Playing “The Shell Game”


Photo by Olmes Sosa on Unsplash

I don’t remember the moment when I first learned The Shell Game. It may have been when I was at an orientation weekend with other young American exchange students in June of 1973. It may have happened when I was with my Tunisian family, celebrating the beauty of summer at one the many beaches along the coast of that gorgeous Mediterranean country.

I don’t know for sure.

All I know is that I have memories of happily scooping sand into my palm, forming a small dugout hole on the beach. I would repeat the motion over and over, forming two parallel lines of holes, six on each side. At the ends of the rows, a larger hole was scooped out, forming a kind of collecting space to hold the shells each player had won.

I clearly recall feeling the soft, shining sand as it poured out of my hand. I feel as if I am back there on a hot summer day. I feel the bright pressure of the sun on the back of my neck, like a blessing hand. I hear the waves and smell the briny sting of the gentle breeze.

The game was played by putting four little shells into each of the twelve sandy holes. I’d be playing with one other person, and I can picture each of the smiling faces from that long ago adventure. My Tunisian sisters and brother. The other young American kids who were there with me that summer. I don’t know for certain how may of them played “The Shell Game” with me, or what we called it in either Arabic or French. I just remember that for me the game was a unique and wonderful part of my first travel experience. For me, it was a part of Tunisia.

When I returned to the US after three months with my Tunisian family and friends, I rarely played the Shell Game. I think I tried to teach it to some of my local friends, but it wasn’t the same on the shores of the Atlantic, and I put it back into its place in my memory. I rarely thought about it any more.

So it was with a great deal of surprise some years ago that I stumbled upon the game “Mancala” in the school where I was teaching. In one way I was happy to see my game again, but in another it felt as if I’d lost something special. If anyone could buy a wooden board version of my beloved sunny shell game, was my memory still unique and special? I felt as if those deeply visceral sensory memories had faded into pale and commonplace versions of themselves.

Mancala

But something wonderful happened last week, as it so often does in my absurdly lucky life.

I was playing with my little grandson, Johnny. At the age of four, John is learning all about game strategy. If you’ll permit a bit of grandmotherly bragging, I’ll tell you that this little boy is already mastering the planning needed to win at both Tic-Tac-Toe and Checkers. He beats me at both on a regular basis.

So when he wanted something new to learn to challenge his Nonni, he pulled out a Mancala board that had been stored in my closet. We set up the board and I explained the game to Johnny. We played one round very slowly, carefully counting out the shining stones that were in the set instead of the shells I remembered.

After one round, it seemed that Johnny was ready to get serious. He played with a determination and sense of joy that made me smile to myself with pride. I won a game, but he won the next. As we settled in for another competitive round, I looked at my beautiful boy. He was up on his knees, with one hand pressed to the dining room table, holding himself up above the board. His dark brown hair was curled over his ears and forehead. His shining dark eyes were fixed on the colorful stones as he carefully counted each step.

I saw his small hand, curved into the shape of a scoop, holding the stones as he moved each one along the board. And something about the way he bent his fingers to scoop up the little treasures suddenly transported me from my home in cool Massachusetts to a glorious beach filled with sunlight. Something about the tender shape of his neck took me back to the sight of my young friends. Something about the joy of that moment was a collapsing of time that put me right back into the joy of those long ago days.

I grinned at Johnny.

“I love this shell game!” I said happily.

“It’s a stone game,” he answered simply as he scooped out a pile and carefully counted them out for the win.

Loving A Grandchild


(Baby Ellie as a newborn)

He is only 18 months old, this youngest member of our family. He is barely tall enough to peek out the front window when a car goes by.

He was born with twisted feet, and needed a lot of support to get up and walking. He wears the boots and bar at night, after a full year of wearing them day and night for months after his scary mid-pandemic birth.

But he is strong. He climbs on every available surface, moving chairs across the room so he can turn on lights and ceiling fans. He jumps, he rides his little train, he hops on and off the couch.

He is sweetly unaware that he had a difficult start on his journey toward mobility.

He doesn’t talk yet, but he points and gestures and makes the most intensely purposeful funny faces. Everyone knows exactly what it is that he is saying, even without a real word being uttered.

My grandson. My youngest grandchild.

There were moments before his birth where I honestly asked myself, “How can I possibly love this third child as deeply and intensely as I love his older siblings?” It didn’t seem possible to me; it truly didn’t. I had fallen so deeply in love with his older sister, even before she was born. She was our first grandchild, and I was still reeling from the sadness of my emptied nest.

She came into our lives; I retired from teaching to become her daily nurturing caregiver and I was filled with purpose and joy and a depth of love that shocked me to my core.

When her brother was born less than two years later, I was once again swept up in love and excitement. This little guy was added to my daily life and nothing could have made me happier. I was the delighted Nonni of two perfect little charges.

I hoped and trusted that I’d love this third one just as much; but before I met him, I wasn’t sure that would be possible.

But you know what? Even as I thought those traitorous thoughts, I remembered how I’d wondered the very same thing as I carried my own third child within my body. As a fertility patient, a struggling momma wanna-be, I had been intensely invested in the gestations of my first two children. There had been medications, injections, high-tech interventions….but we’d finally had our first two children. A girl and a boy. What could be more perfect?

So when at last I found myself pregnant with my deeply wanted but easily conceived third child, I wondered if I’d be able to love him with the same depth of emotion that I’d felt for his siblings. Without that sense of desperation, would he mean as much to me?

Then he was born. Easily, happily, more gently born that my older two, this one came to us with a smile and a sense of humor.

I adore all three of my kids, but my third was far easier to love than I’d feared.

He was my boy. My baby. My funny, silly, goofy, gentle loving son.

So when our little Max, our third grandchild, was born, I reminded myself to think of my own third child. I reminded myself that love has a way of working into our hearts when we can’t fully predict it.

And of course, of course, I was right.

Tonight we hosted a dinner for our kids. Our third child, our funny young Tim, came for dinner with his brand-new wife, a woman we’ve loved for years. I pulled my boy into my arms and was filled with the awareness of just how much I still love this wonderful kind young man. He was still my easy boy, my gift, my son.

I stepped back, and let him go to hug his Dad.

And my legs were suddenly encircled by two little arms. I looked down toward my knees. And grinning up at me, with eyes full of love, was our little Max. His dimples echoed those of his Uncle. His grin was just as delightful and just as full of joy.

I looked into his eyes, much darker than his Uncle’s, but matching those of his Mom and Dad. I reached down and lifted him into my arms. He leaned his cheek against mine, chuckled, and murmured, “yeah, ah, yeah.”

And I had to ask myself: why on earth would I have ever questioned just how much love I’d have for any little one who comes into my life?

I don’t know.

All I know is this: I may be foolish, but I am far beyond blessed.

I Absolutely DID See Color Today


And that’s a very good thing.

What a great day I had today.

It was very close to 100 degrees here in Northern Massachusetts. Not a good day to do yard work, but definitely a perfect day to go to the lake nearby.

Our small town doesn’t have a lot to offer in the way of culture, or the arts, or fine dining. We are a small, semi-rural community of folks who kind of scrap our way to a decent living. We have lots of woods, tons of deer and rabbits and fox, and more than a few black bears.

We tend to vote Republican, and we consider ourselves to be working class all the way.

We are also home to some incredibly beautiful places, including a gorgeous lake and campground that we often take for granted.

Today my smart daughter invited me to join her and her three little kids at our beautiful Lake Dennison, and of course I said yes. I wanted to find a way to stay cool in this scary heatwave, but I also went because I wanted to play with my grandkids.

And this is where I need to add my back story.

I’ve lived in this small town since 1990. My husband and I raised our three kids here. I’ve been to Lake Dennison a hundred times or more.

But today I realized that times have changed.

Thirty years ago, when I brought my kids to this beach, every face was white. Every single one.

But today was different.

Today I helped my grandson as he shared toys with an adorable little boy with brown skin and a Spanish speaking Momma. We all laughed and my daughter and I shared stories of motherhood with this funny, warm, sweet woman and her child.

And today I got to chat with a beautiful young African American woman as she snuggled her 4 month old niece in her arms. The baby looked at me with an intense frown and a look of total concentration. Then her entire body seemed to react to me and she grinned, showing two of the deepest dimples I have ever seen. She opened her brown eyes wide and raised her brows. She looked at me as if she knew me, and my heart absolutely melted right into my sandy bare toes.

Today I played in the water with a bunch of kids who had blond hair, brown hair, red hair. I laughed and splashed with kids whose carefully observing parents were black, brown, Hispanic, Asian, French Canadian and white.Every single one of the adults was hyper alert. Every single one talked to their kids about the fine art of sharing beach toys. Every one smiled back at my smile and every one shared our stories about “it goes by so fast!”

And I saw those people.

I saw them for our shared humanity. I saw them as people who were just like me in our desire to escape this awful heat on the shores of our little lake. I saw them as other parents, other grandparents, other caretakers of children.

But I also saw our differences. I saw. And I celebrated the gift that my grandchildren are given every time they have a chance to meet and play with children who have a different ethnic and racial background than their own.

I’d be totally lying if I said that I didn’t recognize the racial differences between my family and those who sat on the sand beside us. I did see it. I did recognize it and think about it. I was totally tuned in to the Asian Mom and her Black husband who brought their three kids to the beach. I was acutely aware of the folks speaking Spanish, and to those who were speaking accented English.

To me, one of the best parts of this refreshing day was my awareness of just how multi-cultural and inter-racial it was.

But even better than that is the realization that my grand kids were only aware of their interactions with other kids. Other kids.

THEY didn’t see race or ethnicity or language or economic status. All they saw was a day full of new friends, a chance to meet new kids, a life after the pandemic lockdown. They looked at the crowd of humans and in their minds, the group was broken down into two groups: close to my age and not close to my age.

Kid/potential friend vs adult/not a potential friend.

This is what gives me hope for our future.

While Nonni was happy to be in a multi-racial place, my grandchildren were creating a world where the only question that mattered was whether or not the person in front of them was a potential playmate.

I love this.

I feel uplifted.

Children give me such hope.

Dear Ms. S,


Today I stood in the hallway outside of my bedroom door, listening in as my sweet Ellie had her last kindergarten lessons.

I stood there in the hall, listening through the door, letting the tears flow free.

Oh, my goodness, my dear Ms. S

I have no idea how you did it!

As I stood there, eavesdropping shamelessly on your classroom, I felt as if I had stumbled into a strange time travel machine.

Wasn’t it just the other day when I stood in this very same spot, anxious and afraid, sure that remote kindergarten would be a horribly failed experiment for my first grandchild?

Wasn’t it just a few short days ago when I leaned against this door, hoping to hear the sound of Ellie’s voice as she (hopefully) engaged in your lessons?

How is it possible that under the pressures of Covid 19 time itself has become a stretchy, malleable, unknowable concept?

I don’t know. I have no answers.

Just as I have absolutely NO explanation for how it is that you managed to give your students the most wonderful kindergarten experience, although none of you have ever met or hugged or shared a meal?

My dear Ms. S,

I am so sad to see this wonderful year coming to an end. And I am so relieved and so happy and so unbelievably grateful for what you and your colleagues have achieved this year.

I know that you’ll be tempted to read all of the online opinions about what happened in our schools this year. I know. You’ll tell yourself that it doesn’t really matter, but I am sure that you’ll feel it deep in your heart when you hear all of the references to “learning loss” and how much our children have suffered.

You’re a teacher: I know you will take every criticism to heart.

But let me share my thoughts about this most historic and magical and astonishing school year.

My little Ellie came into your class as a shy, insecure, uncertain learner. She didn’t utter a word in her preschool class for the first 6 weeks.

But when she came to you, via Zoom, gazing into her “kindergarten Ipad”, she became a learner. She became a student.

She made friends, and I must say that this is the fact that astonishes me the most. Under your kind and warm guidance, Ellie quickly understood that she was a part of a community of learners. She learned new names and new faces; and she learned which of “my friends” share her interests and which simply intrigue her because they are so funny.

I watched our little girl grow this year. In a normal school year, I would have had no contact with her classroom life. But because of the pandemic, I was able to lurk in the hallway outside of her door, hearing the sound of her laughter, her interest, her engagement.

I heard my grandchild grow up.

Thank you.

In September, Ellie was afraid to admit that she knew how to spell her name. She was unsure, cautious, nervous to take a risk.

In June, her favorite activity is grabbing a book (any book) and reading to her younger brothers and her grandparents. She writes stories, writes notes, pretends to be a reporter as she interviews me.

Because of your calm, assured, joyful approach to school, Ellie is proud to announce that “I’m a good mathemetician”. She is sure of her intelligence. She is willing to sound out words that are completely new to her.

Dear Ms. S,

How does an aging grandmother, a retired teacher, a highly emotional activist woman ever manage to express how grateful I am for all that you and your staff have accomplished this year?

I don’t know.

I don’t know what to say, or how to thank you, or how to fully express all of the ways that you made this year seem “normal” and “manageable” and “safe”.

You are my hero.

You will always be my hero.

I still remember the love and care that I received from my kindergarten teacher back in 1960. I can still see her face and hear her deep voice.

You’ve managed to give my little granddaughter the same sense of wonder, the same belief in herself and the same social skills that I was given so many decades ago.

Thank you.

Thank you.

I always cry on the last day of school; this year my tears are more complex, more numerous, and more deeply felt.

We will owe you our gratitude forever.Age of Awareness

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On Being a Mom, Momma, Mammadukes, Ma, Momochka


Happy Mother’s day. Happy, joyful mother’s day to every woman who has carried a brand new tiny life inside of her own body. To every woman who has felt that first movement, sobbed over those painful rib-busting kicks, celebrated the rolling motion that assured her that her baby was alive.

Happy Mother’s day to every woman who has pushed a being the size of a grapefruit out of an orifice the size of a lemon. And to every woman who has endured the surgery, the stitches, the aching pain of a C-Section.

Wishing Mother’s Day love to every single woman on earth who has opened her heart and her arms to a baby through adoption, and who has made the deliberate and thoughtful choice to embrace and love that child forever.

Love and Happy Mother’s Day to every Aunt who has been there to talk, to listen, to advise and to guide even when the needy child is not “your own”. Love to those women who made it a point to appear at every sporting event, every concert, every elementary school play, and who always made that event so special.

Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers who are mourning the loss of beautiful children this weekend. To those who lost babies at birth, or who never even got that far. Love and sympathy and affirmation to those women who lost young children to illness or accident, to those who lost a teen to suicide or drugs or cancer or car crashes. Love to those who have lost young and vibrant adult children to the most inexplicable and unpredictable of events.

Happy Mother’s Day to every woman who has helped to raise a child. To the daycare staff, the teachers, the coaches, the scout leaders, the advisors and uplifters.

Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day to the neighbors to stopped the bullying. To the woman who delivers the mail every day with a smile and a wave and a special hello to the kids. And the same to the delivery folks who greet the kids and let them carry the packages to the door.

Happy, Happy Mother’s Day to the women who put up the solar panels, carrying tools on their shoulders as little children watched. The same to the women who provide the medical care to wide eyed young kids, and to the ones who author the books that they love, and a special shout out to those to write and perform the empowering music that inspires them.

Happy Mother’s Day!

A Happy, healthy, joyful Mother’s Day to every woman on this lovely planet who has helped to raise the next generation of humans.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a big band of loving women to raise a child in love and hope and power.

Happy, Happy Mother’s Day, to all of my fellow warrior women “Mammas”.

Spring is For Children


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 Do It For the Joy


I take care of my grandchildren every day. I have done it for the past 6 years.

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 know.

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.

Whatever.

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.

Know What? I’m Proud of Me.


Sometimes in this long life, you just need one of those days where you feel proud of yourself, you know?

I used to be a teacher. I taught fifth grade after years of providing speech and language therapy to kids with communication disorders. I was proud of myself back then. I was good at both jobs. I was good at connecting with kids, I was good at diagnostics, I was a fun teacher.

I used to get lots of positive feedback from kids, from colleagues, from the parents of my students. I mean, it wasn’t all good (I still wake up at night thinking of the kids I failed and the parents who were let down by my efforts.)

But I usually felt OK. I usually felt proud of what I accomplished in a year, or a month or a week of teaching.

Now I’m staying at home. I take care of the two people on this beautiful planet who I love the most. I laugh with them, I watch them eat the good food I’ve made for them, I help them to create art.

Watching my grandchildren is a gift.

But I don’t usually feel proud of my “work.” I mean, really? I peel multiple clementines, wash multiple hands and change multiple diapers. A monkey could do it.

I rock, I soothe, I sing lullabyes in my off key voice.

Proud is not one of my average adjectives.

But today was different. So different.

For the first time in MONTHS, I took both of the kids to the grocery store, to the florist and then to the hair salon while I had my head beautified.

My Johnny at the salon. String cheese in hand, new book on his lap. I freakin’ rock.

Oh, yeah.

This 63 year old Nonni put two toddlers into carseats not once, but THREE TIMES. During one of those carseat buckling events, the 22 month old had what can only be described as a takeover by an alien force. There was screaming, writhing, head swinging, teeth gnashing…. There was also a big old downpour of icy rain, so Nonni was not able to be her usual patient self (cough, cough). I wrassled that poor little tyke into that carseat, and all I had to say through my clenched teeth was “This is NOT my first toddler meltdown!”

Naturally, on the way home, said toddler fell sound asleep in his carseat. I got his sister into the house, safely debooted and dried, sucking on a lollipop (don’t judge! It was in a jar at the salon.) I brought seven bags of groceries into the house, let in the dogs, dried off the dogs.

Then I ran outside to check the sleeping baby.

Back inside, I unpacked seven bags of food and put them away. I also served two bowls of fresh blackberries to the 3 year old who had finished her pop. I gave her a string cheese. I got the dogs off the couch, pulled out lunch foods, and started to defrost dinner.

Then I ran outside into the rain to grab the now awake little one. I brought him inside, pulled off his boots, rocked him for 15 minutes while he tried to wake all the way up. I also sang “Frozen” songs to his sister, who was dancing in her blue sparkly dress. I wasn’t able to put down the cranky boy long enough to boot up the computer for the music, so I had to rely on my singing.

Luckily, she loves me. She isn’t a critic. She danced.

Finally, both kids were awake.

I served up a lunch of raisin bread and blackberries (STOP JUDGING! It’s what they wanted!)

Then I made a lovely dinner (for me) of octopus.

Oh, my GOD, so delicious!
Message me for the recipe.
This isn’t a food blog.
But seriously…..so so good.

OK, OK, fine.

My husband is having leftover ravioli, but I am STILL very proud of me.

What a day.

Long, fun, fulfilling, challenging and in the end I get a plate full of delicious seafood.

I. Am. So. Proud. Of. Me.

Motherhood


It was so many years ago, and it all seems almost like a dream. Even so, I remember all of the sadness, the struggles, the joy. I remember it the way you remember those things that change you at the most minute level of your every cell.

More than three decades ago, when I was a young, healthy woman, Paul and I finally came to the point in our lives when we were ready and eager to start a family. We’d been to college, had our first jobs, gone off to graduate school.

The age of 30 was looming ahead of me, and I was getting anxious about putting off motherhood. After all, I was the oldest daughter in a family of six kids. I considered my own Mom, and her mother before her, to be the epitome of women who were fulfilling their life’s true purpose.

Of course I knew that times were changing, and that women of my generation were expected to have college degrees and jobs and careers. I was delighted by all of that, but I still longed for the chance to become a mother. I had fed and changed and cradled my youngest siblings, and my maternal instincts were incredibly cranked up.

So we put aside the birth control and waited for the miracle. And we waited. And waited some more. My heart became heavier with each passing month, and eventually we realized that we’d need some medical help.

My deepest and dearest wish seemed to be out of my reach.

But at last, at last, at last. Just before my dreaded thirtieth birthday, I conceived. My dream was coming true. Slowly, through those long, anxious months, I began to believe that I would finally hold my own baby.

And it happened. On January 11th, 1986, after more hours than I want to think about, my beautiful girl came into the world. I took one look at her and my heart melted into a pool of motherly smoosh.

THIS was the most gorgeous, most perfect, most lovable and loving human being that had ever been born. I immediately felt badly for every parent who had to learn how to love their inferior children.

I’m not kidding.

I was beyond in love. The smell of her cheek, the darkness of her brown eyes, the shape of those tiny lips…..all of it was completely intoxicating to both Paul and I.

At last, I was a mother. My dream had come true.

Now it is 33 years after that life-changing moment of birth. My beautiful, perfect little baby girl has become a strong, passionate, smart, funny, wonderful woman. She is a fabulous teacher, loved by her students and their parents.

She is a mother of incredible humor, grace, gentleness and love. She is a better mother than I was, and I was pretty damned good. She’s a great cook, a loyal and devoted friend, a supportive colleague. She is a political activist, a well informed and passionate progressive.

She is still a miracle to me. I am still so in love with the beauty of her smile, the shine of her gorgeous hair, the strength that I see in her interactions with her kids.

Happy, happy birthday to the incredible young woman who I still consider to be the most excellent and perfect of dreams come true.

My lovely girl with her lovely girl.

Pez Hoarding


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

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

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

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

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

It was a complete set of those Pez dispensers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Years,” I suggested.

She shook her head. “Decades.”

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

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

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

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

I decided it would be safe to try one.

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

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

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

The crowd of onlookers was spellbound.

“Well?” Liz asked.

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

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

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

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

Can’t you just picture it?

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

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

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

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

They cackle.

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

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