Bathrooms Are So Very….Necessary


Our house is an interesting place these days. I mean, like really, ya know….”interesting’.

We are renovating two bathrooms. That means that we are now tearing apart two out of our two bathrooms.

Ergo: we don’t have any bathroom sinks this week. And we only have one working toilet. The one that is in the hall of our main living area. The one that has (cough, cough), no DOOR.

Now, let me be clear. Our house is about 35 years old. We’ve been here for roughly 28 of those years. We have been in the same bathrooms all this time.

Oh, sure, we’ve painted and put in a couple of new medicine cabinets after the original $3.95 cabinets kind of fell apart. We did a little bit to make things better, but still.

We were bathing in a wicked old tub and a wicked old shower. The drains were…in a word….gross. The bathrooms had those horrific “popcorn” ceilings. 

It was PAST TIME to update.

And we are.

We have hired a crew of very skilled men who are ripping things to pieces while adding plaster, paint, a new tub, new shower, new toilets, new vanity. It’s gonna be LOVELY. 

But. 

In the meantime…..

I am here in my house. With two or three toddlers every day.  One is in a diaper, so he’s safe, but the other two? Well….they need a toilet every two hours. Or less. 

So I have to call out to the nice worker men, “Can we use the toilet!?” They say “Yes!” and go into another room. Then I take the identified toddler and put her on the pot. I stand in the doorway, since both are suddenly all about “privacy” and we have NO. DOOR. on our bathroom.

Here it is:

Sure, there’s a working toilet, but…….no door…

This means, of course, that the kids sometimes pee in their pants. It means that the working men have to tell me, “Just a head’s up, gonna use the bathroom!”

And it means that old Nonni here holds it in. All. Day. 

Like….all day.

Nonni is channeling her inner teacher. But still…..yikes. 

It means that when the kids go home and the worker men go home, and Papa hasn’t arrived back from work yet….Nonni rushes right into the incomplete bathroom and finds some relief.

New shower! New floor! No toilet or sink!!!!

It also means that at 3 AM when Nonni feels the call of nature, she has to stand up, turn on her phone’s light and stand there for a minute. She has to think “Wait. Bathroom. Huh? Bathroom? What bathroom? Oh, yeah in the hall….with no door….in the middle of the freakin’ night…..”   Nonni finally gets there, but she is left with a strange feeling of “what the FUCK?” as she climbs back into bed after answering the call of nature.

This is a very strange place to be.

And here we are now. At 6PM. The kids and workers have gone home. I have organized and cleaned the living room and started dinner.

And I look around the house, thinking about Nonni’s needs.

We do have one working toilet (thank you, dear Lord, for the half hour with nobody home except for poor old backed up Nonni!). We have a new floor in our small master bath (Nonni will sing the praises of these worker men for months….) We have smooth walls, with no paint or color….we have no sinks, but we can brush our teeth in the kitchen sink for a couple of more days…..

Nonni is working very very hard to remain calm and serene. She is overlooking the plaster dust, the missing toilets, the lack of bathroom doors. She is trying to embrace her inner camper woman, she is trying to recognize that many people around the world are in much worse shape…..

But.

Nonni is kind of “all done.” I will be thrilled to have new paint, new fixtures, new smooth walls. 

But I am ready to have this all done. Nonni is ready, thank you, to have a nice, private place to go to get some relief from nature’s most primitive urges.

I. Can’t. Wait.

I Feel Useful….


I love watching my grandchildren. I love it so much when their Momma drops them off at my house and leaves me in charge. I. Love. That.

I love it for all of the obvious reasons, of course. The kids are cute, sweet, fun. They hug me, they make me laugh, they snuggle up against me and tell me that they love me.

I love feeding them, and washing their sweet little faces after I do. Naturally, I am thrilled when they ask me to read to them or sing to them or snuggle with them. Being Nonni in charge is so fun!

But.

I realize that there is something else going on when I readily, happily, joyfully agree to watch the kids unexpectedly.

Here’s what I realized today, while Ellie and Johnny were dancing around in my living room.

I realized that being Nonni-on-duty makes me feel useful. It makes me feel like I matter.

On summer days when I am at home alone, with no grandchildren to watch and no students to teach and no job to rush to, I find myself feeling pointless. Oh, I have my list of chores, and they are all significant in their own way. “Stain deck,” “Wash siding,” “Call Comcast Again,”  Laundry, shopping, gardening, canning summer’s bounty, cleaning closets. They could all be called useful, I guess.

But in my heart, when I am crossing each chore off my list, I am feeling useless. I am feeling that I could so easily be replaced by a local teen or a small business or a better cook.

I can’t help it. When I am at home, with nobody here who needs me, I feel completely pointless.

But bring on those grandkids, baby, and everything changes.

Ellie needs me to pour milk! Johnny needs me to hold him! They look at me, and it is as if the sun has risen and poured its golden light over everything. When they are here, I am not the old teacher lady who was put out to pasture. I’m not the middle aged woman with fibromyalgia and arthritis and whatever else is going on that week.

Nope. When those two beautiful little people are here in my house, I am Nonni. I am the giver of hugs, the reader of books. I am the funny lady who runs up and down the darkened hall with flashlights on, screaming about monsters who chase us. When they are here, I am the one who kisses the bumps, the one who laughs at the jokes.

I am the ONE. The center of their small, protected universe.

When my grandchildren are here, I am Nonni.

I have a purpose. A job. A role to fulfill.

They convince me, with one hug, that I am important to the world around me.

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“Nonni, we are making dinner! Can you help us?”

Hearing That “Click”


I’ve always been enormously grateful to have married into a fun, warm, welcoming family. My husband’s extended family is full of people I really, truly love. A lot. They laugh. They kiss. They’re just plain fun.

But from the beginning of our dating life a few decades ago, I’ve also been aware that I am a little more ethnic than all those gorgeous blonde cousins and their kids. I remember times over the years, where I just felt so ridiculously Italian.

Like the time I ate dinner with Paul’s family and was so impressed with the meal. I had never had anything like it! I was both delighted and amazed. “What do you call this?” I asked innocently. Even 35 years later, I remember the awkward silence, the glances around the table, and the answer to my question.

“It’s a pot roast.”

Yup. I felt a little out of the WASP world at that moment.

But one day Paul and I went to visit his Uncle, a man I hadn’t yet met. Paul was eager for me to meet Uncle Curt and his wife, Mary. All the way to their house, my sweetie talked about how much he loved the delicious veal cutlets that Mary cooked.

Mary, it turned out, was Italian. 

When we got to their house, Mary greeted us with a big smile, a hug, and warm brown eyes. She took both my hands, we smiled at each other, and there was a magical little “click” somewhere in my heart.

I don’t remember much of the visit, but I remember that when I met Mary, I met an image of myself. I met a friend. I know that we laughed, we talked about red wine, we talked about food.

It was a wonderful day.

I’m not sure that I every saw Mary again. If I did, it was only once or twice, and only in a crowd. Still, she’s always stayed in my memory. Her lemon cutlets and her big smile.

And that “click”.

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A couple of years ago, we were away on Paul’s annual camping family reunion. It was a beautiful July night, and everyone was gathering around the “Happy Hour” table. There were a few people there that were new to the yearly experience. One young couple came with their little year old baby boy. I didn’t actually get the details about who they were, and how they were related, but I smiled and admired the baby.

I was happy to meet everyone, but I was also a little distracted. You see, my daughter was within a couple of weeks of her due date to deliver our first grandchild. My thoughts were mostly on her as we all set up our campsites.

Still, as I talked to the young woman with the beautiful curly hair, as we compared our feelings about motherhood, as I looked at her warm, smiling face, I swear to you: I heard that tiny inner “click” once again.

But I didn’t have a chance to think much about my new “click” or what it meant, because my daughter went into labor at midnight, and instead of spending the weekend hanging out with relatives, I hung out in the maternity unit, meeting my sweet Ellie.

I nearly forgot about the “click”.

Until very recently.

Over the past two years, I have started to get together once in a while with that lovely young woman. She’s now the Momma of two beautiful boys, and I’m the Nonni of two little ones. We both love the time we spend with the kids, but we also both really love spending time with another woman in the same situation.

It’s kind of hilarious. My young relative, Angela, is young enough to be my own child. But when she brings the boys here for a play date once a month, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels instead like I’m with one of my friends. Like I’m with that rare and most prized person, a woman from my tribe!

When Angela and the boys are here, we push back the furniture. We put out bowls of snacks, let the kids empty out the toy box, and just watch what happens. The kids play. They argue. They take turns on the potty. They eat, they spill, they climb on the back of the sofa.

Angela and I drink coffee, begin sentences we never finish, scoop each others’ kids up, grab the milk, make peanut butter sandwiches.

And the years, for me, melt away. I am back in the days when I was a young mom, sharing the joys and stresses with my tribe of women friends.

For me, the “click” I heard when I looked at Angela has lead me to a place where I feel less alone. I’m not the only ethnic one around. I’m not the oddity of an old lady taking care of babies.

Instead, I’m a woman in our family. I’m a caretaker. I’m a maternal figure. Like my heart’s own “clicking” friend, Angela, I’m a diaper changer, bottle giver, bandaid applier, sharing-rules-teacher.

And I am not alone.

And it took me six months to figure out that Angela is Mary’s granddaughter. Isn’t that just lovely???

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Sometimes we give in and pop in a movie.

 

 

We’re Cooking Now…..


IMG_20160706_151018I just finished a week of teaching a summer camp class called “Cooking Around The World.”

I got home two hours ago. I have already sobbed, taken a soak in the hot tub, washed a load of soaked/greasy/filthy/chocolate covered laundry, washed, dried and put away a load of dishes, eaten a plate of Chinese take out and had two glasses of wine.

My feet are up, the ice pack is on my lower back. It’s 7:45 and I’m struggling to stay awake.

Well. That was fun!

I had two groups of children, a morning class and an afternoon class. Each had 10 kids in it. They ranged in age from 5-12.

The day went something like this:

Arrive at 8:45, find 4 kids and 2 parents waiting in the classroom for the 9 AM class. Chat, smile, pull out apples, potatoes, onions, place on tables. Greet kids, get them seated, take attendance, get ready to explain the day’s recipes.

Smile through: “What are we making? Can I go first? What country is it going to be? Is there bacon? Why don’t we use more cheese? Do you like my stuffed dinosaur? Can we go out to play? When will this be over? I have to pee! Can I chop?”

Hold up hand, use old teacher tricks “If you can hear my voice, clap once.”

Explain the first course. Give out knives. VERY carefully. Explain the plan to fabulous, patient, kind high school volunteers and get them to supervise the potato chopping.

Run madly around the room for the next two hours chopping, mixing, helping kids to pour, mince, shred, slice, sautee and bake. Do the frying myself while looking over one shoulder to give instructions on making bread dough. Intersperse casual conversation with 4th grade future chef to yell, “Get off the chairs! No ice cubes in the oven, please!”

Smile through: “Why does it smell funny? Can I lick the spoon? My mother makes this better. When are we going outside? Can I eat the garlic? I have to pee. When can we eat?”

Finish the frying, wash another giant load of dishes and sweep the floor while the volunteers watch the kids outside. Get everyone seated, serve the food, smile, pat heads.

Start the clean up. Wash more dishes. Dry. Run across the room to put them in the dish pile.

Serve dessert. Make yummy noises. Smile. Send the kids outside again.

Wash dishes, tables, chairs, counters. Get out supplies for the afternoon class.

Call the class back in, smile, thank them. Explain why they can’t take home latkes for all their friends and relations.

Spend my lunch half hour desperately scrubbing, cleaning, putting out bowls, apples, potatoes, onions, knives.

Greet the kids. Repeat the entire process.

Do this for one full week.

Finally get to Friday afternoon and send the kids outside to play ten minutes early so I can clean the ovens, stoves, counters. Drag over the giant overstuffed trash cans that haven’t been emptied for a week and smell like Crap Around The World. Drop one on the top of my left foot. Hop around in circles, sniff back tears, debate about whether or not there’s enough time to put ice on it. Decide to wait on the ice and keep scrubbing. Wrap up last remaining onions, apple dumplings, pizza, chocobananas from the week. Clean out the fridge.

Call everyone in, thank them, greet the parents, limp up to the front door to say goodbye.

Kneel down to receive the world’s most heartfelt hug from the beautiful 5 year old who kisses my cheek and says with complete sincerity:

“I think you should come to our house. I can make you some fry bread.”

Wow. What a week!

 

Dads


Its Father’s Day Eve. My husband has headed off to bed, but I am sitting here on this warm summer evening. Still awake. Still thinking.

Sort of ruminating on the theme of “Father’s Day.”

I remember making little gifts for my own Dad. The first man I ever loved. The man with the smiling brown eyes and the Saturday morning pancakes and the pencil over his ear. My Dad.

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Who could ever match his perfect Dadness?

My husband, that’s who. The man who so tenderly cradled our children in his arms. The guy who had to ask me how to pull a little girl’s tights up her legs. The person who thought that “Hamburger Helper” was a good enough dinner when Mom was out for the evening.

My husband. My partner. Dad to our three kids. He sends sports texts to Tim, hiking info to Matt, liberal political memes to Kate.

The man who jumped up from a deep sleep, keys already in hand, when he heard our daughter say to her husband in the tent beside his, “Honey, my water just broke.”

This guy. This gentle soul. This Grampa.  He’s has matched my Dad’s core of Dadness.

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Grampa and Ellie

So great! Who could possibly match that?

The other morning, pretty early, I woke up and had my coffee. I drove to my daughter’s house to pick up the baby for the day. My son-in-law came out with the day’s supply of bottles and the baby in her carseat.

We sort of grunted a vague good morning at each other, and he popped the carseat into my back seat. I was ready to head home for more coffee and some breakfast, and I barely made time to chat. I stood by the open driver’s side door, ready to hop in and get home.

What was taking so long?

I looked through the back window. I couldn’t see my son-in-law, but I could see the baby. I saw his hand reach in and gently, softly stroke across her cheek. I saw her gazing up at him with her huge brown eyes. I heard his voice, murmuring something softly.  Again, his big hand reached in and caressed her hair, her cheek.

Then he stood up, said, “See you later” to me, and headed back into the house.

I got in the car, and I drove my granddaughter to my house. On the way, I said to her, “You are such a lucky girl! Your Daddy loves you so much!”

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Sam and Ellie

Happy Father’s Day to all of you wonderful, patient, loving Dads. We are so lucky to have you!

 

Ah, beautiful child.


Twenty four years ago today I gave birth to my third child. My baby. My last hurrah. The icing on our family cake.

This boy.

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This fine young man.

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My gentle hockey player. My thoughtful activist. My handsome, sweet Tim.

I’m sitting here in my living room this evening, glass of red wine in hand. I’m listening to “Pachelbel’s Canon in D.”  We had that on the radio on the morning of June 11, 1992 as we drove east, toward the rising sun. Our two other children dozed in their carseats behind us. Paul and I held hands, listening.

This was my third birth. Number one was the practice child. I was terrified heading in to deliver her. Number two came with some delays and some confusion. I didn’t know that what I was feeling was labor as I went to the hospital to be “induced” with him.

But with number three, I felt as if I had finally arrived. I knew what to expect. I was ready.

And he came with no scary surprises.  He came into our lives on a bright, sunny day. I looked at him and my heart melted.

Happy birthday, beautiful child. Happy birthday, beautiful young man.

Thanks for being as loving and sweet as you were when I first gathered you into my loving arms.

And thanks for being the best brother to Matt, who greeted you in the hospital 24 years ago by throwing a leggo train at your head.

I adore you both.

Thanks for being a fabulous and supportive brother to Katie, and a wonderful Uncle to our Ellie!

You made us a whole family.

Smooch.

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My three biggest achievements.

Oh, No. My Eyesight Is Going.


I turned 60 this spring.

Sigh.

My back aches most of the time. My muscles are all flabby. My boobs and my belly button end up in the same place when I sit down.

I don’t hear as well as I used to either.  I’ve noticed that I have to mute the TV if Paul talks to me, or else I think he said “Spaghetti in the laundry” when he actually said “I’ll get the laundry.”

It’s sad, really.

And now my eye sight seems to be going, too.

I know that not only because I wear bifocals, but because when I look at my kids, I don’t see them all that clearly.

For example, this is pretty much what they look like now:

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Mate, Kate and Tim K

But when I look at them, I actually see this:

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Tim, Kate, Matt

Matt had some surgery this past week.  The poor guy broke his ankle really badly, and had to have three bones repaired with screws and a metal plate. He was willing to let me drive him to and from the hospital, and I was in the room with him as they put in the IV and moved his leg around. I saw him turn white and break out in a cold sweat from the pain.

I heard the nurse ask, “Are you OK, sir?” and I heard a man’s voice say, “Yup.”

I’m sure that the medical staff thought that they were working on a 25 year old 6’3″ man with a full beard. But you know who I saw in that hospital bed? I saw him:

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Yup.

My eyes are definitely going.

But at least my memory is fine.

“My Job Here Is Done”


When I started this blog, way way back in time, I was mourning the fact that my time as Mommy had come to an end. My children had grown up and had fled my little nest. I was totally crushed, completely bereft. I was a basket case of a grown up woman, weeping into my tomato sauce with no one left to cook for.

Well.

Times have changed.

My children are all on their own two feet, all are gainfully employed if not ensconced in a career.  All of them are financially independent.

So what.

In the past three days I have realized that all three are also emotionally independent. And to my great surprise, that’s just fine with me.

I’ll start with my oldest, my one daughter, my Kate. She is an extraordinary teacher who gives her all to her class. She took the kids on a two day field trip into the mountains of New Hampshire, complete with snowstorm.  She left her baby daughter at home with her husband, for the first time in Ellie’s nine months on earth.

And Kate was able to appreciate every minute of this special time with her students, even though she had left her baby girl behind. She watched her students grow, and learn, and take risks. And she came home to tell me all about each child, each step, each moment of growth. And she did it with tears in her eyes.

She is all grown up. My work here is done.

And yesterday I got a message from my baby boy, my youngest. It read: “What food recommendations do you have for the stomach flu?”

Poor kid had been sick with a Norovirus for 24 hours.  Naturally, I called him back and told him exactly what he should be doing.  Which was exactly what he was already doing.  He knew what he needed, but as he put it, “Sometimes I just like my Mommy to know that I’m sick.”

My work here is done.

And then there was the Facebook Message this morning from a pastor in the small town where my sons live. His status today was about how grateful he is to have my sons (MY SONS) in his life because of their talent, the joy that fills their lives, and their willingness to help others in the community.

My work here is so obviously DONE.

I am content. My children are not rich or famous or in possession of a lot of stuff. But they have made a difference.

I am a happy, serene, blissfully unemployed Mamma tonight.

(Good thing Ellie still needs to learn how to make ravioli.)

A Warm Spring Night


It was a warm, wet, humid spring day today.  There was a low overcast all day. The wind was strong, and the clouds were racing from South to North.  Not a usual New England pattern on April 1st. Not at all.

I took Ellie outside. She sat in her stroller, watching me with her wise dark eyes as I raked up the straw and pine boughs that had covered my perennial beds. The wind blew strong and the pines creaked and moaned. Ellie watched. She watched me stoop and scrape and gather up the winter coat of the garden. She watched the birds darting back and forth and up and down. She tipped her head back and watched the tops of the trees as they swayed back and forth above her.

Tonight, after I had taken Ellie home to her Mom and Dad, I stood on my deck. The night was coming on fast, and rain threatened to fall.  There was thunder in the distance, making my old dog Sadie shiver and quake at my feet.

I looked out, across our property, to the wetlands beyond.  I strained a bit to hear what I so wanted to hear.  And there it was.

The spring song of the “peepers”, the tiny green tree frogs whose voices fill the evening air of New England springtimes.  I smiled, remembering all of the years when my children and I had stood in this same spot, waiting for that springtime call of love and hope.

I thought about Ellie. How funny, I thought to myself.  This is her first spring time!

I thought about the rhythms of life. About Ellie hearing and smelling spring for the very first time in her life. I thought of myself, remembering so many springtimes in the past.  I thought of my Mother, feeling and hearing spring in her 86th year, wondering how many springtimes are still before her.

I stood on my deck, in the damp warm evening. I breathed in the smell of the leaves and the warming smell of the earth. I listened to the peepers in the marsh, seeking love.

Ellie has so much to look forward to in this beautiful life.

Ah, Miss Ellie……


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Rockin’ her Daddy’s hat.

Way, way back, in the dawn of my history, when Paul and I were very young, we used to think about the upcoming weeks and tell ourselves, “I’m glad there is something to look forward to!”

Which means, of course, that there were times when we’d look at each other and think, “Ugh,  there is nothing to look forward to!”

I look back now, at my 22 year old self, and I think, “Are you kidding me? You’re twenty something, and you don’t think you have something to look forward to? You only have your ENTIRE LIFE, you idiot!”

But at 22, I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking, “What wonderful adventure is out there for me in the next week?”  I was young. I was foolish.  I didn’t really get it.

And then, at the wise old age of 29, I gave birth to my first child.  My wonderful, beautiful daughter Kate.  And everything changed in an instant.

Suddenly, I knew that I had “something to look forward to” for at least 20 years.  Every morning with my baby was a new beginning.  Every bath time was a treasure. Every meal an adventure.  I was enraptured, enamored, in love, entranced, enthralled.

Life was very, very good.

And then it went on.  Kate’s brothers were born, and the rhythm of my life was set.  I was a happy, busy Momma, and every passing week meant something new to look forward to. There were milestones and holidays and vacations and camping trips.  Birthdays and new schools and sports and plays and music.  Life was one big streak of “something to look forward to”.

And then they all grew up. And they moved away and started their own lives.

There suddenly wasn’t quite so much to look forward to, you know? Life was still happy and full, but the magical moments were gone.

And now, here I am, the full time day care provider for my little Ellie.  Now I am back to the days of making pancakes for someone who will light up with joy at the new taste. I am back to singing brand new songs, and reading exciting new books.

Tonight, when supper was over, I put our leftover coconut rice into a bowl.  I added an egg and some cream and cinnamon. I baked it for 20 minutes.  It smells fantastic.

I will go to bed tonight with something to look forward to.  I will give my beautiful Ellie a bowl of rice pudding for her breakfast tomorrow.

Life is a very beautiful thing.