It Takes A Village
Well friends, it has been a long time; nearly six months to be exact. I have thought a about putting pen to paper, or pixel to screen, to be more exact, at least a hundred times. But I just couldn’t muster up the motivation I needed to do so. And writing isn’t like one of Kim Kardashian’s orgasms, it can’t be faked. But now I’m ready to give it a go again. Elly has started Montessori, summer is over and I’m ready to tell some stories. So here we go...
There’s an expression that I suspect you have heard before - "It takes a village to raise a child." While I was familiar with it before Elly, now that I’m a parent, the sentiment behind those words really resonates with me. And coupled with the loss of some special people in my life, I find myself thinking about it even more introspectively.
In my last column, I shared a story about a dear friend’s passing. For my foray back to writing, I’m going to touch on that theme one more time. I am mildly reluctant to strike the melancholy chord again. But as much as I love to share upbeat and chipper quips about my life, and how I so adore being deliciously vicious, there is a softer side to CattyDaddy as well. A side that is sensitive, sincere and sentimental. (Thank goodness that I’m not Cindy Brady during her lisp phase right now.) So bear with me one more time as I tell this story. And with one hand over my heart and the other snapping in a zee formation, I do promise you that the more jovial, sometimes bitchy columnist that you’ve come to know, will be back, with funny things (I hope) to say.
So, where were we? Oh yeah, the "village" story. As we progressed out of this last winter (you remember, the one that really was more of a mild fall) into the full awakening of springtime, I began to face the reality that my grandmother was not going to be with us much longer. It didn’t come as a total surprise but it was/is still a tough reality. Nonna was nearly ninety and she was my last living grandparent. During the winter, she had open-heart surgery that was intended to elongate her life. The surgery itself was successful. But, the complications of being elderly and the effects of having a major surgery played out her hand a bit differently than anyone had hoped. As the following few months progressed, she took a turn for the worst and passed away just fifty-two days shy of her ninetieth birthday.
As a first generation Italian-American, many of my compatriots will be able to appreciate my upbringing. I grew up in a duplex. My grandparents, aunts and uncles lived on the second and third floors of the house, and my parents and I (and later my sister) lived on the first floor. As the first-born grandson, I enjoyed the likeness of princehood for a number of years - four years to be exact, until my sister came along. Then even though I needed to share the spotlight, I was still the prince. And I suppose in this tale, princes sometimes grow up to be queens but once again, I digress.
My grandmother was like a second mom to me. As a kid, we spent tons of time together. As soon as I could do the stairs on my own, I’d wake up and scramble upstairs. There, when not tormenting my then teenage aunts and uncles, I’d cook with my grandmother or watch my grandfather sketch something that he’d later turn into an intricate wood carving. One of my favorite childhood memories was taking the train into Boston with my grandmother and going to an Italian pastry shop. I even took my first trip to Italy with my grandparents.
As an adult, Nonna supported my marriage to Greg and welcomed Elly no differently than any of her other seven great-grandchildren. Elly absolutely adored her. Nonna always had a plateful of biscotti on hand. They appeared almost magically at times. She also had copious supplies of Kit Kats and a bowl of pastina (baby pasta) was always no more than ten minutes away. She was the consummate grandmother.
On Nonna’s final day, I struggled with whether to let Elly say goodbye. Greg felt we should. I was unsure. But we ultimately decided that Elly was at an age where she still had the innocence of youth and the benefit of not truly understanding what was imminent. So we took her in to my grandmother’s hospital room to give the two a minute together. While it was one of the most difficult moments I have had to endure, it gave me solace to know that my grandmother had one last chance to see my little girl. And that my daughter could give the woman who helped shape the man that I am, one last kiss.
Explaining death to a three year old is no easy feat. One doesn’t want to frighten them, so it is necessary to choose the right words, judiciously and as precisely as one can. For example, telling a three year old that someone died because "they were sick" can come back to haunt you. We chose to tell Elly somewhat simply that "Nonna went to heaven." But in order for her to somehow grasp the finality and permanency of things, we also told her that from now on "we will only see Nonna in pictures."
"Why did she got to heaven?" Elly would ask.