It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…


I don’t understand it. I just don’t. 

Why are some women born with an innate ability to decorate the spaces they inhabit, while other women are born with the idea that plaids look great with stripes?

Now don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that I dislike home decorating. That isn’t it at all! In fact, I yearn for the day when I will live in a place where every item is artfully chosen and precisely arrange.

It’s just that when I actually try to decorate my home, I inevitably come up with something that looks like it was done by a third grader let loose in K-Mart.

I didn’t even know that I was born with this deficiency until I had lived in this house (the one and only home we have ever owned) for several years. We were contemplating a paint job in the living room, and I decided to ask one of my many decoratingly gifted relatives for help. 

“So Sue,” I asked my sister-in-law, “Do you think the living room would look good in a shade of Colonial blue?” (This was the 90’s. Don’t judge.) I mean, I was proud of myself for even knowing there was such a thing as “Colonial blue.”

Sue paused for a minute, looking around the room. “Well,” she said, “That depends on what you want to do with the kitchen and the dining room. You have to make sure that your colors flow.”

Flow??? My colors are supposed to…..um….flow???

I though she was referring to spilled paint, but it turns out that she meant that since all of the rooms connect and are visible to each other, the colors should be compatible.

Oh.

Sure.

She helped me pick out flowing colors, and the painting was done. Phew!

Over the years, with the help of both of my stylish sisters and my three “we could have our own showrooms” sisters-in-law, I have learned a few things. I sponge painted the upstairs at one point. I learned that the bath towels are supposed to match the hand towels which need to be color coordinated with the rugs, the soap dispenser and the shower curtain.

I now use table cloths when I have company, and they are (sorta kinda) color matched to my curtains, lampshades and picture frames.

I’m getting better!  Yay, me!

But now it’s Christmas. 

Now I am faced once again with the inarguable fact of my complete lack of taste. 

Christmas decorating in this house means pulling out the old, puppy chewed toys from my husband’s youth. It means dredging out the aging, beloved, lopsided popsicle stick ornaments that our kids made 20 years ago. If I have been particularly inspired, it might mean a new Christmas candle or two.

What it doesn’t mean, (because I. Can’t. Pull. It. Off. ) is a perfectly arranged side table with crystal ornaments artfully displayed alongside beeswax tapers and perfect Charles Dickens lanterns. It doesn’t mean a gorgeous arrangement of antique toys or a tiny sparkling Christmas village complete with skating Victorian era children.

Oh, sure. I can put out a glass dish of red and green m&ms, but that’s my limit. How the hell does everybody else even FIND all those perfectly shaped, matching-the-wall-colors, adorable little decorative boxes? Huh? 

How do all the other women just automatically KNOW how to set up the miniature reindeers? AND how the hell do they get miniature reindeers wearing bows that match their living room lampshades? 

If any of you out there know the code to get into the secret society of decorating genius women, will you please, please let me know? 

Meanwhile, I’ll be in the attic seeing if I can find the 40 year old plastic Santa with the chewed off mitten. He’s supposed to stand on the shelf next to floppy Frosty with the frayed scarf.

Yeah. This was our tree one year. 

You Can’t Fire Me!


You know, when my kids were little, I got myself all revved up for the famous “terrible twos.” I got ready for the tantrums and the irrational demands. But they never materialized.

Until the morning of each third birthday.

No kidding. All three of my own children were fine from 2 to 3, but as soon as that third birthday rolled around, they turned into tiny tyrants.

Which is why I’m proud-ish to say that my beloved granddaughter, Ellie, is far more advanced than my own kids. She is only 2 1/2, but she has mastered the fine points of despotic rule in a way that could only make third world leaders jealous.

Tonight is the first night of Christmas break. Yeehah! This means that my daughter the teacher is off for a week, which means that old Nonni here is off for a week, too.

Which means, in the world of neurotic old Italian ladies, that Ellie and I have spent the week making cookies, creating gifts, watching Christmas movies and generally getting ready to be apart for a week. I tell her I’ll miss her. She tells me she’ll miss me. We hug. We kiss. We sigh.

We have also been battling a wicked respiratory virus, ear infections, coughs, nosebleeds and a little constipation. It’s been a loooooooonnnnnnngggggg week.

And today we hit the wall.

Both of us.

My beloved, adored, sweet, smiling, loving…..you get it, right?…..my darlingest little girl arrived at my house this morning wearing her Crazy Dictator Personality.

And she started right in.

“NOOOOOOOO!!!!! Daddy carry me to the car!!!!!!!”   “No, honey, your baby brother in his carseat is too heavy for me. Daddy will get Johnny, I will get you.”

“I NEED MILKIES!!! MILKIES!! MILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIES!!”  “Honey, you need to stop screaming at me. Ask me nicely.” MILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIES!!” 

“Go away!!! Nonnie, you go away! I want to be ALONE IN THIS ROOM!!!” “Well, dear sweet child, this is the bathroom, and I was in it first. So you need to go……”  “NOOOOOOO!! I am NOT talking to you!!!!”

And the day went on.

Me, with my sinuses throbbing and my last nerve on edge. “Ellie, I am making you a waffle.”     “NOOOOOOOOOO!!! No waffle!!!! NOOOOOOOO!!! I won’t!!!!!!”

Me again, with the same nerves and throbs. “Do you want some oatmeal?” “NOOOOOOOOO!!! Give me a waffle!!! I NEED a waffle!!!!!”

Most of it was fairly typical Toddler Tyrant behavior, but some was enough to make me pull out my old gray hairs. Like this little demand, while I was in the middle of changing yet another giant yellow poopie from baby Johnny. “I NEED YOU!!! HELP ME!!!! ARGGGHHHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG!!!”   Wrap baby in closest blanket, place him on the floor and rush into the bedroom. “Ellie! What’s wrong?!”  “I need you to make my lion sit up.”

Grrrrrrr.

I’ll be honest. I must confess. I started to count the minutes until the end of the babysitting day.

“I NEED a cookie!!!!!!”  Me: Roughly 94 minutes….

Other hysterical, tyrannical demands were just plain hilarious.

For example, the poor kid has had this respiratory bug for more than two weeks. Her nose hurts. She keep reaching into her right nostril with a pointed finger to try to take out the offending mucous. “Look! I finded a big boogie!” When I reminded her for the tenth time time an hour that she needed to keep her fingers OUT of her nose, she announced with a completely straight face, “Go away, Nonni. No talking to me. No looking at me. I don’t have to look at you!” And she went right on digging.

Or this perfect example of what today was like for Nonni and Ellie.

My little girl didn’t want to take off her red reindeer pajamas today. I generally insist on getting dressed, washing faces, doing hair. But today snow was falling and we were all worn down. I let her stay in her jammies.

Until the moment when Ellie asked me to help her put on undies. I unsnapped her jammies, pulled down the zipper, and took off her Pullup. Got her clean, took the pajamas off and handed her the nice clean underwear.

Which she immediately placed on her head.

Ellie pants head

And she immediately started to cry. “Put this on my head! Put this on!!!!”  “Ok, what? On your head? Um……” 

“I can’t!!!!!!!! I need my undies on my chest! On my chest! On my CHEST!!!!!”

At this point, Nonni gave up. Nonni has a cold. Nonni is tired, OK?  Nonni said, “STOP IT!!!!!! Your undies don’t go on your CHEST!!!”  I did not address the issue of whether or not said undies belonged on her head…..

It was a tough day.

By naptime, we were both pretty wrung out. As I pulled the blankets up over her shoulders, my tiny tyrant looked up at me with her huge brown eyes and said, “You’re gonna miss me. You will be sad.”

“You’re gonna miss ME.” I countered. She smiled, rolled onto her side to go to sleep, and murmured, “Night, Nonni. I love you so muck.” (she can’t make the ‘ch’ sound.)

I melted, kissed her cheek, tenderly smoothed back her hair, and went into the living room.

“46 minutes,” I said out loud.

 

“I Wish They Were Peanuts.”


Once long ago, when I was very young, I read a story about the great actress Helen Hayes. As the story goes, the young actress met her future husband at a party. Charles MacArthur was a playwright, and was as poor as she at the time. As the evening wore on, his infatuation with Helen grew, and he wanted to impress her. He poured a bag of peanuts into her lap, saying, “I wish they were emeralds.”

Many years later, well into a long and sometimes trying marriage, Charles walked up to his wife. He opened a bag and poured a pile of emeralds into her lap, saying, “I wish they were peanuts.”

At the time, all I thought was, “Oooooh, so romantic!”  I loved the simple symmetry of the gesture, although I really didn’t grasp its meaning.

Now, though? Now I understand.

Tree

This year’s Christmas tree is all set up, and it’s a beauty. Tall, full, sturdy, fresh and fragrant. We paid more for this tree than we used to spend on a week of groceries back in our early days. Every branch features a treasured ornament. The tree is covered with strings of lights, all of which are lit. There are gifts all around the base and we have enough extra ornaments and decorations to cover every surface in the house.

Aren’t we lucky?

I know that we are! Our tree proudly displays ornaments that mark every stage of our lives. Vacations, the football years and the hockey years and the cute baby years. Family jokes, family reunions, favorite foods; it’s all there to remind us just how blessed we’ve been.

But you know what?

As I was putting on the ornaments this weekend, carefully selecting the right spot for each, I found myself tenderly looking at one of the oldest items in the Christmas box. I rubbed my thumb over the plastic frame, and rested the little circular image against my cheek, just for a moment.

bells

I found the cross stitch kit for this little ornament in a local thrift shop back in 1985. I was pregnant with my first child, and we had a little table top Christmas tree in the living room of our run-down apartment. We had shopped for ornaments, choosing a set of red satin balls and smaller white plastic balls with little sparkles. They were the least expensive items on display, and although they looked admittedly tacky in the store, on our little tree I was convinced that they were both elegant and lovely.

And although I have never been crafty, and am unable to knit or sew, I sat up at night cross stitching this ornament and one other just like it. As I slowly, carefully moved the needle in and out of the white fabric, I thought about my baby. I thought about our future, and how we’d make a family. I felt as if I was filled with light.

I stitched, and I dreamed, and I felt my baby moving inside me. I hung the little plastic ornament on our tiny tree, and looked at the sparkling lights. I lay down on our old sofa in that drafty apartment, rested my hand on my belly and smiled.

Life was perfect. We had so many dreams about to come true. Everything good lay ahead of us.

As I hung the old cross stitch on the tree the other night, I almost wished for those heady days of the cheap plastic ornaments. Almost.

‘I wish they were peanuts.’

 

You know it was a good Christmas when…..


IMG_2094

When the last gift is opened and the last bit of wrapping has been tossed, its time to evaluate the holiday.

When the last dish of leftovers has been sent off, and the kitchen is clean again, its time to look back and see how it went.

This was a wicked good Christmas.

How do I know?

I know because I am completely and totally beat.  My stomach is rebelling at the thought of another dinner.  I don’t even want a glass of wine.  I’m happy that all three kids will be gone by bedtime, that Ellie is at her house, that no one needs me for one single thing.

This must have been a spectacularly successful Christmas, because all that I want now is a an early bedtime and a late wake up in the morning.

Happy “Phew, Glad That’s All Done” Day to you all!

 

Something to look forward to


When my husband and I were very young, in the very beginning of our life together, we often found ourselves saying, “I’m so glad we have something to look forward to!”

Of course, we were young, in love, starting our lives.  We had friends and jobs and an entire future ahead of us.  Still, sometimes the weeks seemed to stretch out ahead of us with nothing but work, classes, work and more classes.  We used to need “something to look forward to”.  Something to get our excitement up, our adrenaline rushing, our moods lifted.  It could be a party, a trip, a concert….it didn’t really matter, as long as we could hold it up in our immediate future and get a lift out of the anticipation of the event.

I remember Christmas of 1985.  I was very pregnant with our first child. We didn’t know yet who this child would be.  Male or female?  Dark eyed or light? Happy? Cranky? Healthy or not?  We didn’t know.

But I remember one night, just a few days before Christmas and perhaps two weeks before my due date.  Paul had fallen asleep, but my back was hurting, and so I was still awake.  I lay on the sofa in our little run down apartment in one of Boston’s seedier neighborhoods.  I had a blanket over the mound of my stomach, and my hand was resting on the place where my baby moved.

I had turned out all of the lights, leaving only the Christmas tree illuminated.  I lay there, looking at each ornament, watching the way that the lights reflected off the garland.  I felt myself breathing, and listened to the imagined heartbeat of my baby.  I looked at the lights.  I waited.

“You know what?”, I whispered to my big gray cat, who sat beside me in my midnight vigil.  “I’ll never ever have another moment with nothing to look forward to.”  I smiled to myself, the palm of my hand feeling the gently rolling movement of my firstborn inside of me.

And I was right.

Twenty nine years later, I am lying on my couch, my eyes taking in the color of the Christmas lights.  I can see the pile of wrapped gifts with my granddaughter’s name on them.

“You know what?”, I whisper to my old dog. “I have so much to look forward to!”

Your Every Christmas Wish


603733_10200837417355233_1874374034_nWhen I was little, I could fill myself with the feeling of Christmas by lying in bed in the glow of the orange window lights. The bulbs were hot, so hot that we had to be very careful to keep the shades hight above them, and the curtains fully open.  The warm orange glow was so different from the usual pale nightlight glow that as we fell asleep, my sister and I would feel as if we were being wrapped in magic.  I can still conjure the feeling of drifting to sleep with my face turned toward that orange, orange light. Waiting for Santa and for the magic of Christmas morning.

As I got a little bit older, into my teens, I learned to lie on the rug with all of the lamps in the room off. I would lie as close to the Christmas tree as I could, after turning all of its big bright colored lights on. I’d look up into the branches and squint my eyes a bit. The fat, bright lights would reflect in the long silvery strands of tinsel and I would get that feeling in my stomach; that “Christmas” feeling.  I’d think about what gift I might get (new albums by Joan Baez, Fleetwood Mac, Judy Collins were high on my list).  I would be filled with giddy anticipation and that magic feeling would flood me again.

Then I became a Mom. Christmas was more magical than ever.  That feeling, that magical Christmas feeling was all about them.  I could fill myself with the magical feeling of Christmas by looking at their beautiful eyes, reflecting the glowing lights of our tree. Motherhood is magic; Motherhood on Christmas morning is indescribable.

Now they’re all grown up.  Our familiar fake spruce tree is long gone.  I sit here alone in my quiet house, resting up a bit before the big family celebrations begin.  I’m thinking about later tonight, and tomorrow morning. I’m thinking about the few hours when I can gather all of them around me, my beautiful daughter and her smiley eyed husband, my two handsome sons, my husband.  I think about “that Christmas feeling”, and how much I’m looking forward to holding it close.  Tomorrow that feeling will come when there is a moment with all of us in this room.  There will be half filled coffee cups everywhere, and piles of wrapping paper on the floor.  The house will smell of bacon, and the dogs will be watching eagerly for a crumb to fall. Paul will be wrapped in a blanket, dozing a bit.  I’ll stand in the dining room for a minute. I’ll look around the room.  I’ll stand where I can see all of them, all of their familiar faces.  The conversation will be completely casual, about nothing much.  Someone will say something funny, like they always do, and everyone will laugh together.  I’ll wipe my hands on my apron, look from face to sweet face, and laugh along with them.

I’ll be filled once again with the magical orange light and sparkly tinsel feelings of Christmas.

A Priceless Gift


1497715_10151793825170899_1174165898_nIt is Christmas Eve, toward the end of the big family party,  when my sister Liz hands each of her five siblings a wrapped gift. “Don’t open them yet.”, she instructs.  “Wait until everyone of you has one.”  When all five of us hold a matching package, Liz says simply, “The title of this gift is: What I’m doing right now.

And we open them.

As one, we gasp. Each of us holds in our hands a grainy black and white photo of our Dad, gone now for five Christmases. In the photo he grins out at us, so filled with youthful assurance that it still shines through, some seventy years after the moment.  There he is, maybe sixteen years old, one arm casually draped around each of his parents.  He is slim and strong, and happy.

My heart clenches, then begins to pound.  Tears fill my eyes.  I have so many reactions all at once, but everyone in the room is talking now; I don’t know what to say or how to say it.  The picture is a treasure, in so many ways.

“He looks just like me”, I think.  I miss him so much that a little spurt of anger flies through me: I want to show the photo to him! I want him to comment on how much I take after him.

“MammaNonni looks so content.  Her baby boy is beside her”, I think. My mind turns quickly to my own youngest son, absent on this holiday.

My eyes take in the setting of the photo; the familiar grape vines behind the family, draping down the arbor fence. The old potting shed over PappaNonni’s shoulder.  I can smell the grape leaves, and the sharp pungent tang of the tomato plants that I know were growing in rows behind the fence.  I know just where the cameraman was standing, can feel my feet on the cement walkway and picture the back door just to my right.

I have so many questions!  How old were you there, Dad? What was the occasion?  As the youngest of twelve children, it was the rarest of events for my father to be photographed alone with his parents. Why were they posed this way? Was it his high school graduation, maybe? It looks like a summery day.  Who took the picture? What year was it?

The voices of my family swirl around me, asking the same questions, making guesses about the answers.  I hold the photo like a priceless artifact.  I search my father’s face, looking for signs of my sons.  Finding them.

I share my father’s dark eyes and round chin; the shape of his smile can be seen in mine.  I see hints of him in my son Matt, in his manner and his facial expressions. In the shape of his face and jaw.

But it is my son Tim who seems to be echoed back to me in this picture; filled with life and eagerness, quick to embrace, quick to grin.  Ready to take on the world.

Dad, I wish you were here to see your grandsons, all of them so much like you!  I wish you were planning to dance at your granddaughters’ weddings.  I wish you were here to laugh at this photo and  to tell us stories about your parents. I wish you were here to reassure me that I really do look a little bit like you.

Liz; thank you!  I am positive that you were right.  I am absolutely certain that Dad was with MammaNonni and PappaNonni on Christmas eve, grinning with delight, filled with love, sure of whatever comes next. Buon Natale, Dad.

Limp….


Christmas is over.

Phew.

We had the whole crowd here, complete with one “significant other”, some friends, and our “granddog”, Miss Izzy.

Everything was lovely, even if the dogs did have to be separated at times.  We had a huge and festive Christmas breakfast,

Bacon!  You have to have bacon......

Bacon! You have to have bacon……

 

And we opened all the loot.

Sweet pile of swag

Sweet pile of swag

 

We laughed, we swapped stories, we soaked in the hot tub together (even though we couldn’t really fit and half the water sloshed out…….) and we reminded ourselves of how lucky we are that we are all still able to be together on these special days.

For me, the best and sweetest moments were those little ones: running to get some last minute groceries with Tim on Christmas eve, waking up on Christmas morning, and realizing that all three of my children were once again under my roof.  Sitting quietly at the table and listening to the jokes and stories of my three, Kate’s Sam, and the two old friends who had come to share our Christmas dinner.  It has been so incredibly long since I have been able to sit back and look at a full table!

That was the toast that I made, champagne glass in hand, lump in my throat: “A toast to the pleasure of having all of you around my table once again!”

This morning, I woke up late.  I lay still for a bit, feeling my achy muscles. The house was quiet, but it didn’t make me sad this time.  This morning, I could still feel the vibrating energy of all those voices, all that love, all of the celebrating.  This morning, the memories of the holiday are blending gently with the memories of holidays past, and I am content to soak in the atmosphere, still filled with my children’s presence.

Today, we are tired.

Tucker and Sadie are spent, having used up all of their doggy energy in trying to get to know Izzy, and trying to figure out how to share the couch.

Tuck had no problem sharing with Izzy.

Tuck had no problem sharing with Izzy.

 

Sadie was a little bit less welcoming.

Sadie was a little bit less welcoming.

Paul and I are spent, too.  We have been busy the past few days, cleaning, wrapping, cooking, organizing, decorating, then celebrating as if we were still in our 20’s!  The late nights, rich foods and bubbly drinks have all taken a toll, and today we are feeling pretty limp.

But its a good “limp”.  Its the kind of boneless lethargy that comes from having done it right.  My heart is resting today; it can’t take any more joyful tears as I look at my children.  It can’t take any more sorrowful tears as I think of the 20 mothers who can’t look at theirs.  My brain is resting; it doesn’t have any more energy to plan another meal for my crew.  It certainly has no more energy for trying to find a way to end the senseless violence that has gripped our entire country.

Today I am limp.  I am resting on the couch, tea cup in hand, watching TV as the weathermen predict a foot of snow.

The house is warm, and clean and quiet.  The dogs are snoring, and Paul is reading a book.

I am limp.

And its a very good feeling.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

 

 

The triumph of the local movement


I’m not sure when the idea came to me.

It may have had its origin last Christmas, when the ordeal of setting up our beloved old fake spruce had me sobbing.  The needles were wearing off, the trunk was wobbly, and it was  jam packed with memories.  It broke my heart to hang those little family treasures on its bent branches.  I knew that it was time to say goodbye to our Christmas tree, and to maybe think about getting a real tree for once!

So as the days grew shorter this year, we knew that we wanted something new.  The old tree is retired.  The kids are all grown up. It’s time for some new traditions.  But what would they be?

I was out walking the dogs one morning, looking around the yard and bemoaning the fact that the forest seems to be encroaching, coming closer to the house each year.  The hemlocks along the drive needed trimming, and the white pines have sent their babies marching right into the lawn.  I sighed, knowing that as much as I hate to cut down trees, I would have to reclaim our space.

Then it hit me.

I live in a PINE forest!  Huzzah!

Paul and I began to examine all of the likely candidates as we strolled around our property for the next few weeks.  One young hemlock looked likely, until we realized that he had sprouted up right next to another, larger tree, and his backside was pretty much bare.  Another was lush and full and looked perfect until we realized that it was only about 5 feet tall.

Finally, we came upon a group of white pines, growing together along the edge of a field.  We walked around them, noting the shape, the height, the width of the trunks.  Finally, we found our candidate.

Paul grabbed a saw, and set to work.

A likely candidate!

A likely candidate!

We dragged him into the house, and stood him up.  The scent of fresh pine filled the air.

He isn’t perfect.  He doesn’t look like your traditional balsam or spruce.  There’s a big open space in the middle where we can see his trunk, and he’s kind of skinny.  Rather than  culminating in a lovely little point where a shiny star can perch, this tree sends up no fewer than four top branches; I think it looks as if he is wearing a crown.

Unlike the metal branches of our old tree, this one has limbs that bend and sway. They droop and dip.  They can’t hold our bigger ornaments, so those are displayed along the bay window.

Still, I love this Christmas tree in a way that is hard to explain.  I love his funny top and I love his bare spaces.  I even smile at the drips and drops of sap that are landing on the gifts gathered below.

This tree has spirit.  He stands up straight and proud, unfazed by his droopy arms or his skinny middle.  He is draped in lights and festooned with garland.

He is fresh, he is local and he is real.

He says, “Merry Christmas!” and so do I.

I wish you all a renewed sense of hope in the face of tragedy, of love when shocked by hatred, of peace to triumph over anger and strife.

Buon Natale!

Buon Natale!

Time


SONY DSCI don’t understand time.   I don’t know how it flows, or where it goes when it leaves me.  I don’t know how it can change its pace, morphing from a snail’s pace to a rush without my seeing it shift.

I don’t know where my time has gone.

Just a moment ago, truly, I had a houseful of children.  They were hungry, and noisy and argumentative and loving.  They filled every corner of this place, every day.

Just a split second ago, I was getting ready for Santa.  Hiding toys in the attic, sneaking stocking stuffers into every shopping trip, disguising my handwriting as I put their names on those brightly wrapped treasures.

Time moved steadily and solidly for so many years that it lulled me into trusting it.  Oh, I felt the speed with which my babies changed from whimpers to words, I did. I knew that time was moving, but I felt that I was born along on that river, carried with my children toward a distant future.  Time passed, and my babies grew, but they were still right there beside me, riding the flood.  And somehow, for some reason, I let time trick me into thinking that they always would be there beside me. As children.  As my very own special ones. As mine.

I didn’t see it when sneaky, conniving time decided to speed up and race along so fast that I never saw it leave.  I must have been resting, tricked into closing my eyes, trusting in the steady pace of time’s flow.  I must have missed the moment when time rushed by in a swirl of icy wind, carrying my children over the riverbank and into adulthood.  I must have looked away, for only a second, but it was too long.

Now I am here, the mother of adults.  Hoping to have them all together for a few brief hours at Christmas so that I can beg time to stop, to slow its endless march for just a fragment of a day, to freeze in place for me, just this once.

Before it once again gathers us all in its powerful arms and races away with unstoppable speed, into the night, into tomorrow, into a time when this Christmas feels as if it happened only a moment ago.