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”.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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 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.
Sitting in the kitchen, listening to the sound of the humming refrigerator, I’m struck by the absence of life. I’m surrounded by echoes. I feel the sadness on my skin, and in my ears, a pressure of all that isn’t here.
There are no voices. No kids are arguing over whose turn it is to wash the dishes. No teens are singing along to transistor radios. There are no TV jingles reminding us to buy the right floorwax.
No smell of dinner fills the house. Pans are not rattling, silverware isn’t being spread. The microwave doesn’t beep.
Mom is asleep again, snoring in her favorite rocker, her little gray cat curled in her lap. I’m careful not to wake them, even though the sun is shining on this warm October day.
The house is sad. Its walls have soaked in nearly 6 decades of life. All the rushed mornings were here, in this kitchen, lunches packed and handed out, breakfasts eaten and cleaned up, bodies large and small clomping through from room to room, elbows crashing, chairs scraping, “have a good day”s called out and back.
All the dinners were here, someone setting the table, someone yelling for napkins. Mom at the stove and the oven, putting steaming dishes in front of us as we gathered around this table. Kids talking about school, complaining about homework, reminding Mom and Dad about upcoming field trips and practices. Math done at the table, the tv on in the living room, someone taking a bath.
There were arguments here, too; shouts, tears, anger and guilt. The walls and the floor held all of it in, wrapped it up and kept it contained. There was pride and competition and sadness. And there was joy, celebration and a lot of silliness. There were kids giggling as Dad made Saturday morning pancakes.
Now all is quiet.
I look down into the front hall. The front door, now closed and silent, used to swing open hundreds of times each week, neighbors and friends and kids and relatives swooping through it and up the stairs, into the sound and the light.
That’s how I remember my childhood and adolescence. I remember it with all of my senses. I recall our life here as noisy, delicious, bright and warm. I can feel myself standing at the kitchen sink, looking out into a winter evening, safely coated in the warm yellow light of the house. Everyone I loved was inside these walls with me. There was nothing outside that could hurt us.
I remember our family life as always busy, always moving, always crowded to the point where sometimes I’d go into the bathroom just for a minute of solitude. There was often music, sometimes an old musical on the record player, sometimes the theme songs from the TV. Best of all, sometimes the music was Dad’s off-key crooning of “Where the Buffalo Roam”.
I smile as I remember it. I look into the dining room, feeling the press of voices at every holiday and birthday, feeling the vibrations of sound against the bottoms of my feet. Seeing the table covered in dishes, wine glasses, coffee cups and plates of food. I hear adult voices arguing about politics and sports, waving hands and trying to out shout each other.
But today all is quiet. Even the refrigerator is still. The house is sad.
I think it’s waiting. Old photos, dusty books, long forgotten toys in the backs of closets.
All of it makes me sad. I know that the house feels it too. This structure that has only known one intertwined, passionately emotional, typical and special family.
I can feel it holding it’s breath. Waiting for the change that has to come.
We’re waiting, too. We feel the very same echoes in our hearts.
Tonight is the last night of summer for my daughter, the fifth grade teacher. I know exactly what this night feels like for her. I taught in the same school district as Kate for more than 20 years. I know the feeling of that last night at home, that last night of knowing that you’ll be there with your babies all day. The night that is filled with the ticking clock of doom.
I remember the feelings of anxiety and excitement as I’d look forward to the first day back at work as a teacher. Those first few days of organizing, decorating the classroom, meeting with colleagues, calling parents, and more meetings.
Exciting, exhausting, thrilling and nerve wracking.
My daughter heads back into school tomorrow, but for her everything will be different this year, because this is the 2020. This is the year of the pandemic. The year of lockdowns and masks and baths in Purell. Nothing will be the same this year.
I know that all of my good friends who are teachers are as sad and scared and excited as my Kate is tonight. I send my love and my sympathy for the angst that I know they are all feeling.
Truly! My heart is filled with admiration and gratitude to every single teacher, administrator, teaching assistant, school nurse and school psychologist out there. What a stressful night it is for all of you tonight!
So I love you. And I’m sorry.
I’m sorry to all of you, but especially to my beloved firstborn child, Kate, the teacher. I apologize. Mea culpa. Please don’t hate me.
Don’t hate me because I am so euphoric that tonight is the last night of your summer vacation! Whooie!!!!!!
I will be back in the saddle as of tomorrow morning. I will be Nonni in charge. Nonni on duty. La Nonna di tutti Nonni.
I will spend tomorrow with baby Max, all of five months old. I’ll rock him, change him, sing him ridiculous songs about whales and hearts and Uncles and eyebrows.
He will have my full attention, and he will be my total focus.
Holy baby cuddles, I am lucky!
Max doesn’t really know me yet, and tomorrow will be a big challenge for him. And a day of heartache for his Momma.
But for me? Tomorrow is the first day of my next year of grandchild care. Tomorrow I get to be my very best self.
Tomorrow I will feel useful.
I’m sorry that I don’t feel sad. I can’t help it.
I am NONNI, hear me roar!!!! Bring on the school year, baby. Nonni is ready to roll!
We’re the ones who don’t think in measuring cup increments. Instead we think in spice palette increments.
I’m one of those intuitive cooks. You know what I mean? We’re the ones who read a recipe in 30 seconds, then try to recreate it.
“mmmmmm, cumin with honey?” or “Oh, wow, rosemary and lime juice!”
We think of cooking as an art, not a science.
We toss in a bit of this, a smidge of that, stir it around and suddenly realize that it needs buttermilk.
Cooking is my creativity.
So it’s kind of funny that I have a cookbook collection. I have cookbooks from China, Russia, Germany, Italy. I have cookbooks about snacks, cookbooks about desserts, cookbooks that are for kids. And I have a whole shelf of amazing leather bound cookbooks from the past century that tell more about social expectations of women than they do about how to make a perfect squab. I often read them for fun.
Tonight, though, I found myself thumbing through my very favorite cookbook ever. My daughter Kate gave it to me for my birthday during her junior year of college.
Kate and I used to cook together, and often experimented on recipes that the men in the family consumed with pleasure.
When she’d moved from the dorm into her first campus apartment, I’d sent her with a cookbook full of my favorite recipes. She might not be at home in my kitchen anymore, but I needed to know that my girl had the family recipe for red sauce and meatballs at hand.
She’d loved the gift, and had added her own discoveries and creations during the school year.
So when my birthday rolled around, Kate gifted me with my very own cookbook of HER favorite recipes. It was fabulous! She included recipes for “Reverse Chicken Soup” (made with beef broth and ground chicken meatballs) and “Pasta e Fagioli Cucina Lavandino” ( kitchen sink pasta e fagioli).
It was hilarious! I loved it.
I put its pages into my own home made cookbook.
Every time I found a delicious recipe, or an enticing food idea, I included into this three hole punched cooking notebook.
Tonight I decided to add a new recipe, for the first time in years. I have started making more raw veggie dishes, and wanted to add in hand written recipes for two new favorites: Italian Cole Slaw and Carrot Cumin Salad.
I wrote them down, popped them into the cookbook, and then started to flip through the pages.
This is like the history of my marriage and motherhood years. It’s broken into sections (appetizers, main dishes, desserts) but each one is in chronological order. A stroll through these pages is a documentation of my evolution through the basics (meatballs, chicken piccatta, yellow cake) and into our early marriage years.
That was when we wanted quick, easy and cheap (The Sausage Casserole I invented in grad school when each dinner had to come in at under 3 dollars). Dessert was usually a couple of graham crackers.
The book moves on into the early parenting years, when I mastered “Mexican spiced chicken fingers” and a lovely dish called “Heavy Slop.” Filling, easy and healthier than Hamburger Helper.
It goes on through special events that gave us “Christmas Shrimp Cocktail” and even “Red Sox Noodle Dandy”. The latter was created during the playoffs of 2004, when the word “Yankee” was completely forbidden to be spoken anywhere in New England.
Now I find healthier, higher-end recipes being added to the book. Foods with less fat, less salt, more fiber. Dishes that cost three times what the first entries did. Now I see recipes for lamb, for shrimp, for exotic pastas and sauces.
I love them all.
But mostly I love the idea that my life has been recorded as a series of recipes.
I can’t think of anything that would be a better fit for me than this!
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 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.
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.
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.
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???