Good Bye, Horrific Old Kitchen


So here’s the thing. We moved into this house 31 years ago this month. Back then, this was a reasonably nice 5 year old house with a cheaply made interior. The kitchen was basic, functional, not particularly beautiful. The countertops were laminate, the cabinets made of particleboard. There were plastic “lazy susan” shelves in both corners.

It was way better than the run down apartments we’d rented before, and more up to date than the kitchen in the one decent house we’d lived in earlier.

We had finally had our first child, and were awaiting our second. We had finally, finally, finally finished graduate school and scraped up enough money for a downpayment. We bought this house in a relatively rural small New England town.

At the time, I fell in love with all of it. I fell in love with the fact that this soil, these trees, this average American house, was all OURS.

To embrace an overused cliche, we definitely set down our roots here.

We have lived in this house long enough now to have replaced the floors, updated the paint, renovated the bathrooms and tamed the yard. We’ve turned the cellar into a cozy playroom. We’ve raised three kids here. We take care of our three grandkids here.

It’s a nice house.

Except that the kitchen has gone from basic to disgusting. The cabinets are filthy and uncleanable. One shelf is actually held up by a book. The laminate counters are cracked, peeling, burned, dirty and faded.

Don’t even get me started on the floor.

Or the 35 year old kitchen light that was cheap when it was bought way back when.

So.

At long last, after having saved for years, our kitchen is about to be totally renovated. New floors, new sink, new lights, brand new paint job. Brand new white, shiny cabinets and drawers and a specially designed spice cabinet just for my giant spice collection!

Finally, after more than four decades of marriage, I am about to have a trendy, fashionable kitchen with white tile backsplash, brushed nickel appliances and even a special slide out drawer for trash and recycling.

This is a life changer for me!

So you would imagine me dancing the happy dance all around, wouldn’t you?

Well. I am dancing. A lot.

I have danced my way through pulling apart every drawer, every shelf, every cabinet in my kitchen. I have danced through donating a dozen boxes of “what the hell is this” and I have danced through weeks of reorganizing junk drawers and plastic storage items.

But now everything is empty.

And now my inner sappy-soft-hearted-ridiculous old woman is breaking through.

Last night my long suffering husband found himself faced with a wife who was finally getting her one big wish. A brand new kitchen! And that wife was sobbing and moaning, in spite of the updates ahead.

“Oh, honey,” I sobbed to poor Paul. “There are so many memories in this old kitchen!”

“This was the corner where our baby girl sat and played ‘LightBrite’ on the day we passed papers on this house!” Our Kate was only four, and the house was cold and empty. But we signed the contracts and we came here and set her up at a little table to play as we looked through our new house. On that cold April day, that kitchen looked like the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.

“Remember when we had the little picnic table here?”, I asked as I wiped my nose. “I can see our three kids here having lunch.” One of my favorite pictures of them was taken in this spot, at that funny plastic table. I could close my eyes and picture the neighbor kids here, too. Chrissy and her brother Nick, grinning with my kids. And sweet Alex, our dear Alex, who died far too soon. This corner was where they laughed and snacked and argued and grew. And were I watched over them as they did it all.

Paul wasn’t sure what was making me so weepy, but when I turned to the cracked plastic of the spinning corner cabinet, he understood.

These two words, written in Sharpie on our old shelf, brought both of us back to the days when our kids were young.

I could remember the night when I wrote those words. The kids were just old enough to come home from school by themselves, and to spend two hours at home before I got here. One day I came home with groceries and as I went to put them away, I realized that most of what I had bought the week before to provide lunches and snacks for school had been eaten by the home-without-Mom crowd.

So after complaining and griping at the kids, I put the food into the cabinet and wrote the words on the shelf. “School food!!!!!” was strictly off limits to the crew. It became a source of argument, negotiation and many jokes for the next several years.

I had forgotten all about it until the moment when I was emptying everything out for our renovation.

And I was suddenly pulled back to all the meals, all the birthday cakes, all the brunches, all the holidays, all the batches of virus busting soups of the past three decades.

And I cried. A lot.

Tomorrow these old, busted, broken, dirty cabinets will be torn out and tossed into the dumpster. The floor will come up and the appliances will be moved. In a couple of weeks, I’ll step into the kitchen of my dreams.

I’ll be happy. I’ll be delighted!

But I will always be a little bit nostalgic for the crappy old place where I cooked a million meals for the people I love so much.

For the First Time, I Do Not Want to Be Just Like My Mom


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 Think Spring is Going to Kill Me


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.

Huzzah.

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.

Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

How Did I Get Here?


Paul and I took a couple of days off this week. Well, truthfully, he took a couple of days off. Since the onset of the Covid disaster, I have mostly had my days free. But he’s been working as a therapist in a time of universal angst, and he was very tired.

We decided to take a couple of days and travel up into the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire, to the National Forest Campground where Paul and his family have spent vacations since the 1920s.

While Paul grew up with a love of these mountains, and a passion of camping at their feet, I came to that life in my late teens. Truthfully, I had never camped in my life until I decided that this very cute guy was worth the bugs, the rain, the cold nights and the burned food.

Needless to say, I learned to camp. In fact, I learned to camp at Dolly Copp Campground in the White Mountain National Forest. I learned to pitch a tent. And to cook outside. And to bathe my little ones in a rubber bucket. I learned to lock up the food so the bears wouldn’t get it. And to wash my hair in a bucket of water warmed over the camp stove.

And the years went by. My kids love camping, and hiking. They love Dolly Copp Campground so much. Our extended family has a reunion up there every year. That campground is where I felt the movement of my first baby in my womb. It is where that same baby went into early labor and was rushed off the hospital to have her own daughter, with me at her side. Dolly Copp campground is where my boys learned to fish, and where they learned the sorrow that came with killing another being in order to eat.

We swam in the river that runs through the campground. We made s’more. We sang around the fires. Our little family has so many, many good memories of that place.

And Paul and I went there to camp last night. Only one night, but it was filled with memories and peace and laughter.

This morning, very early, I found myself in the campground’s bathroom. An updated, modern, clean version of the little spaces where I’d dressed my kids so many times.

I looked into the mirror, and I saw my 64 year old self. Not the hopeful, eager young 19 year old girl who first followed her future mate to this place, but the gray, wrinkled, slightly wilted version of that girl.

“I’m 64.” I said out loud. “How did this happen?”

I expected to feel sad, but you know what? Something beautiful happened.

As I stood there, looking at my aging self, I heard a sudden unexpected voice answering my question.

“It happened because for the past 40 plus years, you’ve been busy.

In that time,” the voice told me, “You’ve graduated from college, learned what you wanted to do with you life, achieved a Master’s degree and embarked on a rich and rewarding career.”

I looked back at the image in the mirror, remembering every misstep and every failed moment.

But the voice from my heart continued, “You’ve learned how to teach. And you’ve been a teacher. You have touched the lives of many many children, in ways that you won’t ever know. You have reassured parents, encouraged kids, supported them on their journeys. The years passed because you were busy. You were growing and you were doing good.”

I thought of the kids I’ve loved and taught over the years. The kids who are my Facebook friends, my real life friends, my warmest memories. “OK”, I thought, “I get it.”

But the voice wasn’t done.

“And you’ve raised three kids. Three adults who are healthy and joyful and loving.”

I looked back at my face in the mirror. I saw a mother. A teacher. A sister, a friend, a wife, a daughter.

I saw a life well lived.

“OK”, I said, nodding to my own old self, “OK. I’m 64 years old, and it isn’t a surprise. How did I get here? I got here on my own winding but worthwhile path.”

Really, what more could any of us ask of this life?

The Passing Years, and How to Count Them


My family is enormously lucky because we live in a place that is green, and beautiful. Our house is surrounded by trees.

We’ve been in this house for 30 years. That seems so hard to believe. My husband Paul and I raised our three kids here. We’ve had two cats and five dogs at different times in this house.

Parts of the yard have been, at various times over the years, a baseball diamond, a hockey rink, a vegetable garden, a flower bed, a strawberry patch and a place to put the swings.

Now the kids are all grown up and on their own, and it’s time for us to start looking forward. In another ten or so years, we plan to sell this house and move someplace with less upkeep. It’s time.

With that thought in mind, we’re hiring someone to help clean up this huge yard and make things look neater and less overgrown. I have mixed feelings about it, isn’t that weird?

I walk around and I look at what is now a big rock buried in raspberry and blackberry vines. I remember thirty years ago, when that was the site of my first little garden. I planted “hens and chicks” and other succulents, thinking it would be a rock garden. I didn’t anticipate the encroachment of the woods. It didn’t occur to me that Mother Nature had her own plans.

The arborist is going to take down a tall, slender oak tree near our driveway. It is competing with other trees for sunlight and is now leaning toward our deck. It shades an entire section of lawn. Everything will look more open, more sunny, when it is gone.

But I remember one warm summer morning when that oak was about my height. I laid on the grass with our new puppy in my arms and looked at the sky through its leaves. That puppy is long gone now, crossed over the rainbow bridge in his old age. I look at that oak tree, and I remember his soft ears and his puppy smell. I don’t really want the tree to go. But it’s time.

There is a little grove of baby white pines that need to be taken out, too. They stand together, like a little family that has silently stepped out of the forest and into our yard. They silently watch the grass where my kids used to play “desert land.” They need to come down, but I will miss them.

I can count the passage of our family’s years by looking at the tree stumps that now stand in the yard. There’s the stump of a tree that once held a toddler’s swing. There is the stump of a pine that used to guard a squirrel nest.

Time passes, and we know we are aging. My mirror and my bones tell me that!

But I forget sometimes that this house and this yard are aging, too. It will be good to have it cleaned up, and to have the woods retreat back to where they belong.

Still, there is a little piece of me that wishes for something else. Perhaps it would be magic, I think, if we simply moved away and let the forest gently and slowly enfold the house where our children grew up. Let her cover it up and keep it safe, like a tender memory that can only be revisited in dreams.

Image: “Pine Tree and others” by scottc320 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I Stand on the Bridge


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.

And.

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 Prednisone Diaries


You know you want me.

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.

Got it?

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.

But.

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?

The Nature of Aging


I am now in my 6th decade of life. My hair is almost entirely silver. My jowls have arrived, and the wrinkles around my eyes will show you my general mood.

I’m a happy old wrinkly grandmother.

I know that I’m chubby, I know that I’m gray. I get it. I’ve earned these marks. They show that I have lived.

For the most part, I am happy to observe time moving along merrily. I know that nothing is permanent, and that time can’t be slowed, or stopped, or forced to run backwards.

My life is in its early Fall season, I’d guess. The beautiful pressures of summer are over. Now it’s time to settle in a bit, make some stock to hold us through the long winter, to think about which good books we’d like to keep us company as it snows.

I don’t think about time passing as much as you might think. I try, really, really hard to keep my focus on the moment in front of me.

But sometimes old Mother Nature reaches in to give me a poke.

This evening she did exactly that.

I was standing on my deck, in the back of the house where Paul and I have lived for 29 years. I was resting my chin on my hand, and gazing out into our woods. My eyes weren’t really focused. I was just sort of looking into the distance.

But then I saw the little golden leaves in front of me. Slowly unfurling into the warm sun. Little oak leaves.

I pulled my focus back and looked at the tree that was reaching out, offering me those tender leaves.

And there stood a strong, young, vibrant oak, bursting into life on the edge of our woods. It’s branches were leaning toward the deck. Toward me.

My head swam. Time went whooooshing past me, leaving me reeling with vertigo.

When we moved into this house (last year? last month? three decades ago?) there was a tall, strong white pine standing behind our deck, just on the edge of the woods. It had thick, lustrous branches and a tall, straight trunk. One branch leaned in so close to our deck that I was once able to coax a chickadee from it’s tip to my palm.

I loved that tree.

For years, I watched it age and wither and become brittle. A few years ago we knew that it was finished, and we had the guardian pine taken down.

The sun came shining down. Little saplings sprang up in the place where the old tree once stood.

And while I wasn’t looking, an oak sapling raced toward the skies. It opened it’s arms, reached for the sun, and grew.

Today I stood looking at the woods. One confident, cocky oak tree seemed to have taken center stage. I had a sense of it grinning at me as it passed me by.

I closed my eyes and saw the old white pine that used to be the star of our particular stage. I could imagine her spirit smiling at the exuberance of the teen aged oak.

I felt time racing by.

I am surely getting older. If I somehow forget that fact, I have no doubt that Mother Nature will remind me.

My Small World


Do you remember when you were in high school? Your entire world consisted of your friends, your classes, your teachers and coaches and maybe, on the outer edge, your parents and siblings.

Everything that occupied your soul and your heart and your mind was contained within the smallest circle around you. You only thought about the people you came in contact with ever day.

In a way, that was a wonderful life. Relationships seemed so deep, perhaps because they were so few.

I know that when I was in high school I thought of myself as very worldly and aware. I read National Geographic every month. I sort of followed the news, because my parents did. I knew who was running for which public office.

But I never stayed awake at night worrying about the Middle East, or the Irish troubles or the cold war.

Nope. I stayed awake at night worrying about if he liked me or if he “LIKED ME” liked me. I worried about who was mad at whom, who was heartbroken this week, who made which team and what I should wear on any given day.

My world was small.

Then I grew up. I went to college and had a career. I had a family and a life in a community. My world expanded so much that I sometimes felt overwhelmed. How to balance the work relationships, the community relationships, the hockey mom connections, the girl scout friends, the family and neighbors….During those busy and crazy years of raising kids, I was also involved in local town politics, and to some extent in state and federal politics, too.

I read a lot. I listened to the news and watched the news and debated the various political points and positions with all of the bright and engaged people in my life at the time.

I learned every day, too. I learned from my colleagues in school, from the mentors I had in education, and from the parents and kids I interacted with every day.

I learned, I grew, I felt myself to be a part of a wide, interesting, challenging world.

My world was big. It knew no limits.

So you can see why I am struggling a little bit now, in my Nonni years. Now my world has shrunk so much that sometimes I wonder if there is a greater universe out there at all.

Now I find that my life, so much like the one I lead back in my teens, is composed uniquely of the people I love and interact with every single day. I don’t really follow local politics anymore, to my shame. I try to read and watch and listen to the political news from my state and from this country.

I’ve always been a follower of international relations, so I do my best to keep up with latest Brexit development.

But the truth is, when I lay myself down to sleep at night, my thoughts now are limited to questions of which toddler will like which art project. I worry about finding nutritious snacks that will pack in some extra calories.

I sometimes wake up at 3 AM thinking about Princess Poppy from Trolls.

My world has closed right in around me.

There are weeks when I honestly don’t leave my property from Monday through Saturday.

And this is where I struggle.

Is it bad that I don’t mind settling in quietly to my small, enclosed, circumscribed life? Am I being a coward when I simply stay in the house with the kids and make soup?

I miss being a part of a team. I miss the ongoing intellectual challenges that I knew as a teacher, and before that as an interpreter. I miss getting to each Friday feeling as if I’ve learned something that I didn’t know on Monday.

But I love shaking off the stress and fear and angst of trying to keep up with all of the needs of those around me. I love huddling in my safe little cocoon of babies and finger paints and preschool art projects.

What I worry about is this:

Am I closing myself off too much? How do I continue to grow and learn and stretch and challenge my mind when my days are filled with rocking and singing to my best beloved little ones?

How do I balance the big old world with my safe and happy little one?

This is my whole world.

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.