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Category Archives: Grandma

My dead grandma visits. Finally!

I am searching. Slowly, but purposefully, walking down a line of closed apartment doors that feel distantly familiar. I am also distracted; talking on the phone with my mother and trying to untangle plastic shopping bags twisted uncomfortably around my wrist when I reach the right door.

It is the only one open.

I recognize my aunt’s body moving around inside, hunched over, cleaning up. She sees me and brightens but quickly turns solemn. “There’s not much time,” she says. “We’re going now.”

I am trying to figure out what my aunt is talking about when I catch another person’s movement off to the side. “I’ve got to go mom,” I say and hear the touch of disappointment her voice gets whenever I have to hang up. “There’s not much time,” I repeat my aunt’s words, “I’ll call you back.”

I watch her come toward me; her red hair darker than I remember, thick and vibrant, piled high on her head, her makeup perfectly applied. She looks trim and ready to go out, dressed in a fashionable printed button down hanging long over a pair of pants. The smile on her narrow face broadens, revealing strong white teeth. “So good to bite you with,” she used to say before taking a little nibble from my arm, thigh or any bit of revealed skin. Why was she going now, I worried momentarily, with some vague feeling that all was not well. She didn’t look sick. She was beaming.

“My Alisee,” She greets warmly, the way she always has and reaches out to me. I stand on the outside of the doorway and lean in to hug her, my absolute joy overwhelming. Her body feels surprisingly small, but my happiness at seeing her face fills me with such emotion, such elation, that I give her slender body another squeeze and instantly explode into tears so strong I immediately wake up.

I lay in bed feeling her presence, wanting to go back to my dream in the worst way; closing my drowning eyes, trying to hold on to her image, her smile, her love that filled me, trying to continue a conversation that we didn’t even start. “My Alisee,” She had said and I replayed her warm, throaty voice over and over in my head like a lullaby. But there was no way I could go back to sleep or back to her now.

From the moment she died, I wished she’d come ‘visit’ me. Somewhat psychic in life, seeing dead people and knowing things before they happened, I trusted her when she threatened to haunt me. “Promise?” I’d reply and receive a small smack on my thigh.

It’s been over three years. Finally she has come but my aunt was right. There wasn’t enough time.

Don't be a stranger

Please come back. I have chocolate…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’ve got a minute, check out my new essay up on Kveller. Click here… It’s middle school angst -mine. 🙂

 

Pennies from Heaven, Diamonds from Grandma

My grandmother loved diamonds.

She loved all jewelry really and had an eye for interesting pieces, especially ones discovered at a tag or estate sale. I don’t think she ever bought a piece retail; haggling a good price made it even more valuable. A queen must have her jewels, even if she has to get them herself.

As she regally stirred the pot of her mouthwatering chicken soup, golden bangles lightly clanked together. When she bent down her perfectly coiffed swirl of red hair to speak with one of us grandkids, chains adorned with diamond pendants swiped past our noses. As she breezily blew on her cigarette, rings of smoke and glimmering gems danced through her manicured fingers.

And the day, decades later, when she rubbed my leg the way she always did in a circular motion that generally ended with a squeeze, her old diamond pinky ring nipped at my skin. “I want you to have this,” she said with great formality, opening a box holding a diamond ring I had never seen before.

“Grandma, I don’t want your things. You keep them,” I said, mesmerized by the shiny bauble that I couldn’t decide was the prettiest or the ugliest thing I had ever seen.

“You can’t take it with you,” She insisted.

My grandmother had been dying for about a decade. Every week she reminded me that her bags were packed and she was ready to kiss her old arse goodbye. For nine of those years, it was more cranky optimism than death that gripped her, but she was 90 now and visibly weakened. I didn’t want to think about that or that she was giving away things that had really mattered to her.

“I can wait,” I said stubbornly.

Her circular rub turned into a pinch. “Ow! Fine.” I took the ring and studied it. It was a flower of tiered diamonds, glamorous and gaudy, an object of another place and time. But who wanted it? I wanted her.

“It’s beautiful!” I exclaimed, “Thank you! I’ll wear it to all the baseball games to blind the players in the field.”

She smacked at me lightly. “It’s an old-fashioned cocktail ring. I got it from two sisters who came to me knowing I had an eye. They had no idea how much it was worth.”  Her eyes glinted as she remembered her coup, licking her lips in satisfaction, the same way she did before a bowl of chocolate ice cream or a plate of lobster Cantonese.

The value of the ring mattered little to me. I would never sell it. Nor did I need a fancy diamond to wear at the gym or on a playdate. Things like this weren’t important in my world. I barely even wore my engagement ring. The older I got, the more jewelry just seemed like money better spent in a 529 plan, a new fridge or even a family vacation.

But the value she placed on it mattered. Passing it on to me was like offering a piece of herself. ‘Remember me’ it glimmered; like her deep humor, wit and love somehow needed to be cemented with a stone.

She died not too long after, but that was years ago. Her face now smiles from frames on my shelves, my middle son still cuddles with a frayed stuffed cat she gave to him, and I proudly wear her ring every chance I get, just to keep a little flash of her sparkle in my day.

My grandmother loved diamonds. And I loved my grandmother.

 

Ain't nothin like the real thing baby

Ain’t nothin like the real thing baby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sick days, Blue days and Birthdays

I really want to write something right now but I think I may be getting sick. My throat is scratchy and I’m feeling so tired. No matter that I got up at 5:45am because the cat was crying loudly again at the foot of my bed.

She’s old, pushing 18, and it’s like every morning she’s announcing, “I’m still here!” I’d like to toss her across the room and throw her the hell over there, but instead I get up with a heavy sigh and pad downstairs alongside her. We are both a little slower and more creaky than we were just a few years ago.

I give her fresh food as she twists through my legs. This used to be no big deal, but now half the time I almost trip on her. My cat’s cat reflexes have also gone to the dogs and she is no longer adept at darting out of my way.  We are two clumsy old broads.

My throat really is sore and I grab a piece of cantaloupe from the fridge, hoping the juiciness will soothe it. It does for an eighth of a second and then I’m back where I started, but now I’m thinking I need some Advil. I know it’s bad to take on an empty stomach but it’s barely 6am and I can’t think of putting anything in there except my coffee, irritating or fruit, acidic.

I take another piece of cantaloupe, sip my coffee and consider it all while I rest my head on my desk instead of typing brilliant, entertaining prose like I’m supposed to be.

When I pick my head up it is 7am and my middle son is looming over me. He wants a morning hug, pancakes and to know whether he needs to wear his blue or white shirt for his baseball game later.

I check the calendar and confirm that it is in fact a blue day and then realize the date. July 10th.  And now I feel a little sicker. It is my grandmother’s birthday. She died two and a half years ago and would have been 93.

I know she’s hovering around, watching me, tsking when she sees my boys running outside without shoes, invisibly rubbing my hand in that circular comforting way that she had when I’m on the phone with my father, wishing she could send over some lobster Cantonese, fried rice and an egg roll because right now I know she wants to fatten me up.

She took such joy in life and in the challenge of life. She was a lawyer without a license, a psychologist without a degree. A lover of babies, a card shark, a chicken soup maker, a shoe thrower, a piece of work, a force to reckon with, a giver of jewels, words of wisdom and tough love; a matriarch, a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother.

From her first “Helloooeee” to her last “I love you more” and every affectionate “You rotten bitch” in between she captivated you with her commanding tone and raspy voice.

I wish I could do her justice but no one could.

I still hear her and think of her and wish she was here with me to enjoy my boys and tell me in person everything I’m doing wrong and how exactly I should be doing it. We would laugh over a bagel and lox, a good cup of coffee and lick our lips before we dove into our bowls of chocolate ice cream. We would talk for hours, but mostly I would listen, because she was a fascinating woman who led a fascinating life.

It’s July 10th and it’s a blue day. My throat hurts and now so does my heart.

Damn I miss this woman

Damn I miss this woman

The good old days

When my grandmother used to call and ask “What’s douching?” Her quirky way of asking what’s doing, I’d generally answer, “Nothing really, same old nonsense.” To which she’d reply, “Good. That’s how you want it.”

Often I argued. “Well, sure, if you enjoy changing poop diapers or chasing down a maniacal two year-old with a blue marker and the glint of crazy in his eye.”

“Best years of your life.” She’d scoff, “Goes by like a dream.”

“Or a nightmare.” I’d quip, to be funny and also because some days it was true.

“You’ll see.” She’d counsel knowingly, “You’re gonna miss it when it’s gone.”

Not that I’d admit it at the time, but in my heart I knew grandma was right. Each night looking down at my sweet sleeping babes, I mourned the loss of each passing day; each precious giggle and milestone now stored away in the picture and video folders on my computer.

But, of course, those wistful, reflective moments always seemed to happen when my beautiful little rats were sleeping.  Before that I was counting the minutes till bedtime; puffing out deep breaths while cleaning up a bowl of cheerios my toddler had flipped to the floor, or realizing the reason why my baby had just peed through his romper and all over me was because I had put the diaper on backwards.

I couldn’t help day dreaming at times about doing my private business in private without some small creature pushing the door open, crawling in and yelling, “Mama, I sit on your lap!”  Or simply about being back with adult people and feeling smart. And not mom smart like convincing my kid that he was safe by spraying a water bottle of “monster remover’ all over his room, or sensing before seeing that my child was about to fall off a chair he somehow climbed in the 3 seconds I turned away.

Not that I’d ever knock mom smarts. Where would we be without the forethought to pack an extra diaper or stash a lollypop in the bag for just the right moment? Up shits creek, that’s where, but still, I longed for a little adult appreciation.

Although I occasionally fantasized as I sleepwalked through my days after walking from bedroom to bedroom each night; from nursing a baby, straight to comforting a child with a scary dream back to the woken baby; in so far over my head that I couldn’t even see the surface, I knew I was living my dream. That this was it. These were the times of my life, working and playing up through the ranks of ‘mommy hood’; where the work could be grueling but the gifts were overflowing.

When else would I be needed so? When else would babies nuzzle in my neck? When else would I rock in the blissful solitude of 3am with my child sleep-nursing at my breast? When else could I skip out of the house with spit-up on my shirt, dried sweet potato in my hair singing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”, and happily enjoy an ice cream cone with my kids without dwelling on my non-existent exercise routine.

Those were the times to remember just as much as they were the times to survive. Where the most exciting thing in my day was staying awake to fall asleep watching a movie with my husband; a long hot uninterrupted show was the epitome of pleasure, and a night out with the girls left us all flush with wine and laughter and still home by ten.

Grandma knew those days would be the good old days. But honestly, these days are pretty good as well. There’s holding my breath as my boy strikes that last guy out; proudly signing a 100 on a test after torturous studying, negotiating whether to play Payday or Monopoly.  There’s catches on the lawn, water balloon fights and a growing communication and understanding between us. We’re a little older, a little wiser but we’re still living the crazy. It’s just different.

And sometimes when I see a sweet little one giggling and smeared in chocolate, or a baby making out with his mother’s cheek, I feel my heart squeeze and just for that moment I long for the good old days when my boys were little, nothing was ever new and grandma was still around to see it.

grandma & jack

She made the good old days better.

My grandma may be dead but she’s still inspiring

I’m sitting here waiting for inspiration to hit me. I’m ready inspiration, come and get me. But no, the only thing here with me is my cat, rubbing his head annoyingly against the top of the screen. I give him a little shove, but clearly, he doesn’t get it and pads even closer to me, intent on laying his body across my keyboard. As if I didn’t have enough obstacles.

Uh, move it buddy.

Seriously?

I’m struggling to come up with meaningful thoughts to put out there; a moment that resonates, that tugs at the heart stings with a twang, a story with a moral that makes you really think about life, or the real coup, being able to give you a good laugh, the kind that can change your mood for just a second.

Instead I just sit here, staring at the screen until I’m almost looking through it, waiting for one of those cool 3-D images to pop out at me. START TYPING. THINK, DAMN IT. YOU CAN DO IT.

I’ve been feeling so numb lately, and not just because of the Raynaud’s that turns my feet and  fingers white and cold as a cup of milk. Could it be winter blues? Or, is this the next stage of my mid-life crisis? I went from feeling a little sexy to a little bit conflicted, and now feeling a little dead? It happened so fast I didn’t even find an appropriate outfit to wear to the funeral. But I guess the old gym pants will do. It’s how I lived, and I’m nothing if not consistent.

But now I’m just being dramatic. And I can tell already, my mother is hating this essay. Don’t worry, mom, it’s just a moment. This too shall pass, as my dead grandmother used to say. She’s looking at me now from a picture across the room; her head thrown back in joy, even with the shower cap on her head which she must have forgotten she was wearing when my husband snapped the picture, because there is no way she would be caught dead in a picture with a shower cap. Ah, the irony.

Gone two years now, she looks radiant, even in the cap, with me by her side and my three boys lined up like beautiful, dutiful progeny; the future, captured in the present which is now the past.

I miss her. I do. Even thinking it now brings that drippy sentimentality to my eyes making them leak at the edges. Looking around, I see some of her treasures glittering: a ceramic dog that was her mother’s, an ugly turn-of-the-century figurine couple mid step, pretty, useless little tea cups on display. There are other things, but that’s all they are. Things. And who needs them really, except that they were hers.

The real gift she left me was living long enough to have a real presence in my life. To make a difference in who I was and am. To have a voice so strong, I can still hear her throaty rasp so clearly…

“Get your head out of your arse and stop this nonsense!”

I smile. Already I feel warmer.

She’s got me thinking.

Going with the glamour hat over the shower cap. You're welcome, Grandma.

Going with the glamour hat over the shower cap. You’re welcome, Grandma.

You really look terrible in that shirt. And fix your hair.

Yesterday, with the sun warming my face and last night’s ice cream still cool in my belly, I decided to take my running sneakers out of hibernation and hit the streets for my first run of the new year. Although I exercise regularly, I only run outside in fair weather. With the temperature nearing 50 degrees, my brain was itching for the fresh air instead of the stale gym odors that I had been inhaling all winter.

So I layered up and set out; one foot in front of the other, trip trapping down my street. It had been while, but it felt good. I missed going on autopilot through my neighborhood, while losing myself in my head. What would I think about today? I wondered and considered my options.

Should I wallow over my father’s declining state? That could get me through miles.

Or, should I think of snappy comebacks to the friend who recently said, “Wow, it’s so great that you can just go out without doing anything to yourself. I could never do that.”

Oh, I got it! How bout….  “You’re right. You totally look better with makeup.”

Wait! No! Better… “Thanks. It’s true. You really need self-confidence to pull it off.”

Hmm.. I’ll get back to that.

There’s always the to-do list. First shower, then supermarket, dry cleaners, stop for Dunkin Donut’s coffee, pick up kid…

Wow, figuring out what I’m going to think about has gotten me through over a mile. Yay. I should probably think about what to wear to tomorrow night’s School Social. Certainly not pants like the lady who just walked past me. Really? Flesh colored leggings? I don’t know anyone who can pull that off. I almost want to follow her and let her know that unless she’s auditioning for ‘What Not To Wear’, they should never be worn again.

In my college sweatshirt, skull cap, striped gloves and yoga pants that make my thighs look too heavy, I have no business criticizing anyone, yet I have to fight the urge to share my feelings.

Maybe it’s genetic. It would be something my grandma would have done. I can still remember her walking over to poor, unsuspecting strangers and saying things like, “Honey, no one’s going to tell you, but that lipstick color looks horrible on you.”

I always died a little, totally mortified, but now, decades later, it doesn’t seem like the worst idea. I mean, yeah, it can be seen as judgmental, but maybe it’s just being helpful. Maybe, sometimes we all need someone like that; a ‘truth teller’ in the form of a well-meaning stranger.

I mean who else would tell you these things? Certainly not your friends. No way will your friends tell you how fat you look in your jeans, or that –

Wow! The lady I just passed must be bathing in perfume.

What was I thinking? I might have blacked out there a moment. Oh, right, friends. They love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. They can’t be completely honest.

I don’t know if the sweat has seeped into my brain, but I think this is a kick ass idea. I can open a school and train people on proper approach, having good ‘street-side’ manner, and of course, how to diffuse an offended person’s wrath. My people will be like secret agents. Employers will hire us to do an office walk-thru. Friends will hire us to say things they can’t say. It’s a public service. It’s genius!

I can’t believe it. I’m almost home. That was fantastic.

Wait, I just came up with the best comeback to my friend’s comment. Ready?

“You’re right. But you know, saying things like that is the reason a lot of people don’t like you.”

Boom!

Brutal Honesty. My grandma would have loved it. But would people actually appreciate the truth whispered to them by an unknown judge?

I don’t know, but i’ll have to think about it next time. I’ve just run out of steam.

Brittney, Let's talk about that bra. I'm here to help.

Brittney, let’s talk about that bra. I’m here to help.

Like the fingers on my hand, each one is different

“Mommy, look, my hand is almost as big as yours!” Julius exclaimed, placing his little hand against mine.

I studied the smooth, five year-0ld fingers, stretching themselves out, trying desperately to seem bigger. I folded my fingers over, covering his. “You are so big!” I say, looking into his earnest, brown eyes. “How did that happen?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugs, and breaks free from my hold to bounce up and down. A jumble of dark curls bounce with him. “I just growed.”

“You certainly did.” I want to cry, but it’s breakfast time, not crying time. I place a bowl of mixed cereals by his place at the table, but he is still bouncing around me. I actually think the only time he stops moving is when he’s sleeping.

My seven year-old enters. Fair skinned, fair-haired and light-eyed, Michael’s expression is the only dark thing about him. He does not greet the day with a smile. “Hey, baby.” I tip-toe around his moods, but it’s hard with Julius hopping like a bunny at my feet. “Want pancakes?”

“I don’t want anything.”  He scowls at me, but his eyes are so green and his face is so delicate and small, that I have a hard time not just grabbing that face and kissing him, which he would hate. “Okay, let me know when you change your mind.” I sing like Snow White, which is annoying to me, so I’m not surprised when his response is a growl.

I check the clock. Crap. My 10 year-old still isn’t down.  I woke him twice already. Or, at least I thought I woke him. I race the stairs.

“Tyler. Come on, baby! Get up.” He is such a good, deep sleeper that I always just want to leave him be. Of course I don’t, but looking at his relaxed, boyish face snuggled under covers, reminds me of the baby he is, I mean, was. I hug him awake, and he responds with a sleepy grin.

“Mornin’, sunshine.” He really is sunshine. His eyes are gold. His hair is gold. He has always been a golden boy. I try to extract myself gently, but he pouts for more hugging. Finally, against my inner needy mommy, I push him off. “Let’s get moving.” I toss his clothes on top of him. “Don’t forget your socks.” I call as I head back down to the kitchen.

I am greeted by Michael demanding pancakes and Julius circling me like a puppy begging me to play Legos. Tyler slumps in, still sleepy, reaching for another hug.  I give him one, along with a granola bar.

I marvel at each of my sweet babies at the table and my late grandma’s words echo in my ears, “Like the fingers on your hand, each of them different, special, yet part of the same.” These are my children. Whoever they are. Whoever they grow to be. And I will hold their hands until I have to let go.

Different in every way...except in how much I love them.

Different in every way, except in how much I love them.