You know my heart and its ways
You who formed me before I was born
In the secret of darkness before I saw the sun
In my mother’s womb
Welcome to the world little Bear. One more sleep and I will hold you in my arms. ❤️ Your Sitti
“Your right ovary is enlarged. That’s unusual after menopause.”
This is not something you want to hear from your gynecologist when your mother died from ovarian cancer at 61 years of age. I stare at the ceiling and try to stay calm.
“Let’s schedule an ultrasound.”
I go mute. I don’t ask any questions. So unlike me. I accept my sentence and graciously take my referral paperwork from the nurse and half listen to her instructions. I need to get to work for a meeting at 9am. I’ll process this later. It’s Wednesday and life is busy.
On the following Monday evening, in anticipation of my early morning ultrasound appointment, I decide to go through my personal books. In a Marie Kondo moment when I sold my house on Del Monte, I gave away boxes and boxes of books to the library. I have to admit it was NOT life-changing magic. It was like cutting off an arm. What I have left on my bookshelves are most treasured.
I paged through them one by one- reading underlined sentences and comments written in the margins and tearing up over little pictures and holy cards I stuffed away in the pages intentionally. It was the best kind of treasure hunt. But who was this woman who read all these books and hungrily devoured their content? What happened to her? And where is she now?
I contemplate the woman I have become. I’m busy. Too busy. But what am I busy about?
Meetings, counseling teenagers, paperwork, data, traffic duty, chaperoning dances juxtaposed with weddings, new grand babies, summer vacation… how could I ever fit in (God forbid) surgery, radiation, chemo, oh my. The what ifs took over.
The wine helped. I got a pricey bottle of red just for the occasion.
The next morning in the middle of yet another meeting I received an email from my doctor with a clean bill of health. It’s just a fibroid- nothing to be concerned about. Back at work I feel relieved- yet oddly changed. What matters? What am I missing here?
And the larger more encompassing question… would it take a debilitating illness in order to give myself permission to step off this hamster wheel?
I started this blog over a month ago. Hoping that a clever ending would make it’s way into my consciousness during a bike ride or a hike. That’s what usually happens. But nada, zilch.
What are you busy being about? What are you planning on doing “some day”? When the dishes are done. When you finish the landscaping outside. When you quit your day job. When you win the lottery.
What are you waiting for?
I’ve always love the song “Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell. As an adolescent when this song first came out, I never truly appreciated the significance of the lyrics. But at this time in my life, they pulse with meaning.
I’ve noticed an interesting pattern through the years and I wonder if other women my age are seeing it as well. Our children leave home and go to college. They acquire degrees and find careers that make them happy. And life feels somewhat stagnant as a parent with an empty nest. We take a back seat to many of their adventures and accomplishments. We brag about them with our closest friends or a stranger in the market, showing pictures on our phones to whomever appears interested and feel blissful when they call home to say hi or I love you. After a life full of raising sons and taking a back seat to their health, education and well being, I am often at a loss for how to proceed.
We’re captive on the carousel of time, we can’t return. We can only look behind from where we came.
And then suddenly things begin to happen. A wedding, a grandchild, another grandchild, another wedding. Life takes on new challenges and excitement. A flurry of new activity.
When my sons were growing up, my childrearing “bible” was The Gesell Institute of Human Development. Anyone remember the books “Your One Year Old”, “Your Two Year Old”, “Your Three Year Old”? Their research shows that children’s growth is not always an even ride from less to more maturity. Instead, smooth and calm behavior alternates with unsettled and uneven behavior. Children go through periods of “disequilibrium”- when they are learning new skills and abilities, growing quickly and experiencing more anxiety and less confidence. And “equilibrium”- a period of stability and consolidated behavior- when they practice the skills already mastered- when they are easier to live with…
Wowzy.. sounds like my adult life! 😱
2018 was smooth sailing. A year of equilibrium. I had the grandmother skills honed and the mother in law persona figured out. I’d finally settled into my townhome after grieving the sale of my memory-filled yet large and empty house.
2019 will be the year of disequilibrium for me. A new grandchild. A wedding. A new daughter in law. Growth, challenge, frenzy, a year of learning. I see the pattern emerging. What has been lost to the past is being reincarnated in the present- layered with periods of anxiety and the mastering of new skills.
As they say in Portland, Oregon.. if you don’t like the weather wait an hour or so. The clouds and rain give way to sunshine and blue skies. The painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on a carousel of time.
And oh what an incredible ride it is.
It’s 12:30pm on Christmas day and I’m upstairs bathing my grandson, Boe, enjoying his little boy antics and squeals of glee. I check my watch and call down to whomever will hear “Hey! Don’t forget to put the roast in the oven at 1!” My sons and daughter in law are scurrying about preparing for our 20 plus guests- straightening out the toys, figuring out the logistics of the oven and deciding whether or not to do the veggies on the grill outside. “I need a bigger kitchen!” – my mantra since my first apartment as a new bride. I inherited the tendency to cook for a crowd from my mother who taught me that food is love. I’m afraid my kitchen lust will only get me in trouble. If you build it they will come!
I am mentally checking off my to do list until the first guests begin to arrive. Caught up in conversation and coat hanging I relinquish control and my sons and daughter in law take over. The last minute preparations are all taken care of. It happens like that every year. Patrick, the kitchen guru, masterminds the veggies outside on the grill while tending to the 18 lb. prime rib in the oven. Rob organizes the gifts for the white elephant game. Breezy and Peter replenish the appetizers and open wine. It’s magical. When it’s time to eat, I have no idea how it all came together.
Along with the gluten free, vegan, dairy free and vegetarian dietary preferences, I prepared an invocation or “prayer” if you will for all types of believers or non believers- Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Athiest, or just plain hungry for something!
we do greatly thank you
for the abundance
that is ours
For a crazy moment I want to freeze time and keep all these people in my house with the Christmas tree all lit up and the table set with the finest china- the gifts under the tree and the love in the room- little Thomas and Boe young and innocent forever- it all brings me such strength, comfort and joy… I believe we have collectively in this room the power to change the world.
A quote that my sons and daughter in law threw around in jest for several days before Christmas was:
With great power comes great responsibility. ~Voltaire
How providential. The abundance is for us to enjoy. Yes. And it is also ours to share. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t take a particular religion (or food preference) to feel the responsibility to be a man or woman for others. We have so much. We have much to give.
I love my family and I don’t want for a minute to take my “wealth” for granted. I could bottle up all this love and keep it for myself. But it’s such a privilege to be able to “pay it forward”.
Maybe a big ass kitchen wouldn’t be a bad idea after all! Just think of all the guests we could seat and feed!
Perhaps we would entertain angels…
Merry Christmas to you and yours. ❤︎
I have been reflecting on the awesome responsibility of being a grandmother. It has been a transition to say the least. And with all transitions there is an adjustment period and an awkward sense of the unknown as well as the anticipation of what is to come and how it will all look once everyone finds their sea legs.
My gracious son and daughter in law let me choose the name I would like to be called by little Boe and it was a quick decision. Like my Sittis before me, I felt that the Arabic name for grandmother was more than appropriate because it speaks of a long history of Lebanese women who wanted nothing more than to cook, feed, and make a cozy home for their families. And even though I had the means and awareness to get a college degree and beyond and have a thriving and rewarding career, I have to admit my first goal when I stepped onto a college campus at 17 years old was to get my MRS degree, have a family, and create a loving home for them.
I was named after my maternal Sitti, Rosa Maloof, and of course like all good Catholic girls, the Blessed Virgin Mary. (My parents must have had high aspirations for me!) I had to do some fact checking with my brothers and as my memory serves me, I only saw my maternal grandmother three times in my entire life. She and my grandfather lived in Atlanta and were not fond of flying. We were a family of eight in California and traveling across the country to see our grandparents was a bit out of the budget. I was able to spend time with them once as a little girl, once as a teenager, and much later when I was 30. When my mother passed away at 61 years old, they did not come out for her funeral. It is still incredulous to me today. I would move heaven and earth to see my children in any state (or state).
My father’s mother, Louise, died in childbirth along with her fifth child. My dad was the oldest and we think (our collective memories) he was about 6 years old when she died. The baby’s name was John and I remember my dad telling me the story- never with a straight face- always with tears running down his cheeks. My brother John was named after my dad’s little brother.
My grandfather sent for a wife from Lebanon (cousins.. can you do some fact checking for me? This is part urban legend passed down through oral history). Her name was Madeleine and she had to quickly adjust to a new country, a new husband, and to my grandfather Thomas’ four children. They went on to have four more children of their own whom my grandmother favored. And she favored their children as well.
With that said, I must confess that I don’t remember having a Sitti who wanted to kiss me and hold me, babysit me and get on the floor and play with me and/or agonize over the next time she might be able to spend time with me.
I write all this not so that you will feel sorry for me. I write it for my own understanding and for my children’s understanding. I write it to rub a salve on a wound that has just recently been exposed as I reflect on my own experience as a grandmother. I write it to help me understand this longing in my heart to be near my new grandson and be a part of his life. I write it because I know I am not alone in this reflection and confession and to open a conversation about the role of a grandmother in a child’s life.
In the song Both Sides Now Joni Mitchell sings “Something’s lost and something’s gained in living every day.” Life is not always easy. Family is not always as Norman Rockwell would illustrate but I believe people try. In the absence of holding me and reading stories to me, my Sittis cooked and cleaned and fed me and I suppose they thought that was enough. But this Sitti wants something different with her grandchildren.
I would love to hear your thoughts on being a grandparent.
Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been so long that I can’t even remember when I last went to confession and these are my sins.
Or at least the latest ones.
Or the ones I can remember. BTW are we responsible for the ones we can’t remember?
Oh Lordy. Well here goes.
I did not attend any Easter services this season. Not Holy Thursday. Not Good Friday. Not Easter Vigil.
Zero, zip, nada.
I did this intentionally so now you know why I’m here today.
Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.
I cleaned my house and did my Target, TJMaxx and Trader Joes shopping. I worked in my garden, fertilized all of my succulents and marveled at the first spring flowers on my Cecile Brunner Rose. I cooked a bit and squeezed lemons to freeze for future Lebanese delicacies. I went to dinner and a movie with a good friend. I finished a novel and started a new one. Took a morning hike and photographed several cows with their calves.
For the grand finale, Easter, I shared a meal with my wonderful family, chased toddlers around the house and played with my little grandson.
For these and all my sins I am sorry.
Now, Father, I’m sure you want to know why this cradle Catholic defied all of the rules.
My reasoning? I wanted to see what it was like to live in a secular world without the sacred. I wanted to see what it’s like to not believe, to not have my Catholic community, to not sing and pray for my loved ones and the world at large. I wanted to see if God in nature was enough for me.
All in all it was a very spiritual experience. But here is what I discovered.
I realized that I missed the incense, the chanting, the candles and the ancient scripture. I missed the washing of the feet and the opportunity to meditate on service and being a woman for others. I missed the veneration of the cross and the church bells and the bowed heads. I missed the experience of humility that comes from believing in something that is beyond myself and out of my control. I missed the celebration and the lilies filling the sanctuary. I missed the Alleluia and the joy that comes after the sacrifices of Lent.
I missed the good old fashioned Catholic aerobics… standing for a half hour gospel and then springing up and down and up and down to the rhythm of the rituals and the liturgy.
I missed it all. And now I feel an indescribable void.
So, Father, I guess you can take the girl out of the Catholic but you can’t take the Catholic out of the girl. I’m sure you have an appropriate penance for me? 10 Hail Marys and a Glory Be? 100 continuous genuflections? A Novena with my head covered?
You missed it, my dear. Penance done. Amen. Hallelujah.
I just wanted to write to you and tell you how much I enjoyed our play date this weekend. I had been looking so forward to it ever since your mommy set it up for us.
I think I’m in love with you. Oh my…
I especially had fun this morning when we were crawling on the floor together, exploring all the ins and outs and unders of your living room floor. You were quite interested in the plugs and cables. Perhaps you will be an electrician when you grow up. Or a deep sea diver.
Or a secret service man.
You’re such a good crawler. You get around with finesse. Remind me to invite you to my house next time I need someone to get that thing that rolled under my sofa.
I’m home now doing my laundry. And I’m giggling at the combination of dog hair, snot and mashed bananas on my nightgown. Good thing I raised three sons and have lots of Shout It Out and I know how to use it!
I’m reminiscing of our time together. Sigh. And I’m thinking of you. ♥♥
You’re the avocado on my sandwich. You’re the frosting on my cupcake.
You’re the garlic in my baba ghanoush.
This kind of JOY is new to me. It’s wonder, awe and rapture all wrapped up into one.
It’s a little boy with eyes of blue. Oh, how I love you!
One wouldn’t get in a sailboat without a compass or embark on a grueling scenic hike without a map.
Or would they?
Myself? I have a tendency to get lost. Lost on a trail. Lost on the freeway. Lost in my thoughts. A good plan keeps me focused and on task. Goals help me to breakthrough inertia. A map helps me to reach my destination.
So I plan. And I plan. And I journal. And I plan some more. And I re-read my old journals to see if life has deposited me somewhere close to where X marks the spot.
How about you? Do you know where you want to go in 2017? Do you have a hankering for something different? Are you ready to change things up and see what sticks? Or are you plodding along the same path. Waking up to the same job. Shopping at Target and getting take out from the Chinese restaurant on the corner.
Benjamin Franklin once said “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. Winston Churchill said this- “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it”.
In either case, some self reflection seems to be in order as we embark on a new year.
in the secret of darkness
before I saw the sun
in my mother’s womb
Dear little Boe,
You are a miracle. A gift. Someone new to love and long to hold. A bundle of sweet smells and warm cuddles. You have us all in awe and wonder.
How beautiful you are. A blank slate. A crisp white page to be filled with lovely lyrics. An empty vessel within which we place all our hopes and dreams. Your innocence is compelling. I feel absolution in your presence.
I know that some little parts of you have been etched from my own body. That in itself is mind blowing. I look at you and feel such love and connection- and at the same time, a sense of mystery. Who are you? Who will you become? How will I fit into your life? What will we do together to build our relationship?
Little lovey, the day you were born we all experienced a life changing transition. Woman and man became mother and father. Mother and father became grandmother and grandfather. It may take some time for us to learn our new roles so please be patient with us.
I hear other grandparents brag that they can spoil their grandchildren and then send them home. All the fun and none of the responsibility. Then they laugh! But Boe, I have a little secret for you.
I would do it all again. The pain of labor, the sleepless nights, the diapers, the desitine, the sticky kisses, the million and one soccer, basketball and little league games, the waiting up for teenagers, the “sex” talks, and the endless and painful letting gos- witnessing three little boys traverse their paths into manhood.
But there would be do-overs. I would clean less, order more take out, play more games and be more attentive to the ebb and flow of raising a family. And most of all I would allow myself to enjoy it all. Not be so stressed and insecure. Not be so hard on myself. Not compare myself to other moms who appeared to be doing it better.
Little Boe, when your daddy was growing up, I wrote him letters on his birthdays and other occasions so that he would know how my love for him unfolded and developed as he grew up and became a young man. When he graduated from high school I gave him all those letters. It was a labor of love.
I want to do that for you, little Boe. I want you to see what I see in you. And in those moments when you are feeling insecure or a little blue, I want you to know how much you are loved, fearfully and wonderfully made, and carefully knit together in the secret of your mother’s womb by an even greater Love.
My heart is full. My life has taken on a new meaning with your birth. I have so many things I’d like to share with you. So many songs I want to sing to you. And I have all the time in the world to listen to you.
Stay sweet, little boy. Take in all the love you can. Learn honesty and integrity. Be generous and kind.
Grow up to be a man for others.
I love you,