Mother Guilt


I’m Italian. I was raised in the Catholic Church.

Ergo, guilt is my middle name.

When my kids were little, I learned all about “mother guilt.” I got most of my exercise by beating myself up over what I did or didn’t do for my kids. I was too strict, or I let them get away with murder. Guilty!!! I was overprotective. But I didn’t watch them closely enough. Very guilty!!!

Dinner was…gasp….frozen pizza. Take away my mothering license!

Then the kids grew up. None of them are serial killers. All three are productive members of society.

I kind of let myself relax.

But now…I am suffering from a profound attack of momma guilt.

I’ll tell you why.

Two years ago we adopted a sweet little crazy pants puppy who we named Lennie. He was good company for our old dog, Tucker the Wolf King. All was well.

A year ago, though, old Tucker crossed that rainbow bridge, and Lennie was left with no one to play with except for Papa and I, two toddlers, two “cousin” dogs, a great neighbor dog and the occasional friend met on a walk.

We felt sorry for him. Also, if truth be told, we were hoping that a second dog might run off some of his boundless energy. So we reached out to some of the wonderful rescue groups out there, and we looked at a bunch of dogs. We thought we’d open our house to another canine in need of love and attention.

This time around, though, we had at least some idea of what we were doing, so we set some parameters.

“No more puppies,” we said to ourselves. “And no more hound dogs.” We had learned the hard way that puppies chew everything from your slippers to the living room rug. We knew that hounds would run away and not come back if they caught the scent of an animal outside. We were determined to avoid the mistakes of our pasts.

A few weeks went by and we started getting messages from a dear friend about a sweet, adorable, loving little labrador/basset hound mix. He looked so cute! He really needed a home.

So.

We decided to adopt a hound puppy.  Best laid plans and all that stuff.

His name is Bentley, and we have been in touch with his foster Mom for a couple of weeks. She’s crazy about him! We’ve been so excited to meet him. Two weeks before his arrival, I bought new toys, a pretty new collar with his name and our phone number. I even talked about him to Lennie.

I thought that everything was great until last night. I went to bed thinking, “Tomorrow we get to meet our little Bentley! Hurrah!”

Then I had a dream about Tucker. My sweet, beloved Wolf King. I dreamed of him so vividly that I could smell the familiar scent of his head. I could hear his mumblepuppy voice, and feel the soft soft fur of his ears.

Tucker!

I woke up, thinking, “Oh, Tucker! We aren’t replacing you! We’ll always love you! You were our boy, our Wolf King, our best friend.”

I laid awake for at least an hour, wracked with guilt.

Finally I fell asleep again, but awoke a little bit later wondering what that sound was in my ear.

The sound was Lennie, sleeping with his head on my pillow, breathing right into my ear. I turned toward him, and he licked my cheek in his sleep.

Guilt-o-rama.

If we brought a new dog home, would Lennie feel less loved? Would he wonder why we thought we needed another dog, if we already had him? Would my sweet boy feel inadequate as a pet and need years of therapy to get over the betrayal by his Mom?

Guilt. Guilty McGuiltington. I barely slept.

This morning, early, we headed off to meet the transit van that was bringing Bentley to New England. Lennie was left at home to wonder what was up. Tucker was in my heart, looking at me with big brown accusing eyes.

There was a lump in my throat.

But there we were, committed to the new guy. He got out of the van, waddled his way over to us, greeted us with a huge doggy grin and shook his long velvety ears.

My heart turned over, I fell in love, and some of the guilt slipped away. The rest would be up to Lennie.

We made our way home, Bentley snuggled in my arms, and introduced our boys to each other.

And holy hound dog. Whaddaya know.

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“We’re gonna be the best of bruvvers!”

Within an hour, they had sniffed each other’s butts, bitten each other’s ears, shared the same water bowl, chased each other under various bushes, wrassled on the bed and the sofa and fallen asleep side by side.

I think it’s going rather well.

Now I look at Lennie and I feel guilty that I didn’t get him a baby brother months ago.

Sigh.

I tell ya, as a mother, you just can’t win.

 

 

Beautiful Day


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It’s gray outside. Small pellets of sleet are falling on the frozen mud in the yard. A very cold wind is blowing.

The news is dominated by war, murder, anger, ugliness and fear.

It is a Beautiful Day!

My right hand is typing this, while my left cradles the warm, sweet blanket wrapped bundle of my sleeping Granddaughter.

In the past few days I have received news of a new baby girl and two brand new beautiful baby boys born to people I love.  I have heard news of another little one on the way.

And I am reminded that winter always ends. Political races always conclude. Wars wind down and borders shift. Old fights are ended and reconciliation is always a possibility.

Life continues. Every birth is hope renewed. Welcome, beautiful children! We love you and need you so much!

 

A Good Kind of Surprise


Now that I have an empty nest, I am used to having nearly complete control over my environment.

I mean, other than the mountains of dog hair and Paul’s habitual pile o’ stuff on my kitchen counters, I have a lot of control of my space.

I now wash, dry and carefully fold the towels so that they are placed neatly on the closet shelves.  The beds are made.  The shoes are either in the closet or neatly lined up by the door. The dishes and cups are clean and dry and waiting in their respective cabinets.

There is very little unexpected and unwelcome mess in my house.

I very very rarely come across a dirty dish on a windowsill.  I am no longer surprised by a pile of muddy clothes in the bathtub.

My life is predictable.

When I open the hall closet, I know which coats and jackets I will see.

Except when I am surprised.

Delightfully, happily, joyfully surprised.

Like today.

I opened the closet to grab my down jacket, planning to step outside to shovel some snow.

And there it was.

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Surprise!

A tiny purple jacket, decorated with pink and blue hearts and circles.  A puffy, warm, cozy little jacket, just right for keeping a baby girl warm.

I must have hung it up there not long ago, when I was sorting through a big bag of hand-me-down clothes. I probably put it on the hanger and nestled it into the pile of coats. Somewhere between my old bulky white coat and Paul’s blue winter jacket, it must have settled in and gotten comfy.

And I must have forgotten all about it.

Until today.

When I pulled open the door and pushed aside the hangers.  And there it was.  Reminding me that my neat, orderly, predictable house is no longer entirely under my control. Telling me that it will soon be overtaken once again by toys and blankets and cast off cups and dirt and leaves and twigs and bandaids and juice boxes.

Thank God!

That pretty little jacket, hanging so sweetly in my closet, reassures me that life continues to go on here.

My nest is not quite so empty anymore.

 

 

Touching the Future


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“I touch the future. I teach.”

It was thirty years ago today.

My firstborn child was a tender 17 days old.

I was in love with her.  Enthralled by her every breath, every tiny frown. Enchanted by the shape of her cheek, the satiny shine of her skin.

That bitter cold January morning we were at home alone.  My husband had gone off to work. Baby Katie and I were in our little apartment in one of Boston’s poorer neighborhoods. Our two cats were sleeping on the sunny windowsills, leaning against the plastic that we’d put up to keep out the winter chill.

I remember clearly that I was wearing a big bulky shirt. One that buttoned up the front to allow me to nurse my baby and to keep the pressure off of my C-section scar.  I remember that I had bathed my Katie and that she was wrapped up snugly in a little onesie.  I held her in a pink blanket, in my arms, walking from the nursery to the tiny living room of our apartment.

The shape of the room was almost rounded, with three windows that faced the busy street. We were in one of those old two family houses that were built in the 1930’s and 40’s. The old wood floors had been sanded and polished by the young couple who owned the house.  They gleamed in the sunshine that came through the windows.

We had a big old boxy TV, sitting in a heavy wooden frame; back then, the television was a piece of furniture rather than a wall hanging.  I remember that I had a potted ivy plant sitting on top of the big TV box.

I stood with Katie, watching the TV coverage of the Shuttle Challenger as it got ready for takeoff.  I wasn’t one of those people who was fixated on space. I wasn’t even sure that I believed it appropriate for the government to spend so much money on space exploration when there were so many needs here at home.

But I was watching this time.

I’m not even sure why!  Maybe it was just because I was at home and able to see it.  Maybe it was because this time one of the travelers to outer space was a teacher, a woman only a few years older than myself.  A young mother who wanted to inspire her children at home and at school. I had seen Christa McCauliffe interviewed on the news, and I’d been struck by her familiar, charming New England accent and by her effervescent smile.  I remember thinking in a casual way how cool it was that she was going to have such an adventure.

So I stood there in my sunny living room, holding my beautiful daughter in my arms.  I talked to her about the Shuttle, and about Christa the teacher.  I was happy at that moment.

I listened to the countdown.  I probably counted down the seconds myself, the way we always did.  I don’t remember.

But I know that I was standing, in the middle of the room.  I know that I held my baby in my arms.  I know that I was watching the screen and feeling warm and safe and happy.

And the Challenger lifted off, into the blue blue sky.  And the camera was on the faces of Christa’s family.  Everyone was smiling.

Until that terrible moment when the plume of rising smoke split in two, and no one was sure of what we were seeing.

I don’t remember what I thought.  I know that I was confused.

And then the camera caught Christa’s mother’s face, frozen and unmoving.  Looking up, toward the spot where her baby girl had disappeared.

And I understood.  We all did.

I looked down at my Katie, gazing up at me with so much trust.  And I began to sob.

 

I Hate to Brag. Wait, no I don’t…..


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So ahed of the curve, this family

I have been following, with great interest, the recent study out of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

You know, the study that says that we need students who are more concerned about how they can help others than with how they can help themselves.

The study that is entitled “Turning the Tide”.

I am intrigued by this study because I so completely embrace and welcome its message.  I admit that after having fought through so many years of watching public education turn into a race for top scores, I find it somewhat frustrating to see that those ideas that I have always believed are suddenly being embraced by the pinnacle of educational wisdom.

I am trying to stay positive about this shift, and not to be bitter about it.  And you know why?

Because I have somehow managed to raise three young adults who encourage and inspire me to remain positive and who seem to always understand varying points of view.

Let me put this another way:

Paul and I have raised three children who were way, way ahead of the educational curve. All three of them grew up understanding that test scores did not equal personal worth. All three grew up understanding that the greatest sense of happiness and fulfillment would come from what they could give back to their communities.

One of my children is a teacher. One is a teacher aide in a school for severely emotionally challenged adolescents.  One is a success coach for people in a struggling community who have been given jobs in community services.

None of my kids went to the Ivy Leagues.  None has a three figure income.

But here is what they have: jobs that make them proud.  Jobs that give back.  Jobs that take care of others.

And here is what they have that I could not have predicted: Communities of other young, inspired, altruistic people who work hard every day to fill their communities with learning and art and music and kindness.

My sons are surrounded by other “Millennials” who make sandwiches for the homeless and put on shows with local artists and who support small farmers and local businesses.

These young people are the anti-80’s generation.

They knew, even without Harvard telling them, that life is not about making money.  Life is about making friends, giving back, enjoying life, giving love and getting it back.

My children are way ahead of the curve.  They are my inspiration and my teachers.

My kids and their incredible community of caring friends are the reason I have so much hope for the future.

I hate to brag, but either Paul and I did an amazing job, or we managed to not screw up the natural tendencies of our kids. Either way, all I have to say is, “Gee, Harvard, took you long enough to catch up!”

Dear Young Mommy Me


baby tim-1Dear Young MomShieb,

You. Are.  Amazing.

Seriously.

I didn’t appreciate your incredible feats of fabulousness while we were actually doing them, but I sure as hell appreciate them now.

I sure do.  As I sit here on my sofa with an ice pack on my back and exhaustion overwhelming me, I look back on our accomplishments as a young mother of three with nothing short of heart-stopping-awe.

How the hell did you do it, young me?   I mean, holy crow, did you have superpowers or what?

Let me explain the reason for my sudden deep appreciation of your Wonder Womanliness.

Today I took my baby granddaughter out for a couple of errands.

First I gave her a bottle and held her through a two hour nap. (OK, fine. You caught me. We both napped.)  Then I picked her up and put her in her swing so that I could get a few little things done around the house.  Within ten seconds, I heard the sound of a rapid fire machine gun and looked toward the baby to see her grinning from ear to ear.  Uh, Oh.   I picked her up and realized that she had pooped herself right up to her armpits for the second time today.

I carefully scooped her up, singing to her the whole time, and headed for the bathtub.  Jeez, Young Me! Was it always this complicated to wash a baby?  I think “yes”.  It was.  But  we did it back then, by God!  We sure did! Not so easy now, though! By the time I laid down a towel, filled the tub, set out clean clothes and clean diapers, squirted in the bath soap, washed her up, played with her, took her out to dry, put on the clean diaper, put on the clean clothes, drained the tub, hung up the towel, threw out the old diaper, put the poopie clothes in the hamper and got us both back into the recliner, I was exhausted!

And then came the doctor visit (for me), which meant putting on a jacket, filling up the diaper bag, grabbing an ice pack to keep the milk cold, stuffing the stroller in the trunk, buckling Elie into the car seat,  making sure she had her dolly to chomp on, driving to the doctor’s, taking the stroller out of the trunk, putting the diaper bag under the seat, unstrapping Ellie, hugging her and putting her into the stroller, strapping her in, handing her baby back to her, grabbing the diaper bag and my purse and walking us into the office………

Well.

I managed to pull it off. I did the doctor’s visit, helped enormously by the extreme cuteness of the baby I had brought along with me.  Everyone in the office oohed, and cooed and smiled at her.  She was her usual charming and delightful self.  I was so puffed up with pride at her beauty and sweetness that I hardly heard a word my doctor said.  I guess all is well, because I don’t remember hearing that my days are numbered.

Anyway, we did the visit, and we even managed to stop by the library for a bit.  And I got us both back home in one piece.

But as I look back on what felt like a monumental feat today, all I can do is marvel at you, Young MomShieb!  I look back on those days when you worked a full day at school, picked up your baby boys from daycare and your little girl from the neighbor’s and got back home to serve everyone a home cooked dinner.

I never appreciated you, Young Me. I never stepped back long enough to look at you and think, “You go, girl! You are a marvel!”  I was aware back then that we were taking three little kids to the grocery store, and to the park, and to the school Open Houses.  I just never took the time to realize what it took to pull all that off.

So, Young MomShieb, I am here now to tell you that you are my hero!  I don’t know how you did it.  I can’t believe you didn’t crack up and turn into a nut cake back in those crazy baby days.  But you didn’t.

My hat’s off to you.

And dear Young Mommies all over the place out there: My one wish for you is that you take a minute or two to step back from all that you are doing, and tell yourself, “Honey, you totally rock!”  Without you ladies, civilization as we know it would come crashing to the ground.

Love,  A happy, grateful, tired old Nonni

Magic Words


Magic book with magic lights

Oh, don’t you wish that there were magic words?

Wouldn’t it be just wonderful to have magic phrases that could bring peace, healing, love, rest?

I wish that our world contained real wizards.  Men and women of such wisdom that they could simply say those magic words and hearts would be made whole again.

In a world that seems to have gone so wrong, I wish that there were special words to make things right.  I wish that I could open an old and dusty book, placed high on a wooden shelf in a long forgotten shop.  I wish that I could turn those ancient pages, slowly, and so carefully.

I wish that I would catch my breath in wonder, and run my finger slowly and carefully under those magic words.

Don’t you wish that with me?

Don’t you wish that somehow we could turn to those around us who are in pain, and that we could whisper those special words that would mend the terrible wounds in their hearts?

I do.

I wish that there were magic words.

I wish that I knew them.

Wishing all of you peace and safety and laughter and love. Wishing you a home without strife, a country without war, a kitchen without hunger, a group of loving friends and family to embrace you.

Wishing you magic words to heal you.

 

Your Every Christmas Wish


603733_10200837417355233_1874374034_nWhen I was little, I could fill myself with the feeling of Christmas by lying in bed in the glow of the orange window lights. The bulbs were hot, so hot that we had to be very careful to keep the shades hight above them, and the curtains fully open.  The warm orange glow was so different from the usual pale nightlight glow that as we fell asleep, my sister and I would feel as if we were being wrapped in magic.  I can still conjure the feeling of drifting to sleep with my face turned toward that orange, orange light. Waiting for Santa and for the magic of Christmas morning.

As I got a little bit older, into my teens, I learned to lie on the rug with all of the lamps in the room off. I would lie as close to the Christmas tree as I could, after turning all of its big bright colored lights on. I’d look up into the branches and squint my eyes a bit. The fat, bright lights would reflect in the long silvery strands of tinsel and I would get that feeling in my stomach; that “Christmas” feeling.  I’d think about what gift I might get (new albums by Joan Baez, Fleetwood Mac, Judy Collins were high on my list).  I would be filled with giddy anticipation and that magic feeling would flood me again.

Then I became a Mom. Christmas was more magical than ever.  That feeling, that magical Christmas feeling was all about them.  I could fill myself with the magical feeling of Christmas by looking at their beautiful eyes, reflecting the glowing lights of our tree. Motherhood is magic; Motherhood on Christmas morning is indescribable.

Now they’re all grown up.  Our familiar fake spruce tree is long gone.  I sit here alone in my quiet house, resting up a bit before the big family celebrations begin.  I’m thinking about later tonight, and tomorrow morning. I’m thinking about the few hours when I can gather all of them around me, my beautiful daughter and her smiley eyed husband, my two handsome sons, my husband.  I think about “that Christmas feeling”, and how much I’m looking forward to holding it close.  Tomorrow that feeling will come when there is a moment with all of us in this room.  There will be half filled coffee cups everywhere, and piles of wrapping paper on the floor.  The house will smell of bacon, and the dogs will be watching eagerly for a crumb to fall. Paul will be wrapped in a blanket, dozing a bit.  I’ll stand in the dining room for a minute. I’ll look around the room.  I’ll stand where I can see all of them, all of their familiar faces.  The conversation will be completely casual, about nothing much.  Someone will say something funny, like they always do, and everyone will laugh together.  I’ll wipe my hands on my apron, look from face to sweet face, and laugh along with them.

I’ll be filled once again with the magical orange light and sparkly tinsel feelings of Christmas.

The Touchstone


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When my first child was about two, I noticed that she had a habit of running away from me when I put her down.  She’d run away, giggling the whole time, then rush back toward me with her hands reaching.  She would hurl herself against my legs, hugging tightly, pressing her cheek to my knee.  Then off she’d run again, running away from me, leaving me behind.

I noticed after a while that she only ran away if I was firmly planted and in plain sight. If I was walking, she would stay right by my side.

When my next baby turned two, I found him doing the very same thing. Running away, giggling, but rushing right back to throw his sturdy little body against mine. He was less subtle than his sister, though, and I remember him calling to me as he hurried away, “Mommy!  I going! I going!”

By the time my third child was a toddler, I had learned to expect and to understand the phenomenon of the escaping child.  I had come to understand that it was important to let them try out their newfound independence. It was important to let them rush away, to leave me behind.

And I’d learned that it was even more important for me to expect them back, to stay where I was, to be the solid foundation that let them hurl themselves back to safety when they’d gone too far.

I had learned that it was my job to trust them, and not to pull them back, even when I was afraid.

Now my children are grown.  All three are adults, and one is happily married.

But you know what? That valuable lesson that my babies taught has turned out to still be true.  I still need to let my children run away. I still need to be steady and sure and in one place, so that they can come back.

Over the years, each of my children has found a need to rush back, just for a bit, just to reassure themselves that we are here, that home is still safe, that our knees will still withstand the force of their return.

My nest is empty, but it is still the nest.  My fledglings are off, flying to new places, making their own new nests.

But I know that when they are hurt, or sad, or confused, they can come back.  I know that it is the existence of our “nest”, and Dad and I in it, that lets them go off to try new things.

We are home.  And home is the place they can come back to when they need to regroup.

I’ve realized that we are to our children what my Grandparents were to my Dad in this old photo.  What my parents were to me and to my siblings.

We are the touchstone.

What a gift.

Baby Therapy


Ahhhhhhhhh.

There is nothing on earth quite as therapeutic as rocking a little baby.  The silky cheek resting against yours, the sweet powdery baby smell of his skin, the impossibly delicate brush of his fingers on your neck.

Life goes flying by us, zooming beyond the speed of light or sound or love or thought.  We hold a tiny one in our arms, closing our eyes to breathe in the tenderness, and before we can even release that breath, the baby is a woman, tall and strong and smart. Married and ready to hold a baby of her own.  We cuddle a toddler close to our chest, one hand on his sturdy little back, another feeling his velvety curls.  We rock and we dream and when we open our eyes, he is a man, independent and solid and standing on his own two capable feet.

We’re left off balance, blinking in surprise.  Didn’t I just fall in love with that little one?  Wasn’t it only a day ago that I first held her, kissed her, tucked the softest blanket around her?

As my children have grown, I have begun to wonder if I’ve lost my place in the world of babies.  If perhaps I have lost that special loving touch that once made me the only comfort for those I loved so much.  I started to feel that I’d been passed by, and that it was simply no longer my turn to rest my cheek on the head of a sleeping baby.

I remember a day, almost eleven years ago.  A young colleague of mine brought her new baby boy to a meeting at school. I took him from her arms, and settled into a rocking chair in the meeting room. As the baby relaxed and turned his head to rest against my shoulder, I felt all of the tensions and worries of the day drain away from me. My arms still knew how to cradle him, how to rest one hand under his bottom and one behind his warm head.  I rocked and I hummed, and the little baby boy settled into the comfort of my touch.  I felt renewed. I closed my eyes, and breathed in his sweet baby smell, and I felt his tiny fingers reaching out to me.

But time has passed swiftly once again.  Now that beautiful baby is a tall handsome fifth grader with a mischievous grin and the brightest blue eyes.  He is in my class this year, and I am getting to know him as a student.  That sweet baby memory is something that I have to keep as my secret, so that I can be his teacher.

Its been a long time now since I have held and rocked a baby.  Oh, every now and then I get a few minutes with a grand niece or nephew, or with the baby of a colleague or the grandchild of a friend.  But I have been feeling myself getting rusty once again, wondering if I would still know how to comfort and soothe, how to snuggle and hug, how to hold a baby in my aging loving arms.

Today my friends came to visit, brining their beautiful three month old son.  He fit right into my arms, and my hands and wrists knew what to do. My back knew how to curve around him, and my cheek was drawn to his hard, smooth head as if by magic.  My body remembered the rhythm of baby rocking, back and forth, from right to left, from foot to foot in a gentle, intuitive dance.

I closed my eyes, and breathed in his sweet baby smell. I felt his tiny gentle fingertips, so lightly brushing my skin.

There is nothing on earth, no pill, no drug, no wine so potent as the therapeutic effect of rocking a little baby.59