Sunday, February 25, 2007

Saying goodbye

In the end, he seemed ready to go. When I looked into his face, there was a serenity and almost a wistful resignation, if dogs can be wistful. I just know this much, he was surrounded by love and kind words and warm touches. Children’s voices told him of their love and sadness at his leaving. Hannah wiped his eyes because she thought she saw tears; Sophie fed him ice cream from her hand and read to him, a book about puppies. She asked that we take some photos.

He rested his head on our laps throughout the day. I then took the girls out of the house when it was time for the vet to come. We were all exhausted, each in our own way, each with our own thoughts and memories. The girls fell asleep quickly in the car so I just started driving and driving the mountain roads, classical music playing, my charges safe and sound in the back seat. I was grateful for these precious moments of peace.

I thought of Jenn and David back at the house with the vet. I thought of my close cousin who passed away yesterday morning in her sleep after a long struggle of her own. She was so afraid of dogs. I smiled as I thought of the irony in her passing the same weekend. I imagined them getting acquainted, making a connection which they could not have done in real life.

He died in Jenn’s arms. He was, indeed, the best boy dog in all the world. I still feel his warm silky fur under my hand as I scratched his head today. We all got to say our goodbyes. In the grand scheme of things, you can’t ask for more than that.

We have all boarded the sad train now, companions on the journey.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


My daughter’s going through a personal crisis and I can’t help but feel guilty. It’s time for my dark little secret to be exposed. I let her down. Bike riding in the park. Many years ago. She was about ten years old and we were having a mother-daughter outing on the local bike trail. It was a sunny cheerful day but lots of muddy puddles from the previous day’s showers. Jenn was riding ahead and I warned her to be careful. Her tire caught a rut and she skidded and fell. I pulled alongside her and, instead of being caring and concerned, I got all huffy and angry.

She needed me to say “Ouch, I feel your pain” but my tone and look conveyed “How dare you fall off your bike? Not acceptable. Just pick yourself up.”

Her fall from the bike was my fall from grace.

After my initial anger and impatience, I saw that the kid really did bang her knee up and it was bleeding. Jenn was in tears and let me know that I wasn’t giving her what she needed, compassion not anger. To her credit, she called me on my shoddy behavior. I softened and promptly fell into mother mode, rummaging through my jeans for a tissue to wipe away some of the dirt and blood. We didn’t have any water bottles with us, but I did have a thermos of iced tea. Trying my best, I poured the iced tea on her scraped knee. She yelped and the tea probably stung but it let me clean the wound. Hey, you do what you gotta do.

That was then; this is now.

My daughter is falling. There is no room for my own agenda. She needs kindness and compassion. Her tears do not upset me. I feel her pain. I am there to lift her up.

I think this time I got it right.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jesus? Mary and Joseph

I have these two ceramic statues resting on the headboard of my bed. They connect me to a dear departed aunt who was really into that whole ceramics thing of the '50s and '60s. She passed away last month at almost 100 years old, leaving much more than her ceramics as a legacy - five generations of beautiful people.

Sophie seemed quite taken with the two little busts during her sleepover. The following theological discussion took place.

"Babci, is this Mary?"

"Yes, it is. She was the mother of Jesus. And this is Joseph (my mistake), her husband, who took care of Jesus."

Sophie, contemplating, "Weren't your mommy and daddy named Mary and Joseph?"

Babci, flattered that she remembered, "Yes, sweet pea, they were."

Sophie, bright smile, "So Mary and Joseph are Jesus's parents and yours too!"

We both laugh at her clear, uncluttered logic. I share that I always liked the fact that my parents were named Mary and Joseph. Then I realize I've misnamed the statue.

"The man is really Jesus, not Joseph."

"Oh no, let's keep him as Joseph, your daddy."

Maybe she's on to something. Having Jesus as a brother has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning.

I didn't tell her, but my daddy Joseph was a carpenter too.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Urgent attention

Every time I log into my computer, my security software displays a red screen marked “Urgent Attention” with a “Fix Now” box that I click on. I wait a minute or so for the internal homeostasis to occur and then a green screen appears telling me all is okay and I can proceed. This is virtual reality. If real life were only that simple ….

My daughter is hurting.

There is no quick fix, no easy solution. She is in a lot of pain and I am helpless to make it better. I want to take her in my arms and slap a band aid on an open wound and kiss it all away. “Open wounds bleed profusely.” She read this once to me when she was only four or five years old. Even at that young age, words were important to her. She would find books and attempt to read whatever presented itself. The “open wounds” came straight from a Red Cross training manual lying on the coffee table. She looked so stricken as I tried to explain to her that, if she ever cut her scalp she shouldn’t be frightened, the bleeding would stop and she would survive. That I could do – explain and reassure. She believed and trusted in me.

She is no longer a little girl; she is an adult woman with little girls of her own. She is feeling sad and vulnerable and shaky. I am thankful that I decided to move nearby. In the grand scheme of things, I am just where I need to be these days. I can let the dogs out, feed the girls, tell bedtime stories and pick up the slack for both daughter and son-in-law. I can provide a buffer but I can’t resolve the pain. I can’t make it better. This is a midlife, closed wound kind of thing. It requires patience and rest and understanding. And great courage. I see a lot of that in her right now.

Through these difficult days, I watch and listen and learn more about who my daughter really is. The person I see is struggling with her demons but finding ways to do with her little girls what I did for her so many years ago – explain and reassure. The context is different. There are no open wounds to discuss. She is not bleeding profusely, not literally, but tears can be as copious as blood. She takes them in her arms and gently tells them that they are not the reason that mommy is sad. They are so loved.

As is she.

I remember the Red Cross instructions. Do not panic. Apply steady pressure. The bleeding will stop. Survival.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Tea for Two

Sophie had her first sleepover at my house last night. She packed her own bag, remembering her toothbrush and floss (father's child) and favorite blanket, snuggle pet and pillow. She put three books in her night bag but I barely read through one, The Littlest Angel, while she nodded off next to me on my bed. It was fun to finally have her sleep over and share private time the same way another granddaughter and grandmom did over 30 years ago.

Because of all the snow, I didn't pick her up in a car. Instead, I walked up to get her and we walked back down the snowy streets, looking for stars in the dark still night and watching our breaths form whispy clouds as we talked. There we were, two eskimos, bundled up and holding hands. The simplest things take on new meaning when you share them with a child.

She spied my seashells in the bedroom and I told her to choose the shells she'd like to add to her own collection. She had to examine each one closely and decide if the color, size and texture fit the bill. I had to find a metal box and by the time she left there were many new treasures in her possession.

Awaking from a good night's sleep, she worried that she disturbed me in bed. Did she roll over and wake me up? Would I have her back? I told her she was a perfect guest and sound sleeper, except for a brief giggle in the middle of the night which probably came from a happy dream. Eyebrows rose.

"But I didn't dream last night!"

"Maybe you just don't remember."

"At least I don't walk in my sleep. That could be dangerous."

She liked that I kept reading The Littlest Angel aloud even after she fell asleep. Yes, I finished the story. The littlest angel had a box of treasures too. The illustrations in the storybook reminded me of another little angel, a boy named Buddy who lived in my house and died in the month of February when he was only 3-4 years old. He belonged to the family whose history is a part of Jenn's house, Mr. Pipe and Mrs. Kitchen's domain. This was their little grandson. How odd that I found a house with a connection to the ghosts in my daughter's house. Sophie knows all about the Richmond ghosts, has even visited the family plots with her mom. She's also big on "Mother Mary", my dear mom, whom she never knew. She knows, though, that she was named after her - Sophia Mary Rose.

This morning I reach for an old tablecloth (vintage: depression era, my mom's) and throw it on the dining room table, then find my mom's tea cups so Sophie and I can have tea. I tell her that we're drinking from Mother Mary's cups. Sophie likes the white-and-silver pattern. She tells me that staying over was fun and can she do it again? She thinks that Mother Mary tickled her during the night.

I realize that sleepovers are not just for the youngsters. Hearing her sweet voice, watching her delight in sharing my bed and treasures, sipping tea with milk and sugar ("the way Mother Mary used to make it for mommy") all imprint themselves on my tired spirit.

It's a refreshing break from a stressful week - just my cup of tea!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


I hear the snow blowers rumbling outside my windows, a return visit from earlier this afternoon. The snow has come as predicted and icy snowflakes are still cascading down in windy gusts. I see my car almost buried in the parking lot. Night has come and we are still expecting several more hours (and inches) of snowfall.

I wonder if there will be another school holiday tomorrow. Or are these New Englanders such a hardy breed that all the plows will push and shove the snow away from the main highways and school buses will be on their merry way by sunrise? Bummer. Today was much too windy to enjoy the snow; tomorrow will be a great time to play.

This is my first winter in the mountains and the first major snowstorm of the season. I’m hibernating in warm robe and enjoying the storm from a distance. Tomorrow will be time enough to open the door and see what Mother Nature has left behind. To get in the spirit, I’ll post a picture from last year’s winter in Pennsylvania while waiting for this storm in Massachusetts to blow past.

I’m in-between my old life and my new.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Let the rest of the world go by

I have been spending a lot of time over my daughter’s lately, helping put the girls to bed and doing the usual grandmotherly schtick. Sometimes I think I see glimpses of myself in both girls – a fleeting gesture or facial expression. Of course, there’s much of their own mommy and daddy in them, but every once and awhile I see myself as a child. At least I think I do.

I decide to put my memories to the test tonight. I find an old videotape spliced together by a much loved second cousin who seemed like my kid brother. Ray and I grew up together in a large, closely knit Polish-American family. His dad started taking home movies in the late 1940s on those big 16mm reels. I can still remember the rack of bright lights which made it almost painful. My dad, especially, would usually make a fuss about posing for the camera because of the glare. Yet, when I watch this almost forgotten video of christenings, birthdays, first communions, vacations and proms, I am so glad that dad managed to stay in the room when the camera came on and sometimes became the comedian and life of the party that he often was.

Some of the footage is grainy and faded but it holds the key to my past. My family tree is onscreen with all its cast of characters, most deceased (including Ray who would now have been a grandfather himself). I watch, intrigued and hungry for the moments when my immediate family members are shown – my mother with her megawatt smile, my dad, much thinner at that time and still smoking his cigars, my grandmother sitting playfully on my dad’s lap, the trio of bachelor brothers who were part of the family. I smile at Ray’s grandparents who always seemed so welcoming and warm. I remember the smell of shoe leather and the whine of machinery in my uncle’s shoemaker shop at the front of the house. I see the many little cousins (some of whom would grow up into addictive, destructive lifestyles), the cousins who remained close and those who drifted apart. I wonder what happened to a cousin who was once like a sister to me. I look at a young, happy couple who are still alive, the husband now taking care of his wife who is slowly dying of Parkinson’s. Who he was then is who he is now. He is a sweet and good man. It is so hard to realize that the boyish-looking man on the screen is now over 80 years old and has probably been married almost sixty years.

There are scenes of my sixth birthday, hair dark like Sophie’s, quite serious minded (also like Sophie), opening gifts surrounded by this sea of cousins and family friends - filmed in the house where I grew up. I watch great footage of my parents’ surprise silver-wedding anniversary at my uncle’s bungalow in Jersey - my dad spoofing for the camera and later dancing a polka with my mom, my mom swigging a shot of liquor (totally out of character).

I see the faces, the many players and companions of my childhood years. I notice moments of interaction among them that remind me vividly of who they were, how they behaved. There is a timelessness to the experience. I recognize the tablecloth in my aunt’s dining room, laugh at the tiara and prom gown which will make me look like a Barbie Princess to Sophie and Hannah when I share this videotape with them.

There is one other video, misplaced at the moment, which holds early scenes of my daughter and son, spliced together from 1970s’ home movies. I am so hoping it is safely stored in Jenn’s basement. I plan to edit both these videotapes (actually find a professional to do the job for me) and transfer to dvd/cd storage for the kids and the grandkids.

The memories evoked are visceral. The images on the screen trigger feelings of how playful or composed or funny a person was. They are all as I remembered them. The family comedians are there; the quiet ones are there; the main and supportive cast are all there – foreground and background. These are the people who helped to shape me, the folks who held me and teased me and scolded and loved me. If it takes a village, this is my village.

I remember that I have several phonograph records cut in the 1930s and ‘40s of my dad on his banjo, my uncle on his accordion, my entire family at my own christening singing “Let the Rest of the World Go By” as another beloved cousin was about to lose his life on a WWII battlefield. There are also audiotapes of the 1960s with me on organ and accordion, often accompanied by my dad on guitar and my mom and aunt singing. I must find a way to copy this stuff too just like the old family movies.

I see them all tonight and I hear them in my mind. Their laughter, their music, their voices are almost within reach.

I am six-years old again. For just one cold winter’s night, it’s a very warm place to be.