My Bunny Guru


Barney is his name; comfort is his game.

Image by the author

I live in a relatively rural place. It’s Massachusetts, so you know it isn’t all that wild. But for someone who grew up in Greater Boston and has lived, studied and worked right in the city, our part of the state is like living in the wilderness.

We have a big male black bear who cruises the neighborhood, and a gorgeous bobcat who peeks out once in a while. We have deer and foxes and turkeys and coyotes. There are more birds than you can begin to appreciate.

And for the past three years, for some reason, we have sweet little cottontail rabbits.

While these little guys used to be a rarity, these few years we have had one or two living right in the yard and sharing the dandelions with us.

This year’s bunny is named Barney. I don’t know why exactly, except that the alliteration must have appealed to my grandkids.

We first noticed Barney back in about February. The ground was frozen, and the earth was clumps of mud and dead leaves. We saw his tiny grey face one morning in the protective cover of a fallen pine tree. The kids and I watched his little twitching nose as he washed his face with one white paw. Then he squished himself back under the log.

I worried about him that night, as an icy rain fell. Silly, I know. I told myself that I worried because he was important to the kids. I didn’t want them to be sad. But I knew that wasn’t really it. I worried because he was so small, and fragile. He was alone in a cold, dangerous world. His innocence touched my heart and I imagined getting him safe and warm somehow.

Over the next few weeks, Barney would make an appearance some days as the sun set. He would hop along, carefully avoiding snow and ice clumps. I watched him chewing on dry oak leaves. I saw how he stood on his hand legs to carefully peel the bark of cherry saplings.

I started to leave him bits lettuce, carrot tops and celery leaves. He ate them, but never while I was watching.

He began to seem like a pet to me.

As the spring has come, Barney has grown considerably. He still lives under the fallen tree, but he spends time in a windfall of dead branches and hops between my rhododendron and forsythia, where he can hide when he feels scared.

With everything that is happening in this crazy world, Barney has become both a talisman and a mentor to me.

If I go two days without seeing him, I find myself up early peering out the windows. I feel responsible for him in a ridiculously inexplicable way. I am anxious when I don’t know that he has survived another night in the land of foxes and fishers and coyotes and cars.

But then I see him. My heart rate slows. I smile.

I often see Barney outside now. Right there on our front lawn, almost always with a dandelion stem in his mouth. He no longer accepts my offerings of food, and I laugh when I imagine his reaction to seeing them. “Great,” I imagine him thinking. “Dead, wilted, human scented, soap smelling green stuff. I live in a literal giant salad bowl full of clover and grass and leaves and shoots and dandelion stems. And she thinks I’m gonna eat THAT?”

Sometimes when I see him, I stand very still. He goes about his business with me there, chewing rapidly and fixing his shining black eye on my presence. I have noticed that he seems to have a good sense of social distancing. He is almost always about 6 feet away. If I take a step toward him, he takes a hop away.

The other day my little grandsons and I were out in the yard. We were admiring the millions of little Forget-me-nots that bloom all over. As we reached in to pick some, we saw that our Barney was sitting very still in the middle of a patch of flowers. He wasn’t moving at all. We stood there, admiring him, and making soft noises.

After a minute or two in which I guess he realized that we weren’t planning to eat him, Barney hopped, rather calmly, out of the flower bed and under a bush.

The kids were enchanted. I was inspired.

This is how I want to meet the challenges of my world. I want to go on calmly eating in the face of danger. I want to take my time to assess how real a threat it is that I am facing. I want the courage to calmly keep myself generally safe, while also having the confidence to live under my own fallen tree.

Barney, as far as I can tell, spends no time at all wondering if he should have done something differently. He doesn’t appear to be worried about tomorrow; unlike the chipmunks that race around here all day, he is not storing food for a later date.

Instead, he is soaking up the sun, eating what tastes best to him, avoiding disaster as long as possible and having a good bunny in the summer life.

He’s kinda my hero.

He’s also very very cute.

I Have No Words


And that is profoundly confusing for me. I have always had words. I was the second-grader who got in trouble for bringing a book into the girls’ bathroom so I could get to the end of my chapter. I was the third-grader whose teacher pulled her aside to say, “Honey, I know you have a lot to say, but can you practice waiting to say it later?”

I have always processed the entire world verbally. If I didn’t talk about it, I wasn’t sure it had really happened.

But I am out of words right now.

I feel stiff. I feel frozen. I feel as if every one of my deepest and most profound emotions is stuck in my throat.

I am learning that grief presents itself in strange ways.

When my Dad died, I cried and mourned and wrote about him and talked about him and somehow put everything in place.

But with the death of my Mom, I find myself at a loss for words.

It’s funny.

One of the many things that Mom and I shared was our love of the spoken and written word. We were both readers. We were both writers. We both preferred verbal puzzles to mathematical ones.

We were also both more emotional than logical. We both struggled to force our hearts to follow our brains, instead of the other way around.

And now she is gone.

And I have no words.

I have tried and tried and tried again to come to this safe space where I can write just what I feel. But I can’t quite get my arms around the hugeness of the hole in my world.

I have no words.

Mom was graceful, even when she was unaware of that grace. She was stylish, as I can attest now that my sister and I have sorted through the 12 bags of her clothes.

Mom was opinionated. She was strong. She was fragile and breakable, and we all spent so much energy trying to protect her from the life around her. She was never able to fully grasp how much we loved her and looked to her to guide our way through this life.

I have no words to express the strange feeling that I have without her in my life.

One moment I feel like a balloon that has escaped its knot, rising and rising into the stratosphere with absolutely nothing to guide me.

The next moment I feel like the wise woman of my own village; the oldest and wisest, able to fold my mother’s lessons into my own.

I am here because I am afraid that if I stop writing, stop speaking, I will simply disappear. Without the reflection of my Mom in my mirror, am I really there?

I have lost my words.

I believe that they will come back. As I embrace my beautiful granddaughter and watch her falling into a good book, I see my Mom.

Life is a journey. Life goes on, no matter what we think about that fact.

My Mom is gone. For now, my voice has gone with her.

I will look to my children and to theirs, and I know that I will find it once again.

For now, I am here only to show that I am here.

You Know Why I Love a Good Blizzard?


I am a summer person. I love the heat. I love the sweating and the thunder and the bees and the barbecue. I love the beach.

But even I have to admit, I really love a good snowstorm.

I love blizzards and nor’easters here in Massachusetts because they are such a visceral reminder that while we think we are in control of our own lives, nature is laughing right out loud at us.

I love these big storms because they force me to look beyond my usual safe and secure and technologically supported life. They force me to think, “Oh, oh….if the power goes out…..” I feel strong, smart, and prepared when I plug in my portable battery, double-check my generators and make sure the solar-powered flashlights are all charged up.

I feel excited and ready for a challenge when I make batches of calzones that can be eaten either hot or cold. And when I charge up all the flashlights. And bake some cookies because……really?

All of this preparation and pioneer-womaning is great and it all makes me appreciate a good snowstorm. But there is something I love even more.

I love a good snowstorm because it leaves behind it a small patch of untouched perfection.

No footsteps mar the perfection of the white. No dirt is anywhere in the image. No human impact can be seen on the landscape.

A good snowstorm is the ultimate “Do Over”. It allows me to look out my window, watching the birds flit from branch to branch. It lets me watch as a tiny chickadee picks the seeds out of an overgrown perennial.

A strong storm is a reminder to all of us that earth has been here a lot longer than we have. It reminds us that the roads are only a recent addition to the earth. It shows us that if mother nature set her mind to it, we’d be gone.

I love it.

I love the expansive spread of pure white snow across a yard.

Today’s New England blizzard is reminding me of one of my favorite memories as a teacher. I arrived at school one morning after a storm of some 12 or 14 inches. My students gathered in the classroom as usual. They handed in homework, did the “attendance” record and sat down to do “Before School Work”.

At exactly the moment when the official school day began, I told them all to put on their coats, snow pants, and boots. As I recall, they were excited and bewildered in equal measure. I lined them up. I walked to the door of our classroom, and then led them down to the outdoor exit. The exit that would take them outside to the playground.

To the playground that was covered with pure, untouched, sparkling snow.

“Nobody has been out here yet,” I told them. “Go!”

There was a short frozen moment of hesitation. And then the door burst open and out they ran. Twenty-four ecstatic ten-year-olds burst out into the pure, untouched snow. They laid down their footprints. They rolled in the snow. They buried their faces in the snow.

THIS is what I love about snowstorms.

They let us start fresh. They let children feel the miracle of laying down the very first footprints on that pristine palette.

A snowstorm tells us to stop, to slow down, to savor the moment. It tells us that no matter how powerful we feel ourselves to be, our footsteps will not last in this world. They tell us to embrace the moment of icy, sparkling joy. And they remind us that those moments are not eternal. They remind us that the snow will soften. It will become gray and icy and old.

A good snowstorm reminds us that every moment of joy is a moment to treasure. And it reminds us that even if it’s cold out there, we should go out and jump into the drifts.

Life and love and joy are all as ephemeral as a snowstorm, I guess. And that’s why we have to embrace and enjoy every one.

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.

A Lesson From Moana’s Grandma


My mother died last week, the night before Thanksgiving. She lived a long and very full life, and she left that life reluctantly.

Mom was a practicing Catholic, so my family grew up with the typical Catholic imagery of life and death. Heaven or Hell and all that. In her very last days, Mom was unsure of what was coming. She expressed her doubts that she’d really be reunited with our Dad, who was the love of her life for over six decades. She worried that her death would be a true ending, and she held on tenaciously to every fading breath.

It made me incredibly sad to hear her.

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Yesterday I spent the day with my grandsons. I hadn’t seen them for 10 days, the time of our vigil by Mom’s bedside. Both had been sick, as had their Mom and sister. They were in COVID quarantine, and as I grieved for my Mother, I missed all of them terribly.

So I was filled with relief and joy to have them here yesterday, although I worried that my sadness and my distracted mind might bother them.

I should have known better.

My little Johnny, all of four and a half years of wisdom, was working on a puzzle of the “Polar Express.” I was sitting with his baby brother on my knee, just watching the puzzle master at work. Suddenly, Johnny asked me,

“Is Great Grandma a spirit now?”

“Yes,” I answered. “She is.”

“But, what is her spirit?”

“What do you mean, honey?”

“What is it? What is her spirit?”

“I don’t know,” I answered as truthfully as I could. “You can’t see it. It’s the part of Great Grandma that loves us. It’s still around us.”

This seemed a bit too metaphysical for such a young child, but I wasn’t sure how to proceed. My daughter and her family don’t go to church, nor do we. I know that the kids have talked about life and death. I know that they have looked at and thought about the deaths of birds and salamanders and other animals. They’ve been through the death of their family dog.

But I didn’t know how much of the “invisible spirit” idea a four-year-old could grasp. I didn’t want him thinking of ghosts.

Johnny never stopped placing his puzzle pieces. He never even looked up at me.

He just said one thing before I broke down in tears and he came to give me a hug.

“Nonni,” he said. “I think her spirit is you now. I think it’s you.”

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It was later in the day, as we were eating a snack, that I asked Johnny what he thought about spirits. He thought for a minute, then looked up at me seriously.

“Remember Moana’s Grandma? She turned into a spirit of a ray.”

That was all this sweet, wise little soul needed to know. He wasn’t thinking of Heaven or Hell or worthiness or sins. He was thinking that he’d learned everything he needed to know about spirits from one Disney movie.

Call me crazy, but I am so happy to think that my strong, powerful, smart Momma is out there somewhere in sparkling spirit form. Maybe she is a spirit cat, like her precious kitty Tess. Maybe she is an octopus, so fitting for our “pulpi” eating Sicilian family.

Or maybe, just maybe, her spirit really is me.

I don’t know yet.

But I know that Johnny has taken a valuable lesson from one sweet movie. He doesn’t fear death, because even at his tender age, he understands that spirits go on and that death is not goodbye.

This, if you ask me, is the most perfect belief a human could have.

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.

Go Gentle Into That Sweet Night


Photo by Altınay Dinç on Unsplash

You are a fierce warrior. You have stood up straight and strong for all of your nine decades of life.

You are powerful. You were the first warrior woman I ever knew. You stood up for yourself when the Catholic Church told you to stay quiet and obedient. You stood with your hands on your hips when the schools told you to send your girls out into the snow wearing skirts.

You have never backed down, even when the idea of standing up made your hands shake.

But.

You are a tired warrior now. I think that you have fought all of your battles, and I think that you have nothing left to prove.

You have raised a troop of healthy, happy children. You have watched your grandchildren grow and thrive and multiply.

I think that your journey is complete.

In my loving daughter’s heart, I think that you have earned your turn to rest.

I stand outside tonight, under the Hunter’s Moon. I breathe in the crisp scent of the dying year. The gentle exhalation of the oak leaves, the wet smooth smell of the soil, the bitter scent of fallen seeds. I pull them into myself. I hold my breath.

I think of you.

I think of how fiercely you are holding on to this life.

I wish that I could tell you that your work here is done. You have earned your gentle rest. You have been a loving wife, a supportive mother, a loyal friend. You have done enough. You have been both good and worthy.


“Please go gentle into that good night,

Old age should sigh and smile at close of day;

Embrace, embrace the dying of the light.

And you, my mother, there on the proud height,

Bless, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Please go gentle into that good night.

Embrace, embrace the glowing of the light.”

You can, if you choose, let go.

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.