Food is Love


I first heard the phrase “Food is Love” from a colleague who was laughing at me gently on the morning of Sept.12, 2001. After the horror of the terrorist attacks in New York, and the long, terrifying night lying awake and watching endlessly repeating news, I had arrived at school with two dozen home made muffins.

I didn’t know what else to do. The world was out of control. I was sad, upset, scared, confused. I didn’t know how to react.

So I cooked.

Food is love. Food is comfort.

Food is family and warmth and security.

I guess that’s why I have raised three kids who are all exceptionally good cooks. My daughter makes the best pizza I have ever eaten. She makes Indian foods, Asian foods, and delicious focaccia.

My two sons are such good cooks that for Christmas I tend to give them ingredients as gifts. They went to college fully prepared to cook for the entire apartment. Now in their mid twenties and in serious long-term relationships, they love to cook for their partners and friends. They grow vegetables, they seek out organic foods, they browse through recipes for inspiration knowing that they will add/change/delete build upon whatever they find.

So I guess it’s no surprise that one of my favorite parts of every day is cooking with my grandchildren.

I get so much pleasure out of those moments when the two kids are seated up on my counter, helping me to mix, chop, stir, mince, sautee and simmer.

OK. Full disclosure and all that: when we’re cooking, I know where they are and I don’t have to chase them. The chaos is contained.

But that isn’t the whole story.

I just love sharing good food with them. I love sharing the history of our family recipes. I love teaching them how to handle foods, how to measure and pour and stir. I love letting them know that spilling is allowed, mistakes are expected and eggshells can add a little crunch to a cake.

Mostly, I love looking at them. I love seeing their big, dark brown eyes gazing into the bowl of dough. I love the way they listen to my every word, even as I realize that they don’t understand it all.

I mean, how many three year old really understand the difference between slicing and mincing the red peppers? How many 19 month old kids know how to crack an egg, crush a clove of garlic, zest a lemon?

My grandchildren do. Or at least they are beginning to.

Someday, when they are living on their own in small, drafty apartments, I hope that they will pull out a pile of ingredients, start to chop, and tell their gathered friends, “My Nonni taught me how to cook before I was old enough to talk.”

I hope that they think of me when they add a dash of crushed red pepper to a pot of soup. I hope they recognize, on some deep level, that they dare to experiment with spices because their Nonni helped them to feel at home in the kitchen.

I hope that they one day they will gaze with devotion at someone at their table and that they will say, “You know that food is love, don’t you?”

Yum. Can we crack some more eggs, please?

Nothing Lasts Forever


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Everything is dust in the wind….”

I hated that. Hated it.

But time has passed. Time has changed my view.

Now.

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

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

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

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

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

Because they can’t. They shouldn’t.

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

So.

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

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

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

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

That’s just the way it should be.

Nana

Nana with her great grandson, Atticus. 

 

When I Die


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Today I attended the funeral of a man who lived for 103 years. He was the father of one of my dearest and most treasured friends. He was a man who lived through so much change, and who seemed to somehow embrace every new step.

This gentleman was a true old Cape Codder, living through the years when the Cape was an unpaved, marshy wilderness. He hunted for ducks in the marsh. He harvested clams and oysters in the shallow waters of the bays.

He served in the Navy, he married well, and he raised two daughters. He was a businessman, a fisherman, a golfer, a true New England “old salt.”

What I loved about his memorial service today was the emotion and love that his children, grandchildren and even one great grandson shared with all of us.

What they said was exactly what I hope and pray will be said about me one day.

“He lived his own life in his own way.”

“He made us laugh.”

“Papa was full of fun.”

And best of all, “He was my friend.”

A great grandson said those words. “He was my friend.”

How beautiful. How perfect. What a wonderful accolade to a life well lived. To know that the child of your child’s child could look at you and see the face of a true friend.

I am old enough now to listen carefully to the words that are shared at funerals. I listen and I hope, and I vow to bend and shape my own life more carefully.

I hope that one day, when it is my turn to step out of this life and into the next, that some young person will speak of me with love. I pray that one of my descendants will be able to stand up and say, with honesty, “She was my true friend.”

With special love to my dear friends Wendy Bearse King and to her beautiful children. A life well lived is the best aspiration that any of us can have.

 

I weep.


Why on earth should someone in my situation find herself all teary eyed tonight?

Well. Part of it could be that I keep watching the stupid news. North Korea wants to kill us and they’re making plans to get it done. Puerto Rico, a place I have always wanted to visit, is desperate, dying, begging for help. The world is getting hotter every day, both in terms of the climate and in terms of the international relations.

And I miss my old dog. I miss my sweet, loud mouthed, running away old hound so much. And every morning when I bring my granddaughter Ellie into the house, her first comment is “Tucker died. Him all gone. Tucker died. I miss him.”

Me, too, little girl. Me, too.

I am weepy because the season is ending. Summer is slowly giving up her last heated blast of breath, and the leaves are slowly turning yellow and gold. Winter is out there, waiting for us. The year is dying. So my eyes fill with tears.

I cry because I am tired, too. Because I have spent the past few days with my best beloved grandchildren, and they have not been well. The baby is stuffy, coughing, cranky and wanting to be held. His usual bright eyed smiles are mixed with tears and head shaking and fits of coughing that remind me of my own little babies at his age.

And Ellie. Our Ellie. Last night she slept here, having a “Pajama party for Papa!” and snuggling into bed with Paul and I. She laughed, she chatted, she sang songs. And as she drifted off to sleep, her hand gently stroked my cheek. I heard her murmuring, “Oh, Nonni. My Nonni. This Ellie’s Nonni. I love you, Nonni!”

So my heart filled up, and it overflowed, and it keeps on running. She loves me. He loves me. Their Mama loves me.

But I didn’t get very much sleep last night. Or any today. So I’m feeling fragile. And weepy.

And my puppy Lennie, trying desperately right now to get me to play tug-o-war with his favorite chew toy? He loves me. And he reminds me of the one we lost. He misses Tucker, too.

So I’m weepy.

Tired, and really just “I sprung a leak” sloppy.

Life is good, for as long as it lasts.

I’m just feeling a little bit…I guess…well, I feel kind of weepy.

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We miss you, Tucky. 

Predicting Love


Love is never predictable. When we’re young, we think we’ll fall in love with the perfect specimen of boyfriendness or girlfriendness. We think someone we have a crush on will be “the one” and life will be filled with rainbows and unicorns.

Then we meet someone kind and attractive and gentle and BAM. Not expected, not predicted, but there you have it.

Love.

I thought that after having been married to the same BAM guy for 39 years, and after loving and raising three children, that love would be exactly what I expect it to be.

I thought that love would be more predictable.

Two years ago, when my first child gave birth to her first child, I fell head over heels in love well before the baby was born. I intellectually loved her. I loved the idea of her, the fact of her existence, the philosophical meaning of her new life.

But as she grew, and became our funny, smart, loving little Ellie, I have fallen ridiculously, madly in love with her. I love her eyebrows, for God’s sake. I love her toes. I love the skin that gathers salty sweat in the folds of her neck. I love her breath and her teeth and her ankle bones.

I’m insane.  My whole world has been filled with Ellie.

Then, three weeks ago, her baby brother was born.

He is perfect and sweet and sleepy and he smells like a baby. I love the idea of him. I love the philosophical meaning of his life.

But you know what? Even when I held him on his first day, I wasn’t feeling that crazy kind of love. Even when I’ve been at his house to help change and care for him, I have only had eyes for Ellie.

I have been one very guilt-wracked Nonni, believe me. How could I not be feeling the same crazy depth of love for Johnnie that I had felt from the very first moment for his sister?

I didn’t know.  It didn’t make sense.

I knew that I would take good care of him, and would love him and play with him. But would I ever fall in love with him, the way I had with Ellie?

Today my son Tim and his sweet lady were here for dinner. My daughter and her family came, too. We sat outside on this gorgeous summer day, and Ellie played in the pool and picked strawberries with Papa.

We ate, we drank some beer, we talked and laughed and watched the Red Sox. It was loud and hectic and busy. It was fun!

But then, when dinner was over, everyone left to see a concert. Everyone except for me, Ellie and Johnnie and their mommy. Ellie went to take a nap, and her Mom went in to lie down with her.

The house was quiet, except for the whirring of the window fans. The dogs were asleep on the floor. A hummingbird was at the feeder.

Johnnie was in my arms, resting against my chest. One of my hands held his bottom, the other was curled around the back of his warm, silky head. He was murmuring and sighing, making the tiny noises of a newborn child.

I felt my heart beating against his. I breathed in his breath.

The house was quiet. I touched my lips to his cheek just as he touched his to my neck.

BAM.

There it was.

It isn’t rational, or explainable, this love for my grandchild. The words I am wrapping around it are only the faintest echo of the explosion that I felt.

My cells, my DNA, my soul were pierced by his weight in my arms.

I know. I’m crazy.

But love is unpredictable. Sometimes, like the love of a Nonni for her grandson, we know that it will strike us at some point.

It’s just that we can’t always say when.

BAM, little Johnnie. Welcome to my heart.

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I Think I Finally Get It


For years and years, I’ve been hearing the same grandparent joke, over and over.

“The best part of being a grandparent is that you get to spoil them all day and then give ’em back at night!”

Heh. Heh. Heh.

Yeah.

I don’t get it.

I’m not in the regular grandmamma situation, though, so maybe I’m out of touch. But for me the joy and contentment of being with my grandchild is not about the moment I hand her back to her parents.

And it sure isn’t about the idea that I can “spoil” her and make her a brat and then laugh as her parents try to cope with the monster I’ve created.

No.

For me, since the moment I first touched the satiny skin of my first grandchild’s cheek, it has all been about the moments when our grandbabies are with us.

But even though I get to spend every single work day with my Ellie, I still didn’t really understand exactly what I was feeling. And even though I spent the majority of the past two years acting as Ellie’s Nonni, I still couldn’t find the words to describe the depth of my feelings for my grandchild. The firstborn daughter of my first born child.

It wasn’t just the dizzying idea that my baby had produced a baby. And it wasn’t simply the realization that I loved this tiny being with every single molecule of my self.

I couldn’t describe it as the feeling of relief that I honestly experience every day when I look back on my 24 years of raising children. It wasn’t only about the realization when looking back that there really isn’t that much we can do to screw them up completely.

I made about a trillion mistakes, but my three adult offspring are absolutely wonderful people. So, see? As a mere Nonni, I didn’t have to worry that much about my every move.

No.

None of those thoughts summed up the feeling of peace and calm and contentment that I am getting as the full time Nanny/Nonni for my very own flesh and blood grandchild.

But after I dropped Ellie off at home today, I listened to a piece on NPR. A young mother who had suddenly lost her husband was talking about how she managed to overcome her terrible grief and find joy again. She talked about forcing herself to find gratitude. She recognized that true joy, and true happiness, come in the small, happy moments of every day life.

And I thought about the tiny, normal, routine moments of every day with Ellie. The moment when she greets me. The moment when she asks for my hand. Or when our eyes meet through a car window as I fill my gas tank, and her face lights up just to see me.

I thought about watching her fall asleep. Or looking at her as she kisses my old hound dog so gently on his head. I thought about teaching her to brush her teeth. About the smell of her warm neck. The softness of the curly hair.

I thought about how incredibly lucky I am to have a new chance to wrap a wriggly little body in a warm towel and snuggle her until she is warm and dry.

Grandparenting, to me at least, is about having the time and the confidence to be grateful for every moment of every day with a baby in our arms.

I swear to you. It is SO NOT about the moment when you send them home.

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