toward that “rainbow bridge.” I am so lucky to have a model of how to go with humor and humility.
As I stand on this tender bridge, I look back toward my youngest child. My son Tim turned 27 yesterday. So you can see that I am almost the ‘median’ point between my mother and my son.
I look at him, my sweet, kind boy. I see that life is spread out before him like a banquet. He plans to marry his sweetheart next summer. They are thinking about children, about careers, about their hopes and dreams for a future family.
I see him, and I see his Dad at the same age. I see myself. I see our worries and our joys and I remember what it was like to be young, in love, ready to move into the future with courage and hope.
My Mother often talks to me about those years before she married my Dad. She talks about how happy they were to sit under the trees on Boston Common, planning how many children they’d have. She talks about what it was like to hold his hand as they walked through the city sharing their dreams of a beautiful future.
And I stand on the bridge. I hear her thoughts, and I hear Tim’s. I know that it was my Mom and Dad’s ability to dream and love that lead to my family, and lead to my marriage and then lead to my beautiful boy and his wonderful partner.
I know that Tim and Sweens will marry, have children, face challenges, encounter unexpected joys and find ways to keep recreating their hope. Just as Paul and I have done. Just as my Mom and Dad did for all those years.
And I know that one day it will be me who is facing that final chapter.
I just hope, and pray, that when that time comes my children will look to me as a model of how to move on. I hope that they will think about Grandma, and remark on how like her I am.
And I hope, and I pray, that when that day rolls by, there will be children of theirs who are busy falling in love and planning their next steps and thinking about babies of their own.
The older you get, the harder it is to find heroes.
Know what I mean?
It gets harder and harder with each passing winter to find someone who is uplifting, empowering, inspiring.
But you know what? Hanging out with young people helps. A lot.
My kids are working to revitalize and reshape an entire small American city. They are hands-on, in the dirt, reinventing an old New England Mill town. They love the town, they love their work, they love each other.
That’s inspiring and uplifting and all that good stuff. Isn’t it?
And they also make music. Fun music. Music that people really enjoy.
My kids do it for fun and personal pride, rather than for profit. That makes it more fun and less pressure. For them, the making of the music is not a life or death scenario. But they know lots of people who make even more music, some of which is in fact professional. For some of those friends, life does seem to be dependent upon that music.
Music that pokes your soul and taps your brain and tells you that as long as your heart is beating, your hope is alive.
That is a truly inspiring, empowering and uplifting message. Those who can bring that kind of message to us should surely be our heroes!
Of course, if I want find even more heroes, I should look at the very young to find my answers. I should look at teenagers to find my inspiration.
I’m watching right now as dozens of kids I used to teach are graduating from High School and university. I am sending good luck messages to men and women who were once the shy, quiet kids in my fifth grade class. I’m sending way-to-go cards to kids who were once the swaggering, cool-jock, super-pretty kids in my elementary school room.
Those kids have grown from needing me to open their juice boxes to planning the next renewable fuel source. They took every bit of love and teaching that was offered and they ran with it. That’s pretty cool!
And I can find heroes just by smiling at the people I run into ever day. Just by seeing those people. By hearing them.
Yesterday my husband and I had breakfast at a real, true, classic New England diner. This place had a sign out front that was no longer legible. The steps were worn, cracked, and warped. Inside, the diner was run down and worn, but was obviously an antique.
“Ya want coffee?” was our introduction the ambiance. Not particularly welcoming.
Within five minutes, we were chatting and laughing with the woman who was making the food. About my own middle age, she had a sturdy build and a working woman’s hands. She wore her gray hair in a ponytail, and had it clipped to the back of her hat.
As she flipped the eggs, poured pancake batter and buttered the toast, the woman engaged us in conversation. Her voice was rough. Her jokes were just what I’d have predicted: she lived so far out in the woods that she could sit outside in her underwear and it wouldn’t even scare off the moose. Her manner was strict and unsmiling, “Kids today would never have made it in my old neighborhood in New York.” She wanted to be gruff, strong, unsmiling.
But before my French Toast was flipped, I had learned that she was a widow, that her one child was an adult daughter who was soon to be married and who worked with troubled youth. I learned that the Mom was inspired by her daughter’s ongoing education, and that Mom knew how proud Dad would be of his girl.
That woman is my hero. She is strong, tall, unlovely. She takes care of orphaned cats and one dog. She grows flowers. She loves her daughter fiercely and misses her husband profoundly.
And every morning she wakes up, drives to the Diner, and starts to sling the hash for the neighbors and friends who come in.
That’s a hero.
We are actually surrounded by heroes, if we only take the time to look. The child who knows he doesn’t understand the social rules, but who heads off to school every day anyway. The teen who has music and poetry within their heart, but who is scared to share it. The moment when they share it anyway.
The musician who gets up in front of strangers for the first time and plays the song. The writer who hits “send”. The man who gets up every single weekday for 40 years just to turn on the lights in the municipal building. The woman who carefully adds a handful of blueberries to the pancakes on her griddle, a hundred and a hundred times every day.
We are each other’s heroes, really. We are all better together, stronger together, kinder together. We need to find our heroes in each other. We need to see each others’ heroes in ourselves.
I have dark brown eyes, I used to have dark brown hair, and I have a big nose.
Yes. I do. I have grown up with the realization that I have a lovely, prominent Roman nose.
This is my identity. Italian woman, big nose, big heart, big piles of pasta. It all goes together.
Because this has been my image of myself for some 60 years, you can understand how upsetting it would be to be informed that this is not actually the real me. You can imagine my moment of disorientation when the very core of my personal belief was shaken.
Holy panic attack, Batman. It was terrifying.
This is what happened.
I went to have my CPap fitted this morning. I talked to the lovely, intelligent, articulate cPap using woman at the home care facility. She fitted me with just the right hose to force my throat open and thereby stop my snoring, snorting, gasping, death inducing nighttime routine.
I have been reading about the incidence of sleep apnea in women, and have come to feel pretty much at ease with the realization that a whole lot of us women suffer from this disorder.
I am OK with that. Sorta. I am accepting of the fact that the sleep issue does not mean that I am old and fat. I am accepting of the idea that I just need some help to keep myself breathing while I sleep. It’s just a little medical issue.
All of that is cool.
While i was meeting with the lovely woman who introduced me to my machine, something happened that has shaken my entire belief in myself and who I am.
Part of the fitting today included taking a measurement of my nose.
My big old, honkin’ Roman Italian schnozzola. I needed to be measured so that the nasal mask would fit me.
I sat back for the measurement. I breathed out. I was sure that the measurement would come out as “big” or “huge” or “Italian” or “Holy shit”.
When the friendly woman held up the measurement and said, “You have a small nose”, my entire world came unglued.
I mean. OK. I gasp and choke and have a fat neck and can’t sleep and I need a stupid giant machine…..but my NOSE IS SMALL???????
That was the moment when I realized that I no longer have any idea of who I am.
In all of my most fragile moments, it has never occurred to me that I might have a small nose.
Look at this picture.
Do you see a small nose????
I don’t either.
So….who am I? What has become of my entire view of myself?
If in fact I am a woman with a small nose, might I not also be a woman with a boatload of patience? (Nope.) Or a woman who struggles to put a decent meal on the table? (Nopie, nope, nope).
I am my nose.
I am my internal view of myself.
OK, fine. I’ll give the stupid CPap a chance. But seriously?
A SMALL nose??????
These medical people have no idea what they’re doing.
My little Ellie has started to use the word “perfect” lately, and it makes me uncomfortable.
She says it when she has worked hard to make a picture that she thinks is realistic.
“Nonni!”, she will call, “Look at my perfect polar bear!”
Now, Ellie is not quite four years old. While her artistic instincts are wonderful, her artistic realism is still somewhat lacking.
And so I hesitate to embrace the concept of “perfect.”
“Wow!” I always say, “That is a very original polar bear!”
Or a very interesting puppy. Or a wicked cool camping trip.
I just try to back off the whole idea of “perfect.” I have seen too many little children striving for “perfect” to ever feel at ease with either the phrase or the concept.
Art is, above all else, NOT perfect. Art is perception. It is emotion. It is my truth offered up to all of you. It is not a perfectly rendered reproduction; that would be a photograph.
And ‘perfect’ has even less meaning when it comes to the literary arts. What is a “perfect” story? A “perfect” poem? As a classroom teacher, I steered away from that word every day. As a parent, I used every possible synonym before I ever went with “perfect”.
As a Nonni, I am even more committed to making sure that my grandkids understand that perfection is a pointless goal. It can never be reached, but it can become a lifetime obsession.
So I rarely think in terms of perfection. I shudder, in fact, when I find myself falling into the lure of it’s siren call.
But guess what?
At the ripe old age of 63, on a day when I was fighting off a cold, cranky from lack of sleep, looking forward to my summer respite, I think I accidentally stumbled upon perfection.
It happened like this.
I was tired, dealing with a sore throat and achy muscles. Today was very warm and pretty muggy. I took my two little grandkids outside to play. My thought was to let them ride bikes and throw balls and I would sit in the shade and read The Grapes of Wrath.
But the kids had other ideas. They rode bikes across the lawn. They pulled up dandelions, blowing the seeds across the yard and screaming with joy. They used binoculars to find my giant rhododendron.
“Nonni!”, they crowed, “Watch! Look! Come play!”
I was pulled in to the vortex of their energy. Every little tiny thing in this beautiful spring time world is a miracle to them! And they shared it with me, oblivious to my fatigue.
Isn’t that wonderful? I had no choice but to become a part of their play, to become completely present in their little miracles.
We turned on the hose, and they raced across the muddy lawn, following “the stream that goes to the sea!”. They twirled, and jumped and threw up their arms in pure pleasure.
For them, these few moments were everything. They were the world. The cold water, the hot sun, the squishy, joyous feeling of mud between the toes. The yard became the universe. They were it’s center.
When they screamed out, “Nonni!!!! Jump in the mud!” they pulled me in to that moment of perfection.
And as I danced on the driveway, feeling the slippery mud between my toes, following the cold stream from the hose as it made its way across the pavement, I was surprised to hear this one word spoken inside my head.
This means that Nonni has lots and LOTS of energy. It means that Nonni has so many fun and amusing plans! Plans for how to repaint the house, inside and out, while writing a novel and baking organic cookies!!!! Yay, Nonni! Yay, Prednisone!
It also mean, alas, that Nonni is just a teensy weensy bit cranky. And that Nonni is ready to use that all that energy to utterly destroy anyone who gets in her way.
Yesterday is a good example of poor Nonni’s conflicted relationship with Prednisone.
You see, Nonni and Papa went out to hear some great music from one of our favorite bands on Friday night. As always, Upstate was amazing and exciting and fun and uplifting. We had a fabulous time.
But we got home late. And Nonni was feeling those fun Prednisone energy jolts. Until about 4 AM. At that point, she fell asleep.
So. Saturday morning found this old woman on three hours of sleep, with way too much energy but no strength. I was crabby (if “murderous” and “crabby” are synonyms.) I paced around for a bit. I did dishes. Cleaned the fridge. Paid the bills. Organized my pots and pans. Used a tiny bottle brush to scrub out the silicone straws that the kids use.
By noon I was climbing out of my skin.
So I headed into the yard.
And that is where Nonni discovered that she is not the only crabby old bitch to be on the loose.
We’ve lived in this house for close to thirty years. In that time, we have created a lovely garden area filled with flowers and bushes and blooming shrubs.
And when I say “we”, I mean ME. I mean this woman. All by myself. I ripped out grass and put in perennials and ripped out weeds and put in bushes. I have trimmed and pruned and raked and fertilized and transplanted. And it is gorgeous out there.
So when I headed outside yesterday, I noticed that the yard had begun to close in on us. Every year, it seems, the trees sneak a bit closer. The woods encroach. The wild comes just a bit closer.
And yesterday, for the first time in a decade at least, Nonni had Freakin’ HAD IT.
I took up my brand new rechargeable, super efficient trimmer. And I went to town.
Thirty minutes into my “pruning” efforts, the driveway was littered with the chopped off limbs of maples, oaks, hemlock, ash, beech and birch. There was suddenly sunlight again on parts of the yard that had become moss covered and shaded.
I looked up.
I LIKED this!
Nonni, in all of her angry, teeth gritting, pissed off over-energized-jittery glory had found a way to burn off some steam.
I made my way up and down my driveway, swinging my tool of revenge in front of me like a demon. “Take that!” I crowed, as I buzzed five oaks and three maple saplings from the edge of the drive. “You won’t take over my one means of escape, you foul beasts!!!!” I lopped them off at ground level.
I believe I chortled.
I kept the driveway space clear for my car.
I kept going. My heart was racing. Mosquitoes were lodging in my ears, nose and on the edges of my sweaty gray hair. Still, I could not be stopped. This was FUN.
And so empowering.
Mother Nature wants to put out ten knew pine trees in my GRASS? I don’t THINK SO!!!
Buzzz, Bzzzzz, bzzzzeeepeezeeep! Down, down! I vanquish thee!!
Fourteen baby oaks popping up off of one downed pine tree? Not on my watch, kids!!!!
Vrooom, vrooomy, vrooomotchka!!! Out you goes!!!
After three hours, my arms were shaking. I couldn’t see because of all the sweat, dirt, dead bugs and pine needles plastered to my face.
But I felt GREAT.
I knew it was time to head inside for a shower, a triple tick check and a martini. But I needed one more quiet moment of reflection.
Mother Nature, you’re not the only cranky old pissed off lady out here today. So you just back off, bitch. Nonni is here to save the yard.
First thing you need to know is this: I am a relatively healthy old lady. At 63, I am still pretty spry, healthy and hearty. There are few things in life that I can’t do because of my health.
But. I do have stupid, annoying, aggravating Fibromyalgia. I was diagnosed about 10 years ago, after being told that I didn’t have Zika, West Nile, Lyme Disease, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, cancer, IBS, Epilepsy or anything else that would make me run screaming into the night.
Instead, I was told, I have a pretty common autoimmune disease that will make me tired and achy. And will keep me awake for about two months in a row. And will make my thinking resemble a big bowl of tapioca pudding.
I am very very lucky. Once I was diagnosed, I was put on a dose of Cymbalta. This anti-depressant eased my pain, helped me to sleep, cut down on the famous fibro flareups and even made me less cranky.
Better living through chemicals!
However, ten years into this experience, I find that every now and then I have a big old fibro flare up. It can come on slowly, with just an extra pain in the neck (not kidding) and a general sense that I’d be better off is I spent a day in bed.
Which I have NEVER DONE. Ever.
Still, there are days when I find that the past three weeks of endless motion, action, socialization, gardening, shopping, cooking, visiting and schmoozing have left me in a fibro funk.
That’s when I reach out to my wonderful primary care doc. I send him a message on our Patient Portal. “Ruh, roh.” I type. “I’m having a bad flare up. Prednisone?”
He knows me. He understands how this works. He sends in the script.
And this is where the fun begins.
Prednisone is my savior and my worse enemy, all at once. Let me give you an inside view.
DAY 1: “I can’t move. I would love to get up and go pee, but the bathroom is so….far…away…..” The kids arrive. I say, “What a great day for movies!” Even thought its 75 degrees and sunny, I canNOT get up from my chair. I manage to feed them and change the diapers, but that’s it. I need some medicine.
DAY 2: I take my 60 mg of prednisone. I slump into my chair, coffee cup in hand. One hour later, everything still hurts, but I feel a faint buzz in my skin. It’s a quiet day, but at least I manage to turn on music and put the kids into glittery costumes to dance. Dinner is leftovers. I sort of clean it up.
DAY 3: Another 60 mg down the hatch. My neck and back hurt, but the rest of me feels ok. I serve a nice home cooked breakfast. I’m hungry, so I join in the feast. By noon, I’ve done two loads of laundry, swept the floor, exercised the dogs and cleaned the kitchen. On to lunch (homemade soup….yes I ate some) then books, then a nice dinner. Early bed. Slept great!
DAY 4: 60 more milligrams of Prednisone. I eat a huge breakfast before the kids even arrive. By the time they get here, I have pancakes, fruit, cereal, juice and muffins on the table. I sing while they eat and I sing while I clean it all up. We play outside. I manage to weed the veggie garden, prune the lilacs and fill the kiddie pool. I feel great! So much energy. Dinner is delicious and entirely home made. I eat more than my husband.
I get myself to bed at a reasonable time, where I toss and turn for 3 hours before finally falling into a restless sleep.
DAY 5: I wake up at 4. I take my medicine. By nine, I have had breakfast, made the kids meal, made us all lunch, organized the silverware drawer and polished my grandma’s silver. The day is full….even though the kids would like to rest, I keep us all outside, walking through the woods, hunting for bugs, gathering leaves, pulling up clover. I teach them all how to find the best dandelion leaves for salad. OK, the baby is only two and the older one is not yet four, but we get a lot done. After lunch, I get everyone to create a collage of nature’s treasures. They cry a lot, but the art is very cool. The kids go home at five, and I whip up a fabulous home cooked meal for the hubby, who enjoys it thoroughly. I get to bet around midnight, but I can’t fall asleep. I’m trying to calculate how many ants I have removed from the sink in the past week.
DAY 6: Down to 40 milligrams. Who cares? I hate everyone by now. Everytime one of the kids frowns, I scowl right back. I eat breakfast. Then I eat all the leftovers. I eat a few snacks. Then I snarl at the kids because let’s face it; if they didn’t leave food on their plates, I wouldn’t eat it and I wouldn’t be so FAT, now would I????? We do puzzles, we eat lunch (really????MORE leftovers?????) Paul comes home for dinner, which I slap down on the table. I drink some wine. I drink some more. I eat my dinner. And Paul’s leftovers. I go to bed. Hahahahaha. I am still awake at 5AM. I hate everything.
DAYS 7, 8 & 9: Why do I need this stupid medicine anyway? NOTHING hurts. I have been awake for a year. My hands are shaking. Is there any more cold pizza? The kids are handed a bunch of paper, some markers and a few glue sticks. I retreat to the kitchen, where I pretend to make lunch while eating all the croutons in the cabinet.
Slowly, slowly, the prednisone is reduced. Finally I am down to a mere 20 mg, and I start to find myself again. I manage to cut myself down to 4 eggs and two english muffins for breakfast. I remember how much I love the kids. I am able to calm myself down enough to read a few books to them. Dinner is pleasant again. I am able to sleep. A little.
And it finally winds down. The flare up is over. I feel fine again. I feel like myself. If the past is any indicator, I won’t have to go through this nonsense again for at least 4 months.
That should be enough time to shed the 15 pounds I gained while getting better, right?
My husband is a very good human. He is kind, thoughtful, gentle. Pretty much everyone likes him.
Paul was a shy and quiet child, but grew into himself as an adult. He’s a constant surprise to old friends who knew him way back in High School, because he’s now the most social one of all of us.
Now that he is an outgoing, confident adult (and a successful and well respected psychologist), he has begun to articulate what it is that makes him reach out to strangers.
“It’s all about the connections,” he tells me. “Life is about making connections with other human beings.”
I know that he’s right, but I am not always as open or as non-judgmental as he is. Still, I try to be open. I try to greet people with a smile and a welcome.
Today that attitude paid off for me, as I made a lovely connection in the most unexpected of ways.
I was shopping at my favorite guilty secret bargain store, Ocean State Job Lot. I went in for a few small items, but as usual, I was pulled in by the seed packets, the bubble wands and the plants. I was on my way home from a visit to my mother, and was thinking a lot about my childhood. I was feeling a little emotional as I went into the store.
I picked up everything I needed (or could justify to myself), including a pot of dianthus and one of lupine. I love both of these perennials, and mine are in need of reinforcements. So I plopped them into my cart and continued through the store.
When I got to the checkout, there was a bit of a line. I waited my turn, noticing the young man behind me who was talking on his phone with a work colleague.
I’ll be honest. I noticed him first, in my creepy old grandmother way, because he was very good looking. Southeast Asian, I thought, perhaps from Vietnam or Cambodia. Tall, slim, dark haired, with wide, light brown eyes that contrasted with his darker skin.
He had a tattoo on one wrist, and a sharp spike piercing his lower lip.
My turn came at the register, and the young cashier rang up all of my many, many items. She got the skin cream, the candy, the seeds, the olive oil, the potting soil and the potted dianthus.
Then she turned to the lupine. She spun the planter, and frowned. There was no price tag.
“What is this?”, she asked. When I answered with the name of the flower, she shook her head. She was looking at her list of items for sale, and the plants were not labelled by name. They were labelled by size.
“It’s a perennial” I said, looking over her shoulder. “But I don’t know if its a quart or a 6 1/2″ pot.” This seemed like a meaningless comparison to me. Quart? Versus inches? What?
The cashier was confused, so she called her manager. He had no more idea of what to think than we did. We all looked at each other blankly.
That’s when the man behind me leaned forward.
“This is a 6 1/2 in pot. It should be this price.” He reached forward to tap the page that we were all looking at.
I was delighted. What could have taken ten minutes had been reduced to one small, simple comment.
“Thank you so much!” I said with a smile. A real smile. Not a ‘I should be friendly’ smile.
He smiled back.
“Well, I work in a garden center,” he said.
As my transaction was finishing, I thanked him again, then told him that I wished I had more time to ask him for advice, because my gardening dreams are always more successful than my gardening realities. We both laughed, I thanked him again, and headed out to my car.
As I was putting my toys, makeup, and food into my car, the same man came out of the store and headed my way.
Wouldn’t you know that the universe had arranged for us to park next to each other?
The man held out his phone to me. “This is my greenhouse,” he said with pleasure. I looked at the image of the wide, bright, beautiful array of plants. What struck me was his pride in his work.
“It’s gorgeous!” I said with all sincerity.
We started to chat about his work, and I asked where it was located. It turns out that he is one of many growers at a garden center that I have known my whole life.
“My parents always got their plants from your garden center!” I told him with surprised pleasure. “I love it there!”
The young man smiled and nodded at the compliment. “It’s beautiful. We grow so much there, all year!”
Then he opened his trunk.
“This is what I grow,” he said with pride. He beckoned me over and we looked into the trunk of his car. Tomatoes, peppers, squash and four beautiful flower plants.
We talked for a few more minutes. I asked him for advice on how to get my lupines to reseed. He talked about the personalities and needs of different plants, and advised me to get to know each one.
And then he reached into his trunk and pulled out one of his beautiful young plants.
“For you,” he said, “If you want this sunflower.”
I tried to refuse, but only weakly. “Oh, I can’t take that from you!”
“I want you to have it,” he said. “This was a nice meeting.”
I took the sunflower baby, and I was filled with such happiness.
“You have made my day,” I said to him. “Thank you so very much!”
“Thank you!” he answered. “Good bye!”
We didn’t exchange names. We’ll never run into each other again. But just by chance, we were able to connect to another human being who shared our love of plants and our desire to reach out and just be pleasant to each other.
I was a political science major way back in the seventies. And I studied and taught history for a bunch of years. I am a huge fan of the United States of America, and of its founding principals.
So I am feeling pretty freaking frustrated at the inability of our elected officials to solve any problems.
Even the most obvious, most smack you in the face problem can’t seem to find an answer.
For example, let’s look at the suddenly-salient-once-again issue of abortion. So many of our elected “leaders” are suddenly determined to stop all abortions. They are so serious about stopping this medical procedure that they are threatening women with life imprisonment or death if they find themselves so desperate to abort that they go forward with the procedure in spite of the laws.
Those on the right scream about being “pro-life!” and pat themselves on the back for being the protectors of innocent children.
I get it. I was a patient at an infertility clinic for several years. I would have given anything to have had a baby. I understand the pro life position. I do.
But then those on the left scream about the attacks on women and on female power. They insist that they are protecting the rights of women to protect their own bodies, their living children, their family units.
I remember when I found myself shockingly and unexpectedly pregnant when my second child was only 6 month old. The child who was conceived using a boatload of high tech interventions.
I never thought about abortion, but I was badly shocked and thrown off to find myself pregnant, anemic, nursing and working full time.
The fact that I could have made choice to end that pregnancy, protecting myself and my other two kids, gave me a sense of peace.
I get it. I REALLY get it.
I chose to go on with my surprise pregnancy, but nature ended it for me only four weeks later. I grieved for a long time for that lost child, but I am eternally grateful that I had the freedom to choose whether or not to go on with the pregnancy.
I understand the desire to end our need for abortion. I understand our desire to keep our choices in place.
But here’s what pisses me off.
If we, as a society, TRULY wanted to limit the number of abortions in this country, we could do it tomorrow.
It isn’t that hard.
We just need to do more research into the best and safest forms of birth control. We need to be putting a whole boatload of money into finding a successful male contraceptive.
And when birth control is safe and effective, we should offer it out there to EVERYONE. It should be given out at high schools, at colleges, at workplaces. It should be free. Easy to use. Easily talked about.
There should be public kiosks where you could get yours.
Cuz, you know what? The whole idea of limiting unwanted pregnancies by limiting sex is so far beyond ignorant that it can only elicit a laugh.
ALL life is designed to procreate. Mammals do that through sex. We all want sex. A lot. Babies are a side product of our natural, God given, scientifically proven desire to mate.
If you want to stop the unwanted pregnancies, you don’t do it be shaming people about sex. (Weren’t these legislators ever teenagers? I mean….seriously!) If you want to stop pregnancy, you push for birth control.
Easy. Logical. Clear.
So why isn’t that the plan?
I don’t know.
Maybe because those who hold power benefit quite a bit when we “little people” are engaged in street fights about our bodies and our sex lives.
All I know is this: If those people being paid with our tax dollars really wanted to eliminate this problem, they could do it.