When old folks argue

Yesterday we had an experience that has me thinking.

Thinking in a good way, but also thinking in a kind of serious way.

It was a pretty typical weekend day for us. We had invited some guests to come for dinner and spend the afternoon with us.

Not “guests” as in “people you need to impress” but “guests” as in “family, people who get it, people you just really want to spend your day with.”

All would have been well as we prepared to make dinner for two young couples with little kids if only Nonni here hadn’t come down with a nasty bout of asthmatic bronchitis.

Nonni woke up yesterday feeling (as my mom used to say), “Like something the cat dragged in.” My husband, also known as “the sweetest man in the world,” let me sleep late while he dealt with our old hound and our new puppy. He even took said puppy to the vet.

But when it was time to make dinner, I asked him for help. This is an unusual request from an over functioning, over controlling Italian woman, but I did. I asked for help.

Then company arrived. Our beloved young folks, with babies in arms, arrived as planned. And “Papa” went straight into Grandfather Host mode. He was charming, hugging babies, pouring beer, chatting and laughing.

Meanwhile, Nonni was sauteeing and coughing in the kitchen.

Nonni was NOT amused.

Nonni was, in fact, crabby, cranky and slightly snarling.

Both young women asked how they could help.

All of the men stayed on the couch.

Finally, Nonni growled at Papa.

And here is the point of this post.

When a couple argues during a more than 40 year relationship, this is what it means.

It means that sometimes humans misunderstand each other. Even humans who love each other and want what is best for each other.

I remember, back in about 1980, every argument felt like the end of the relationship. Every time I lost my temper, every time my husband lost his, it felt like the end of the world. I tried so hard to always push down my irritation, swallow my needs, keep the boat from rocking.

But now that my one true love and I have come through graduate school, two separate careers, raising three children, falling head over heels in love with a grandchild, and even living with three different dogs….well.

Now I understand that when I’m mad at Paul, or when he’s mad at me, it means “I’m mad at you.”

It doesn’t mean “I hate your.” or “I want a divorce” or “You are a terrible person.”

What freedom.

The best part of getting older, maybe, is the realization that you can get really annoyed at the person you love, and still love them in the morning.


My honey and I, back in the day. At Dolly Copp Campground.

This Is Just Unfair

I mean, seriously.


How am I supposed to get anything done when I spend all day with this person:



I’m supposed to put her down and give her toys, then go do the freakin’ laundry?  I don’t think so.

This child is 8 months old.  By rights, she should basically still just be a little blob of babiness.   But, no.

She is a full on DIVA.

What am I supposed to do?

Every time I tell her, “Play by yourself for a bit. I’ll be right back,” she makes a face like this one:


Where are you GOING?

How can I walk away?

This is completely unfair.

I mean,  yes, sure. I agreed to watch the baby this year.  I did NOT agree to sit in a love soaked stupor 4o hours a week, looking like an idiot.

I did NOT agree to melt into a puddle every time this child smiled at me.  I didn’t think I would be giving up the basics, like going to the bathroom, or reading the news, or doing the dishes.

This is just NOT fair.

Look at that face.


Wait, watch this!!!!

You know you wouldn’t be able to walk away either.  Admit it.

So. Not. Fair.


Hearts and Broken Hearts

Sometimes I just want to roll back time.  Just back, back, back.

I have been in love with my husband since we were 17 years old. That’s 42 years.  Holy crow.

Sometimes I wish that I could wind back the movie reel of my life, and see Paul as I saw him so many years ago.  What did I think of him when I met him at the tender age of 12? Did I notice him at all on the first day of seventh grade?  Did he notice me?  What did we each see and feel when we became friends over the next few years? What exactly was it that made us begin to see each other differently, to fall in love? I think I know, but I wish I could go back.

I wish I could go back to see.

I wish I could wind the clock back, back, back.  Back to the time when my Dad was still alive.  Back to when he used to play with my children. Back to when I could hear him laugh. Back to the night when we ate cioppini together and laughed and slurped and dunked our bread into our dishes.


There are times when I wish I could roll it all back and back and back again.  Sometimes I miss my own childhood. I miss being the little girl who was so carefully taken care of. I would like to see my world through that girl’s eyes once again. I’d like to go back to the easy days.  When finding a little bag of Fritos in my lunch was the most exciting thing in a week.  When my biggest problem was the mess in my closet.

Back to the day when my siblings and I were a pack, like a bunch of puppies. When loving each other was effortless.  Back to when we could give each other “noogies” or “Indian Sunburns” and scream and cry, but be best friends again an hour later.

I wish I could roll it all back.  I wish I could go back to those days with the knowledge and the wisdom that I have now.  I would look at each of those people, my husband, my father, my big pack of brothers and sisters, and I would look each one in the eye and say, right out loud: “No matter what.  I will always, always love you.”



Guess What I Just Remembered ?



Who else  out there remembers racquetball?


If I’m correct, racquetball was one of those inexplicable fads that popular culture seems to experience every few years. Like oat bran.  Or leggings.

Something pops up somewhere, people decide its the cool new thing, and presto! Everyone is playing racquetball.

Back in the 80’s racquetball courts popped up everywhere, like dandilions in July. Every mall, every gym, every town had least one indoor racquetball court.  Whoopee!

I had my first racquetball experience around the around the age of 22, as I recall. I was still young and impressionable.  I believed all the people who said that the game was fun and exciting and great exercise.

I was in love! If my beloved wanted to buy us both racquets and very very hard rubber balls to hit with said racquets, I was all about it!

I was still idealistic. For some incomprehensible reason, I believed that even a person like me, a person who had once knocked herself in the nose with a softball bat while swinging at a pitch, a person this clumsy, could still achieve some level of athletic success.

What an idiot.

I remember coming home from work to our tiny apartment, eating dinner and then grabbing our racquets. We put on our short shorts (it was 1978), our high white athletic socks and our sneakers. And off we went. Lookin’ fine.

I remember that there were locker rooms where we could store our jackets or sweatshirts. I remember this because I’m pretty sure it was the first time outside of high school where I actually stepped into a locker room.  There were other women in there, and they all looked confident and sure of themselves.  Some of them even had on sweatbands.


I remember that the racquetball “court” was a cube made out of solid rubber.  I think even the floor and ceiling were rubber.

My voice sounded echoey in there, and I liked that part.  I think I even sang a little the first time Paul and I stepped into our cube.

That was the last part I ever enjoyed.

Because to this day I have no idea of how to play that stupid game.  All I recall is that we were supposed to smash the hard hard hard blue ball into the wall in front of us and then use our racquets to smash it back there again.  Of course, given that the cube was made of the same incredibly dense rubber as the terrible ball, it was almost impossible to know where the ball would go once you smacked it with your racquet.

Sometimes it hit the ceiling, sometimes the wall on the right, sometimes the left.  And sometimes it hit directly in front of your sweaty young face so that it careened back at you at the speed of light, leaving you helpless to deflect it with the tiny racquet in your hand.

The first time that happened, I discovered that I do have some athletic skill after all.  I let out a shriek that could have etched glass, dropped the racquet and hit the floor in less than a nanosecond.

For the remainder of the “game”, Paul scored points while I tried to stay alive. I guess it was good cardiovascular exercise, because I can tell you that my heart rate stayed way way up there the whole time.

We played quite a few times after that.  I never got any better at figuring it out, but I didn’t die either, so I guess it turned out well.

I was profoundly relieved when the next fad involved oat bran muffins.

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.



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.



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.”


Making lunch


I have never been one of those good wives who takes care of her man.

I don’t know how to sew on a button (I am NOT kidding. Stop laughing.)   I can iron, but only under duress (ie, a wedding).  I don’t iron Paul’s shirts.

I do make dinner, so I think I get some brownie points.

But I have friends who have been making breakfast for their hubbies since the wedding day.  Me? Not so much.

I figure that I married a perfectly capable and able man. He can make his own coffee and toast. Especially since I have been leaving the house before him for the past 20 plus years.

And I haven’t ever gotten into “making lunch”.

I mean, I guess when my oldest was little, I’d probably make sandwiches or soup or something.  But my kids have been packing their own lunches since they were in second grade.  I used to have a section of the cabinet marked “school snacks”.  They were supposed to pick what they wanted and put it into the lunchbox.

I figured that my job was done when I bought the stuff, right?


Now that the kids have all grown up and gone away, I find myself suddenly interested in making lunches.

I have been packing super healthy foods for myself for every school day. Kale shakes (no, I am NOT kidding), yogurt, veggie wraps.

So it wasn’t too much of a stretch for me to take on Paul’s lunch most nights.  I get out the wraps, the cold cuts, the cheese, the veggies, the mustard or french dressing, and I make the neatest, firmest, most packed wrap the world has ever seen.  I put it in his lunchbox, with some fruit and some juice and maybe a cookie or two.

And it is only once in a while that I ask myself, “What the hell?”


There seem to be some unexpected benefits to the proverbial “empty nest”.  And most of them are going to my husband.


Hanging up my “Good Mom” credentials

The world is full of really good Moms.

These are women who want their beloved children to be healthy, hearty and independent.

Sometimes I pretend to be one of those women.

This week, though, I was a really bad Mom.

The worst.

If word of my behavior gets out, I will no doubt be ordered to hand in my Good Mom credentials.   I am.  So.  Ashamed.

See, when my kids were little, I was so proud of myself of helping them to be independent. I bought them hampers and taught them how to do laundry when they were in the fifth grade. (Oh, OK.  This happened when my oldest child was outraged that I washed and dried her best sweater, turning it into the perfect doll outfit. Still….)  I had them choosing their own clothes by first grade, making their own lunches by third grade,  organizing their backpacks by fourth.

I was such. A. Good. Mom.

I let my little fledglings fly!  And I was so proud!

Until they all flew away.  And my nest was suddenly empty. Then my entire mindset changed.

All of a sudden, I wanted them to need me again.  You know, just for a little while!

Which brings me to this week.

My middle child, my golden boy, my smart and independent older son, had to have five teeth pulled at once.  Two of them were impacted wisdom teeth.  He was going to be in a lot of pain and under the influence of a lot of drugs.  I offered to help him, but fully expected him to decline.

My boy.......

My boy…….

This boy has been independent and self-reliant for quite a while now.  He doesn’t need his Mamma.

But to my great amazement, he accepted my offer!  He asked if I could come and take him to his oral surgeon and then bring him back home!  “Gee, OK!”, I said.

And this is where I became the worst mother ever.

Instead of feeling sorry that he had to endure such pain and discomfort, I became ridiculously happy to think of having him home for three days!  I bought pastina and yogurt and good ice cream! I made up his bed and cleaned up the bathroom.  I defrosted soup and bought extra mouthwash and got ready to nurse my injured boy back to full health.

I am a wicked bad and shameful mother.

And I have had such a great time with my baby boy for the past two days!

As soon as he finishes his home made mac n’ cheese and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, I will reform and repent and reject my sinful ways.

For now, though, I plan to make him a nice soft omelette and watch him carefully as he eats it.

I’ll turn in my Good Mom badge tomorrow.



Some women wear jewels because of their monetary worth.  They believe that there is an inherent value in displaying jewelry which carries a dollar value.

The more it costs, the more it should be shown.

I guess that’s the usual equation.

Only that equation doesn’t really work for me.  I am drawn to jewelry that has a whole different kind of value.

I wear my “Alex and Ani” bracelets pretty much every day.  I know, right? They are the latest trendy item.  For the first time in my entire 58 years of life, I am wearing something that’s actually in fashion.  Go figure.

But here’s the funny part: I am not wearing them because they are trendy. I’m not even wearing them because they are made of recycled materials and are therefore morally pure.  Nope.  I wear them for three reasons.  One: They feel good when I slide my fingers through the charms.  Two: I love the tinkling sound that they make then they slide against each other as I gesture with my arm toward the board.  These are pretty good reasons.  But most of all, I love my bracelets because Three: my family and friends have given them to me.  They seem to symbolize all of things I most value about myself, and I get to wear those virtues on my wrist. I have one that says, “Mother”, given to me by my children.  One that says, “Sister”, given to me by mine.  One that is an apple, to show that I am a teacher.  One special one that is the “Tree of life” to show that I am one who nurtures.

How cool is that?

I wear other jewelry, too, of course, but none of it is technically “valuable”.  I prize the tiny scallop shell that I put on a chain when was a high school student on an exchange program in Tunisia. It symbolizes youth, and daring and adventure. It symbolizes the beauty of the world beyond my boundaries.

I love, too, the silly ten dollar necklace of deep blue beads that I bought when my family was on vacation at “Typhoon Lagoon” in Disney.  It isn’t particularly beautiful, but I remember that all three of my kids were by my side when I chose it.  I remember that it came to represent the pleasure of doing something impractical, of embracing something that just seemed to capture the happiness of the moment.  In those early days of my parenting life, when money was so tight, it was an extreme indulgence to spend those dollars on a funny little necklace.  I didn’t realize that I would be pulling it out a dozen years later when I needed to remember those happy family times.

My special jewelry collection includes a necklace that my sons picked out on a college campus because its blues and greens made them think of me.  It includes an old piece of amber, given to me by a Russian immigrant in the early 1980’s as a thank you for helping her and her family to find a new life in the United States.

And my list of favorite jewelry also contains a bracelet of tiny porcelain beads that was given to me by my Auntie Jenny, my father’s sister.  Jenny was a favorite Aunt, a confidant, a special grown up “friend”.  She had never married, as the role of caretaker had fallen upon her when her mother died.  I knew her as the woman who stayed to take care of “Pappanonni”, but I also knew her as the Aunt who listened to the latest records, the Aunt who whispered swear words, the Aunt who let us stay up late to paint our fingernails.

One morning when my sister and I were visiting her, Auntie Jenny pulled out a box of her mother’s jewelry.  She gave me the bracelet of beautiful white beads, and told me that it had come from Italy, along with my Grandmother.

Every time I put it on my wrist, I feel the threads that bind me to my past, and I am grounded and secured.

The value of jewelry is in its ability to make us feel beautiful.  I feel that I am at my most beautiful when I am wearing those symbols that show me who I am.  I have the most to offer when I am wearing those little signs that mark me as the person I am most content to be.

If you put them all together, my most valuable pieces would barely be worth the cost of a sandwich.  But when you look at the value they carry, they are “beyond rubies”.



Let’s be friends

I spend most of my time surrounded by ten and eleven year old kids. So I know that to children, friendship is the key to happiness.

In the world of elementary school, few things are more painful than the sinking feeling that another child doesn’t like you.  Few things are more vital than the belief that the other kids accept you.

Theoretically, I earn my enormous salary for teaching math, reading, writing, science and history.

In reality, I pour at least half of my energy into helping children to navigate the stormy waters of childhood friendships.

Happy is the child who has at least one friend moving over to make room for him in the meeting circle.

I remember the pangs of those tender friendship troubles.  I remember trying to get up the courage to ask my “best friend” if she was starting to like someone else better than me. Oh, the desperate pain of that fear!

When I grew up, my friendship needs were mostly met by my family. I had my children and my husband, and every other relationship was secondary.  I was friendly with other mothers of young children, but those relationships centered around our kids.  I enjoyed the company of my work colleagues, but only while I was at work. Once I went home, my circle closed in around me, and I was happy.

But as I am learning every day now, life is a wonderful spiral, bringing us back again and again to what we once knew.  I am fifty eight years old, and my children are all grown up.  My circle is no longer a tight little ring; it has opened up and wrapped itself around so many people who increasingly mean everything to me.

Now I am an older lady.  I am a professional, a mother, a teacher.  I don’t really have to worry about having a place to sit at morning meeting.

But you know what is really cool?

I’m still thrilled when the people I like seem to like me back. I’m still excited when my friends want to come over to my house for dinner.  I still love laughing with people who understand my jokes, and eating good food with people who are happy to share a table.  I still get that little bubbly giddy feeling inside when I am invited to a party.

I’m all grown up, but I’m absolutely convinced that my little students have figured it all out.

“Friendship is the key to happiness.”

Thanks to all of my friends who came this weekend to remind Paul and I that we used to be sixteen, and that we can still be just as much fun as we were back then!