Strange, Sweet Memories


Photo by Mats Hagwall on Unsplash

I am at my mother’s house today. This is the house where I grew up. The house where I learned to read. To write. To understand math.

This is the house in which I learned what it meant to be a member of a family. I was one of six children here. One of a group. I was part of a team.

Today I am here, having lunch with my Mom. She is old now. She doesn’t remember much. Her spirit is still here, still strong and still powerful. But she is only a shadow of the Mom I knew when I was young.

I stand in the kitchen. My arms are crossed. I look out the kitchen window.

I remember.

This was once the spot where I stood observing the power of my Mother. I stood here. She stood at the stove, apron around her waist, spatula in hand.

This is the spot where I stood and watched as the meatballs were browned. Where the sauce was stirred. Where the chicken was sauteed and the stew was simmered.

I stand in the kitchen.

I look out the window, across the yard. I see the aging shed as it now stands, and I see the slightly overgrown garden that sprawls across what used to be our lawn.

But I don’t see today. I don’t see the aging of this yard, of this land, of this house.

For some inexplicable reason, as I stand in this small spot, I see one small memory from my childhood. I see it clearly. I feel it in the skin of my feet. I smell it. I hear the sound of that one afternoon.

When I was a child, my identity was largely shaped by the ethnicity of my grandparents.

We were Italians.

We were a part of that land. A part of that heritage.

We honored our Italian heritage.

So. As a part of that shared experience, my Grandfather Giuseppe took all of us to the beach. I remember it as if it had happened an hour ago. My Grampa leading the way across the rocky outcroppings, bucket in hand. I remember following each of his steps. He lead us across the rocks, down toward the tidal pools.

I remember the smell and the feel of the slippery green weeds, and how it felt to lift them up. I remember the feel of the small snails clustered on the rocks under the weeds. I remember, so very clearly, how it felt to pull them up and plop them into my bucket.

This was joy. This was summer. This was food. This was family.

We used to gather up buckets of “periwinkles” and bring them home to eat. We felt that we were a part of the earth, a part of the sea, as we’d capture our tiny prey and place them in our small beach pails.

It was magic.

But it was everyday life, too.

So today, as I stood in my Mom’s kitchen, a half a century past the last time I stood here with a pail full of sea snails, I felt my heart melting and pounding in equal measure.

I stood there in our kitchen. I looked out the kitchen window.

I didn’t see the overgrown yard or the falling shed.

Instead, I saw my young and tender self, seated on an old wooden picnic table, a shining silver pin in my hand. I watched myself laughing as I used the straight pin to spear a tender morsel of seafood and pop it into my mouth.

And I felt the salty, briny, sandy bite of that little snail. I felt the sun beating down on the back of my neck. I remembered the laughter of my siblings, and I saw the smile of my Grampa, watching us as we ate these tiny sea creatures.

Today I stood in my mother’s kitchen. I looked out into the backyard. I felt the sand gritting between my teeth. I felt the warm laughter of my Grandfather as he helped me gather a bucket full of food.

I stood still.

I remembered the sound of the little shells as they fell at our feet. I remembered the way that that the tiny “doors” would stick to the soles of our sandy feet after we had eaten our fill.

I remembered.

There is joy and purpose and meaning in the smallest of moments.

Today I remembered the feeling of the periwinckles on my tongue.

Tonight I wonder what small and tender moments my own grandchildren will take from having known me.

Loving A Grandchild


(Baby Ellie as a newborn)

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

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

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

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

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

My grandson. My youngest grandchild.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course, of course, I was right.

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know.

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

“Hope is the Thing With Feathers”


Some people say that millennials are lazy. They say that this generation wants everything simply handed to them, that they lack a work ethic, that they are naive and irresponsible.

Every generation seems to look on the one before it as archaic and uninformed, and the one after it as somehow less worthy than their parents.

I’ve never understood this tendency, and have often shrugged it off as a natural human need to believe that “we” are better than “they” are. Just one more self serving attempt to feel good about ourselves by criticizing anyone who is not in our tribe.

But I’ll tell you something, dear boomer team, it is the next generation of young adults that is my lifeline to a sense of hope for humanity.

We spent this past weekend at our son’s wedding to his wonderful life partner. It was a glorious event, in every possible way. We have already loved and cherished our daughter-in-law for a decade, long before she and our son progressed from good friends to lovers. The wedding itself was like a magical dream, complete with delicious and abundant food, a gorgeous lawn setting and lots of loving family.

But it was the unique and uplifting presence of the community of young friends that has restored my badly damaged faith in the human species.

Like a lot of you, I find myself overwhelmed with frustration every time I read the news or look at social media. “How have humans managed to last for so long,” I keep asking myself. “And do we deserve to keep going?”

It feels like the End of Days.

So let me describe my impressions and interactions with these amazing young people. Because after this weekend, I don’t think we are quite yet on the edge of doom.

My first thought is this: in spite of the fact that these kids are well educated and highly creative, there doesn’t seem to be a giant ego anywhere to be found. ALL of them cheer each other’s successes and share in each other’s achievements. They mourn each other’s losses. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of jealousy or envy or begrudging among them. That astonishes me.

My second impression is that they have a self-confidence and assurance that our generation mostly lacked at that young age. Here’s what I mean; we have known most of these kids for about ten years. We’ve seen them go through college, move into the work force or start careers in the arts. We’ve been there at musical festivals with them, at barbecues, at various birthdays and holidays. From the very first, all of them have been completely welcoming and non-judgmental of the “old folks”. They have been open in a way that has always surprised and delighted me. They talk to us with great sincerity about their dreams and hopes and about their fears, too. They hug us with so much warmth, and they are all quick to say, “I love you, Mamma Shiebs!”

It takes a great deal of self awareness to do that in your twenties, especially with people you see only a few times a year. Nevertheless, as soon as we arrive at any place where they are gathered, we are immediately embraced and taken into the heart of the group. When I’m with them, I feel profoundly respected, profoundly cared for and immensely safe.

That is an indescribable gift, don’t you think?

But the most impressive and inspiring feeling about spending time with these people is that when I am with them, I am able to let go of my fear that humanity will never learn from its mistakes, and that we will continue on the dangerous path that has lead to such dark times.

I say that because I watch these kids work so. hard. every. day; but I watch them do it with a mindfulness that we older folks lack. Some of them have professional careers as teachers or therapists. Some run small local businesses. Many of them have launched careers as artists which they supplement with part time jobs.

Unlike us, they don’t seem to feel that their self-worth comes from a big paycheck. They don’t measure their success by the number of “things” they buy or by the cost of those “things.” They work to pay for their lives, which they live mindfully and frugally.

They ask for nothing. Seriously. Birthdays and Christmases are about small, homemade gifts of food, or music or plants or hand knit scarves. They are about warmly worded letters and shared meals and laughing. They don’t want things. What items they do need, they mostly get second hand, proud of the money saved, the trash prevented and the environmental damage avoided.

Unlike us, they value people above material things. They grow a lot of their own food, share what they have with each other and with the community, make things for themselves and fix what is broken.

I don’t know how they do it, but they seem to understand that life is precious and that it’s meant to be enjoyed. They know that it is as important to recharge as it is to charge onward. They keep journals, write songs, paint and sculpt their feelings. I can’t imagine any of them working 60 hours a week at jobs they hate while missing time with the families they love. They have more sense than we do!

They are natural teachers, and they share their gentle wisdom with old folks like me, who learn from every interaction.

They are kind. When I am ranting about my personal or political opinions, they are quick to point out that everyone is allowed their own point of view. They listen to each other, and to everyone else, even when it’s hard. They speak up, even when it feels risky.

They are humble, and they remind us to be that way, too.

They have come of age in a time of war, a time of global climate crisis, a time of pandemics and racism and increasing poverty. They have come of age at a time in history when it is clear that the generation before them has failed to light the way. They are unlikely to find the level of financial security that many of us have, but instead of letting that lead them to despair, it has lead them to view life differently.

They give me such hope!

Last week I thought that humankind had run its course, and that we’d soon be descending into chaos.

This week I have hope that if they are given just the slightest chance, the next generation will provide the reset that our species so desperately needs.

“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul……”

Thank you, young friends from North Adams, Massachusetts! You are the hope that my soul needed so much.

The Empty Nest, Redoux


So here I am again. Trying to make myself into the supportive, happy adult who celebrates the launching of the children. Trying to be happy for them. Trying to embrace the wonderful new adventures that await them.

Trying to silence the woman inside of me who can’t even begin to understand how all of this could have unfolded so quickly. Trying to come to terms with the fact that a baby’s time is the blink of an eye, that the toddler gets to her feet before you can take in a breath, that the little girl can go from taking a bottle to reading a book in the time it takes for her grandmother to turn around.

Six years ago, almost to this very day, I realized that my time as a teacher had to come to an end. I left my classroom and said goodbye to my friends while mourning the change that confronted me. I wasn’t ready to retire, but I did. It was the right thing to do, given the political winds that were blowing.

But it was also the right thing to do because I was in desperate need of something to make me feel useful and wanted and important. It worked out perfectly for me, because my daughter was in need of a safe, secure, affordable child care option.

So Ellie, my sweet first grand child, became my saving grace, my saving responsibility, my link to my nurturing inner self. Even as I mourned the fact that I was no longer teaching a group of children to love learning, even as I missed those moments when I would laugh out loud with 24 young kids, I learned to embrace my role as the “Momma stand in”.

My days of watching little Ellie were the bridge that allowed me to move from my professional career to my retirement life. Her smiles were my pay checks. Her hugs were my lifeline. Her first words, first steps, first solid foods were my reassurance that I remained relevant in this world.

Every time I bathed Ellie, and wrapped her in a towel, I was reminded of my mothering years. I was reminded and reassured that I was actually really good at this nurturing woman thing. Ellie’s trusting gaze, her arms reaching up for me, the way that her parents trusted me to protect and care for her; all of this let me grow into this next phase of my life. It let me move past the grief and anger of my last year of teaching and find a place where I could once again embrace and accept my strengths along with my many weaknesses.

I loved being “Nonni” to my grandchild. I loved the way she looked at me, and the way she missed me when we were apart. I relied on her love and her acceptance as I settled into my retirement life.

And when her brothers were born, it was all of that time with Ellie that let me seamlessly move into my role as Nonni and daycare provider for all three of them.

Because of my time with Ellie, my house now contains more art supplies than any craft store. Due to the fact that I was totally smitten with her, we have three toy boxes, two Pack N’ Plays, a giant box of playdoh and and ten pounds of kinetic sand. We have bibs, and potty chairs and sippy cups and paint smocks.

When Ellie was born, I became the next generation of caregivers. I stepped in to support my daughter by letting her be a teacher while I changed her baby’s diapers and snuggled her girl to sleep.

So.

You can probably understand why I am feeling sad and proud and nostalgic and scared, all at once.

Ellie, my sweet next generation first baby, is about to finish kindergarten. She did this year through remote learning, so she has been here with me for a year longer than we had ever anticipated.

But this crazy, terrifying, upsetting year of Covid is finally winding down. Ellie is one short week away from finishing her kindergarten year. She has learned more than I could ever have predicted. She has gained confidence in her intellect, and is trusting her own ideas and her own voice. She has her own sense of style, and her own preferences in food, fashion, music and art.

She is ready, or more than ready, to take on her next big step in life.

She is ready to go off to first grade, to meet new friends, to learn a million new things, to grow into her own bright and spirited self.

And I am so happy for her.

And so incredibly sad for me.

My nest is beginning to empty once again. My beautiful little fledglings are getting ready to fly.

And it’s good. It is just as it should be.

And my heart hurts just as much as it did the last time I faced the sorrow of the empty nest.

Ah, life.

You really do break our hearts.

Perched on the Edge, and Scared to Move On.


For the fifth or sixth year in a row, my deck has become a haven for baby birds. We have had a phoebe nest under there for many years, her nursery built higher and higher each spring until this year I wonder how Mama manages to fit in under the boards.

This year, like last year, we also have a family of tiny robins who have hatched under the deck. Every morning when I pull up my bedroom shades, I see a couple of adult birds with mouths full of worms and beetles, standing along our fence and ready to fly to the kids with breakfast.

When I walk softly and carefully around to the back of the house, and peer up at the spiky little nests, I am filled with a sense of awe as I watch the impossibly tiny beaks opening and closing as they wait for the meal that they trust will be coming.

I love this time of year. I love the reminder that no matter what is happening in this deeply troubled human world, nature goes on and on. The robins don’t question the wisdom of reproduction; they simply follow their instincts. They sing, they mate, they nurture and they live.

I wish I had the same faith.

For humans like me, life seems to come in stages. At one moment we are the babies, dependent and faithful, secure in our nests and happy to wait for someone to feed us. In the next, we are expected to spread out inexperienced wings so that we can take to the sky and start our own journeys.

For birds, I imagine, this is a relatively simple process. They are born, they fledge, they find a mate and make a nest and repeat the process until death comes to take them off for a rest.

It isn’t so simple for us, though, is it?

I am at one of those “milestone” ages in the life of a human. The US government has decided that I have reached the level of “old human.” They have provided me with Medicare to take care of my expected old human ailments. My children are all grown up, with partners and nests and babies both planned and newly birthed.

If I were a bird, I’d be settled and secure and happy to perch on the fence. I’d be ready to let the seasons change and to die when my time came along.

Alas. I’m not a bird.

I’m only a human.

And I find myself perched on the edge of a new stage of life that leaves me both afraid and sad.

You see, unlike birds, we humans are filled with a sense of devotion to our parents that leaves us hopelessly tied to our pasts. It leaves us filled with dread and poignant sorrow as we watch our parents age into the next phase. It leaves us unprepared and insecure as we make the decisions that will shape the final days of those who have given us life.

We are not ready to make these choices. Nothing has prepared us for the need to feed and clothe and house our parents. Nothing has taught us how to bathe them and clean them and reassure them when they are confused.

The life of a human does not contain lessons on how to stop relying on the woman who advised us and supported us through our own long journeys into parenthood. It doesn’t set us up for the moment when we must admit to ourselves and to the world that our parent is no longer the one who holds the answers. It doesn’t show us how to embrace and support the generation before us even as we do our best to support the generations that have come after us.

I look up every morning at those tiny robin babies. I know that in only a week or so, they’ll be perched on the edge of that carefully crafted nest. I know that they will pull up those shaky wings and spread them toward the sky.

They’ll take a deep breath, I think, but they’ll know what to do.

They will fly.

I wish I could do the same. I wish I could find some kind of old-woman wings that would lift me gently over the deeply painful decision of where my Mom will spend the last days of her long life. I wish I knew how to fly out of this childhood nest, and how to fulfill my responsibilities as a human being to the one who gave me this life.

I stand on the edge of this next phase of life. But I am far too afraid to fly.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Mother’s Day!

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

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

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

Good Bye, Horrific Old Kitchen


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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a nice house.

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

Don’t even get me started on the floor.

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

So.

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

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

This is a life changer for me!

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

Well. I am dancing. A lot.

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

But now everything is empty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I cried. A lot.

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

I’ll be happy. I’ll be delighted!

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

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


My mother was beautiful. She was elegant and stylish. She always looked immaculately put together and ready for anything.

She was a wonderful cook, and was able to keep 6 kids and our Dad happy, well fed, and healthy on a very tight budget.

Mom was an artist, and could paint and draw in ways that left me amazed.

As the oldest daughter in a family of six children, I grew up very much in awe of my Mother. She was fiercely opinionated, always outspoken and she never backed down from a conflict. I remember her as the champion of young girls in town when one historically snowy winter had her contacting the principal of the local Junior High School to demand that her daughters be allowed to wear pants to school. “I will send my daughters in skirts when all the boys have to walk to school with bare legs, too.”

She was my hero.

By the time I was old enough to understand the concept of time, I wanted to grow up to be exactly like my Mother. I wanted to be smart. I wanted to be artistic. I yearned to know how to cook and I was determined to become a mother myself.

So much of my life has seen me happily copying my Mom. So much of it has seen me wanting to echo her strength and her resilience.

But something has changed in the past few years, and it has shown me that my mother can still teach me lessons even as I reach the age of Medicare.

Mom is 91 years old now. She has overcome cancer, pneumonia and even Covid 19. She still lives in the house where she raised all of us, where she cared for our Dad through several illnesses, and where she watched as he died.

Most of her children are still around her, still sharing meals in that same kitchen, still watching TV in that same room.

Along with my brothers and sisters, I try to take my turn visiting Mom, and doing what little I can to help take care of her. She has a lovely woman living there as her Home Health Aide. She watches TV, and naps in her favorite chair, with her sweet little kitty on her lap.

I come to visit, bringing home made soup or a pasta dish. We chat and smile and watch a bit of TV.

Then I get back into my car and head home. And I think, for the first time in all of my long life, “Please, universe, please don’t let me be just like my Mom. I don’t want to live as long as she has.” Please don’t let me follow in her footsteps as she gets to the end of her path.

I love this life. I have had a wonderful, joyful, hilarious time on this funny planet. I am in no real hurry to leave.

But please, dear Universe and gods and goddesses and fates, please don’t let me live so long that I am unable to cook my own dinner. Please don’t let me live to be a woman who can no longer sing, or swim in the ocean, or pick my own herbs, or write a blog post, or read a good story. Please don’t hang onto me so long that my children worry over who will weed my garden and who will wash my hair.

Life is a sacred gift. Each of us has our turn on center stage. Life is a fabulous blessing.

I am eternally grateful for the life I have been given.

Please let me squeeze lots more laughter out of it. But please, please, send me on to the next big adventure before I am unable to remember the pleasures that came with this one.

I Do It For the Joy


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

I know that this makes me look a bit ridiculous to some. I know that people think, “She’s giving up the best part of her retirement!” and “She’s letting herself be taken advantage of!”

I know.

I have many friends who tell me, “I am willing to babysit once in a while, but I’m not giving up my hard earned freedom!” They tell me that now is the time to focus on myself. Now is the point in my life when I should just have fun and do whatever I want.

Even after six years, I don’t know exactly how to answer them. I feel a little sheepish, honestly. I feel a little bit lame, a little bit silly.

At the not so tender age of 65, and dealing with a couple of minor health issues, it really can be a challenge to take care of one, or two or sometimes three children under the age of six. Sometimes I have all three for two days in a row, and when they go home, I am truly physically beat. Muscles in me hurt in ways I had never predicted. I’m often asleep by 8 pm.

But why does that matter?

You see, I take care of my grandchildren because every single day with them brings me moments of pure joy.

We older adults don’t often get a chance to dig in the dirt just for fun. We aren’t often asked to dance “really fast” in a circle while holding hands. After six decades of life, most of us don’t experience full on belly laughs that make tears pour down our cheeks.

I don’t know how to explain it, I guess. But I like the feeling of playdoh. I like fingerpaints. And I love walking around the yard with people who are amazed and delighted by a pile of deer poop or a pile of fungus on a log.

I watch my grandkids because I want to.

I just plain want to be with them.

Sure, it helps my daughter and son-in-law. Sure, it gives the kids a chance to leave the house in this pandemic year.

Whatever.

I don’t take care of these three beautiful, happy, loving humans because I want to be a martyr. Or because I want my daughter to feel indebted to me. I don’t do it because it helps them to save money. Or because I feel any sense of guilt or pressure.

I spend my days with these wonderful kids because the people I most enjoy on this lovely earth are people who are very young.

I really, REALLY prefer the company of kids to that of adults. I am good at this nurturing thing. I am! I am delighted to spend my time in the company of people who tell me directly, “Hey, can you be really silly right now?”

There is nothing in life I’d rather do with these wonderful years of hard earned freedom than to spend them with people who make me laugh, who tell me dozens of times a day that they love me, who grin from ear to ear when I sing a ridiculous made up song.

I do this for me. This time spent with my grandchildren is the gift I am giving myself. Nobody needs to think that I’d be better off going out to lunch or shopping or sitting at home with a book. The thought of those things makes my skin itch.

I do this because nothing else in the world would give me this level of pure joy.

Today I had all three kids, and it was busy, and stressful and fun and challenging and exhausting. At various times today, I wiped soup off the wall, wiped a poopy bottom, held a tantruming three year old, stopped a five year old from bossing her brother off of his bike and tick checked three little heads of thick hair.

I also said the word “hug” to a not quite one year old, and received a hug, a series of pats on the back and a heartfelt, “Awwww”. I was asked for snuggles three times, and watched a movie with a sweaty three year old on my lap. I got a kiss and hug from a sweet kindergartener who threw her arms around my neck and said, “Oh, Nonni! I love you so much!”

I would not trade one second of today for all the rest in the world. Not for a week on a private Caribbean island. Not for a billion dollars, or a chance to sleep in, or a month of travel in Europe.

I do what I do every day because joy is fleeting. Children grow too quickly. Life is made for love. I do this because this is what I want.

THIS is my best life. And I am so happy to be living it.

I Vote for Them


I voted for these two. And for their baby brother. I voted for the kids my sons haven’t had yet. I voted for the children my nieces and nephews haven’t yet conceived.

I voted for the kids whose parents were desperate enough to bring them across the border in search of safety.

I voted for the children of my children’s children. And for the children of people I haven’t met. And the children who will one day be the friends of my children’s children.

I voted for the future.

I cast my vote this year for the earth. I voted in the hope that we can still find a way to stop California from burning. I voted because I believe that humans are creative enough to utilize the power of the sun and the wind to heat our homes and power our factories.

I voted. I voted in tears, and filled with fear. I voted with my heart full of love for my sweet grandchildren and the future that I hope awaits them.

I voted.

And now I wait.

I wait to see if my countrymen will accept the outcome of this pivotal election. I wait to find out if my country will turn itself around and move back toward a marginally democratic government. I wait, in fear, to find out if it will continue to move toward autocracy. I sit with my head in my hands, wondering if my fellow citizens have fallen for the lure of easy answers, the promise of magic bullets, the lies that promise no more sacrifice and no more worry.

I voted.

I voted for the people I love most on this little blue planet. I voted for them.

I’m afraid that I have voted in vain.

I’m afraid that more than voting will be required of me in the future.