Category Archives: Grandparents

Deconstructing A Life

So it’s been a couple of days since I’ve last been here. What, you think it’s been more than a couple of days? Really? Maybe you’re right. I’ll have to count on my fingers to check. Sometimes life gets in the way or I get distracted.

My mother in law passed away this past fall at the age of 93 and so we spent the rest of the year going through her home and preparing it for sale. Not an easy task. My father in law passed away twenty-six years ago and so she’s lived in this home for the last sixty years. Up until recently she was able to take care of herself but the last year and a half required some help. Her home was always meticulous, even at the very end. The only problem was, she never threw anything away. I think that’s somewhat common for that generation, who came from a time when everything had value. Nothing was wasted or discarded needlessly. Nothing had a shelf life. It’s something I understand but it didn’t make the process any easier.

We sometimes didn’t know, going through her belongings, what had real value, sentimental or otherwise. Did it have special meaning to her, was it worth something, or was it an item that was given away for free at gas stations back in the day. Some things were obvious, some not so much. And what about the photos of people from so long ago that we didn’t recognize. Did the people in the photo hold special meaning to her? Did they remind her of a special time? What do we do with them now?

And here’s where deconstructing a life comes into the conversation. Here are the decisions we had to make, whether they seem logical or not. We kept quite a few things, as did our children, who wanted remembrances of their grandmother. We donated quite a bit to various charities. We sold a few things. And unfortunately, we ended up tossing some things. For some reason, the photos were sometimes the toughest decisions to make. It seems sacrilegious to throw them out but why keep photos of people we don’t know, and if we do keep them, you just leave it for the next person to deal with when we’re gone.

The whole thing was just so surreal. I’ve known my wife since third grade and have been going to that house for over fifty years. I spent more time there over the years than in the home I grew up in. I knew every corner and almost every story. To take it apart seemed like a violation of her life. Every day another piece was gone, until nothing remained but the shell. Until the home became a house. A property to be sold.

But it seemed even more than that and I’m not sure it’s easily explained. It’s like someone who existed a short time ago, no longer does. Her “stuff” is gone. I understand about the memories we”ll have to hold onto and the items we have to remind us of her life, but there is a big difference between the body and the soul of a person. In certain homes, filled with years of love and memories, I believe the same holds true. Strip away what made it special, and the deconstruction is complete. Emptying that home was like emptying a life. It’s a strange feeling and I’m sure many of you have gone through similar moments over time.

When we were done, I joked with my wife about what our children may think or say when their time comes to do the same thing. What questions they’ll have that may remain unanswered. What photos they’ll find and wonder who those people were. What decisions they’ll have to make and if sentimentality or practicality will be the deciding factor. Probably a little of both.

I just know that a few days after we finished up we started going through our own home. If we can make it a bit easier for our children when the time comes, all the better. I just don’t want to make it too easy. After all, what fun is life without leaving  some mystery and unanswered questions about your parents. I might even plant a few things around just to keep the conversation interesting. I wouldn’t want them to forget us easily.

It’s nice to be back.

 

Scattering Love

                   It’s not what you gather but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you’ve lived.
Helen Walton

I was thinking about my childhood the other day and trying to remember how far back my memories went. I settled on somewhere between four and five years old but there were only a handful that were clear to me. That bothered me, especially when I took what was then and applied it to now.

Making memories with the people you love or care about is one of life’s greatest gifts. Some of the times we’ve laughed most were with our children and grandchildren, especially during their early years, when everything is on the table, learning is a daily adventure, innocent words  are a sound byte and your sense of wonder sometimes equals theirs. Those are memories that we’ll keep with us forever. Unfortunately, it’s all one-sided. Because in those early years it’s not anything they’ll remember. Influenced, yes. But all the things that were said or laughed about until there were tears in our eyes will not be a definitive memory for them.

That shouldn’t bother me because it’s just another cycle of life, but it does. I remember things that we did with our children and now our grandchildren that were special moments, and though we can relay the stories, it’s not the same as being there in our mutual minds. I sit and have conversations now with our grandchildren, play games, tell stories, laugh at the silliest things, hold them if they cry and sit back and wonder if they’ll remember any of it.

I’ve always understood this but I suppose as I’ve gotten older, Helen Walton’s quote has taken on a different meaning. You want those you love to remember every last laugh and cuddle and hand holding because you know that time of innocence, like life, is so short. Eight or nine comes too quick and soon they’re moving on. Parents will always be more invested in the lives of their children/grandchildren than the other way around. That’s just the way it is. It’s not a matter of loving or caring, it’s just the emotional investment that begins long before they open their eyes and never goes away.

So selfishly you want them to remember it all. Every amazing moment. Big and small. Hoping that you’ve scattered enough love and joy into their lives that one day they may laugh at something silly for no reason at all. You may not know it or even be there. But if it brought them happiness, then maybe something in their two year old lives stuck, and you’ve scattered enough.

And maybe, just maybe, the shade of a memory will not only be yours.

 

Free Grandparent Advice

 

My five-year old granddaughter, Sophia, called me tonight and said, “Grandpa, you’re the best person in our whole family.”

I sat up and raised my eyebrows a bit because Sophia doesn’t usually dish compliments easily. So I figured she either wanted something or she had a high fever and was a bit delirious. I cautiously thanked her, told her I loved her, and she asked if I wanted to speak to her Mom. I said okay.
When my daughter got on the phone I asked her where that came from. She said they were in the kitchen and Sophia just said it. When my daughter asked her why she felt that way she said, “because grandpa always gives me chocolate chip cookies.”

BAM!!!!!

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Its like I always say, if you’re going to show up, you have to show out.

Sometimes it’s fun being the man. Even if it only lasts five minutes and requires a chocolate chip cookie payoff.

 

Remembering Love

You won’t remember this.

Sitting on my lap and laughing at
something only you understand,
your hands come up to my face as you
bounce up and down on my lap and then
gently lay your head on my aging chest.

You won’t remember how that made me feel.

I tell you that I love you, that you’re
precious and funny and smart and
one day when you grow up you’re
going to hold someone in your arms
the way I’m holding you in this moment.

But you won’t remember my words.

You’re just nine months old but your eyes
can tell a story with only the sound of a smile,
and when you fall asleep nestled against me,
life rewinds to another time and place
that others whom I held will also not remember.

Time doesn’t exist in moments like this.

So I’ll hold you quietly against me until you wake,
until they tell me it’s time for you to go,
and you’re lifted away, watching your arms reach
out to me again so that our fingers touch for the
briefest of moments in an instant embrace.

You won’t remember the day that two women separated by
ninety years held each other and laughed.

And sadly, as day turns into night,

neither will I.

 

 

 

 

 

A Conversation With A Four Year Old About Love And Marriage

I should preface this post by letting you know that my grandson, Matthew, who was diagnosed with lymphoma two months ago is in complete remission. He is in the middle of another round of chemo this week and he’ll have one more after that before he’s done, probably by the end of October. Thank you for all your prayers, notes, support and wishes. They’ve meant more than you’ll ever know. 

The other day, I picked up Matthew’s four-year old sister, Sophia, from day care and as we were driving in the car I began asking her how school was and what she did that day. She’s a child of few words, unless of course she sees a means to her end. Then there is constant conversation and negotiation complete with lots of smiles and kisses. In short, like most kids her age, she knows how to work a room.

So I was surprised when she initiated the following conversation which I wrote down when we got back to the house so I wouldn’t forget it.

Sophia: Grandpa, can I “tell” you a question?

Me: Sure, what’s your question?

Sophia: Why do mommy’s and daddy’s sleep in the same bed?

Me: (Answering cautiously) Well, when a man and a woman fall in love and get married they get to sleep together in the same room and bed.

Sophia: But why?

Me: (Wondering where this was going) Because when you love each other you want to be as close as possible to the other person when you go to bed at night.
One day, when you get a lot older, you’ll find someone you love a lot, you’ll get married and you’ll sleep in the same bed with him, just like mommy and daddy.

Sophia: But I don’t have to meet someone because I’m going to marry Matthew.

Me: (Laughing) Well, I don’t think you’re going to be able to marry Matthew, Sophia.

Sophia: Why?

Me: Well, it’s against the law to marry your brother or sister.

Sophia: Then we need to change the law. We can find a policeman and tell him and he can change the law.

Me: (Smiling) When you get old enough, I guess we can do that and see what happens.

Sophia: Okay

Me: Tell me, why do you want to marry Matthew?

Sophia: Because he’s really handsome.

Me: (Smiling) Yes, he is. Why else?

Sophia: Because he always shares his candy with me and whenever I’m sad, he makes me happy.

Me: (Barely able to speak) Maybe one day you’ll find someone just like Matthew.

Sophia: But Grandpa, there isn’t anyone like Matthew.

I had no answer for that, nothing I could say even if I could get past the lump in my throat.

The deepest kind of love in its simplest form is taught to us by a four-year old. Find someone who is handsome, shares their candy with you and makes you happy when you’re sad. Do we really need anything more than that in life?

I believe that one day, Matthew is going to make someone very happy. And I also believe that there is someone out there right now who will have very big shoes to fill, in the heart and mind of a four-year old girl.

 

 

 

The Ninth Floor

There aren’t many places you can walk into that will cripple your spirit and forever rearrange what you think is important in life. There aren’t many faces you can look at, and know instantly, you will see them when you close your eyes at night. A year from now, five years from now, you’ll wonder how they are. Where they are.

If they are.

The ninth floor of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center will do that to you.  It is the pediatric floor of the hospital and is filled with children who have cancer and young parents who are wondering how and why they got here. Year old babies being held by moms pushing IV poles. Toddlers who haven’t been walking that long are now walking attached to a drip line. Teenagers who should be enjoying some of the best years of their lives are instead confined to a chair for six or seven hours a day.

One of the children who was there that day was my seven-year old Grandson, Matthew, who was diagnosed  with a rare and aggressive form of Lymphoma a few weeks ago. The positive news is that the doctors believe it is curable and this will only be a page in his life. But curable doesn’t mean that he hasn’t had surgery, endless tests, spinal taps, or bone marrow pulled. It doesn’t mean he’s immune from having to take endless amounts of pills or five-hour round trip car rides into the city or fourteen hour days 4-5 days a week during chemo weeks. It doesn’t mean he’s not confused or angry at times, especially when he looked and acted like a normal seven-year old boy whose energy level was off the chart. It doesn’t mean he won’t have to endure several rounds of chemo, risk of infection, possible hospital stays or transfusions. It doesn’t mean he won’t have side effects or that his self-esteem will not suffer. And we haven’t even started to address what this has done to his parents and our family.

When you find out an adult has cancer people generally ask questions. When you tell someone a child has cancer, no one knows what to say. They stare at you and shake their heads as if they misunderstood. They tell you it must be some sort of mistake.

Except it isn’t.

The ninth floor at MSK is a violation of everything you might believe in or hold holy. And yet it is a place of laughter and smiles, hope and healing. It’s where courage lives, battles are won and heroes are born every day. The kids here may have visible scars and be without hair but their strength, and that of their parents, is palpable. The nurses are a special breed of people, the doctors are respectful, patient and honest.

As difficult as this is for Matthew and our family, we feel blessed that his cancer is curable. As my younger daughter said, this is the best possible news in the worst possible situation.

I’ve known a lot of people in my life but there have only been two or three that have made me laugh out loud every time I spoke with them. Matthew is one of those people and the things he has gone through recently has not changed that at all. He has an unfiltered and irreverent sense of humor that can make you shake your head or laugh out loud and I’ll take those chances every day of the week.

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A few weeks ago we were sitting on the beach late on a weekday afternoon watching the waves and talking about life. Cancer was not part of his future. These days we’re sitting in a treatment room on the ninth floor of Sloan Kettering as the meds alter his little body. Life changes pretty quickly. What was important a  few days ago now seems trivial. What was once upsetting now seems petty.

People have asked if there is anything they can do for us. We always answer the same way.

Pray. Pray for Matthew and for all the ninth floors everywhere.

P.S. Last night after he got home from a long day of treatment at the hospital, Matthew and I were sitting on the sofa watching one of the America’s Funniest Home Video shows I DVR’d for him. (Are you surprised he loves that show?) He was sitting curled up next to me with his head laying against my chest laughing. As I began fast forwarding through a commercial he looked up at me and said very seriously, “You know, Grandpa, you’re the nicest old man I know.”

It was one of the nicest things anyone ever said to me because I knew exactly what he he was telling me and where his heart was. That’s who he is and that’s why I love him so much.

Thank you for listening.

Why Do We Ignore The Smartest People We Know?

The answer to this question is simple; we feel they’re too young to know any better or too old to be relevant.

Like most of you, I’ve worked with or have known some pretty bright people. They can analyze, revise, sell, market, teach, calculate, propose, create, design, and manufacture with the best minds out there.

But they’re not as smart as a five-year old, and they don’t have near the common sense or understanding of an eighty year old.

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And yet we ignore them both. We push one age group aside because they can’t possibly teach us anything at their young age and the other aside because the general feeling is they’ve used up their usefulness to society and are now nothing more than a financial drain or burden.

How sad is that?

A five-year old’s intuition is never even considered, and yet they can tell us things about people we never see. Each day they teach us the importance of innocence, the ability to learn, explore and communicate in ways we don’t understand or pay attention to closely enough. A five-year old child lives in the moment and understands how important that moment is to the rest of his or her life.
The first post I ever wrote on this blog was about a morning I spent playing soccer with my grandson. We were leaving the field and I was walking ahead of him. I turned and asked him why he was dragging behind. He told me he enjoyed taking his time because if he saw something he liked, he wanted to be able look at it again. He said that’s why he doesn’t mind sitting in traffic; he gets to look at things a second time.

The difference between looking and seeing. 

We love our children and we do all that we can for them. We try to teach them how to behave, the difference between right and wrong, encourage them and provide for them. But do we ever really listen closely enough to learn and modify our own lives?

When I was a young teenager, I worked in the kitchen of a nursing home. One of my jobs was to bring the patients their meals. I remember how much they enjoyed that little visit. I would always speak with them when I put down their trays and after I was done I would go back and talk with some of them. Actually, it was more listening than talking. But I learned more about life in a ten minute conversation than anyone could ever teach me. Our elders have been there….and back. They have experienced life in ways we’ve yet to know. They understand and live mortality every day, in ways we only talk about as a “one day” conversation. They break down problems using a common sense approach, understanding what really matters in the time each of us have left. And yet, we think nothing of dismissing them. Our arrogance of how much we think we know is such that we can’t conceive of someone who moves or speaks slowly, knowing more than us.

How sad is that?

The smartest people I ever met are shorter than me, older than me, faster than me, slower than me, struggle with words, need help to get through the day and will spend as much time with you as you are willing to give in return.

You should really get to know them, too.  And listen closely. You might learn something you never knew.

 

Growing Up

The other day, my three year old Granddaughter, Ava, was sitting on my lap as we watched her brother Jake, play soccer. She was eating goldfish from a small plastic bag when she turned to me and said in her sweet little voice, “When I grow up I want to be an astronaut.”
I told her she could be anything she wanted to be and that being an astronaut might be fun and exciting. She popped another goldfish in her mouth and without missing a beat, she said, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Grandpa?”

I started laughing until I saw her looking at me, waiting for an answer. I didn’t know how to tell her that I never grew up and had no plans to do so; that I try to follow the phrase, you’re only young once, but you can be immature forever. But I figured that conversation would have to wait a few years even though Jake is beginning to understand that his grandfather might be a little off center.
So I simply said I wasn’t sure yet but when I decide, I’ll let her know.  She took in another goldfish, nodded her head as she watched Jake play and said, “If I don’t become an astronaut, I think I’ll be a ballerina.” I told her it was a good backup plan just in case the astronaut gig didn’t work out.

She nodded her head like she had it all figured out. Then she went back to eating goldfish and watching soccer.

Sometimes life’s decisions are that simple.  And then we get older and complicate things.

Simple is better.

Three year olds rule.

Grandpa’s Arms

Everyone in the neighborhood called him Mr. Joe. I called him Grandpa, or Gramps.

My mother’s father was Sicilian, which means stubbornness was part of his DNA. Not so much  with me or my brother but with almost everyone else. He owned a small apartment building, two units on the second and third floor and one small unit on the first floor, which is where I lived with my parents and brother. In front of the first floor unit was a small grocery store/meat market which my parents ran. It was your typical neighborhood corner store. Adults congregated inside, discussing whatever adults discussed at the time, while my friends and I occupied the corner and playground which, in our world, was the street out front.

Gramps lived about five minutes away, so he was at the store everyday from morning until dinner time. He was a nice looking man with white hair and a great smile, and I loved him. He always wore this black leather jacket, except for the summer months, and he blended in easily with my friends. It was not unusual for him to sit on the corner with us for hours; playing cards, pitching pennies, taking us for rides in his immaculate Chevy or just talking nonsense. He used to love to sing, It’s A Long Way To Tipperary, over and over again. I never asked him why he liked that song. He always seemed to be having so much fun singing it, I figured it didn’t matter why an Italian enjoyed singing a British song in broken english.

When Gramps was in his late 60’s he had a stroke. The doctor said he would never walk, speak or write his name again. But being a stubborn Sicilian sometimes has its benefits. He stayed with us while he recovered and I remember him trying to write his name over and over and over again, until he could. He eventually talked, walked and even drove his Chevy again.

Ten years after that stroke, which his doctor referred to as borrowed time, he had another one. I remember getting to my aunt’s house as he was being wheeled out on a stretcher and how scared his eyes looked. I think he knew. He passed away the following day. I was sixteen at the time.

After his funeral, my Grandfather’s black leather jacket found its way to our apartment. I don’t know if my brother and I asked for it or if my mother took it for us. I just know it was there.

We kept it in our bedroom closet and I remember how it hung there like a helpless orphan, secure in its memories, solitary in its space. I used to press his sleeve to my face, his scent still there, filing my mind as he did a child’s day, on a corner that was suddenly yesterday.

Five years later I got married and moved out. The jacket stayed for a while but one day when I went back to visit my Mom, it was gone. I never asked what happened to it. I guess my Mom just felt it was time to let go of the past. I understood. But there are days, even now, when I wish that jacket still hung in my closet. Days when I wish I could lift his scent to my face, slip my arms into his sleeves and feel him hold me one more time.

I still miss him. But if I sit quietly, I can still hear him singing in broken english, imagine our rides in his car and how he didn’t like losing at cards. His jacket may be gone, but he still lets me slip into it every now and then.

Thanks, Gramps. Love you.

The Difference Between Looking and Seeing.

One day not long ago, I was playing soccer at the park with Matthew, my six year old Grandson. Actually, he was playing and I was limping around after pulling a muscle, thinking my feet still move as quickly as my mind assumes it should. However, I’m learning that assumptions should not be part of the physical mental package as one gets a little older. I told myself the muscle pull was because the field was wet and slick until “myself” just looked back at me and flicked me a glance that was a combination of pity and exasperation. I should have expected that reaction.

Anyway, as we were walking, ( me limping), back to the car, I turned around and noticed that Matthew was well behind me, his head on a swivel. Considering my current physical condition and the fact that he usually has more energy in a five minute span than any one human being possesses in a week, I was surprised he was walking so slow. At first I thought he was taking pity on my condition but I’m not ashamed to admit that I trash talk my grandchildren whenever we play games so I knew sympathy wasn’t going to be dispensed that day. (Let me guess, you’re outraged at the trash talking comment. Whatever. Everyone does it. To six year olds. I suppose.)

As I was saying……we were slowly making our way back to the car and the conversation between us went like this…..

Me: Matthew, let’s go. Why are you walking so slow?

Matthew: I like walking slow.

Me: ( Thinking he has some ulterior motive) Really? Why is that?

Matthew: Because it gives me a chance to see everything and if there’s something I really like, I can look at it again. That’s why I don’t mind sitting in traffic. Not like bad traffic, just slow traffic. I get to see things without it going by too fast.

I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I stopped and sat down in the grass. As I waited for him to reach me, I thought about all the times I only looked straight ahead, focused only on where I needed to be and why I was rushing to get there. I thought about how we’re a “ten cities in eight days” society, and how life can be much more rewarding if we actually stopped and saw things as they were instead of simply glancing as we blow by.

When he finally caught up to me he asked me why I was sitting down. I didn’t say anything at first. I just reached out, took his hand and patted the ground in front of me. As he sat down I wrapped my arms around him and kissed the top of his head.

It’s true that the very best moments of your life are usually not planned. They just fall out of the sky while you are in the middle of doing something else. And they take up residence.

After a few moments he turned and looked up at me and asked if I was okay.

I smiled and told him that I was.  Then I asked him to tell me everything he saw.