The Lesson My Children Taught Me


I love the Beatles’ song “Let It Be.”

When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom, let it be *

This song is a part of the soundtrack of my life. When I listen to the news and learn of great inexplicable tragedy, I find myself playing it over and over again in my head. It is remarkably comforting. Despite the fact that Paul McCartney wrote this song about his own mother, and, given my extreme ambivalence towards matters of religion, it strikes me as somewhat odd that I still like to think that the song is about the Blessed Mother, and, now that I no longer give a shit if it sounds uncool, I am okay with admitting this. Although I have been engaged in my own personal battle with my religion for years, I find great comfort in the divine Mother Mary. She is a mother’s ideal: a gentle, patient, ever comforting presence. I have no delusions of grandeur, but as a parent, I do strive to be gentle, patient and comforting, and I hope when I am gone, many, many years from now, my children will remember me in this way. But what of this idea of letting it be? As parents we strive to help, to fix, to make everything better for our children. What of letting it be? Letting them be? This week both my children taught me lessons in how to do this. What I learned is that letting it be can painful, liberating, inevitable and right.

The first part my lesson was delivered by Allegra, my four year old daughter. I volunteered to help out for muffin baking at preschool. This year Allegra has blossomed socially and has even made a best friend. Last year, if I had volunteered in her class she would cling to my leg and not only not let go but also not allow any other child to come within five feet of me. Soooo, with last year still fresh in my mind, I was a bit apprehensive about showing up at school, just when she is beginning to make true friendships. That said, this is her last year before “big kid” school, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be in her class for the morning. I thought it through and had a plan in place-if, in any way, my presence was disruptive for her, I would leave (great plan right?).

Well I am happy (and sad) to say that my dear soul sister Allegra did not give a damn if I was there or not. Actually, I just lied; she didn’t want me there at all. As a matter of fact, she actually pushed me away when I attempted to sit next to her at cicle time (talk about feeling like an ass). To feel relief and loss at the same time-what a strange experience! But those were my feelings, relief and loss. On one hand, I felt a sense of pride and victory and relief. I was so proud of my littlest one. I had sent her out into the world, and she found happiness. She found friendship. She is a glorious creature. On the other hand, well, it hurt…it hurt a lot. You see, Allegra and I, from the day I brought her home from the hospital, have been attached at the hip. Literally, we have been attached at the hip. For the first two years of her life, she loved to be held, so I held her. I held her on my hip. I held her on my hip as much as I could. I cooked and cleaned and did pretty much everything other than drive with her on my hip. As she got a bit older and too big to constantly be held, she remained as close as possible to my side. And she has remained by my side until a few weeks ago. Recently, I have noticed that she has needed me less and less. She wants to be a “big girl” and as such, wants to do most things on her own…like a “big girl.” And I want to scoop her up. I so want to pick her up and yell “Stop! Please stop! Don’t grow so fast. What’s the rush little one? Just stay with me a bit longer.” But that is wrong. She is happy. This is as it should be. This is life. This is my job, to let her grow, to let her go, to let it be. Let life take it’s course Heather. Let it be. Let her be. Don’t be selfish. Don’t hold her back. Let her be. Let it be.

And now onto my Jack. Jack gave me my second lesson in learning how to let it be. Jack doesn’t run with the pack. He is a lone wolf, a wonderfully brilliant, kind, unique and creative lone wolf. Unless he is with those family members who are closest to him, with whom he has deep and meaningful relationships, Jack prefers to be on his own. Of course, I worry. In the society in which we live it’s all about being a member of a team; there are sports teams, work teams, cooperative teams at school and teams on the playground. And if it’s not teams, it’s partners. Work on your math with a partner, play catch with a partner, complete this project with a partner. Jack doesn’t like working with teams and partners. I have pushed him to engage in group activities. I have encouraged him to try to enjoy playdates. How stupid is that? How can you possibly encourage someone to enjoy what they do not like? Why would you ever try to encourage (force) someone to learn to “like” something they do not like? Jack is not anti-social. He loves deeply and has meaningful relationships with those dear to him. Period. That is how he is now. He may change in the future. Who knows? But for now, he just doesn’t enjoy teams, groups and artifically “manufactured” by your parents relationships.

That said, the other day I asked our babysitter to come by so that I could run some errands. When I told Jack that the sitter was coming, he asked if he could run errands with me. Jack has never asked to run errands with me. I was thrilled. So I tweaked my plans to include lunch at IHOP. When our sitter arrived, I gave Allegra a kiss (Allegra loves her babysitter. Rightfully so; she is a wonderful woman) and off I went with Jack. At lunch we talked about life, about where we want to travel, about Christmas. He played the game on the IHOP placememat and identified the flags of various countries. The Australian flag got us talking about penal colonies and Britain and Australia and the United States and Jamestown. Then, somehow, we moved on to animals and log cabins and having a farm and Christmas and how great it would be to live in a log cabin on a farm and decorate it for Christmas. It was awesome. Then, rather than run errands, we ran around the mall looking at Christmas decorations (I know. I know. It’s early, but Jack LOVES Christmas). I can sincerely say that I had soooooo much fun, and I know Jack did too. That night I thought about my Jack. I thought, let him be. Let him be. He is lovely. He is brilliant. He is kind and gentle. He loves Christmas and log cabins and animals and his family. He loves his dog and blue skys at 4:00 pm on winter days (something we all learned to appreciate from his Uncle Sean). He loves the book Owl Moon. Let him be Heather. Stop pushing. He is perfectly imperfect. He is Jack, wonderful, beautiful Jack.

These are not times of trouble and darkness in our house. Our children are healthy. All is well. Every night I am blessed to kiss them on their soft cheeks and know that they are okay. All is well. Let them be Heather. Let them be.

* McCartney, Paul. Beatles. “Let It Be.” EMI, Apple Records, Lyrics. 1970.

Come on Everybody! Grab a Statue. It’s Time for the All Saints’ Day Pizza Party!

It astonishes me that the weirdest and creepiest moment I experienced while living on prison grounds had nothing to do with living on prison grounds. It was year two into my ten year exile in the land of desolation (as my pre-adolescent mind perceived it), and I was starting a new school for the second time in two years. Despite my protestations, it was determined that, rather than the local junior high, parochial school would be a better fit for me.  So when September of my second year rolled around, I donned my ever so modest and very uncomfortable Catholic school uniform, made the long walk down the hill to the main road where I boarded a bus. During my long morning journey, I rode past prisons and tobacco fields until I reached the “industrial ” side of town where I was deposited at the entrance of a very small school. This was a school that children had attended since kindergarten. It was a polish school, and, as I would soon learn, polish was often spoken, not during instruction but at other times, between teachers, teachers and students, the students themselves.  This would have been fine…except for the fact that I am not Polish.  Needless to say, the experience was, for lack of a better word, disorienting. My memories of my years at this school come with a soundtrack.  Always, not matter what the visual image is, I hear Jim Morrison hauntingly singing “People are strange, when you’re a stranger.  Faces look ugly…”

Anyway, I was not the only unfortunate to be starting seventh grade at my new school.  A couple of kids from the local Montessori , which only ran until sixth grade, were enrolled.  Now, those poor souls were completely out of their element.  They were and remained separate from everyone else.  They were a docile and different species of child that had no hope of assimilation.  And then there was the other group of newcomers. 

Apparently there had been a group of Catholics from a neighboring town that had been reprimanded by their diocese because of, without getting into sordid details, cult-like activity. Well, the pastor of my new school’s parish, in an act of mercy or forgiveness or whatever, decided to allow former members of the parish in question to enroll their children in his school.  Soooooooo….

Let’s just say that it sucks to be the new kid in school, especially when you are eleven years old.  And, new kids gravitate to other new kids.  So when the new kids from the neighboring town offered me their friendship, I gratefully accepted.  Of course, there was always something different about my new friends, although I could never quite put my finger on what it was.  They were just so unlike the kids I hung with from back home.  My friends and I used to be from similar backgrounds.  We went to school and girl scouts together.  We were silly and had fun. We used to laugh..a lot…about ridiculous things.  We played hide and seek and tag.  We played with Care Bears and Smurfs and Cabbage Patch Kids, and I think, for the most part, we were all relatively happy.  But these new girls were different.  They were dour.  But, they offered friendship, something I so needed, so craved, that I would have accepted it from anyone.

After about a month, my new friends began inviting me to their homes for sleepovers.  I remember well the long and lonely drive to their houses. We passed prisons and corn fields and tobacco fields and old colonial houses until we finally reached our destination.  And their homes were so unlike anything to which I was accustomed.  They were large, large enough to accommodate families with eight and nine children.  And they were old and, well, from my standpoint as a child and still to this day, creepy.  As a matter of fact, one of my friends had informed me that her living room was haunted.  And you know what?  As an adult looking back almost thirty years later, I believe it.  There was a feeling, a flat, sad, heavy, lifeless feeling to her home. Just as my new friend, the house was somber and cheerless. It was as if it existed in a dream and its reality was from a time past.  It was eerie.  I remember not being able to sleep when I stayed there.  Insomnia, true insomnia, which began in my new home on prison grounds, settled in during my stays in that house. 

I remember another chilly autumn day, when I packed up my overnight bag and headed over to another one of my new friend’s homes. Again, it was large, large enough to acccomodate my friends’s eight other siblings and her parents.  It was the day after Halloween.  What’s funny is that I don’t remember what I had done the night prior. Did I go trick-or-treating?  Who knows?  I can recall every Halloween I ever celebrated, except for that one.  Perhaps it’s because the events of the day after overshadowed the festivities of the night before.  I remember being hungry and feeling happy when I heard that my friend’s mother was ordering pizza.  I remember sitting at the table and hearing her mother say, in a rather serious tone, “Okay.  Let’s get the saints.”  My friend and a handful of her siblings got up. I followed them from the kitchen into the dining room, where, on the sideboard, was a vast collection of statues of the saints.  Now I have to state here that I have never been fond of statues and always found them a bit creepy. So you can imagine my chagrin when I had to carry two eight inch statues and place them on the kitchen table so that they could join us for dinner.  Unfortunately, right in front of me, my friend had placed the statue of Saint Michael slaying the devil. Now there is nothing that creeps the shit out of me more than Lucifer.  As a child, when other kids were afraid of monsters or robbers, I was afraid of the devil; the one with the tail and horns and pitchfork; the one on the old Red Devil Paint cans.  And there he was. In front of me. Being slain. Saint Michael slaying the God damned devil, with his scales and horns and tail right in front of me. During dinner. Of course I wondered what the hell (pardon the pun) was going on. And, of course, my question was answered when my friend’s mother began the prayer and instructed us to bow our heads and thank God that we were all gathered together, celebrating All Saints’ Day with the saints.  It was just too much. 

If only I had the wherewithal to call my parents and ask them to get me the hell (ooops there it is again) out of there.  Instead I stayed. Insomnia kicked in, but I made it to morning. And I think, although I don’t remember, that when my mother arrived to pick me up, I probably enjoyed my ride home, past the old colonial homes, and barren trees, past corn fields and tobacco fields until I was nice and safe, back at home…on prison grounds.

I Don’t Need to Bring the Dog In the House. Bigfoot is a Vegan.

I love Bigfoot. The mere mention of his name transports me back to the late seventies. My brother and I are hanging with some kids from the neighborhood in some finished basement. It doesn’t matter whose finished basement; they were all pretty much the same, with the exception of the Ralph’s. You see, for the first ten years of my life, I lived in a neighborhood that embodied all things glorious about being middle class in the seventies. It was a seventies oasis in a desert of well-built 1950’s homes. All the houses were either ranches or raised ranches, cheaply built with what appeared to be a cardboard like material which eventually began to fall apart with the years. During the winter we all used kerosene heaters, since the “modern” electric heat wasn’t efficient enough to heat drafty matchbox houses. And the piece de resistance of so many of these homes (my brother and I were two of the unfortunates that were deprived)…the basement rec room. The design aesthetic was the same in all. Each was finished with faux wood paneling, cheap indoor/outdoor carpeting, an old plaid couch with some sort of velvet like leopard, zebra or dolphin throw blanket to cover the holes in its arms. And yes, in case you were wondering, people did decorate their walls with velvet Elvis. And if painting on velvet a la Bob Ross wasn’t your thing, you would hang up some poorly rendered painting of Hawaii or Puerto Rico or Bora Bora. Now, the Ralph’s basement was another story entirely. Theirs was equipped with a pool table, aquarium which ran the length of an entire wall AND their parent’s bedroom which included a waterbed with a mirrored frame. Anyway, I digress, but I just felt so compelled to convey the setting.

So back to Bigfoot. It was in these basements where many a serious Bigfoot conversation took place. Was he real? Could we catch him? Was there any possibility that he lived in one of our backyards? The beauty of bigfoot was that he wasn’t really THAT scary. I mean, he could be and he was depending on the day or the weather or our mood. He also had the potential of being the motherlode of pets or friends. No one knew. Was he a man-eater? Was he shy? Was he mischievous? Who cared? We’d take Bigfoot anyway we could get him. We just liked him. He was exciting and mysterious and cool. The thing about Bigfoot was that he wasn’t super creepy or diabolical. He wasn’t Rosemary’s baby, but he could, like some of the neighborhood kids, be the giant lovechild of two potsmoking, LSD tripping hippies (although I was too young to even imagine that at the time).

Bigfoot mania was not just a U.S. phenomenon. Apparently, we used to export the worst possible shows television had to offer, and Italy was happy to accept. One such show was Bigfoot and Wildboy. Neither myself nor my brother can recall this show, but my husband, who grew up in Rome, remembers it well. Here’s the plot. A young boy is lost in the dense forest of the American Northwest. Bigfoot finds the young boy, raises him and when the boy grows up, they become the dynamic crime fighting team of Bigfoot and Wildboy. The best part you ask? Well they filmed it in the wooded Hollywood hills and you can actually see the Hollywood sign in the background. Better than that, no one can track down Bigfoot and Wildboy…although they roam the Hollywood Hills. Pure Awesomeness!

Now that my husband and I have grown into monumentally immature adults, you can imagine how thrilled we are with the whole “search for Bigfoot” industry. Once in a while we’ll watch “Hunt for Bigfoot” and be delighted and stupefied by the fact that they ALWAYS search for bigfoot at night. Also the hunters always seem utterly oblivious to the fact that they are in the forest, and that is why they hear noises, that perhaps the sound they keep hearing is acorns falling from trees and not Bigfoot throwing rocks at them. It’s just good stuff, and the people on the show just seem like good eggs. Nothing malicious, nothing scary, just like bigfoot himself.

What’s even cooler than Bigfoot shows? Well, the fact that now my son is into Bigfoot. And over the past couple of days, there’s been some great Bigfoot material. Twice in one week we received BIG Bigfoot news. First, the Sasquatch Genome Project (yes, you read that correctly) claims that they have DNA evidence to support the existence of Bigfoot, which is mind-blowing, considering that after all these years there has been not a single shred of physical Bigfoot evidence, not a bone, not a hair, nothing. Then, a Pennsylvania hiker claims to have spotted two Bigfoots AND he has the pictures to prove it! Eureka!

So all this Bigfoot talk got Jack, Giorgio and I talking. Of course, having a chef in the family, we had to talk about what Bigfoot eats. Now that completely depends upon what exactly Bigfoot is (too bad we don’t have the Sasquatch Genome DNA evidence handy). I always pictured him to be more of a man-bear, which, of course, would make him a carnivore. My husband, however, made the compelling argument that he is more of a man-monkey, and, after pondering the evidence, I have to agree. That said, it is not only plausible but likely, that Bigfoot, given that he is more monkey than man, is not only a vegetarian but a vegan. So that means if Bigfoot found his way into our backyard, assuming that he does not play too rough, our kids and dog could be relatively safe. But that is neither here nor there.

Anyway, once we sent Giorgio off to work, Jack and I continued with our Bigfoot inquiries. In fact, I was able to get my son to do some internet research, which is a miracle in and of itself, given his distaste for anything “academic.” We read Bigfoot articles, looked at Bigfoot pictures, videos…basically we OD’d on Bigfoot. And it was so much fun.

My childhood was not perfect, but it was pretty great. I grew up in an age when the word playdate didn’t exist. We freely roamed our neighborhood, finding ourselves in our neighbor’s subterranean dens, and our parents didn’t worry. They should have, but they didn’t. It was just a different time when the only thing children feared was that there was the slightest possibility that a giant man/monkey/bear could be lurking in their backyard. Our children can no longer roam their neighborhoods freely. They know the horrible reality that things much more sinister than human like animals roam close to home. We tell them. We teach them. We must. But let’s enjoy those silly moments when we can lose ourselves in stories about innocuous creatures like Bigfoot. And let’s hope they don’t really exist. But until we know for sure, let’s bring our dogs in at night, especially if we live in Pennsylvania, the American Northwest or, of course, if we live anywhere near the Hollywood Hills.