I Think Spring is Going to Kill Me


I love spring. I really do. I love the smell of wet earth and the sight of the first few robins. I love Easter, and stale Peeps and the first time we roll out the grill and make some burgers.

But I’m realizing that there are certain parts of the spring ritual that are not really designed for the elderly. Especially the elderly like me who have the kind of memory issues that make us forget the arthritis in our spines and the nerve issues in our necks.

Today was a beautiful day out here in North Central Massachusetts. It’s been a pretty dry and pretty warm March. My crocuses are open and the daffodils and tulips are poking their heads up through the straw that I put over them last November.

Today was the first day of this year when the leaves piled on my gardens were thawed enough to rake. It was the first day when the soil was unfrozen, so that I could scrape back the mud and find the emerging shoots.

This was the first day of the miraculous rebirth that comes around every year. Hurrah! Time to get out there, old Nonni! Grab that rake, sweep up all those mouldering old leaves! Find the thyme plant and the phlox and the yellowish tips of the sprouting tulips!

So out I went, with my grandkids in tow. Five year old Ellie grabbed her child’s rake. Three year old Johnny grabbed a trowel. Almost one year old Max sat happily in the grass, but it was obvious that he wanted to taste some sticks and dirt.

With one eye on the baby and one on the barely surviving stems of my two year old hazelnut trees, I started to rake. And I raked, baby, oh did I ever rake. I sang songs to keep Max distracted while I raked every old leaf off the newest flower bed. I gave simple directions to Ellie and Johnny, who were simultaneously raking, arguing and pretending to be superheroes.

The sun was shining, the birds were singing and it felt fabulous to work hard in the springtime air.

Until it didn’t.

One of the funny/not funny parts of getting older is the way my body can alert me at the exact moment when it has had enough. Like a tornado siren on a summer night, it suddenly shrieks out of nowhere, shocking me into the reality that these old bones are no longer thirty. Every tiny nerve ending reacts simultaneously, which means every muscle seizes up and every joint freezes.

I went from Happy Farmer to Sobbing Zombie in about three seconds.

OWWWWWW!!! My thumb was screaming. A blister! And all the skin came off!!!!

YOWWWWW!!!! My lower back was shooting lightning down both legs and I was bent over at a ninety degree angle. I wanted to drop the rake, but my right hand was cramped into a claw.

Why was my calf cramping? And who applied a vise to my achilles tendon?

I took a breath. And wheezed.

Turned my head to look at the kids. My neck cramped.

The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. Step, ouch! Bend, ouch! Lift 25 pound baby, ouch ouchie mcouchums!!!!

I convinced the “big kids” to come inside with the promise of a cookie. Do. Not. Judge.

I am very happy to report that today is a rainy day.

Huzzah.

There is no reason for Nonni to drag herself out there and scoop up the mountains of moldy leaves. Today is a day for the heating pad, the ice pack and the play pen.

Spring is a time of wonder and joy. It is flowers and baby birds and rainbows.

It’s also a time to check the mirror and look at the wrinkles before getting carried away in the garden.

Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

The Puppy to Prison Pipeline


It never fails out here in suburban New England. One dog in the neighborhood lets out a bark, and the one next door feels compelled to answer. Then the hound across the street and the one around the corner join in. Pretty soon the air is filled with the howls and yips of a dozen pups, each one standing as close to their fence as they can possibly get.

So I was thinking this morning, as the canine cacophony made its way around the block, the life of a suburban dog is a lot like life in prison.

No, I mean it!

Think about it. The dog wakes up in the morning. He’s hungry and he has to pee. Can he just head outside and do his business before grabbing a bite to eat? No, sirree. Instead he has to wait patiently until the boss decides it’s time. If he gets frustrated and starts to make trouble, he’ll probably either be ignored or yelled at.

And when he’s finally fed, will he get a plate full of beef and cheese, or at least some toast and peanut butter? Nuh, uh, not in most houses. Instead he’ll get a metal bowl filled with a single scoop of tasteless, overcooked, unidentifiable “food”. Or if he’s lucky, a blob of vaguely meat smelling goop with embedded bits of orange and white stuff.

If he doesn’t eat it, he waits until the boss decides to feed him again.

And what does the dog’s day entail? Mostly boredom, right? He can nap, gaze longingly out the window at the world passing by, and dream of freedom.

If he’s a lucky dog, he’ll get a little time outside in the yard. Of course he’ll be confined inside the fence, or possibly allowed to “walk” alongside the boss. But he definitely won’t get a chance to run into the woods the way he wants. He won’t be allowed to roll himself in a dead animal or dig in someone’s compost pile.

Every minute of his day is controlled by the boss. Will he have a chance to play ball, or fetch a stick? That’s up to the bosses and their moods.

But the most striking similarity between suburban dogs and prison inmates, as far as I can tell, is the way they try desperately to communicate with each other.

Of course, I’ve never stepped foot inside of a human prison, but I do read mysteries and crime novels. I’ve seen Shawshank Redemption about 10 times, too. So I know that lonely inmates yell things to each other from cell to cell. I know that even when they can’t see each other, they call out, make jokes, complain and plot devious methods of escape.

Apparently they sometimes even tap on the walls or bars to send morse code.

They are desperate to connect with others in their same situation. They are determined to share their experiences with sympathetic souls.

Exactly like the dogs in my neighborhood.

Just this morning I was sipping my coffee. I hadn’t fed the dogs yet, but I had let them out the door and into the fenced yard. One of the big dogs down the street let out three loud barks. The little dog across the street from him answered. They went back and forth a couple of times, just short woofs and arfs.

“Nice morning.”

“Gonna be warm.”

“I’m starved.”

“Me, too. And I haven’t pooped yet.”

The next voice to join the conversation belonged to a Shepard mix a few houses past ours. His deep, bell like voice added a note of tension to the exchange.

“I smell chickens! You know the guy across the street is raising chickens, right? Chiiiiiiiiiiiickens!”

“And ducks! Ducks! I smell ducks! I want to eat duuuuuuuucks!”

By now my two dogs were standing at full attention in the farthest corner of the fence. Both had their heads up, noses twitching. Both had hackles raised.

“I WANT OUT!” One of them suddenly howled. “I gotta get outta here!!!” Every dog voice in the area joined the chorus.

“OUT!”

“HUNTING TIME!!!”

“Owooooooooot!”

“GOTTA GOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Within a minute, the air was filled with howls, rising and falling in the morning air. You would have thought that a pack of wolves was out there. The howls were chilling in their desperate intensity.

The hair on my arms rose.

The inmates had to be restrained before there was an uprising.

“Come on inside, sweeties!” I called. “Time for num nums!”

I shook their metal bowls of crunchy food-like bits.

They came inside, but they weren’t real happy. They sort of slouched past me.

I swear the terrier mumbled something about a breakout.

I Am a Bad Mother…..


But I’m a very good Nonni!

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!

Nonni Hits the Dispensary


Back in the olden days, when I was young and we called it “grass”, I rarely indulged in recreational marijuana.

But times have changed, and Nonni has joined the growing list of aging potheads.

Thanks to a few conflicting but minor ailments, I am now a fibromyalgia patient who can’t take any over the counter pain medications. Nor can I drink alcohol (hello there, aging liver!). I am trying to cut down on the medication that helps me to manage the fibromyalgia discomfort, which means that at the moment the only part of me that doesn’t hurt is my right earlobe.

Enter the magical joy of the Medical Marijuana Card!! Ta, da! Safe and happy pain relief (I hope!)

For the past few years I’ve been the lucky beneficiary of weed guidance from my kids. My sons and son-in-law have helped me to find relief from insomnia by providing me with cannabis infused butter. They’ve introduced me to the new version of smoked weed, which smells like a dead skunk, burns like a forest fire and can make you melt into your sofa cushions like hot wax.

Not exactly perfect for this old lady….

Anyway, the other day I had a telehealth visit with a lovely young (as in, probably a sixth grader) Nurse Practitioner. I didn’t even need any medical records. I just self reported all of my ouchie booboos, and presto! She certified me!

(No, not that kind of “certified”, although many have told me that I am definitely certifiable.)

She approved me for a Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Card, good for one year.

I then spent about an hour maneuvering the state’s website and paperwork, and printed out my temporary card. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Off to the local dispensary I went!

Well, holy confusion.

Luckily for me, the kind, patient young people behind the counter were more than willing to explain things to their gray haired befuddled patient/customer. They barely even snickered.

The young man who was helping me explained the differences between the strains of weed. Did I want to be energized and given pain relief? “Yes, please.” OK! Sativa it is!!!! But he warned me that in some people it can increase anxiety. “No, please.” OK, then Indica it is! But that would make me sleepy and sedated.

Eventually he advised a hybrid.

But then we had to talk about THC to CBD ratio. Pain relief and anti-inflammatory versus pain relief and high. Or something like that. And don’t forget, there are many other cannabinoids that are helpful for other issues, like inflammation and appetite suppression. We looked at charts. We looked at graphs. We looked at printouts and glossy images. He talked. I bit my lip behind my mask and hoped my eyes looked intelligent.

Eventually, he seemed to feel like he knew exactly the right potion for granny here and jotted down a few notes. All was good. I had pretty much stayed with him so far, and was feeling fairly hip.

Until he started to talk about terpines.

Which sound to me like some type of fire accelerant but are actually related to smell (I think?) and to various types of high but also (maybe) have different health effects. Anyway, we had to consider our terpine preferences.

By now I was just nodding and sweating. There was a line of people waiting outside, six feet apart from each other, but looking a little surly. I just wanted to get my goodies and go home.

But my young and enthusiastic pharmacy major friend wasn’t done yet. Now I had to think about how to take my weed. I could choose lozenges, infused edibles, gummies, sublingual drops, topical rubs, roll on oil, vape, flower or something that was either wax or oil. Oh, and there was even a choice of various “sauces”!

Now I don’t know about you, but when I go to the doctor for a backache, I just want him to write something down on paper and send me to the pharmacy. I do not want to have to decide on my dosage, my route of ingestion or the flavor of the drug.

My little brain was awhirl. I did NOT want to look stupid. I was NOT ready for the teenagers to laugh at me.

Now don’t get me wrong, there were other “mature” people in the place, but most of them looked like they had been using weed every single day since Woodstock. Some of them were apparently using it to help cut down on their meth use.

I kept nodding my head, and saying, “Sure, whatever you recommend.” I kept trying to repeat, “Just make the ouchie booboos go away.”

Finally I thought I was ready to order. I wanted a topical cream, some sublingual drops and one vape for sleep. I pulled out the vape I’ve been using, and told the young man that when I had gotten a new cartridge recently, it just wasn’t staying in the device. Something was wrong.

The 13 year old working beside him looked at me over her flowered mask. She frowned. “You did remember to unscrew the magnet from the old cartridge and put it on the new one, didn’t you?”

The room filled with giggles and chortles as my face turned purple. I looked around at the experts, several of whom already appeared high, and shrugged my shoulders.

“Who knew?”, I laughed, getting into my role as the funny old lady butt of the joke. “You know, we should write a show for Netflix about this situation. We could call it Nonni at the Dispensary.”

Now the laughs were real, and kind and good natured. “Welcome, Nonni!” my young man barista said. “Here’s your product.”

Thanks to a “first time customer” offer, Nonni went home with two vape cartridges, lozenges, sub-lingual tincture, cream and ointment. As of right now, everything still hurts.

I just don’t care as much!

Military Rules?


So this will be a very quick post. I’m sleepy, it’s late, and we have had a long and emotional week.

I’m thinking about the President, and his most recent “rule by tweet” effort to distract us all from his Russian connections. By this, of course, I mean his out-of-the-blue decision, delivered in 140 characters, to ban all trans-gender people from serving in any capacity in our military.

I have a few reactions to this idiocy, but they are really all pretty much the same thing.

Let me start by explaining that I am a very boring, heterosexual woman married to a heterosexual man. In fact, we’ve been man and wife for 39 years now. Holy old folks. We have raised three heterosexual children who do not seem to be struggling with gender identity.

I say all of this to prove my non-gay, non-trans bona fides. I am straight, white and middle aged.

So when I heard that the President has decided to ban all transgender people from service in our military, I hope you will appreciate the fact that my very first reaction was “Is he out of what passes for his tiny little mind?”

Here’s why I say that.

We have a volunteer military in this country. Everyone who serves to protect and defend us is a VOLUNTEER. As in, “Dude, I could have just become a plumber.” Instead, each and every one of the men and women who carry guns for our military forces is there because they chose to be.

So kudos to all of them! Why on earth would we care what genitals they are carrying under their regulation uniforms? Why would we care who they are attracted to? Or how they see themselves, in terms of their own personal gender? What possible difference could any of that make to any of us?

I have the supreme luxury of NOT carrying a gun into battle. I have the security of knowing that none of my three straight children will be forced to carry a gun into battle.

Soldiers of the United States, I salute you, I thank you, I honor your service! I do NOT care if you call yourself Carl or Carol. I just don’t.

Also, modern warfare is plenty expensive. We spend 10 billion or so dollars on ONE aircraft carrier. I really, truly don’t mind paying for medical care for our soldiers. I don’t mind having my tax dollars go toward their cardiac medicine, their psychology visits, their knee replacements or their gender confirmation surgeries.

Honest! I don’t!

So, Mr. What-Passes-These-Days-For-A-President,

Please reconsider your ridiculous, pointless, vindictive, prejudiced policy on allowing non-traditional gender identifying soldiers to help protect and defend these United States.

Those of us who sit safely in our living rooms, rolling our eyes at your obnoxious tweets are grateful to all who have volunteered to keep us safe. ALL of them. EVERY single one.

Now.

About your Russian connections….Colorado Soldiers Return Home

 

Is This Healthy? Or Am I Kidding Myself?


The thing about summer is that all of the veggies are amazing.

Right?

It’s July now. So I can drive up the street to the local farmstand where I can buy fresh, buttery lettuce, fresh peas, tomatoes still warm from the sun, cucumbers that are as crisp as breadsticks.

I can run up to the weekly farmer’s market and get garlic scapes, fresh spring onions, tender, fresh kale.

I can go home and microwave some beets, then cool them and mix them into all those fresh, tender greens with a bit of goat cheese.

Holy delicious.

I am the healthiest eater in the world from June through October.

But does all that delicious green goodness buy me extra time on this earth if I refuse to touch salad in the winter?

I mean, I try. Every single year, I try to eat salad in the winter. I buy grocery store lettuce (bitter!) and grocery store cukes (flabby!) and grocery store tomatoes (tasteless!).  And they sit in the fridge until they begin to liquify, at which point I give up until the following summer.

So am I still healthy if I sort of stock up for six months? Can I still call myself a healthy eater if I only eat roasted carrots, beets, potatoes through the fall? Is it still a good veggie side dish if it’s roasted butternut squash with butter and real maple syrup?

My theory is that New Englanders learned to eat a whole pile of greens all summer (I DO!). And then they learned to preserve summer veggies like corn and tomatoes and beans (I DO THAT, TOO!) so in the winter they could eat pig fat while telling themselves “Well, at least we have veggies put up in the old root cellar.” (YUP, THAT’S ME.)

The early New England settlers managed to survive without eating hothouse tomatoes. They didn’t die of scurvy just because they refused to eat hothouse kale.

And I won’t either.

Right?

By shucking the corn and taking the peas out of their pods all spring and summer, I am earning my way into ‘healthy eater’s heaven’, aren’t I?

I love summer food. The peaches, the cherry tomatoes, the ripe berries all over the yard. I love it. I could forage all summer on the garden delights that surround me, as long as I could get a free pass to eat pork and butter my bread all winter long.

What do you think?

Am I delusional, or can I really save up my health points before the cold New England nights set in once again?

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Worth The Effort?


What is it that gives a person “worth?” I’m old enough, and self aware enough, to know that worth is not measured by money.

Hey, I was a teacher! I’m married to a therapist. Money has never been our goal.

But what is it that lets us move through our days with a sense of self-worth?

At the tender and transitional age of 61, I’m struggling with this question once again.

You see, I used to find my sense of worth from my work. I have always worked, and had a purpose.

When I was only 22, I was a Russian interpreter. I took new immigrants to the doctor. I sat in therapy sessions, helping patient and doctor to understand each other. I helped with surgery, translating what the doctor wanted the patient to do during cataract surgery and cardiac catheterization.

I even helped to interpret at a baby’s birth. I was valued. I felt my worth.

Later, I became a speech pathologist, a job I held for 20 years. I helped families learn how to communicate with their disabled children. I helped those children to find their voices.  I was valued. I knew that what I was doing was helpful and important.

And after many years I became a teacher. I taught fifth graders. I was a fun teacher. I was funny. I made learning interesting. No matter what, I will always know that I was very good at my job.

I felt so good about myself in those years. I felt worthy.

Then things changed. I lost my teaching job, and moved into retirement.

And this is where the question of worth has reappeared. When I have my granddaughter in my arms, I know that I am the most important person on earth. Ellie needs me. Ellie loves me. I am NONNI.

But it’s summer.

Ellie is home with her Mom and Dad and new baby brother. They are close by. I see them almost every day. I love them all more than I could ever express.

But.

Now I have no role. I have no job. I have no way to measure my worth in this lovely world.

So, dear blog readers, I guess I’m fishing. (Phishing?)

Now I wonder, is a gray haired lady still useful if she isn’t physically able to manage her garden by herself? Is she still worth keeping if her husband works hard every day while she stays home and cleans things?

Does it count that this house has NEVER been this clean? Or that the closets are completely organized?

What do I do with myself on these long days? How do I define myself?

Is it legal to actually have three months of vacation while everyone else is working?

I swear, in September I will be back to working hard. I’ll have both two year old Ellie and three month old Johnnie. My arms, my heart and my day will all be full.

But.

What about now? Do I earn some kind of Donna Reed points for the incredibly clean kitchen cabinets and the very fluffy towels in the bathroom? I was raised by one of the first feminists. I know that just being a “homemaker” isn’t an actual role in life.

But what else do I do while I’m waiting to go back to Nonni extraordinaire? How do I feel good about so many days where nothing is actually accomplished?

Sigh.

I have to admit. I think I’m nuts. I hate the fact that I do this to myself.

On the other hand, if anyone needs any alphabetized spices, come on over.

 

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Poor useless Nonni

When You’re Two, Everything Is Fun


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Ah, life with a toddler.

It’s glorious, wonderful, enlightening, hilarious, joyful.

It’s also something better suited to young parents than it is to aging Nonni types. Which isn’t to say that I’m complaining, OK?

I’m just….sharing. That’s all.

Today I picked Ellie up a little later than usual. I knew that her Mommy had gone to work early, and that she’d spent the morning with Dad.

What I didn’t know was that she’d only been awake for a few minutes when I got her. I was struck by the fact that her hair looked like a cross between a bowl of rotini and a bird nest, and that she wasn’t wearing shoes.

At my request, her Dad ran back inside and grabbed her sandals, and off we went. I wanted to grocery shop before we went home, because the weather was forecast to be in the mid 90’s. We needed to get home and fill her little pool before the worst of the heat hit us.

So. I stopped inside the grocery store and brushed out the curls and tangles, placing a little pony tail on one side of her head to keep her eyes visible. Her hair is a miracle of beauty and stubbornness, and I’m obsessed with it.

Then we shopped, and as we did, my tiny girl ate slices of turkey, ham and cheese, pea pods and string cheese. I bought some new toddler cups and a bottle of water, and she sucked down some liquid to counteract her salt.

And home we went, where I raced around my steamy house trying to put away groceries. My tiny girl ate some blueberries and yogurt. Her face and hair showed them both beautifully.

At last, we were ready to head out into the beautiful summery day. First, though, we had to sunscreen from head to toe, spray on safe organic bug spray, put on the sunhat and tighten it under the chin, grab the toys, (no, no, One Eyed Elmo can’t swim), put the dogs inside the fence, and get some water.

I blew up the pool, and filled it with water from the hose. The hose that is attached to the sprinkler. Attached so tight that Nonni almost burst a blood vessel trying to get it off.

Its on there that tightly because Papa really loves his strawberry patch and he wants it watered.

Baby pool, be damned.

So by the time the tiny blow up pool was filled with ice cold water, Nonni was soaked to the skin from the wonderful, back and forth sprinkler.

For one glorious hour, we splashed, we jumped in the pool, we shivered, we ran around on the grass. Finally it was lunch time, and Nonni pulled out one of her patented grandmother tricks.

“Ellie! Let’s go inside for an ice cream cone!”

Come on. I figured that at 22 pounds, she’d already consumed enough healthy calories for the day. So in we went, and I stripped off her wet clothes, leaving her in her bug sprayed, sunscreened, sweat soaked skin. I put her in her highchair and filled a cone with two big scoops of peanut butter cup ice cream. (Protein. I swear.)

After I had cleaned myself up and done a couple of quick chores, I joined Ellie at the table. I had a leftover cheeseburger in front of me.

“Mmmm!” My baby girl said, reaching out. “mmmm, beef!” So we shared. And her hair, slicked back with oily sunscreen and dead bugs, now got a lovely coating of ketchup.

At last she was full, and I scooped her up and dropped her into a warm, bubble filled tub. She had a nice, thorough shampoo, and lots of lather to make sure no ticks were hiding in any dark places.

We settled into the living room, in front of the fans, with her golden skin so clean and shining, and her glorious curls smooth and completely pristine.

“Ahhhhhh,” Nonni thought, “I do such a good job of taking care of this girl. ”

I checked my email while Ellie watched an episode of “Elmo’s World”. Elmo was learning about potty training, so I felt particularly smart and accomplished as a day care provider.

But if you’ve ever seen Elmo, you’ll know that he has a goofy sidekick named, “Mr. Noodle.” This hapless guy appeared on my TV, and Ellie’s eyes lit up.

And you guessed it.

“Noodles?” She asked, her bright dark eyes alive with hunger. “Noodles? Ellie? Eat?”

So.

I did what any self-respecting Nonni would do. I made her a bowl of noodles. Wagon wheels, in fact. I put in some peas and a big blob of butter. And back in the high chair she went, smooth skin, diaper on, clean, clean hair.

Until I went into the kitchen to wash dishes.

And came back two minutes later to see Ellie, eyes closed in apparent ecstasy. Saying, “mmmmmmmm” as she rubbed her two hands through her glorious curly hair. Hands filled with noodles, peas and butter.

She gave herself a pasta and butter shampoo.

I think a squeak of despair may have come out of my mouth. Or maybe a little, tiny, whispered curse.

Or something.

Anyway.

I picked her up, washed her with a face cloth, and dragged a brush through the excessively buttered hair.

“I’m giving you back to Mommy soon,” I said, as I laid a towel under her head before naptime.

Really. I’m having fun and all, but this is definitely a job for a younger woman.

 

Rompers, Uncles, Memories


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What an interesting, emotional time of life is middle age.

I’m finding so much joy in the smallest things. Watching Ellie sleep. Rubbing my puppy’s little belly. Eating olives and cheese with my Momma.

I’m finding so much sadness in the speed of life and how it changes. I miss my old profession, and I miss my teaching friends. Those supportive relationships meant more to me than I even knew.

And death is a more common part of my life than it once was . Losing my father, my grandparents, beloved aunts, uncles, in-laws.

But it also strikes me that one of the strangest parts of being this age is how the happy and the sad keep bumping into each other.

I have a story from today that shows that confluence of feelings. It shows how circular life is, and how nothing seems to ever really go away.

Today I opened a package of clothes I had ordered last week for my granddaughter, Ellie. It contained summer things, including the adorable little romper in the picture above. I had been planning to buy her some shorts and t-shirts, but her Mom told me that those cute one-piece rompers are popular now, so I ordered some.

And my first thought as I pulled the clothes out of the package was that my baby sister Liz and I used to wear those back in about 1960. I immediately pictured a matching pair of rompers, one pink and one blue. I remembered, more than five decades after wearing mine, how it felt with elastic gathering the material around my middle.

I also thought right away about my two Uncles, Bob and Joe. When we were little kids, and our parents were in their thirties, our Uncles were only in their teens or early twenties. They often baby sat for Liz and I and our older brother, Ed.

We were in awe of them.

We called them “Bobby and Joey” and to us they were an amazing mix of grown up and super fun. They always made us laugh. They usually gave in if we asked for something, like a cookie or a popsicle from the ice cream man.

They seemed to think we were amazing and fun, too, which made them seem like not-quite-serious adults.

One of my memories, so clear in my mind no doubt because it was traumatic, was a hot summer morning when Bobby and Joey were getting us dressed for the day. I think we were planning to go to the local playground, but I’m not sure.

I remember being excited, and I remember that I put my romper suit on. I was hoping that one of the big kid/grown ups could manage to put our hair into pony tails.

Suddenly, Uncle Joey said something that sounded alarming. It might have been, “What’s the matter?” or “What did you do?” I looked up from zipping my blue suit.

Uncle Bobby was kneeling in front of my baby sister, who was probably about two years old. She was standing perfectly still, but tears were pouring down her cheeks. Bobby and Joey both looked slightly panicked.

I remember one of them slowly unzipping Liz’s pink romper. And I remember the red line running down her skin.

She’d been caught in the zipper. Poor little kid!

I remember a whole bunch of reactions running through my four year old brain.

These two guys were definitely NOT real grown ups! And wasn’t it sweet to see how bad they both felt and how they cuddled Lizzy to make her feel better. It was funny to hear them kind of blaming each other, too. Like kids!

And, boy oh boy, this little problem better not stop us from going to the playground.

Today I smiled as I picked up Ellie’s little romper. I lifted it to my cheek to feel how smooth and soft it is. I thought about Ellie’s Uncles, Matt and Tim. My boys. How much they love her and how they play with her.

I hope that she grows up with memories of her time with them. I hope that they inspire her, as Bobby did when he refused to give up on his dream of becoming a doctor. I hope they make her laugh years after a great joke, like Joey did with me.

I hope.

We lost my funny, kind, smart, tender Uncle Bobby this morning. Right about the time I was unwrapping Ellie’s little summer outfit.

I’m definitely going to take her to the playground in it one day soon.

Oh, and I made sure that I didn’t order one with a zipper. I know my own limitations!

Thanks, Uncle Bobby. For the laughs, the love, the tender care. Sempre La Famiglia.

 

Layers on layers


I used to think that each of us was born as an unformed little white dot. I thought that every experience added on a layer, and that each layer covered the ones before.

I thought that we were like pearls. Layer on layer of life, constantly growing around us until we became fully formed humans. I thought that process would just keep on going until at last we die.

Some of that is no doubt true. We grow and we change and we certainly learn as we move along the paths of our lives.

But now that I’m on the downhill slope of this life, past the midway point, I have a completely different idea.

In the past few years, my husband and I have reconnected with some of our oldest friends. These are people who knew us when we were young and foolish. When we had no real idea yet of who we’d be.

When we weren’t much more than those unformed “dots.”

These were the people who watched us struggle to learn our limits, and who watched us struggle to define our dreams. They grew with us. Our friendships were more intense than any we’d ever have again, although we didn’t know that at the time.

Eventually, we grew up. We got our degrees. We parted ways as we moved into our ‘real’ lives. We became parents. We launched our careers. We grew into our adult selves.

Layers were laid upon our layers.

Then, oh so suddenly, we found ourselves at the point in our lives where we were no longer “on our way.” We were THERE.

Our children grew up. We became the “old guard” at our jobs.

We thought we were our fully formed, true selves.

But now we’ve hugged and laughed with those old friends. Now I see that its time to peel back some of those layers. Those layers of cynicism, and of fatigue. It’s time to scratch off the layers of unfulfilled dreams, and to let them fly away on the wind. It’s time to peel away the layers of self-criticism and drop them into the passing stream.

Now it’s time to go back to our truest selves, our best selves.

I think that in the presence of the people who knew us at our wide-eyed best we can once again find that inner, innocent self.

I think the pearl is in there, but it takes an old and true friend to help us find it.

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