The summer before seventh grade, I went to a Boy Scout dance with William Meacham.  I remember awkwardly trying to dance to  “I Can’t’ Get No Satisfaction.”  Judging by the number of times the band repeated the chorus, it was the only song they knew.  Mick Jagger had nothing to worry about.

I thought of this as I sat in my coworker’s office this afternoon and enjoyed a small dark chocolate Easter egg.  It was delicious- certainly worth the 60 calories, and left me feeling quite satisfied.  This prompted me to think about some of life’s pleasures that bring a sigh of satisfaction and a smile to my face.  I suspect you’ll be able to relate, and if you make your own list, you may find yourself a little happier, a little calmer and a little more contented.  I did.

Momma G’s Most Satisfying Moments (In no particular order)

  1.  A long hot shower on a cold winter morning.
  2. Beating the computer at Pogo Scrabble.
  3. Sipping coffee while watching the sun rise at the beach.
  4. Sipping coffee while watching the sun set at the beach.
  5. Watching my child shake hands with the right hand while clutching a diploma in the left.
  6. Getting a massage from someone whose only question is, “Do you mind if I extend your time for another half hour?”
  7. Making the last payment on a car that still has a lot of good miles left in it.
  8. A glass of wine and a delicious dinner after work on a Friday night, especially when somebody else cooks and cleans up.
  9. Late night talks with my brother Eric. 
  10. Seeing my daughters in love with wonderful young men.
  11. My mother’s homemade bread, warm from the oven and swimming in butter.
  12. Finding a clean rest room after driving for several hours.
  13. Cool lotion and icy lemonade after a day on the beach.
  14. Laughing with my siblings until tears stream down our cheeks.
  15. Reading a letter…a real letter…from an old friend.
  16. Finishing an entire crossword puzzle without cheating.
  17. Snuggling under freshly laundered sheets that were dried outside.
  18. Hearing my newborn’s first cry after twenty-eight hours of labor.
  19. Flipping my pillow to the cool side, and seeing that there are still a couple of hours before my alarm clock will go off.
  20. A fresh pot of coffee and time to catch up with my best friend Sue.
  21. Giving  when it is difficult, and not telling anyone about it.
  22. Hitting a perfect harmony that hangs suspended in the air so that you can almost see it.
  23. Hearing my children laughing from the other room, and knowing they will always be there for each other.
  24. Knowing that I loved more than I didn’t.

The Blue Dress

Every once in awhile I have a “bad outfit day.”  It usually begins when I carefully make plans to wear a specific ensemble on a particular day.  I’ll iron the night before, making sure I push everything in my closet to one side so as not to wrinkle the freshly pressed items.  I’ll choose the right shoes, the right hose, the right accessories.  I’ll go to bed in anticipation of how easy the morning will be;  no decisions, no preparations, no last minute searches for the proper garments.

But there are gremlins in my closet.  Despite my planning, the next morning nothing fits right.  I’ll try on the well-planned clothes and the skirt will pull, the blouse won’t stay tucked and, the shoes will pinch.  These are the mornings when I try on combination after combination, leaving puddles of clothing strewn about the floor just as they were when I stepped out of them.  The skirt comes off, and slacks take their place. The pants are fine, but now I need a different sweater. The sweater doesn’t go with the necklace. The shoes clash with the pants.  It goes on and on until the clock on my nightstand screams that I’ll be late for work, should I try yet another combo.

This morning, I was having a particularly tough time with this ritual.  My skirt was too tight at the waist, my sweater gaped in the front.  The gray in my hair was more prominent, and my makeup didn’t hide the shadows under my eyes.  Everything felt backward and uncomfortable.  I felt huge.  And ugly.  And near tears.  And then, I thought of the blue dress.

The blue dress was a hand-me-down maternity dress that a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend had hand sewn during the seventies.  In its prime it had been stylish, but by the time it fell to me, it was long outdated and rather unattractive.  I wore it during my pregnancy with Abby and again when I was carrying Gabe, but swore when I first became pregnant with Elizabeth that I would not wear it again.  However, our funds were limited and so was my maternity wardrobe, so the day came when there was nothing in my closet that would fit over my swelling belly but the blue dress.

Resigned, I sighed and pulled the blue dress over my head.  Just as I expected, it looked ridiculous- its puffy sleeves rising to my ears, its oversized collar a reminder that it had been designed over a decade earlier.  It was faded and worn, and there was a slight stain right above my belly button.  I felt huge.  And ugly.  And near tears.

Just then, Gabriel burst through my bedroom door.  He had still had not learned the value of knocking before entering, and charged in, totally unaware of my sniffling nose and dripping eyes.  To him, mothers were calm, harmonious beings who soothed and cajoled, and made breakfast before Sesame Street started.    “Mommy, can you get me…”

He stopped short, and staring at his mother in blue, gasped, “Mommy!  You look Bee-YOU-tee-ful!” gabe angelic0001

I looked into his face.  His guileless eyes were the size of dinner plates.  At two years old, he did not yet know how mask his feelings- he wore truth on his sleeve, proudly displaying it like a badge of honor.  I wiped my tears, smiled and wore the dress- that day and several more times.   A couple of months later, when I had a new baby and a waistline, the blue dress went to the thrift store, never to be seen again.

Today, remembering the blue dress put a different perspective on my morning.  I picked up my rumpled clothes from the floor and hung them on hangers.  Then I dressed in the original skirt and sweater I had planned for the day.  I stepped into my shoes, sucked in my belly, grabbed my handbag and headed for work.  After all, who would argue with a two-year old?

* Note- Yes, the blue dress on the pattern is the same dress, but it was much more attractive on the pattern cover than it was in person.

To Ride, Perchance to Fly


In a recent email, my friend Gerry mentioned his old bicycle. He wrote: “As I was readying to take a left in my car, a guy who looked a little older than I am was coming up the road on a bicycle. As he passed, it brought me back. “Peugot U08, circa 1970, 25 inch frame,” I thought.  Then, I got sentimental about it. “I used to have that same bike in red.   Long gone now, though.”

What adult doesn’t remember the bicycle he rode in his youth? Gerry’s Peugot was a racing  bike- the kind with handlebars that bent down like rams’ horns. They were all the rage in the seventies.

I actually never got the hang of riding a bike with shifts and handlebars that were bent down so far you felt like your nose was going to rub the front tire. When I was growing up, we had The Bike. It was my mother’s when she was a kid, and one summer my grandmother sent it home with us. For years, my parents could not afford another bicycle, so whoever needed The Bike most was the one who got to ride it. The rest of us walked.

I learned to ride a two-wheeler on The Bike. I remember propping it up against a tree, and pushing off, wobbling over the bumpy sidewalk, until I fell. I tried and fell, over and over, determined to master the skill like my older sister had, for to ride The Bike meant to fly. And I needed to fly.

The Bike was a dark green Columbia with narrow tires and a wire basket just big enough to hold a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread. Most of my friends had red Raleighs or blue Schwinns with hand brakes, bulky fenders and a thumb shift for their three speeds. The Bike had foot brakes and one speed, but it was swifter than any bike around. 

I lived at the top of Green Street, a long hill lined with Dutch elm and maple trees. When asked to ride The Bike to the store, I pushed off from the front steps, peddling as fast as I could so by the time I was half way down the hill, I was moving so fast that the pedals  disengaged from the gears. Coasting at full speed, I would cautiously remove my grip from the handlebars, knowing that to fall meant that my knees and elbows would require more methiolate and gauze than I could imagine. In a moment of fearless abandon, I’d raise my hands above my head and then quickly grab the handlebars again, just in time to stand on the brakes, announcing my entrance to Main Street with a loud screech similar to the sound of an angry blue jay. No doubt it was dangerous. It was great fun.

By the time I was in my early teens, somebody gave us an old blue Roadmaster with balloon tires, and shortly after that, my younger brothers and sisters received wheelie bikes with banana seats and sissy bars. They were shiny and new, and they got a lot of use, but to me they didn’t compare with The Bike.

As the years passed, bicycle wheels turned to car wheels and nobody rode The Bike any longer. The fenders were gone, the dark green paint chipped and faded and eventually, it went to that secret place to which old and broken toys disappear.

I never owned a bike again. Years later, I watched my own children ride their bicycles down the hill in front of our townhouse.   Abby and Gabe had their own bikes, but Elizabeth had only a Big Wheel, and she was too small to reach the handlebars on the scooter sitting in the front yard.  I watched her big eyes wistfully following the other kids zoom down the hill. She was skinny. And sick. And more than anything else, she wanted to fly.

Buckling a helmet under her chin, I placed her on the scooter, and stood in back of her, pushing us off with all my might. We flew down the hill, cheered on by the astonished neighborhood children who had never seen a mother on a scooter before. It was perhaps, a little dangerous. It was great fun.

Sometimes you just have to fly.

Sending the Horsies

“I’m sending the horsies!”

This was in a text from my daughter Elizabeth. She is in Florida where it is hot and sunny. I am in New Hampshire where it is not. We cherish the time we have when we are together, but it is never enough. In the evening, when I am home from work, I send her a text, knowing that she will be busy with school and friends. It is just a nudge. A touch, to say I love you.

The horsies began when Elizabeth was in first grade. She painfully thin and ill with an endocrine disorder that would take years to diagnose. I wanted so badly to keep her near to me. I wanted to home school her- to keep her safe from classmates who sneezed and coughed and spread their germs over her books and pencils. I wanted to protect my sickly little girl with the huge eyes from the older boys in the bus line who laughed at her skinny arms and legs and called her a “bug eyed creep.” I wanted to let her snuggle under the covers until it was late in the morning, and spend golden afternoons in the sun where the fresh air and warmth would help her to grow strong and healthy.

But what we want as parents is not always what is best for our children. Children become strong by doing, by overcoming, by daring. I knew that I needed to go to work and Elizabeth needed to go to school. I knew she needed to take courage in hand, leave my protective arms and enter the battle ground with the brick walls and hopscotch playground. She needed to prove to herself that she did not need her mother with her every moment. But she needed a reminder that her mother was not far away.

When Abby entered kindergarten, I made her a friendship bracelet out of cotton embroidery floss. I told her that if she became lonely, she need only touch her bracelet to remember that her mother is her best friend. The bracelet was all she needed.

When Gabriel started school, he charged forward with the bravado that only a five-year old boy possesses. He announced he was too old for a kiss goodbye, but devised a secret handshake. When I dropped him off, he would lightly punch my fist with his, meaning, “I love you. I’ll see you in a few hours.” It served him well.

I stumbled upon a solution for Elizabeth in the children’s jewelry section at a local department store- a tiny pair of gold earrings in the shape of horses. As I put the earrings into her ears that night, I told her that these were magic horsies that would gently nibble her ear lobes when I was thinking about her. I told her if she became lonely for me, she should send the horsies to let me know. I would send them back right away, and when she felt a nibble, she would know that I was not far.

Elizabeth is grown now. She wears large silver hoops in her ears. She is tall and willowy, and exotically beautiful. Her eyes are still huge but instead of teasing her about them, boys get lost in them. She has traveled to places I only read about in books and she is not afraid. She is brilliant and beautiful and has a heart that spreads golden warmth to everyone she touches.

But every now and then, as all of us do, she needs to be reminded that her mother loves her. She needs a text, an email, a phone call, a letter. So excuse me. It’s time to send the horsies.

Growing at 30 Green Street

My mother could make anything grow.  I was reminded of this yesterday when I drove to western Massachusetts to see my sister Teri. Teri still lives in the town where we grew up.  I arrived early, so instead of going straight to her apartment, I took a short detour and drove by the house my family occupied during my childhood.  I parked my car across the street and surveyed the outside of 30 Green Street.

I was struck by what a small house it is.  Certainly, when I was a child, it did not seem small, but it is around fifteen hundred square feet, with three bedrooms and one bath; hardly a palace for a family of ten.  When we first owned the house, it was painted gray, and then brown, and then, for many years, it was green. 

The little house is a delicate shade of yellow now, with lavender and white gingerbread trim, and the front garden is lined with a black plastic border and solar lights.  My mother and I planted flowers in that garden- holly hocks and snap dragons along the porch wall, portulaka, petunias and marigolds in the middle, and dusty miller and hens and chickens along the brick path.  In the back yard, there were vegetables- peas, tomatoes and beans, squash and cucumbers.  My mother’s gardens were robust and prolific, bursting with color and ripe with fruit.  The first year she turned up the earth, my father stood on the porch and declared, “Nothing will grow in that dirt.”  But my mother believed that she could plant a garden and let it grow.  A few months later, she had vegetables to feed her family and flowers to line the side walk.

When I was young, the north side of the house was shaded by a large catalpa tree that dropped its flowers and beans on the ebony earth where grass refused to grow.    We called it the side yard, and used the patches of bare dirt to play tic-tac-toe, scratching our marks with sticks.  My mother planted coleus that turned the barren areas to lush Persian rugs.  The catalpa tree was taken down and we planted a blue spruce seedling in its place. When my children were in elementary school, we paid a visit and I took a snap shot of the three of them, standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of its huge trunk.  Yesterday, I was crushed to see that the blue spruce had been cut down.  Only its stump remained as a reminder of what was once a magnificent conifer.

I slowly drove down Dye House Hill, peering through wooded areas to see the river.  During the springs of my childhood, the river fervently rushed across its bed, bubbling and cresting around the rocks and along the banks. Down by the river was where my sister and I played Tarzan and made “medicine” for mosquito bites out of stem sap.  Down by the river was where we went to think, and explore, and push each other into skunk cabbage.  Down by the river is where our cats, Perfidia, Tuti-Fruity, Inky and Horatio hunted for mice and moles to triumphantly bring home and lay on the porch as gifts for their family.

But now, the river is gone.  The water is dried up, the banks overgrown with trees and shrubs. 

I drove slowly down the hill, past the bridge where I waited for the bus on rainy April mornings, past the church steps I climbed every afternoon on my way home from school.  The mill was abandoned.  The stores had new owners and new signs.  The pharmacy with its lunch counter was gone.  The Post Office had moved.  Nothing was the same.  

“Everything has changed,” I thought sadly.  “Everything has changed.”

I was sad for most of the ride back to New Hampshire.  Then it occurred to me.  The little yellow house is a building.  It is not the people who were in it.   Down by the river is a place.  It is not the people who played there.  It is not the granite retainer walls or the tree, or the flowers that I miss.  What I miss is the children who jumped off the porch steps two at a time, and played hopscotch in the driveway.  I miss the adventure of exploring down by the river, the contentment of snuggling close to a new baby brother or sister, and the delight of crowding all eight of us into the way back of the station wagon to go for ice cream on a hot summer night.  My soul does not ache for the walls of the house on 30 Green Street.  It aches for the people inside those walls, who filled it with laughter, who filled it with love.

So today, I am going to touch base with those people who lived with me at 30 Green Street.  I will tell my siblings that I love them.  I will whisper a prayer for our Mom and Dad and with a lump in my throat, remind myself that we will someday be together again.  I will make sure that my children know that it is not so important where you live as it is with whom you live.  Like my mother did, I will plant my garden and watch it grow.

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