Happy Christmas Memories, Everyone


When I was a child, Christmas was really magical. I mean, seriously magical. As part of a giant Italian family, the celebration of Christmas spread over several weeks.

There was the night when Dad placed the bright, hot orange window candles in our bedroom, and my sisters and I would fall asleep bathed in that magical glow. We’d whisper about hoped-for gifts, promised treats, and the possibility of actually seeing Santa this time.

There was the setting up of the tree and the hot dusty smell of those huge old painted bulbs. Do any of you remember those? For a few years they would be perfect, but every time they were lit, they’d heat up and cook the paint that covered them, eventually leaving it cracked and peeling. That hot paint smell is one of my best and sweetest Christmas memories.

And we had the joy of a Sicilian Christmas eve. Oh, the food! Octopus, cooked perfectly by my Grampa, salty and “al-dente”, studded with green olives and tiny capers. Exploding in my mouth, telling me that Christmas was truly here. The shrimp, the pasta, the array of cookies.

And the exchange of gifts. On Christmas eve, we got gifts from our Nana and Grampa and from our loving aunts and uncles. Dolls, books, playdoh, brand new crayons in the box with the sharpener.

These Christmas Eve gifts were the appetizers of the Big Day for us.

Because when the evening was over, we’d head home to await the big guy. Oh, my gosh, the memories of trying to sleep with those warm orange lights!!

One year, my sister Liz and I woke up in the night. CHRISTMAS EVE night. We heard sounds on our roof. Seriously! We mean it! There were sounds on the roof!~ We were shivering with excitement.

The next morning, we woke up and ran outside. It had snowed that week, so the roof was coated in a nice white layer. And there on the roof, right in front of our wondering eyes, were long, thin trails where something had been dragged across the snow……

We knew, without a doubt, that we were seeing the tracks of Santa’s sleigh. We had no thought for the tall willow trees that stood beside our house or the way that their long branches used to drape across the roof in the wind.

It was Christmas magic.

When I grew up and was the mother of young children, the magic of Christmas happened through my kids.

Oh, I know how trite that sentence is. I know it’s boring and cliche and completely unoriginal.

But in my case, it’s completely true.

I remember coming out of my parents’ house on Christmas Eve. My Grampa was gone, but the tradition of the Sicilian Christmas Eve was carried on by my Mom. The octopus was there. The shrimp was there, along with the meatballs, the eggplant, the ridiculous supply of cookies. My kids opened gifts from aunts, uncles and grandparents. They played with cousins. They became more and more wound up as the party progressed.

I remember trying to get them out the front door and into their car seats. I remember pausing, somewhat obviously, and gazing up at the sky over the house. We live in a very rural area, far from any airports. My parents’ house was less than 20 miles from Logan Airport. So as you can imagine, there is always a flight or two overhead.

“Oh, wow,” I remember saying, pretending to be casual, “Do you kids see that red light way up there? I wonder……just thinking…..could it be…..?”

Invariably, all three kids would jump into the car and demand that we “get home, get home! Hurry!”

That was a kind of magic. And the magic of staying up until 2AM trying desperately to get all those presents out of the attic, wrapped, put together and placed around the tree….while not waking up any of the three kids. Well….that was a wonderful magic that Paul and I complained about but loved so much.

I remember one year when the toys were finally placed by 2AM, and the kids woke up at 4. I love looking back on our sense disbelief when we heard those little voices whispering, and asked each other, “This can’t be the end of the night, can it……..?” I remember falling asleep in front of a movie, on the living room floor, at 6pm with our youngest in my arms.

Magic.

Now the magic of Christmas is found in the simple repetition of traditions. Now I make the octopus. Now I fry the shrimp.

Now I give gifts to my grandchildren a day or two before Christmas. I am the “appetizer” to the big event.

Now the magic comes to me in the annual gathering of cousins and the few remaining aunts. It comes from seeing my Grampa’s eyes in the faces of his grandsons. It comes from the taste of the octopus, cooked by my little brother, as perfectly flavored as Grampa ever did it. It comes from my sense that life goes on, that children still believe, that a few marks on the roof can give little children faith in something more beautiful and profound than our everyday lives.

There is magic.

Christmas is magic.

Tomorrow morning I will lie in my bed, with a dog on each side and my old husband snoring beside me. And I will smile, knowing that my daughter and her husband are probably looking at each other in the earliest light of dawn, asking “This can’t be the end of the night, can it……..?”

Buon Natale a tutti.

Merry Christmas, friends. I hope you are able to find your magic.

Oh, Mama, How Do I Do This Without You?


My beautiful Momma…circa 1949.

Dear Mom

I’m sitting here tonight in my house. The Sunday dinner is in the oven. The house is clean. The laundry is folded.

I don’t know what to do with myself.

Mom, this is the night before your wake.

How do we come to grips with that fact?

Everything is in order, just as we think you’d want it to be. There are flowers, and beautiful music, and photos of you and Dad and all of us. All through our years together as a family. It’s all set. All organized. Your kids will do you proud, I promise.

But, Momma.

How do I do this without you?

For all of my life, you’ve been there when I needed to dress up and present myself well. Today I looked through my closet, trying to choose what I should wear tomorrow as I stand beside the casket that holds your precious body.

Will I look OK? Will you be proud?

How do I know if I’ve chosen the right clothes, without your unerring sense of style to guide me?

Mom, I don’t know how to conduct myself without your guiding hand.

I’ll do my best. I’ll channel my inner “Zena” and put on makeup. I’ll wear earrings that match my blouse.

But.

Mom.

I’m not sure that I can really go through this without you there. When Dad died, we had you there to help us. I stood beside you. I handed you tissues during the wake. I sat beside you on the couch as we chose the music for his service.

Now what do we do?

Momma, I’ll do my best. I’ll stand there and smile. I’ll shake hands and give some hugs, even wearing my mask. I’ll thank people for coming, and I’ll say all the right things. “She lived a long and happy life. She had a peaceful death. We’re happy that she’s with Dad now.”

I’ll say all of that.

But inside of me, inside of the little girl who hides within my aging self, I will cry and sob and ask the universe, “How can you possibly go on without my MOM?????” I’ll ask myself, over and over and over again, “Did I do it right? Did I look OK? Did I ask the right questions and give the right responses?”

It will all be done well, and everything will be fine.

But long after your wake and funeral are over, long after the last flowers have faded and the last cards have been filed away, I will ask myself, “Am I OK? Did I do it right? Does she know that I truly loved her?”

Dear Momma,

My best prayer for you is that one day, in that special place on the other side of the veil, you will look at yourself and see yourself as we do. I pray that one day, on the other side, you’ll look at yourself and say, right out loud, “Good Lord! I was fabulous, wasn’t I?”

Until then, dear Momma, please know that every time I find myself needing to get “dressed up”, I will think of you, and try to follow the stylish lead that you have given me.

Tonight I Had to Make the Cutlets


Nana style cutlets

My mother is in her last days. She has had a good, long life, filled with struggles and triumphs, as are the lives of all who are lucky.

This has been a difficult journey for her, as she has very, very slowly lost her strength of body, but never her strength of heart.

I am sad. I feel helpless to ease her on her way. I am blessed, and I know it, because I am surrounded by my loving siblings and because I have a chance to tell Mom how much I love her and what a good Mom she has been.

Still, I feel deeply sad that I can’t find the right way to honor her.

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I woke up this morning in my own snug bed. As I slowly rose to consciousness, I remembered a dream. A very vivid dream of my Nana, my Mother’s mother. In the dream, Nana was serving us dinner, as she did thousands of times in my life. She made chicken cutlets, in her special Italian way.

I woke up with the taste of those delicious cutlets in my mouth, and the determination to make them today in my heart.

Because I am something of a food hoarder, and a patron of our local farms, my freezer is well stocked with fresh and local meats. I got up early and took a package of chicken breasts out to defrost.

The day went on as usual, and I was busy taking care of my two little grandsons. There was playdoh and hallway soccer and trucks and more superheroes than I can count.

But as the afternoon wore on, I decided that I wanted to enlist the boys in the preparation of my “Nana cutlets”.

So the boys helped me to slice the chicken breasts, to pound them (18-month-old Max was particularly thrilled with this part), and to bread and fry them.

As the chicken simmered, I talked to the kids about Nana. I used the few little Italian phrases that I know. I told the silly story of the way that Nana would call us in for lunch by yelling something that I thought was in English.

“Come in, fill your belly” is what I heard.

It was many years later that I realized she was saying, “Come in, figli belli!” She was calling us her ‘beautiful children”, but we didn’t understand that.

I smiled to myself today, looking at my own “figli belli” and making cutlets with them. I loved the way that my Nana’s memory was shaping my day with the kids.

And after the boys went home, I looked at my leftover flour, bread crumbs, and egg/milk combination. I didn’t need any of it, and would normally have thrown it all out. But then I remembered Nana. I had a clear and wonderful memory of her standing at her stove, frying the cutlets.

When all of the chicken was gone, and only the coatings were left, Nana used to make a little pancake out of them. She would mix it all with a fork, and pour it into the hot olive oil. Then she’d mix it up in the pan, and gently flip it over to form a crispy little something that she let her little grandchildren eat.

Nana called it something that sounded to us like “Bishy woh-woh.”

It was DELICIOUS.

“Bishy woh-woh”

Once again, it took me many years and several classes in Italian to realize that this wonderful leftover treat, given as a gift to the grandkids, was actually called “pesce uova”, or “fish eggs”.

I love the history of this little dish. I love using my Nana’s recipes, although none are written and all are stored in my aging head. I love sharing this food, this love, with my grandchildren, just as Nana shared them with us.

I love that tonight, as Mom is readying herself to cross through the veil and join her parents on the other side, I love that tonight my grandkids helped me to make Nana’s cutlets. And that we will eat “Bishy woh-woh” with our dinner.

I pray that my dream means that Nana is close and that she is reaching out to Mom. Reaching out to bring Mom home.

I pray that one day one of my grandchildren will wake up from a vivid dream, and will make some special meal that they remember from their time with me.

Those Who Bring Gifts


Photo by David Everett Strickler on Unsplash

When I was a child, I thought that gifts were something tangible. I believed that they came in boxes, and were carefully wrapped in shiny paper, with bows attached. Just the other day, I told my little grandson that I was giving a gift certificate to his Dad for his birthday.

“No, Nonni,” he said, “Presents have to be wrapped! You have to open them and they have to have wrapping paper.”

I smiled. And I hugged him and assured him that I would carefully place the gift card in a “real” birthday card which I would decorate.

But for the past few days, I’ve been thinking.

One of the things that the pandemic has taught me is that the world is filled with gifts and that many of them come from the people around us, whether or not they are wrapped in ‘shiny paper’.

I’ve been looking back on my 65 years of life, and I’ve been recognizing those gifts.

I am thinking about the girl who was my very first “best friend” in the world. She lived right next door to me, and we went to kindergarten together. I remember that I loved her very blue eyes. I loved her creativity. When I was too timid to make up good stories, Patti pretended that the big lilac bush between our houses was a rocket ship, and we were heading off to space. I can still remember the thrill I felt, way back in 1961, pretending to be inside a rocket on its way to the “atmosphere”.

Patti was a key part of my life for the next few decades. Her gifts included some adventures in hiking and swimming, some moments of getting into a little bit of trouble, and some serious laughter that I can still recall.

Those were gifts. I didn’t necessarily see them that way at the time, but in my elder years, I see them for what they were.

And I’m thinking of my old friend, Sue. My first school buddy. Sue was fascinating to me from the very first time we met. She had flaming red hair, pale white skin and freckles, a beauty mark that this Italian American yearned to share.

Sue was the best reader in our grade. She was smarter than anyone I knew. She and I used to walk to the town library and come out with stacks of good books. We’d sit on the wall outside of the old building, with a pile of snacks beside us, reading “The Black Stallion Mysteries.”

Sue introduced me to the “Hobbit” and then to “The Lord of the Rings”. These books changed my life, ignited my love of words and provided solace for me through the next five decades of life.

Sue gave me more gifts than I can count.

And I am remembering the family that hosted me when I became an exchange student in 1973. I was sent from my safe, middle-class, Catholic family in Massachusetts to the wilds of North Africa and into the arms of a family in Kairouan, Tunisia. A family that turned out to be a safe, middle-class, Muslim family in a beautiful city.

The gifts given to me in my three short months with them are uncountable. The gift of understanding. The gift of acceptance. The gifts of new and wonderful foods, a new and beautiful language, new music, new art, new ideas. The gift of realizing that this is in fact a very small world and that we all share it.

A gift that came back to me many many years later in the person of an unknown cousin in Italy, who welcomed me and my family into his home with love and food and laughter. A cousin who answered my apologies for bursting in on them unannounced with the statement that “Tutto il mondo è una famiglia”. All the world is one family.

A gift. Right?

I think of the many, many gifts given to me by my students.

The child who told me, “You’re kind of a weird teacher. You really like the boys.”

The child who said, “It makes me happy to look at your eyes.”

And the one who said, “You are a very funny lady.”

I think of the lessons they taught me, about how to be fair. How to be kind. How to support without judgment.

And I think of the many, many gifts given to me by their parents.

Sure, some of those were tangible gifts, like the necklace of silver beads that read “Teach, Inspire, Love”. But there were many more intangible gifts given by these parents. The book about “Social Stories” that helped me to help my students with autism. The Mom who gave me a book of math challenges to support my above grade level students. The parents who sent me messages when my father died early in the school year and I had to take some time off. The families who thanked me and those who challenged me to do better.

I remember one child who told me that my attempts at humor made him uncomfortable. “You like to say, ‘Because I am she who must be obeyed. I really don’t like that.” And the little girl who asked me to stop saying, “Oh, my God!” because her religion found it offensive.

These were things that helped me to grow.

They were gifts.

They all were gifts that have helped me to build the person, the woman, the mom, the teacher that I believe myself to be.

Gifts do not always come in shiny paper. They don’t always have ribbons or cards. Some of them prick a bit when you get them. Some go sailing right over your head for a few decades.

But every act of sharing, every act of trust, is a real and true gift.

I am so grateful to be the recipient of so many lovely presents.

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”.