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.”

 

 

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.

 

What Gender Roles?


I love being a grandmother. I mean….jeez, I love it! I get to adore my grandchildren without worrying every minute that I’m ruining their lives. (Yup. I remember being a neurotic Mom.) I get to play, make a nice mess, then have the evening to put things back in order.

I get to feed them. A lot.

I love that.

I love watching them grow. I love watching them change, and learn new things. I love seeing which parts of them are nature and which parts are pure nurture.

Ellie, at the tender age of three, is a bit cautious and very sensitive to feelings and moods. And she’s dramatic.

She also loves to solve problems. She has a certain tenacity that lets her scream in frustration while trying to put things together, then sob in outrage, then pick up the tools and start again.

She works with her tongue in the corner of her mouth, frowning and humming as she tries to figure out which piece goes where. She does NOT quit.

When she’s done, she often looks up at me and says, “I did it!!!”

She loves to dress up, she loves to dance ballet. The more glitter, the better, as far as Ellie (“I’m Elsa and Anna right now.”) is concerned. She loves hair ties, and jewelry and plastic princess shoes with high heels.

And she loves blocks, trains, cars, fitting things together and tool kits. She loves to cook, to plant flowers and to defeat the bad guys with her magic.

She is a warrior woman. She is all things that a strong, brave, beautiful, self-confident young female should be.

Warrior Woman Child

Yes, I am using a drill while dressed as Ariel. Why do you ask?

Hooray for letting kids choose their own way. Hooray for telling young girls that they can be sparkly superheroes who defeat the bad guys with drills and high heels.

Hooray.

And while we cheer for the power of little girls, let’s embrace the power of little boys to choose their own paths, too!

Our little Johnny is only a year old. He can walk, climb, throw a ball, drive a car, play the drums and smack his Nonni in the head with a block.

He hurls himself backward into whatever is behind him, whether it’s the couch, a blanket or a pile of bricks. He kicks, he squeals, he eats with both hands.

He seems like the traditional description of “all boy.”

But.

He also looks at his Nonni from across the room. He tucks his little chin, grins and toddles across the room with both arms wide open. When I scoop him up, he rests his cheek against mine and coos, “awwwwww” as he hugs me.

He puts his toys to sleep on the sofa pillows. He feeds them and sings to them and rocks them.

Johnny sings and dances when any music comes on. He asks me to sing when I rock him to sleep, but if he doesn’t like the tune, he sits up in my arms and puts a hand on my mouth. He likes gentle, repetitive songs that have words he can imitate. “Blue bird, blue bird, at my window” is one of his favorites.

He is sweet.

When he was here with me the other day, without his big sister or his Mommy, he found a headband of Ellie’s in a drawer. “Ah”, he said, handing it to me. “Ah” . He tilted his head forward, so I’d put the band on his head.

Then he started to dance. There was no music playing, but he knew that on most days, he and Ellie would dance to the music on my computer.

He twirled, he raised his hands, he picked up one foot at a time. He was delighted to be dancing in the sunshine of my living room, all by himself. He was dancing for his own pleasure.

Then his internal ballet music must have stopped, because he bent down to pick up a toy car.

Johnny

“One pirouette and Vroom!!!”

“Vrrmmmmmm!” he announced, his headband still delightfully in place.

Kudos to the new generation of parents, who let their boys dance around in pink tutus while their girls use the drill. You all give me so much hope for a happy, more balanced future.

 

 

Desperately Seeking Solace


Oh.

Oh, my.

Ohmygod.

Dear young Moms, please help me! I need you!

Dear Grandmother’s, please please tell me it will all be OK!

What. A. Day.

First thought: I love my grandchildren more than I love my own heartbeat.

But.

After 25 or so years as a momma, you kinda forget how hard it can be. Today I had my reminder.

I picked up my little grandchildren, the same way I do it every day. “HI, Ellie!” I chirped to my 2 1/2 year old best beloved. “I need milkies.” she answered. “OK!”, I said, “When we get home!” We pulled into my driveway some 12 minutes later, and I got her out of her carseat. Luckily for me, her grandfather, her adored “Papa”, was there to help. I put her down on the driveway and filled my hands with all of the stuff she’d need for the day. The bag with the extra clothes for her and her baby brother. The bag with some toys that might (hopefully) keep said baby brother occupied for two minutes. The milk for him. The boots for her.

Papa grabbed baby brother and went into the house. Ellie, who normally walks casually into the house, ran down the driveway screaming, “I need my zipper!  I need my zipper!”

I was unable to convince her that she didn’t need to zip her jacket because we were walking into the warm house. I had to resort to grabbing her around the waist, hoisting the multiple bags of stuff, and dragging her into the house.

She howled. Like a freakin’ wolf, she absolutely howled.

Now. This ain’t my first rodeo, so I ignored her. Eventually, she came upstairs and joined us in the living room. All was well.

Sorta.

We sat down to breakfast, a nice big oatmeal breakfast. I served Ellie a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries. I put a pile of oatmeal and blueberries onto ten month old Johnny’s tray. I sipped my coffee.

Ten minutes later, Ellie was finished. She carefully wiped her face and hands, put her dish in the kitchen, and went to play. “Yay, me”, I thought. “I know how to handle cranky toddlers!”

Then I looked at baby John. There was oatmeal on his face. On his chest. In his hair. Packed into both nostrils. And on the wall beside him.

Johnny oatmeal

“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh”, I said. I grabbed him out of the booster seat, and carried the tray and his dishes into the kitchen. I had to clean him up, obviously. It didn’t seem like the best idea to just toss him into the tub fully dressed, so I placed him, very carefully, on the couch. I knew that the back of his pajamas were clean. I thought I could scrape the crud off of the front while leaving the nice clean back against the couch.

Sure.

That was when he went into the “alligator death roll” to quote of his Mom’s best friends. He flopped, he flailed, he twisted himself into a pretzel. After roughly 20 minutes, he was dressed in clean clothes, but I was faced with the awesome task of removing globs of blueberry filled oatmeal from my leather couch, my rug and the curtains behind the couch.

I scraped it up as fast as I could, letting Johnny crawl around the living room. Meanwhile Ellie kept demanding “I want MILK!!!” and “I NEED to color!!! NOW!!!”

So. By 10 AM, my teeth were gritted, my jaw was tight, my heart was skipping some very important beats.

I got Ellie her milk. I got Johnny dressed. I went into the kitchen to deal with the pile of dishes, bibs, dirty clothes, and oatmeal smeared walls. All was well. I soaped and scrubbed and started to relax. I forced myself to be calm and patient. “I am Nonni,” I intoned, drawing on my inner loving self.

Then I heard a sound. “Clank!”

I turned around.

I saw my little Johnny, holding the dog’s water bowl in both hands. It was on his head like a jaunty little hat. Water was pouring down his face and over his body.  He was soaked. The floor was soaked. He was, dare I say it? He was chortling.

A shriek came out of my throat before I could stop it.

Fast forward 15 minutes. I had now dealt with a soaked floor, a soaked baby, another round of alligator death roll, a thirsty dog barking at us all and a two year old tyrant demanding “I WANT TO WEAR A SKIRT!!! NO!!!! NOT THAT SKIRT!!!!”

I was ready for a martini and it wasn’t even 11AM.

I needed a moment.

Johnny was plopped into the playpen. Ellie was settled on the couch with a video. I went down the hall and into my bathroom. I washed my face. I brushed my teeth. I looked in the mirror at my haggard old self. “You can DO this,” I told me. “You are NOT going to crack. They’re just being kids. It’s OK.”

I grinned at me.

I looked like everyone’s image of the scary hag who comes to haunt them in the night. I brushed my hair and straightened my shoulders.  I forced myself to be calm and confident as I walked back into the living room.

Ellie looked up at me.

“I just peed in my pants.” she told me with a grin.

Ellie yelling

“I’m two! And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

Hearing That “Click”


I’ve always been enormously grateful to have married into a fun, warm, welcoming family. My husband’s extended family is full of people I really, truly love. A lot. They laugh. They kiss. They’re just plain fun.

But from the beginning of our dating life a few decades ago, I’ve also been aware that I am a little more ethnic than all those gorgeous blonde cousins and their kids. I remember times over the years, where I just felt so ridiculously Italian.

Like the time I ate dinner with Paul’s family and was so impressed with the meal. I had never had anything like it! I was both delighted and amazed. “What do you call this?” I asked innocently. Even 35 years later, I remember the awkward silence, the glances around the table, and the answer to my question.

“It’s a pot roast.”

Yup. I felt a little out of the WASP world at that moment.

But one day Paul and I went to visit his Uncle, a man I hadn’t yet met. Paul was eager for me to meet Uncle Curt and his wife, Mary. All the way to their house, my sweetie talked about how much he loved the delicious veal cutlets that Mary cooked.

Mary, it turned out, was Italian. 

When we got to their house, Mary greeted us with a big smile, a hug, and warm brown eyes. She took both my hands, we smiled at each other, and there was a magical little “click” somewhere in my heart.

I don’t remember much of the visit, but I remember that when I met Mary, I met an image of myself. I met a friend. I know that we laughed, we talked about red wine, we talked about food.

It was a wonderful day.

I’m not sure that I every saw Mary again. If I did, it was only once or twice, and only in a crowd. Still, she’s always stayed in my memory. Her lemon cutlets and her big smile.

And that “click”.

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A couple of years ago, we were away on Paul’s annual camping family reunion. It was a beautiful July night, and everyone was gathering around the “Happy Hour” table. There were a few people there that were new to the yearly experience. One young couple came with their little year old baby boy. I didn’t actually get the details about who they were, and how they were related, but I smiled and admired the baby.

I was happy to meet everyone, but I was also a little distracted. You see, my daughter was within a couple of weeks of her due date to deliver our first grandchild. My thoughts were mostly on her as we all set up our campsites.

Still, as I talked to the young woman with the beautiful curly hair, as we compared our feelings about motherhood, as I looked at her warm, smiling face, I swear to you: I heard that tiny inner “click” once again.

But I didn’t have a chance to think much about my new “click” or what it meant, because my daughter went into labor at midnight, and instead of spending the weekend hanging out with relatives, I hung out in the maternity unit, meeting my sweet Ellie.

I nearly forgot about the “click”.

Until very recently.

Over the past two years, I have started to get together once in a while with that lovely young woman. She’s now the Momma of two beautiful boys, and I’m the Nonni of two little ones. We both love the time we spend with the kids, but we also both really love spending time with another woman in the same situation.

It’s kind of hilarious. My young relative, Angela, is young enough to be my own child. But when she brings the boys here for a play date once a month, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels instead like I’m with one of my friends. Like I’m with that rare and most prized person, a woman from my tribe!

When Angela and the boys are here, we push back the furniture. We put out bowls of snacks, let the kids empty out the toy box, and just watch what happens. The kids play. They argue. They take turns on the potty. They eat, they spill, they climb on the back of the sofa.

Angela and I drink coffee, begin sentences we never finish, scoop each others’ kids up, grab the milk, make peanut butter sandwiches.

And the years, for me, melt away. I am back in the days when I was a young mom, sharing the joys and stresses with my tribe of women friends.

For me, the “click” I heard when I looked at Angela has lead me to a place where I feel less alone. I’m not the only ethnic one around. I’m not the oddity of an old lady taking care of babies.

Instead, I’m a woman in our family. I’m a caretaker. I’m a maternal figure. Like my heart’s own “clicking” friend, Angela, I’m a diaper changer, bottle giver, bandaid applier, sharing-rules-teacher.

And I am not alone.

And it took me six months to figure out that Angela is Mary’s granddaughter. Isn’t that just lovely???

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Sometimes we give in and pop in a movie.

 

 

The Day I Just Plain Sucked


Have you ever had a day where, from the moment you open your gritty eyeballs, you just can’t get anything right?

Have you ever had the kind of day where every god, goddess and bad guy in the universe is seemingly engaged in a conspiracy to prove that you are a total waste of molecular energy? The kind of day where, if you could just quiet the roaring of your overflowing toilet, you’d actually hear the sound of distant maniacal laughter?

No?

Welp. I have.

In fact, as you have probably already surmised, I had one of those days today. And, yep, you’re right. You’re going to hear about it.

Let me just set the stage first, alright?

Today was the last full day in the life of my beautiful old hound dog, Tucker the Wonder Puppy. Also known as “The Wolf King.” At the age of 12 and a half, Tucker has walked his last walk, chased his last frisbee, eaten his last beef bone. He is losing his vision, and can barely get himself up or down the stairs, even with lots of loving human support.

It’s time.

The call has been made, the appointment is set. Today is his last full day on this lovely green earth.

So of course, last night Paul and I were up at 3 AM easing him down the stairs and out the front door to poop. We were up again bright and early this morning doing the same thing. We are sad, tired, nostalgic, sick at heart.

We are not at our peppy best.

And this is the first full week of school, which means that it is Nonni’s first week of trying to juggle a three month old and a two year old, both of whom miss their Mommy all day long.

All of that would have probably been more or less OK, except that it was also pouring and pelting buckets of rain all day. And I somehow messed up the bottles so that the wrong nipple was on the wrong bottle and poor baby Johnny could barely get a drop of milk all day.

Oh, and I invited my granddaughter’s best best friend and her Momma to come over to visit today. Because…why not?

So.

There I was.

New company at my door. Rain pouring down. Old dog whining on the rug. Puppy yipping, jumping and relentlessly trying to mate with the young woman who came to visit. Baby Johnny desperately trying to get milk, to no avail. Two year old Ellie and her bestie, Hazel, trying to work out the fine points of sharing while Ellie shrieked “ELLIE’S TOYS!” at about 95 decibels.

I was trying to bake a gingerbread cake, but it was in process when our guests arrived, because I had spent an hour sobbing over my old dog and I was behind schedule. I was trying to control the puppy, but I have honestly never seen him so determined to fuse himself with a human while yelping and yipping nonstop and shedding at the same time. I was trying to help Ellie with her sharing while simultaneously trying to get her to stop screaming at the top of her tiny little lungs.

I wanted our new friends to look at me and think, “Wow! Nonni sure is on top of things! What a lovely nurturing figure she’d be in our lives!”

I failed.

I failed wicked.

Instead of looking calm, serene and loving, I looked insane, sweaty, tearful and overwhelmed.

I mean. Jesus. This is NOT my first rodeo. I swear; I really can host lunch for a mommy and her adorable, sweet little girl! I CAN!

Except that today, I couldn’t.

Get this.

I offered them lunch, saying that I had lots of cold cuts and peanut butter and jelly. “Sure!” said lovely young Mommy. “We love peanut butter and jelly!”

So I went to get it out. And I discovered that…….

…..I had no bread.

None.

So I served peanut butter and jelly on graham crackers while the baby cried and the puppy howled and the old dog moaned and the wind blew and the rain poured down.

I. Absolutely. Sucked. Today.

My only hope at this point is that lovely young mommy and sweet little best friend will give us another chance. Maybe when old dog is gone, puppy is calm, the weather is good, and I’ve remembered to shop.

Sigh.

I guess you can’t win ’em all.

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Please!!! Please can I lick your face off????!!! 

 

 

Just five minutes


I remember when I was a kid, sometimes my Dad would lean his head back against the couch and say, “I’m not sleeping. I’m just resting my eyes.”

It used to infuriate me. My poor Dad! Father of six very active kids, full time businessman and do-it-yourselfer extraordinaire. He hardly ever rested.

But if we had a chance to spend time with him, we didn’t want him resting his eyes! It used to make me crazy.

Now of course, I completely understand the overwhelming need to “rest my eyes.”

I’m very, very lucky. I spend my days with my granddaughter, Ellie. At 18 months old, she still takes a good, long nap every day.

And she likes me to lie down with her.

Today was a pretty typical day, except that I was unusually tired. Last night I found myself overwhelmed with the fear of our mentally unstable President. I couldn’t get myself to relax and sleep.

I have fibromyalgia, too, and its flared up right now, so most of me hurt last night.

Anyway, I was really groggy today. I had a fun morning with Ellie in spite of my fatigue. We painted, we danced, sang and listened to our favorite band, Upstate Rubdown. We filled the birdfeeders, we played with the dogs, we swept the floor (don’t judge; she loves it.)

Finally, it was nap time.

Ellie and I put away her toys, chose a favorite stuffed animal (Floppy Puppy) and a book (Go Away, Big Green Monster!) and went into the guest room to nap.

Just like my dear old Dad, as soon as I put my head on the pillow, my eyes drifted closed. As usual, Ellie was less sleepy than her Nonni. I did what I often do.

I laid on my back, clasped my hands over my waist and let my eyelids close to the point where I could watch her, but she couldn’t see that I was awake. I thought I had outsmarted her.

Here is what I saw.

Ellie sat beside me, looking at my face. I saw her look around the room. She clasped her own hands together and I could see her lips moving as she sort of quietly mumbled to herself. Her gorgeous, silky brown curls were a halo around her head, with long pieces covering her eyes.

She raised her right hand and pushed the hair out of her eyes, then gave a deep sigh. Her head tilted to the right, and she frowned as she looked closely at my face. I didn’t move.

Ellie lifted her head, sighed again, and looked around the room. The bed has a raised bed rail, and I was lying between it and Ellie. She was sort of stuck. She plucked at her blue and white striped pants, then noticed her socks.

“Hockey!” she said loudly. That’s her version of “socks.” She looked straight at me, but I didn’t move. She deliberately pulled off one sock, still looking at my face. “Oh, Oh!” she cried.

I didn’t react. I’m good.

“More!” Ellie announced, and pulled off the other sock. She looked at me expectantly.

Nothing. I kept my eyes closed just to the point where I could still see her face.

She sighed.

She rested her chin on one hand, still looking at her unmoving Nonni. She touched my nose.

Nothing.

Suddenly, as if there was actually a lightbulb above her head, Ellie sat up straight. She wiggled a little bit closer to me, then suddenly leaned forward and planted a big smacking kiss right on my lips.

I burst out laughing, my eyes popped open, and I grabbed her around the waist.

“You win!” I said, and she giggled in victory.

Then she pushed my shoulder so that I’d lay back down. She grabbed her puppy under her right arm and rested her head on my chest. She immediately fell asleep, and so did I.

And here is what I’m thinking now, as I think back on this day.

If I had never had a single happy moment in my 60 years of life, those five minutes would have made my entire life worth it.

Ellie, you are pure joy.

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A gift, a mystery, a puzzle, a charm


389026_4188736874199_1803145186_nI so want to think of myself as a writer. I want to believe that I am one of those who are gifted enough to throw a net around the terrible beauty that is life and capture it for us all to study.

I wish I had that talent. I wish I had the magic that it takes to identify each emotion and name it and hold it up before our eyes. I wish I had what it takes to polish each feeling and rub off the useless fragments on its edges. I would love to believe that someday I’d have the gift of truth in my hand so that I could open my fingers and let everyone understand what it is that exists underneath the confusing mass of tears and laughter.

I wish I could do that.

Right now, though, I have to lower my head into my hands and accept the fact that one single day can hold so much joy and so much pain. I have to let go.

Life is just such a fucking gift. Every day. Every minute.

Today I cooked with 20 little children. Some were there because they want to learn more about cooking. Some were there because their parents have to work and this was a safe and fun place for them to spend a summer day. Some were tired. Some were sad. Most, though, were filled with the innate joy that is childhood in a safe place. They laughed, they joked, they asked me 20,000 questions. They shouted, “Me! Can I? I’ll do it!!! I’ll go first!!!” They smiled at me, they thanked me, they complimented me on my cuisine, my gray hair, my “Best Nonni” apron.

Today was joy.

It was also 95 degrees while I was frying felafel and making pita bread. I sweated so much in the first hour that when I raised my arms to push my hair back, I wondered who had brought in the goats and why thay smelled so bad.

I was exhausted. My legs hurt from standing for 7 1/2 hours. My back hurt from leaning over the table to show them how to mince, stir, knead. My arm hurt from stirring.

By the time I got home and stepped into a cool shower, I was feeling sort of sorry for myself.

Then my husband came home. He looked upset. I asked what was up.

He told me that one of our oldest friends just lost her daughter, very suddenly.

What? The young woman who died (What? DIED????) was the first baby that any one of our friends had. We’ve known her for her entire life. She was vibrant, alive. A young Mom. A teacher.

Everything changed then.

How is such a thing possible?

What the hell does life even mean if something like this can happen?

Overwhelmed with grief for our friends. Desperately wanting to hold each of my children. Wanting to tell them how much I love and need them.

How can life do this? How can God?

I don’t understand.

I certainly don’t understand well enough to write anything that can help to make sense of a day like this one.

All I know is that every goddamned day is a GIFT. And we have to embrace each one. Every hot, sunny, humid moment is a gift. Every baby girl covering herself with butter to express her desire for a nap is a gift.

Every rainy, cold, boring afternoon is a gift.

Every aching muscle is a reminder that you’re alive to feel it. Every night of insomnia is a night of time to think and remember and dream.

And every single phone call or text from a child, no matter what the reason, is a gift from the Gods of the loving universe.

Tonight I go to bed achy, sad, joyful, grateful, grieving.

I wish that I could cover it all more eloquently, but I can’t.

Life is both a gift and a mystery. Let’s just embrace that.

A Sad Goodbye


It feels like a goodbye.

I know, I know.  Ellie lives ten minutes away. I understand, I have no reason to grieve. Her Momma and I really do enjoy each other’s company, and I know that we will see each other all summer.

I get it.

Don’t shake your head and say, “What the hell is this old woman complaining about?”

I’m not complaining.

I’m just…..processing?

You see, for 30 years my work life was governed by the academic calendar. A new and exciting adventure began each September. Every June meant the end of a community, the end of very special relationships with kids.

And for about 19 years before that, I was one of the students who defined life by the beginning and ending of the academic year.

So the fact that this school year has ended is a very poignant and very powerful event for me. Except……I don’t have the usual markers to acknowledge and celebrate the event. No end of year conferences where I get to look into the eyes of each student and tell them what they meant to me. No last class play where some of the jokes were only between the kids and me.

No thank you gifts. No graduation. No good bye slide show made by me for the kids in my room; made with tissues in hand and a lot of quiet sobs.

This year just ended.

Ellie will have the overwhelming joy of spending every single day with her incredibly devoted Mommy and Daddy. Her routine will be their’s. Her hugs will be for them. They’ll sing the songs that rock her to sleep.

So stop right there. You don’t need to tell me that this is exactly how it should be. I know that!  I celebrate it! I love my daughter more than my next breath; I want her memories of summer with her babies to be just as sweet and as long and as challenging as mine were.  I happily give her back the reins.

But after they went home tonight, I got out my tissues and I quietly cried as I put away the high chair and the playpen.

I’ll see my Ellie in a few short days. In a matter of weeks, I’ll have her with me again.

But it won’t be the same. She won’t be my very first newborn grandchild. I mourn the end of the very special gift that was this past year.

Oh, don’t you yell at me! I know!

I am more blessed and more lucky than anyone anywhere has ever been. I know that.

But I’m sure gonna miss breakfast with my Ellie bean for the next few weeks…….

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Dads


Its Father’s Day Eve. My husband has headed off to bed, but I am sitting here on this warm summer evening. Still awake. Still thinking.

Sort of ruminating on the theme of “Father’s Day.”

I remember making little gifts for my own Dad. The first man I ever loved. The man with the smiling brown eyes and the Saturday morning pancakes and the pencil over his ear. My Dad.

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Who could ever match his perfect Dadness?

My husband, that’s who. The man who so tenderly cradled our children in his arms. The guy who had to ask me how to pull a little girl’s tights up her legs. The person who thought that “Hamburger Helper” was a good enough dinner when Mom was out for the evening.

My husband. My partner. Dad to our three kids. He sends sports texts to Tim, hiking info to Matt, liberal political memes to Kate.

The man who jumped up from a deep sleep, keys already in hand, when he heard our daughter say to her husband in the tent beside his, “Honey, my water just broke.”

This guy. This gentle soul. This Grampa.  He’s has matched my Dad’s core of Dadness.

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Grampa and Ellie

So great! Who could possibly match that?

The other morning, pretty early, I woke up and had my coffee. I drove to my daughter’s house to pick up the baby for the day. My son-in-law came out with the day’s supply of bottles and the baby in her carseat.

We sort of grunted a vague good morning at each other, and he popped the carseat into my back seat. I was ready to head home for more coffee and some breakfast, and I barely made time to chat. I stood by the open driver’s side door, ready to hop in and get home.

What was taking so long?

I looked through the back window. I couldn’t see my son-in-law, but I could see the baby. I saw his hand reach in and gently, softly stroke across her cheek. I saw her gazing up at him with her huge brown eyes. I heard his voice, murmuring something softly.  Again, his big hand reached in and caressed her hair, her cheek.

Then he stood up, said, “See you later” to me, and headed back into the house.

I got in the car, and I drove my granddaughter to my house. On the way, I said to her, “You are such a lucky girl! Your Daddy loves you so much!”

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Sam and Ellie

Happy Father’s Day to all of you wonderful, patient, loving Dads. We are so lucky to have you!