On Needing Mama

Boyo is teething.  *Deep breath.*  A classic over acheiver in the making, he’s seems to be getting them all at once.  He’s started off with two at once on the bottom, then another and now it appears both upper teeth and maybe a fourth bottom tooth are coming in as well.  He is, in a word, miserable.  But that really sad kind of miserable where you can see all the sunshiny smiley sugar just wanting to burst out of him, but then he remembers his face hurts, like really bad, and oh, is that Mama?  Because yeah, I sure do want Mama.  And now that I see her, only Mama will do.

There is such a bewitching duality to having a clingy baby.  On the one hand, it makes it a real challenge to get anything done.  In addition to taking full-time care of my boy, I also have a work-from-home job and a work-on-home duty, so Boyo’s teething neediness means, among other things, that the laundry is piling up and — sniff — ew, is that me?  Yeah, y’all.  That’s me.  So, I give myself a whore’s bath, (tits and pits; ass and sass) throw a load of essentials (undies, mostly) in a quick cycle, and head back to my mewling little wretch.  I walk up to him and even as the fresh tears leak down his cheeks, his hands go up, reaching for me, and the sweet babble of “Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-” starts bubbling on his lips and even though I know he’s not really saying “Mama” he really is because here I am and I am what he wants, what he needs, and only I will do.  That is a truly, deeply, spectacularly wonderful feeling.

I know how he feels.  These days, I miss my mother so much, I almost feel raisinated.  Like the juicy grape of having my shit together is getting too much sun and not enough water and I am shriveling.  One of the greatest blessings in my life is my relationship with my Mama.  It’s not perfect, but it is round and rich, deep and distinctly ours.  Mama knows me in a way nobody else on the planet does, not my best friends, not my husband, not anyone.  When I was a little girl, struggling with with my parents’ divorce and the achingly terrible reality of having to split time between two very different households, my Mama told me that there was an invisible, unbreakable golden thread that connected her heart to mine.  She taught me to name the feeling of being lost without her as the simple tug of that golden thread; that the very act of missing each other was part of how we stayed connected.  These days it feels like the tug of that golden thread is gonna yank my heart right out, I miss her so.

I haven’t seen her since April, in the midst of The Dark Days, and so very much has happened since then.  After a year of working retail to make ends meet, my husband (I’ll call him Daddyo from now on) got a job in academia.  In the span of six weeks, we flew down to Florida to find a place to live, we said goodbye to the friends and family that had made Massachusetts home, we packed up our whole lives, drove across country and spent every dime we had settling into a brand spanking new life, full of opportunities, but empty of anything or anyone familiar.  Daddyo dove face first into a new job, new responsibilities, new expectations, and the new reality of having to earn the opportunity to make his one year appointment a permanent gig.  We’ve unpacked our new home, hosted both of my in-laws in two different visits, forged a relationship with a new pediatrician and found the local versions of those two bastions of domestic life:  the grocery store and Target.  Also in that time, my dad (my step-dad, really, but really, my dad) had heart surgery and my grandmother died.  It’s been a hell of a summer.  And in all that time, I’ve not once rested my head on my mother’s shoulder.  Brutal.

That all changes this weekend.  Friday starts a twelve day stretch of “me and you, kid” time.  Daddyo is going out of town for a conference and Mama is coming to help out.  I cannot properly express how profoundly excited I am to see her.  I feel fresh tears on my cheeks as my hands go up, reaching for her, and the sweet babble of “Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-” bubbles on my lips.  Every beat of my heart is saying “Mama” because she is headed this way soon and she is what I want, what I need, and only she will do.   And that is a truly, deeply, spectacularly wonderful feeling.

I hope my boy never stops needing me.  I know our relationship will (and must) change as he gets older.  But I hope resting his head on my shoulder is something that always makes him feel better.  I hope we have the kind of relationship that renews and recharges us both.  I hope spending time together makes him feel closer to whole.  I hope he believes in the golden thread as thoroughly as I do.

If I’m half the mother to him as mine is to me, he will.

Mama and me.  <3

Mama and me. Christmas 1978 is my best guess.  Am I three months old or 15 months old?  I’m so bad at that.



Home: No Shoes, No Shirt, No Worries

The other day I took my sweet boy out for a photo shoot.  The week before we had found a pretty little patch on the nearby hospital grounds.  It was the Children’s Memorial Garden, a simple spot with unshowy flowers, plain white benches, and a lovely pond-side view.  It’s  a pensive nook adorned with the memorial plaques celebrating the beautiful lives of children lost far too soon.  It’s a place where death is in the abstract, but the quiet hum of life going on whispers its harsh but important message.  I spoke in hushed tones to Boyo, thanking him for being healthy, hale, and here.  I asked him to be careful and conscientious with his life, and to stay with me for absolutely ever.  Or, at least, as close to absolutely ever as he possibly could.  I sent love and light to the parents of these lost souls and asked them to send love and light back to my boy, in the names of their sons and daughters.  I prayed the prayer that every parent prays, “Please protect my child.”

As I took out my camera and snapped some shots of my beloved boy, my mood turned from solemn to celebratory.  We had had a good (if not yet entirely unbroken) night of sleep, it was a gorgeous day, and we were here, together, passing the time under a canopy of trees I couldn’t name.  I had dressed my boy in a green collared onesie, tan corduroy pants embroidered with golden-crowned frogs, and his grey newsboy cap which, since our grocery store trip two days before, held a new magnetism of meaning.  He looked cute as a bug’s ear, y’all.

He was also probably hot as balls.  It’s the coolest it’s been since we moved here, but the October Florida sun is still powerfully strong.  By the time we got home (after a walk of just over a mile), I was drenched in sweat.  I had covered Boyo’s stroller with a muslin blanket to provide shade, but at the cost of even a breath of breeze.  He was asleep when we got home, but I was so uncomfortably hot that I just couldn’t stand the idea of leaving him a sweaty, sticky, sleeping mess.  (The equal but opposite mandate of my thin-blooded mother, “I’m freezing!  Go put a sweater on!”) So I peeled my shirt and pants off, scooped him up and took him to his room where I promptly stripped him down and stood in front of the fan, both of us in our skivvies, while we cooled down.  When, a short time later, I saw the the pile of discarded clothes not three feet from our front door, I laughed to myself thinking, “Boy, I sure don’t fuck around in getting comfortable once I’m home.”

I grew up in a home that was welcoming and beautiful and functional and organized, but mostly, comfortable.  I have tried to emulate that cocoon of comfort in every home I’ve built for myself since I left for college.  Home is where I don’t have to wear a bra or shoes or even pants.  I don’t have to suffer through an itch that’s not acceptable to scratch; I can just scratch my bits as needed.  I don’t have to answer to anyone.  I don’t have to suck in my stomach or stand up straight or wear makeup.  I can wear soft pants and shelf-bra camisoles and hoodies and soft white socks.   I prefer glasses to contacts, hair up to hair done, flip flops to high heels and chapstick to lipstick.  I choose all those things when I’m home. (Although I don’t do high heels at all anymore.  If your feet hurt, your heart hurts.) Tim Gunn once said you know your tailored clothes fit correctly if they are slightly uncomfortable.  Now, I damn near worship Tim Gunn, but eff that noise.  Pour Mama glass of wine while she takes of her bra.  In the kitchen.  Without removing her shirt.  (You know the move!)

My living room chairs are worn out, slip covered hand-me-downs but they are super comfy.  I spend money on high thread count sheets because I would rather sigh the sigh of the utterly contented when I get into bed than have fancy shoes or lots of earrings or the latest and greatest gadget.  My living room says, “Come hang out!”  My bedroom says, “Sweet dreams!” My kitchen says, “Let’s feed this beautiful family!”  Everything about my home says, “Come in, have a cold drink, then sit and chat for awhile.  Pants are optional.”

My home is my soft place to fall, and I have feathered our nest to catch us all.  My home is my sanctuary, so I want my family and anyone else who enters to feel safe here, too.  Home is where we hang our hats, rest our heads, and heal our hearts.   The world can be cold and cruel.   Home must be warm and welcoming.  The world is a place to mourn lost children.  Home is a place to be found again.


To all the sleeping children and the heavy hearts of their mourning families.

To all the sleeping children and the heavy hearts of their mourning families.



What a Difference a Hat Makes

These past few days I have been cloaked in grief.  I didn’t expect my grandmother’s death to hit me quite so hard.  I thought I had such a good grip on the very logical, very healthy, very Irish perspective of “Death is just a part of Life” that it wouldn’t be long until my heavy heart could catch up with my clever head.  Maybe it hasn’t been that long, really, but I am still rather reeling from the loss.  It gets easier every day until the day comes when it isn’t easy at all.  But the sun always, always sets on the hard days, and always, always rises again on a day that has the potential for being better.  In that way, Life is just a part of Death.

Yeah, some days I’ve got it all figured out.  And other days, I need a little help.  Yesterday, my bright and beautiful boy was my rising sun.  It was something so simple, as day-brighteners often are.  It was just a trip to the grocery store.

I justify not always dressing my drooly/slobbery/barfy little stain magnet when we’re at home by drawing a heavy line at his always being dressed when we go out among the English.  Yesterday, I put him in a simple short sleeved, red and blue striped, grey accented onesie.  On a whim I grabbed his little grey newsboy cap.  I, of course, thought he looked absolutely adorable, but guess what?  I think he’s cute when all he’s wearing are carrots and peas.  I was unprepared for the red carpet that appeared beneath our grocery cart.

This kid was a massive hit!  It took us five mintues just to get in the opening-closing-opening-closing doors because every single grandma and grandpa in the front entry stopped to admire him. The Deli Dames damn near lost their minds.  It took me fifteen minutes to get my cold cuts for the week because the gal who was helping us literally kept calling the other ladies over to look at Boyo.  Then she stopped the customers who were walking by with a “Don’t walk by that baby!  Get your share of the cute!” One call over begat another and pretty soon, we had a Nana and PopPoparazzi surrounding us!

As we walked through produce, we encountered a grouch.  She was clearly agitated by the fact that her path to the zucchini was blocked by other shoppers.  The “harumph” never left her face or her voice when she spotted us and said, “Cute. It’s the hat.”

I was picking out a ham steak in the meat section when I heard the microphoned voice of the cooking demonstration lady calling, “Oh my goodness, look at that baby!  With the hat!  Oh, look!” I would have guessed that taco seasoning really can’t hold a candle to my boy’s incandescence, but it sure was pretty awesome to have announced proof.

I swear I am not making it up when I say that on every single aisle, someone, usually an older gal, but also men, young women, store employees, and even a teenager stopped to remark on how adorable my hastily and serendipitously dressed little man was.  We were the celebrities in the cereal aisle, the stars of the seafood department, and the famous faces in Frozen Foods.  We were showered with attention and praise at literally every turn.  My cheeks hurt from grinning like a fool.  It felt fantastic!

I missed introducing my son to my grandmother by three weeks.  That fact is a heavy stone in my pocket.  I take great comfort in knowing (thanks to my mother and my aunt) that even toward the end when my grandmother couldn’t remember anything, she always asked about my boy by name.  If I were a more mystical being, I would have said that maybe my beloved grandmother had a hand in enveloping us in grandparental admiration and attention yesterday.  Maybe it was her way of telling me, “I see him.  I see you.  And I am proud of you both.”

Of course, for that to be true, it would mean that dying completely changes your personality.  My grandmother was a lot of things, but maudlin and sentimental she most certainly was not.  That’s what the living do, though.  They hold on to their dead, seeing and hearing and feeling them until they are ready to let them go.  I guess I’m not ready yet.  Because yesterday, I swear, she went grocery shopping with us.

Yesterday, I unknowingly exchanged my cloak of grief for a little boy’s newsboy cap.

What a difference a hat makes!

I mean, is it any wonder, really?  Look at this effing kid!

I mean, is it any wonder, really? Look at this effing kid!


What Troy Dyer Knew

Remember the scene in Reality Bites when Troy, Vicki, and Sammy are hanging out watching One Day at a Time? Troy says, “If I could bottle the sexual tension between Bonnie Franklin and a Schneider, I could solve the energy crisis.”  A bogarted can, a whole pot of poinsettias, and a gas station dinner later, the energy crisis still lingers.  Well, if I could bottle the zing-buzz-thrill of having a fundamental need met, then I could give Bonnie Franklin and Schneider a run for their money.  And I’m not even talking about sex.

I’m talking about having some time by myself.

I need alone time.  Maybe it’s having grown up in a big Irishy-Jewishy family where if your mouth isn’t stuffed with homemade goodies, it’s yapping on and on about something, rendering quiet time something of a precious commodity.  Maybe it’s genetic, because my mother tells me that when I was little, if she found herself with some alone time, she would unplug the fridge so that not even the whirring of the motor would interrupt her reverie.  Or maybe it’s just that I am a pretty engaged person and I give a lot of myself especially socially.  Whatever the reason, for me, time alone is exceedingly important in keeping the crazies away.

So, a couple of weekends ago when my husband recognized the crazies starting to party in my eyes, he asked, “What do you need?”  I’m not sure he even got to the end of the question when I said, “I want to go to the movies.  Alone.” (One of the really spectacular things about my marriage is that all it takes is “I need” and that need is met.  I really lucked out in the husband department.) I got to spend some time alone and as soon as I settled into that dark (and nearly empty – SCORE!) theater, I could feel the crazies retreating back to their lair.

My mother always told me that the first step toward getting something is wanting it.  Sometimes, in the hurricane force winds of parental chaos, it’s hard to discern what it is we really want.  Sometimes, in the destructive riptide of parental guilt, it’s hard to admit that we have wants at all or that those wants are actually needs.  To deny a basic need, whatever it may be, is to ignore our very self, the one being on this earth that we are 100% responsible for.  As I detailed in The Oxygen Mask Theory, putting ourselves first, while sometimes a challenge, is the greatest tool we have in building a good parenting model.  Let us release ourselves from the quagmire of guilt and unrealistic expectations and give ourselves the chance to recharge, renew, restock the cupboards of our strength with whatever it takes to do so.  Let us be grateful for pedicures, shopping trips, a cocktail with the girls, bike rides, naps, weekends away, the chance to read – oh sweet Jesus – a book that is not about giving any kind of animal a snack, and just being completely alone.  They are the conduits to sanity.  Let us not consider them anything less.

Perhaps most importantly, let us also release our husbands, wives, partners, and support systems from the hangman’s noose of silent expectations.  Let’s don’t expect anyone to be mind readers.  To think, “If my husband really knows and loves me, he would just offer [what I want/need] without my having to ask for it” is to strike him out without letting him have an at-bat.  Let’s live out loud, shall we?  Let us ask of ourselves before we ask of others.  Let us know ourselves better, listen to ourselves more carefully, fulfill ourselves more frequently, indulge ourselves less guiltily, and accept ourselves, our needs, and our wants more readily.

And let us always remember that sometimes all it takes is “a couple smokes, a cup of coffee, and a little conversation.  You and me and five bucks.”

Here's something weird.  In searching for an image of this scene, the only pics I found were flipped.  In the movie, Troy's on the other side of Lelaina.  Still hot, though. :-)

Here’s something weird. In searching for an image of this scene, the only pics I found were flipped. In the movie, Troy’s on the other side of Lelaina. Still hot, though. 🙂

The Truth About Oldie

Before my grandfather died thirty-ish years ago, he told my grandmother that when she died, he would meet her in the nebula of Orion and would take her the rest of the way to Heaven from there.  Two nights ago, he did just that.  Surrounded by four of her children, with the fifth on the phone, my Oldie died and flew to the stars.

I know it was coming.  I know it was time.  I know she was so curious to “see what was on the other side.”  I know she was tired.  Tired of living, tired of dying, tired of missing her husband.  I know it’s a blessing for her, for all of us, especially for my mother, who took such brilliant, loving, quotidian care of her.  I just wish the steadfast logic of my beloved grandmother’s death being a good thing had any effect at all at on the wellspring of sadness that has dampened my heart and my cheeks.

Grief is a harsh task masker.  It will not be ignored.  You try to turn your back on grief and it will rise up, gather strength, and knock you on your ass whenever it goddamn feels like it.  The only tool we have against grief is to surrender to it, feel it in its entirety, deflate it from the inside.  And so, as I mourn my heavy loss, I am taking out my memories, thumbing their well worn, dog-eared pages, and remembering some of the lessons my Oldie taught me.

You don’t have to deal with something you hate.  Get rid of it.   Oldie was staying with me while my folks were out of town the day I brought home my 4th grade school pictures.  I was terribly upset. I had a mouth full of metal, a face full of pimples and (O! The horror!) my hair was parted down the middle!  She tried to console me, told me it wasn’t that bad, that braces were fixing my teeth, that my skin wouldn’t always be turbulent, who the hell cared where my hair was parted.  None of it worked.  So she pulled out a pot, filled it with water, took out all the spices and said, “Boil ’em up.”  We spent a half hour, the two of us, adding a pinch of oregano, a soupçon of gravy master until the offending image was gone and all that was left was a blank page.

She taught me that when faced with something abhorrent, try a different perspective.  But if that didn’t work, then get rid of the damn thing.

They’re just boobies.  When I was about twelve years old, Oldie was again filling in for my folks.  I had a nasty chest cold.  Oldie tucked me into bed, grabbed the Vicks Vapo-Rub and sat down beside me, waiting for me to lift my nightie so she could apply it.  I hesitated, embarrassed to expose myself to my grandmother.  She said, “Come on, they’re just boobies.  I’ve seen ’em.”  Somehow, her brusqueness broke through to me in a way that sympathetic understanding might not have.

She taught me that sometimes we must make ourselves vulnerable in order to receive the comfort we crave.

The magic words.  I was in my early twenties when my grandmother called me over to her house to help her unstick a drawer.  I thought it was cute that my “poor old widowed grandmother” (as she like to call herself when she wanted me to do something for her) couldn’t get a drawer open and I felt kinda puffed up that I would be able to come to her rescue with little effort.  Well, forty-five minutes later, you think I had made any progress?  Yeah, no.

Me:  Oldie, I can’t get the thing open, either!

Oldie:  Did you say the magic words?  You can’t give up until you’ve tried the magic words.

Me:  What, abracadabra?  Open sesame?

Oldie:  No. [Smirk.]  Shit, shit, SHIT!

She taught me that I really do come from a long line of potty mouths, and that spicy language is sometimes the best way to get your point across.

You have to have a sense of humor about aging.  I used to call my grandmother “Grandma.”  All of my younger cousins do.  But on her 75th birthday, I teased that she looked fantastic for two hundred years old.  She stuck out her tongue, thumbed her nose at me and said, “Smart ass.” The spark in her eye and the wink in her tone told me we had just found a game that was gonna last for the rest of her life.  I started calling her “Oldie.”  She started signing cards and letters that way, too.  But just to me.  When my younger cousin once snidely called her Oldie, she snapped, “Don’t you dare.  Only your cousin can call me that.” I think she trusted that there was not an ounce of disrespect in my nickname for her.  Just the teasing love of a granddaughter who adored her.

Every Thanksgiving was the Old Folks’ Home test.  As long as she could make the gravy, she didn’t have to go in the home.  She always muttered about smart-mouth kids, but every single year, she called me to the stove for the taste test.  When she got the thumbs up she’d declare, “Stick that in your Old Folks’ Home!”

As she got older, her standard answer for “How you doin’, Oldie?” was “Not bad for an old dame.”  And she often said even when the chips are down, “You gotta keep on living.  Otherwise, they stick you in a hole a throw dirt in your face.”  She even had a sense of humor about her memory loss.  Toward the end, many a conversation happened like this:

Me: “I told you yesterday, remember?”

Oldie: “Oh, well, I have a very fine Forgettery, you know.  I must have put it there.”

She taught me that to fear or even lament aging is ridiculous.  It’s gonna happen, there’s no way around it.  Embrace it.  Surrender to it.  Laugh at it.  That’s the thing about life:  Nobody makes it out alive.  Life is better when you don’t rage against the inevitable.

There’s nothing like a dirty joke.  Oh, how my Oldie loved a dirty joke.  Not filthy, but dirty.  There’s a fine line, but I knew where it was and I could tickle her funny bone with any one of a hundred I had collected over the years, knowing she would love them.  As she started to get dotty, I would just stick to the four or five that made her laugh the hardest, because every time I saw her, they’d be new to her. (Thanks, Forgettery!)

Her favorite:

For the longest time, I never wore no underwear.  Drove my boyfriend Ernie nuts!  One day I got a cold and headed to the doctor.  Unbeknownst to me, Ernie called the doctor and told him, “Doc!  Tell Soph that the reason she’s sick is because she don’t wear no underwear.”  So I get to the doctor’s office.  He looks down my throat and says, “Soph!  You ain’t wearin’ no underwear!”  I says to him, “Doc! You can look down my throat and see I ain’t wearin’ no underwear??  Do me a favor.  Look up my ass and tell me if my hat’s on straight!”

She taught me that old people are just old young people.  And they love to laugh.

In the end, it’s just going home.  After many years, Oldie started wearing her wedding rings again.  She’d taken them off when Grandpa died declaring, in her classic unsentimental way,  “I’m not married anymore.  I promised til death do us part.”  When I asked her why the about-face, she said that Grandpa had visited her in a dream and said, “What’s the matter, Dearie?  You don’t want to be married to me anymore?”  She was excited to see him again, to be with him and with her God.  Her strong Catholic faith and a sixty-five year old love for her husband, whom she knew was waiting for her, alleviated any fear about dying.  She knew where she was going and was eager to get there.

I am honored to have known her, to have loved and been loved by her, to have teased and been teased by her.  She will live on in my heart, in my memory, and in the scintilla of my favorite constellation.    

Here’s to you, Oldie!  Orion shines brighter for having known you.  And so do I.

May the road rise up to meet you, Oldie.  I love you very much.

May the road rise up to meet you, Oldie. I love you very much.



AMKO  March 18, 1921 - September 29, 2013

March 18, 1921 – September 29, 2013


This post is dedicated to the staff of St. Dominc’s Village in Houston, TX.   They treated my grandmother with the kindness, dignity, and respect she deserved.  They gave my mother endless comfort and worked tirelessly to help her maintain my grandmother’s finances and care.

For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’  Matthew 25: 35-40