Something to look forward to

When my husband and I were very young, in the very beginning of our life together, we often found ourselves saying, “I’m so glad we have something to look forward to!”

Of course, we were young, in love, starting our lives.  We had friends and jobs and an entire future ahead of us.  Still, sometimes the weeks seemed to stretch out ahead of us with nothing but work, classes, work and more classes.  We used to need “something to look forward to”.  Something to get our excitement up, our adrenaline rushing, our moods lifted.  It could be a party, a trip, a concert….it didn’t really matter, as long as we could hold it up in our immediate future and get a lift out of the anticipation of the event.

I remember Christmas of 1985.  I was very pregnant with our first child. We didn’t know yet who this child would be.  Male or female?  Dark eyed or light? Happy? Cranky? Healthy or not?  We didn’t know.

But I remember one night, just a few days before Christmas and perhaps two weeks before my due date.  Paul had fallen asleep, but my back was hurting, and so I was still awake.  I lay on the sofa in our little run down apartment in one of Boston’s seedier neighborhoods.  I had a blanket over the mound of my stomach, and my hand was resting on the place where my baby moved.

I had turned out all of the lights, leaving only the Christmas tree illuminated.  I lay there, looking at each ornament, watching the way that the lights reflected off the garland.  I felt myself breathing, and listened to the imagined heartbeat of my baby.  I looked at the lights.  I waited.

“You know what?”, I whispered to my big gray cat, who sat beside me in my midnight vigil.  “I’ll never ever have another moment with nothing to look forward to.”  I smiled to myself, the palm of my hand feeling the gently rolling movement of my firstborn inside of me.

And I was right.

Twenty nine years later, I am lying on my couch, my eyes taking in the color of the Christmas lights.  I can see the pile of wrapped gifts with my granddaughter’s name on them.

“You know what?”, I whisper to my old dog. “I have so much to look forward to!”

The Nonni Chronicles, part 1


Dear Ellie

How on Earth do you do it?

You are absolutely entrancing.  And I do not say that lightly!

I mean, I’ve raised three kids, as you know.  I just have never had a child as tuned in and as social as you are.

You are really a unique little girl! You have the most serious and thoughtful gaze, as if you understand not only every word, but every emotion, every passing thought.  I hold you on my lap, my hands around your ribs, your almost steady neck holding you upright.  I talk to you, all nonsense.  “Are you just the prettiest baby in the world? Are you my bean of a girl? You are! You are a sweet beanie!”  Your dark, dark eyes hold onto mine, never wavering, barely blinking.  You watch me so closely!

Sometimes when I talk, when I sound a little serious, I see your eyes moving around my face, switching from my right eye to my left, looking at my mouth as I speak. You hold my eyes; I can’t look away no matter how hard I try!  I am so completely entranced by you.

Ellie, what are you thinking?

When I feed you, you rest so trustingly in the crook of my left elbow, drinking without effort.  It always seems as if your mind is somewhere else.  Sometimes you stare up at me, those deep brown eyes completely steady and totally alert.

What do you see when you look at me?  Do you see safety, love, family?  Do you wonder where your Mommy has gone?  Do you see a gray haired old lady with funny glasses on, and wonder what she wants from you?  I wish I knew……

Sometimes your eyes are fixed on my face, and as soon as I meet your gaze, you break into a huge grin, letting the streams of milk run down your cheeks and onto your neck.  As if you’ve been just waiting to make eye contact! As if you are just thrilled to see me seeing you.

Ellie, you’re only three months old, for goodness sake.  Babies just don’t act this way.

Honey, I suspect that you are a very old soul.   And good God, your Nonni just loves you to pieces.

Taking Care of Momma

Today was the first day of school in my former district. My friends all gathered for long, most likely boring meetings and discussions.  A big room full of adults, talking about teaching.

I hate to be left out, but I was delighted NOT to be in that big room with the AC on high and the meeting packets on the tables and the latest mandates under discussion.

As it turns out, I was at home, surrounded by a group of wonderful teaching friends who are no longer teaching. There were fellow retirees, a teacher on maternity leave, a teacher who has stayed home to be with her kids, and my own daughter at the start of her own maternity break.  We had good food, a lot of laughs, prosecco with sherbet, a little gossip.

I wasn’t too sad to be away from school today.

But on Wednesday, the kids will come back to school.  The kids, wearing their new sneakers and their nervous smiles.  The kids will come into the classrooms, where they’ll be greeted by their teachers and introduced to their new classmates.  The new fifth grade families will be created, and I will not be there.

On Wednesday, I’ll be sad. I’ll be thinking of the kids I will never know. The kids I could have loved and supported.  I’ll be feeling a little bit lost on Wednesday, knowing that no children will be rushing in their front doors to yell, “Hey, Mom! She’s NICE!”

But I will be OK on Wednesday, even without a new group of children at my feet.  I’ll be OK because my son, my youngest child, will come home to spend a day at the beach with his Momma.

He tells me that he just loves the beach, and that he can’t wait to swim and hang out on the sand.  But the truth?  The truth, I’m pretty sure, is that this smart young man knows that his Momma is going to need a good distraction on the first “real” day of school.

So we’ll have our iced coffees, and we’ll pack the car and drive to the beach. We’ll jump in the water, walk along the shore, find some pretty shells. We’ll eat our sandwiches and our chips and we’ll probably stop for ice cream on the way back home.  And I’ll be distracted and entertained.  And I won’t be sad that I’m not at school on the first day, holding up the first “read aloud” book of the year.

Beach day with my boy

Beach day with my boy

It all comes down to this

Today was a very special day in the life of my family.  It was a huge day in my life.

It was a big deal.

A very big deal!

Tonight, after all the guests have gone, and the last plate has been washed and put away, I finally find myself alone with my thoughts.

And I can’t seem to catch them, or hold them. I can’t seem to put them into words.

But I’m supposed to be a writer of sorts, aren’t I?  Don’t I have this blog, and some tender aspirations of one day seeing my words in print?

So how can it be that I have failed to cast a net of words around my emotions, so that I can keep them close?

I don’t understand.

Today we hosted a baby shower for our daughter, who is soon to become the mother of our very first grandchild.   I cooked, I cleaned, I decorated the house, I did what I have done a hundred times before.   It was fun. It was tasty.  It was filled with laughter.

It was so much more than any of that!!!!

It was surreal, but how can I write about that part? I don’t know.

I could tell you about how sweet it was to watch the group of young mommies shepherd and guard their little children as they played on my lawn.  I could tell you how I shook my head and laughed, and how my husband and our friends swapped memories of those same young women when they were the chatty ten year olds at our daughter’s birthday party.  I could write about that.  I could describe how funny and how awful it was, at the very same time, to stand and watch the very embodiment of time rushing by.  But that would be so trite.

“Of course time goes by,” you would think. “Of course your children’s friends grow up and become parents.  Ho hum.”   It was a thunderbolt of a moment for me, hugging those beautiful young mothers and meeting their wide eyed children.

But its only life.  It is the wheel turning, exactly as it should turn. Exactly as it always has.

I can’t write about that. It doesn’t capture the hugeness of today.

I could tell you about the whimsy of the party that we had.  I could, I suppose, describe how neither my daughter nor I are the cute decorator types.  How we do not do “theme” parties.  But my son-in-law created a fabulous baby shower invitation with a Dr. Suess theme, and we were swept up in the fun. I could tell you how wonderful and how endearing it was to spend the past two days with my twelve year old niece, who helped me cook up “roast beast” and “green eggs and ham” and even a huge pile of “Go, Dogs, Go” for the party.

I could.  I could tell how being with my niece Zena made me realize how much I am going to miss being in the company of children.  How her excitement and enthusiasm melted away every bit of fatigue and let me sing my way through the party preparations.

But that wouldn’t even begin to capture what today meant to me.  It wouldn’t tell you how my eyes kept filling with tears, or how my heart felt like it was going to float away.  It wouldn’t tell you how much I missed my Dad today.  How clearly I could remember him holding my own babies when each was born.

I don’t know how to capture it. I don’t know how to describe the radiance of my daughter, and the magic of feeling that baby move.  There are simply no words for that.

So it all comes down to this.


This little wooden rocking chair.

I can’t describe today.  But I can tell you that every moment of tenderness and wonder and joy and awe and sadness can be embodied in this little chair.

Many years ago, when my first-born was new, my sister-in-law gave us this chair.  It had been in her family home for years, used by her Mom in her home daycare.  My sister-in-law Chris had taken it when she had children, and they had rocked in it for years.  She then passed it on to us.  We used it lovingly with all three of our kids.  I can picture each of them in it so clearly.

When the time came, and our niece Karrilee was having a baby, we passed the little chair on to her.   Our nest was newly empty, and the passing of the chair was very fraught and poignant for me.  I passed it on with love and pleasure, but I cried all the way home after I did.

Today, our sweet Karrilee gave the little chair back to me.

It will stay in my living room, ready for our not-yet-born baby girl to rock herself gently as Nonni and Grampa read or sing to her.

I still can’t put words around what it means.  I don’t have the talent or the tenderness to tell you how it felt to take that little rocker in my hands once again, to see those crystal clear images of my three little ones, one after the other, rocking in that chair so long ago.

It all comes down to this.

Life goes on.  The circle turns.  Times moves forward and marches along its predestined route.  We can’t go backwards, nor should we if we could.

But sometimes there is a symbol, a memento, an object that holds all of our love and our dreams and our sweetest moments. And sometimes someone is generous enough to let that symbol come back around to us once again.

Thank you, Karrilee!!  We love you!!!!   

Its a “Do Over”.

Happy Nonni

Happy Nonni

Did you ever see the movie “City Slickers”?  You know the part where one of the guys is telling the other guy that his divorce isn’t the end of the world? He tells his friend, “It’s like you’re getting a do over.”

That’s how I feel right now.

I feel like I am getting a “do over”.

Next November, I will become the daily caregiver for my very first grandchild, a little girl who will be born sometime in August.

I am incredibly excited about having the chance to take care of her, and to be able to help my daughter and son-in-law with the struggles of working parents.

I am so lucky!

And I’m scared to pieces.

What if I don’t remember how to rock a baby with an earache?  My own baby is 23, for God’s sake!  What if I can’t calm her down?  What if I forget how to soothe a baby through the teething stages?  What if she doesn’t like me? What if I don’t have the stamina for this?

Oh, brother.  Thus runs the mind of a true neurotic.

At 3AM I convince myself that I am a hopeless excuse for a Nonni.

At 7AM, all I can think of is this: “I am getting a do over!”

I picture a day in early winter.  The cold rain is pouring down outside, but the house is cozy.  There is a big pot of stew on the stove, enough for Paul and I and enough to send home to Kate and Sam.  I have bread dough rising, and I am sitting in the rocker with the baby asleep in my arms.  A warm fleece blanket is draped over us both.   I am humming a song, soft and low, and my cheek is resting on hers.

It is a do over.  A chance to revisit my very best days.  A chance to hold and cuddle and nurture one more life.

When my own babies were little, I had to drop them off at daycare. I had to rush out the door, into the wintery winds.  I had to leave the rocking and the singing to others.

Now I have a chance to do it over again.  Now I can relax, and stay at home, and give myself to the little one.  All the love and caring that has gone into my 25 students can now be poured into her.

I am getting a do over.

I am so very, very lucky.

I can’t wait.

A Dog and His Boy

photo 5

There is just something about a dog and his boy.  My dogs just love our boys.  In fact, they love pretty much any boys.

Now that our sons are grown and gone, we can get the same squeals of delight from our dogs when our nephews, cousins, neighbors or any other boys come to the house.

There’s just something about a dog and his boys.

So I’m sure that my dogs will be very happy to hear that we have a boy, an honest-to-God boy, coming to live with us for the rest of the school year.  He is a sixteen year old German exchange student.  He was in need of a home, and this nest was in need of some life.

I’m sure that Tucker and Sadie will be almost as happy as I will be to have him here.

I hear that he likes to eat.  And as you may know, I like to cook.  Perfect.

Of course, I’m pretty nervous tonight.  He arrives tomorrow.  I have baked chocolate chip bars.  There’s chicken brining for dinner.  His room is clean, his bed is made, and I have mopped the floor.

I want him to be happy here. I want him to be comfortable.  I want him to feel that he is welcome.

When I was his age, I was the student, far away from home, looking for acceptance and love in a new family.  I was lucky.  I found both.  My Tunisian family took me in, fed me delicious meals, entertained me, laughed with me, took me to see the sights. I remember the meals, the conversations, the music. I remember the smell of the summery air, and the sound of the wooden carriage wheels on the cobbled streets outside my window.

I don’t remember noticing whether or not the house was clean.

Still, tonight I am cleaning and organizing and scrubbing.  I have even brushed the dogs.

I know I’m being silly.  He won’t care if there is dust.  But another woman’s son will be coming here, to our house. Another woman, far away, will be trusting me to care for her boy.  She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that I’ll be kind.  She doesn’t know that the dogs will be here to greet him, with wagging tails and doggy smiles.

So as I wait for the bars to cool and the laundry to finish drying, I think back to my arrival in Kairouan, so long ago.  I think about how easy it was for me to settle into my Tunisian home, with my wonderful family. I want that experience for our guest!

And I look at the dogs, snoozing on the nice clean floor at my feet. I reach down to pat their soft heads, listening to the comforting sound of their snores.

“Guys”, I say, although neither of them moves, “I have great news.  Dad and I have decided to get you a boy.”


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


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

It isn’t fair.

It just isn’t fair.

Life, I mean.

It isn’t fair at all.

Great good fortune comes to those who have done nothing to deserve it, while sorrow and pain come to so many who have done everything right.

This weekend finds me puzzling over the random effects of fate.  I find myself swaying back and forth between sadness and joy.

Life is just so unfair.

On Friday afternoon, I found out that one of the students from my very first classroom died unexpectedly at the age of 17.   I was shocked, but not surprised.  I didn’t know him well. He was a part of my life for only nine short months, but he made a huge impact.

He was a boy whose intellect and mature vocabulary set him apart from his fifth grade peers, but whose heart and soul made him just like every other child.  I remember him as argumentative, assertive, defiant.  I remember him as tender and caring and sad. I remember that he was struggling on many levels, to find his place in the world.

He once brought a huge bag of popcorn to school for his snack. “People like popcorn,”, he told me seriously. “They’ll like me if I give them some.” He was so eager to find friends. He simply didn’t know how to go about it gracefully.

And I remember him on a class field trip.  I had been stricken with my first bout of vertigo a few weeks before the trip, and had been struggling to feel secure in my footing ever since.  On our field trip, this little eleven year old boy noticed me running my hand along the wall to feel more steady on my feet.  “Put your hand on my arm”, he told me seriously. “If you hold onto me, you won’t feel dizzy.”   I remember us walking the streets of Concord, Mass, looking at each historic site. I was explaining the history to the kids, keeping them engaged and organized.  And all the while, my left hand was resting on the forearm of this defiant, angry boy, who stood like an anchor for me, keeping me on my feet.

Now he is gone.

I don’t know why.  I never spoke to him after he left my classroom and moved out of state with his Mom. I have no way of knowing what difficulties he faced or what struggles he endured. I have no way of knowing how he came to such a terribly early end.

I just know that life is NOT FAIR.

Last night, after I came home from school and talked about the student who left us far too soon, I curled up in my bed and fell asleep.  An hour or so later, I was awakened by the sound of a text coming in on my phone.  I reached for my glasses, and propped myself up on an elbow.

“Mom!”, I read, “I got a free ticket to the Freshgrass show in town tonight! And your favorite band, the Duhks, is performing!”  It was a message from my son, a boy as tender and caring as my student. “Thanks for showing me such great tunes!”, my boy enthused. “Love you!”

Life is so unfair.

Today I went to my mom’s house.  We were planning to have lunch with our former neighbors, our dear friends from many years ago.  The mother of the family is one of my Mom’s oldest and dearest friends. Her daughter is one of mine.  My sister was joining us, and we were all geared up for a “ladies lunch” reunion.

It was wonderful. We laughed, we reminisced, we told funny stories from all of our lives.  We talked about the days when my friend and my sister and I were very young.  We remembered birthdays, and Halloweens and funny Christmas decorations. We laughed about our fixation on the Beatles, back in 1965, and our crushes on the local high school athletes.

We hugged and we smiled and we got a little teary.

On the long ride home, I thought about what it means to be a 58 year old woman who is blessed enough to have had lunch with a friend from first grade. I thought about what it means to have lived as long and as well as I have. To have a husband who is healthy and happy and still by my side. I thought about my children, so happy and whole and safe in lives that they love.

And I come back to my original thought.

It just isn’t fair.

Me, Joanne, and Liz. Three lucky women.

Me, Joanne, and Liz.
Three lucky women.

I am blessed. I am lucky.  I am not in any way deserving of the good fortune that continues to find me.

And I am sharply and sadly aware that others are not so lucky.  I don’t know why some of us are here for such a fleeting time.

I just know that it really, truly, isn’t fair.