Nothing Lasts Forever


When I was young, and newly in love, the song “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas was a big hit.I loved that song. I still love it. I love it for its harmonies, its tender thoughts, its melancholy.

I remember being a young wife, thinking, “I don’t want all of this beautiful life to simply fade into the wind! There has to be a way to make it all last!”

But you know what?  Now that I am a grandparent, I have a very different feeling about that song. I feel differently about the idea that nothing lasts forever.

Now, instead of feeling bereft at the thought, I feel comforted.

Let me try, in my limited way, to explain what I mean.

At the age of 28, I was so filled with life and new love that I thought the world must surely embrace and celebrate my feelings. I knew that I was only one tiny person in a wide world of others, but the strength and the depth of my feelings were so intense that I could not believe they would ever go away.

Then I gave birth to my first child, my perfect, most beloved, most cherished little girl. When I held her in my arms, it was impossible to me to imagine that the universe could fail to recognize the power of my love and the impossible gravity of her life. As I rocked her against my heart, I could not believe that there could exist a time in universal history when her life would not have the power to move us all.

I honestly did not believe that anyone else had ever felt this same miraculous love. I thought we were unique.

Back then, “Nothing lasts forever” was the worst thought that I could possibly hold in my head. I held myself firm against the very idea. I WOULD keep my love for my children alive! I would! I took photos, I wrote notes, I kept cards and letters and little mementos. I loved my kids so hard that I thought I had created an eternal monument of my devotion.

We were here. Our love for each other was too strong to ever fade. We mattered in the life of humanity, and I refused to believe that at some future point we might simple cease to register.

“Everything is dust in the wind….”

I hated that. Hated it.

But time has passed. Time has changed my view.

Now.

Now I have a whole different view, although it’s no less loving and embracing and proud. It is just maybe a bit more wise.

Now I understand that the love my grandparents felt for their children was every bit as intense, as strong, as deep as what I felt when I first held my own. Now I understand that the families that my grandparents created were meant to be islands of strength in a world of turmoil, but they were not ever meant to be eternal.

My maternal grandmother, my Nana, was such an important figure in my life. She was the matriarch. She was the hostess of the holidays, the provider of Sunday dinners, the center of our Italian-American existence. She was Nana. She was the center of it all, of all of the family tradition on my Mom’s side.

But when she died, I began to realize that her time in the spotlight had died, too. I mean, I still teach her recipes to my granddaughter, Ellie, but they don’t help to bring the real, true Nana into existence. Nana was the center of my Mom’s life, a huge part of my life, an important person in the lives of my children.

But Ellie doesn’t know her. Ellie and Johnny will never hear the sound of her laugh or eat a piece of apple that she sliced for them. They will never have the “Nana” experience that we have had.

Because they can’t. They shouldn’t.

Life can’t be all about the past. It can’t be a ceremony of love for those who have come before us. Life has to be about life, about this moment. It has to be about the people we hug and touch and love every day.  Life has to be about the new loves and the new families and the new memories that shape the world today.

So.

I don’t think I’ve don’t a very good job of expressing this at all, I truly don’t.

But let me end by saying that I am now happy to be “Dust in the Wind.” I know that for every day of their lives, my children will remember me and think of me with love. I know that my Ellie and Johnny will live every day of the rest of their lives knowing me and understanding my love for them.

As for their children? I hope that they grow up having heard my name and maybe a funny story or two. They don’t need to hang on to my old possessions or my faded photos.

Love goes on. Love moves from one family unit to another.

That’s just the way it should be.

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Nana with her great grandson, Atticus. 

 

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.

 

 

Rock maple and dovetailed joints.


 

32235_398975950898_543400898_4765939_6508281_nMy Dad could do anything with his hands. When we were little, he used to spend a weekend taking apart a car engine, cleaning everything, then putting it back together again.

He could fix leaky pipes, he could paint walls and trim. My Dad could lay down carpet, strip wallpaper, rewire lights, plane the bottoms of doors so they wouldn’t stick.

Most of all, though, my Dad could bring out the life and the beauty of wood.

He made shelves, and little stools and steps and work sheds.

My Dad made my sons tiny wooden train sets that fit together perfectly. Each car had one of the boy’s names on it.

They are still here, in our house. The golden stained wood still gleams. The pieces still fit, 25 years after he made them. They are still beautiful.

Last weekend I drove two hours out to the small city in the Berkshire Hills where my boys live. I got a tour of the classic Victorian house where my son Matt is living.

As soon as I saw the old wooden floors, and the built in shelving, and the gorgeous dark wood bannisters on the stairs, I though of Dad. He would have loved that house!

We went up into Matt’s room, and there I saw his bureau. An old, golden hued wooden bureau, in Matt’s bedroom.

And it was if Dad was standing there beside me.

I started to laugh, but there were tears in there, too.

“Oh, man! I forgot that you have this bureau!” I said, running my hands across the smooth top.

“This is rock maple.” I said it reverently, although I have no idea what “rock maple” is. I could hear Dad saying those words to me, and they were filled with respect and pride when he said them.

So I repeated them to my boy.

This old bureau had belonged to my husband in his childhood. He doesn’t know where it came from, but he grew up with it. When we got married, it became our bureau. It was in our first apartment in the corner of the bedroom. It travelled with us to grad school in New Jersey, and then to our first apartment after graduation.

When our baby was born, we moved for a while back into my parents’ house. We needed to save money and we needed a safe, clean place to live. So back “home” we went.

And that’s where my Dad taught me how to refinish furniture. We took that old bureau, scratched and dinged and dirty, down into Dad’s garage workshop. And he stripped the old stain off, and sanded it, and sanded it again. I learned about the grades of sandpaper, and the use of a good “tack cloth”. I learned to use mineral spirits to clean up every speck of dirt and sawdust.

I learned about the proper use of stain, and how to smooth it on evenly. Dad pointed out the dovetail joints in the bureau drawers, telling me that you don’t see those very often any more.

Together we chose the stain, a very light golden oak that brought out the warmth in the hard, hard wood. Dad showed me every grain in that wood. He showed me how to be sure that every rough bit was smoothed away.

“Like a baby’s bottom,” he’d say when we got a drawer face perfectly smooth.

It was so special to work there beside him. He never got impatient. He never seemed in a hurry. I saw how the wood came to life under his hand. I saw how he was able to coax beauty out of something rough and old and stained.

I had wanted to toss out that old piece of furniture as soon as we could, but Dad was horrified at the thought.

“This is rock maple!” he’d said. “Those are dovetailed joints!”

Together we worked on the old wooden bureau, and I learned that my father was an artist, though he never described himself that way. I learned to be patient when polishing the top of a refinished piece of furniture with wax.

I learned how to listen, to watch, to imitate. I learned how to see the strength and the beauty under the rough exterior.

I learned how much my father loved a job well done, and I learned how much I loved my father.

Last week, standing in that bedroom in that old Victorian house, I caught sight of that beautiful bureau, with my son’s belongings sitting on top.

“This is rock maple!” I told him seriously. I pulled out one of the drawers. “See?” I asked him and  his bemused friend, “These are dovetailed joints.”

They agreed that the bureau is a real beauty. They were smiling at my earnestness.

We left then, turning off the lights and leaving the old rock maple bureau in the dark, in that old, old house.

It’s hard to say how much I love the thought of my son sleeping every night beside that wood that had felt my Dad’s loving hand.

I hope Matt keeps that bureau. I hope he gives it to a child of his own one day.

I hope that he tells that child, very seriously, “This is rock maple, you know.”

 

 

When old folks argue


Yesterday we had an experience that has me thinking.

Thinking in a good way, but also thinking in a kind of serious way.

It was a pretty typical weekend day for us. We had invited some guests to come for dinner and spend the afternoon with us.

Not “guests” as in “people you need to impress” but “guests” as in “family, people who get it, people you just really want to spend your day with.”

All would have been well as we prepared to make dinner for two young couples with little kids if only Nonni here hadn’t come down with a nasty bout of asthmatic bronchitis.

Nonni woke up yesterday feeling (as my mom used to say), “Like something the cat dragged in.” My husband, also known as “the sweetest man in the world,” let me sleep late while he dealt with our old hound and our new puppy. He even took said puppy to the vet.

But when it was time to make dinner, I asked him for help. This is an unusual request from an over functioning, over controlling Italian woman, but I did. I asked for help.

Then company arrived. Our beloved young folks, with babies in arms, arrived as planned. And “Papa” went straight into Grandfather Host mode. He was charming, hugging babies, pouring beer, chatting and laughing.

Meanwhile, Nonni was sauteeing and coughing in the kitchen.

Nonni was NOT amused.

Nonni was, in fact, crabby, cranky and slightly snarling.

Both young women asked how they could help.

All of the men stayed on the couch.

Finally, Nonni growled at Papa.

And here is the point of this post.

When a couple argues during a more than 40 year relationship, this is what it means.

It means that sometimes humans misunderstand each other. Even humans who love each other and want what is best for each other.

I remember, back in about 1980, every argument felt like the end of the relationship. Every time I lost my temper, every time my husband lost his, it felt like the end of the world. I tried so hard to always push down my irritation, swallow my needs, keep the boat from rocking.

But now that my one true love and I have come through graduate school, two separate careers, raising three children, falling head over heels in love with a grandchild, and even living with three different dogs….well.

Now I understand that when I’m mad at Paul, or when he’s mad at me, it means “I’m mad at you.”

It doesn’t mean “I hate your.” or “I want a divorce” or “You are a terrible person.”

What freedom.

The best part of getting older, maybe, is the realization that you can get really annoyed at the person you love, and still love them in the morning.

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My honey and I, back in the day. At Dolly Copp Campground.

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.

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!

 

Just Ellie


Sometimes when I am holding my granddaughter,  I think just for a moment that I am holding her mother. The soft smell of her hair, the silky cheek on mine. Just for a tiny slip in time I think that I am cuddling my own baby girl again.

Once in a while, when she is eating her lunch and grinning at me with her tiny teeth, I see my older son in her face. Just for a second, my heart catches and I am sure that I am back again with my own baby boy, making him laugh by pretending to eat from his sticky fingers.

And when she sleeps, soft and warm and so trusting on my shoulder, I sometimes drift to sleep myself. And when I wake, I think, just for a tiny piece of frozen time, that I am holding my baby boy. The same sturdy little body, the same gentle breath on my cheek. Just for a bit, for a split second, my mind hops back and I think that I am holding mine again.

But most often when she is doing her funny, rhythmic scoots across my floor, she is just Ellie. She is funny, smart, sassy. The frowns as she tries to figure out which plastic cups fit together and which can be stacked. Her tongue curls up over her lip as she tries so seriously to pull herself up to her feet.

She is herself. She isn’t her Mom, or her Uncles. She is Ellie. She is enough. She is just right.

And I love her so much its just plain silly.

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Tired of insanity


I am getting so damned tired of hearing people behave in reprehensible ways in the name of “protecting” children.

Just sick of it.

“I will protect children from the evils of drugs by making their poverty stricken parents take drug tests before they get food assistance!”

“I will protect children from the evils of slavery and socialism by keeping them away from those awful public schools!” (No. I did not make that up. Read it here.)’

And the latest version of “I am a better parent than you,” comes in the form of a screaming, ranting “Christian” woman spouting off against Target for allowing people who LOOK like, DRESS like, THINK like, IDENTIFY as, and want to be considered female to pee in the women’s bathroom.

Please read this article, first published on LiberalAmerica, and think about what it means to be a “good parent.”

I am just so sick of it.

‘Beware Of Socialism And Slavery In Our Schools!’

The Echo Chamber


I’m constantly surprised at how insightful my kids can be, although by now I should be used to it.

I mean, they are all adults. They are all intelligent and thoughtful. I should be used to learning from them by now.

But I am still surprised when they make observations that catch me off guard. Especially when those observations make me stop and think about my ideas and beliefs.

My family is made up of a whole bunch of wicked lefties.  Paul and I, all three kids, our son-in-law; we are all outspoken progressives. We share a common belief in all things liberal. We believe that the government exists only at the will of the governed, and that its primary purpose is to provide protection and safety to its people.

We believe in equality. For everyone. All the time. Everywhere. We drive around in cars that have bumper stickers spouting ideas like: “God Bless The Whole World: No Exceptions!”

We think that we are smart and kind and thoughtful and good. We are pretty sure that we are on the right side of history.

So after a Mother’s Day dinner that was filled with political jokes, comments about the Trumpeters, and even a few videos of “The Liberal Redneck“, it was a little bit of a shock to get a message from one of my kids that gently called us out for our closed minded reliance on stereotypes.

At first I was taken aback. I got a little defensive when my child suggested that we have begun to rely on a sort of “echo chamber” where we can share our prejudices and not have to bother with those who disagree.

Then I thought about it for a few minutes.

Eventually, I understood what he meant.

So I answered him, honestly.  You see, I am proud that he trusted his family enough to point out his discomfort. I am doubly proud that he is this thoughtful and deep.

But I don’t totally agree with him.

I think that it’s one thing to try to convince others of the correctness of our liberal views. When that is my goal, I try to use facts, statistics, truth. I try to leave emotion, stereotyping and sarcasm behind.

But when I am relaxing in the comforting embrace of like minded lefties, I think its OK to laugh.

I do NOT believe that all conservatives are cold hearted bigots. I do NOT believe that all Republicans are money grubbing ogres.

I know, love and respect a whole bunch of conservative Republicans who are thoughtful, smart, knowledgeable, kind, generous and fun.  I know, dislike and disrespect a whole bunch of liberals who are narrow minded, rigid and ignorant.  I try very hard to get my information from the most neutral sources that I can find.

With that said, though, I do think that its my duty, morally and intellectually, to call out those who I know are dangerous, xenophobic, dishonest and ugly.  I won’t ever promise to stop speaking out about them.

But I will be more careful of my words and my tone when I talk with my lefty family.

Once again, I owe thanks to one of my kids for showing me that there is more than one way to view every situation in life.

 

“My Job Here Is Done”


When I started this blog, way way back in time, I was mourning the fact that my time as Mommy had come to an end. My children had grown up and had fled my little nest. I was totally crushed, completely bereft. I was a basket case of a grown up woman, weeping into my tomato sauce with no one left to cook for.

Well.

Times have changed.

My children are all on their own two feet, all are gainfully employed if not ensconced in a career.  All of them are financially independent.

So what.

In the past three days I have realized that all three are also emotionally independent. And to my great surprise, that’s just fine with me.

I’ll start with my oldest, my one daughter, my Kate. She is an extraordinary teacher who gives her all to her class. She took the kids on a two day field trip into the mountains of New Hampshire, complete with snowstorm.  She left her baby daughter at home with her husband, for the first time in Ellie’s nine months on earth.

And Kate was able to appreciate every minute of this special time with her students, even though she had left her baby girl behind. She watched her students grow, and learn, and take risks. And she came home to tell me all about each child, each step, each moment of growth. And she did it with tears in her eyes.

She is all grown up. My work here is done.

And yesterday I got a message from my baby boy, my youngest. It read: “What food recommendations do you have for the stomach flu?”

Poor kid had been sick with a Norovirus for 24 hours.  Naturally, I called him back and told him exactly what he should be doing.  Which was exactly what he was already doing.  He knew what he needed, but as he put it, “Sometimes I just like my Mommy to know that I’m sick.”

My work here is done.

And then there was the Facebook Message this morning from a pastor in the small town where my sons live. His status today was about how grateful he is to have my sons (MY SONS) in his life because of their talent, the joy that fills their lives, and their willingness to help others in the community.

My work here is so obviously DONE.

I am content. My children are not rich or famous or in possession of a lot of stuff. But they have made a difference.

I am a happy, serene, blissfully unemployed Mamma tonight.

(Good thing Ellie still needs to learn how to make ravioli.)