My paternal grandmother, Nana Annie, used family holidays and functions as a forum for sharing her sage advice. At every event, some version of her extended family -- three children and their spouses, ten grandchildren and seventeen great grandchildren -- would all gather round and listen to the Ratner family equivalent of the Queen Mother dispense such words of wisdom as "A Ph.D. may make you smart, but it doesn't make you wise" and "Always wear lipstick and have your nails done; you just never know who you might run into."
I always took her straightforward, street-smart adages to heart--perhaps because I don't have an advanced degree and will look for any excuse to get a manicure. But today I am reminded of one proverb in particular. It's one she'd taken to passing along with greater frequency in recent years.
"All deaths," Nana Annie would say, "are sad. But not all are tragedies."
This morning I am packing to fly to Washington D.C. for her funeral.
Nana would have been 99 this summer. She had an amazing run and I think she knew it. She was a fighter who survived the early death of her husband (she was a widow, I think, longer than she was married) and a bout with breast cancer with grit and determination. She lived independently -- fiercely independently -- right up until she turned 98 last July.
Nana had really wanted to make it to one hundred. There was something magical in her mind about being a centarian. I, too, was sure she would make it, and was already starting to brainstorm party ideas. But sometimes bodies just don't keep up with minds, and Nana was always clear she wanted her body to go first. That prayer was answered.
Up until the last two weeks of her life she still knew it was my voice when I'd call her on her cell phone at her assisted living facility. She'd always ask how the kids were doing in school, how my middle son's Bar Mitzvah preparations were going and how the cats and dog were getting along. My answers to the first two questions were usually much more positive than the last, and she'd laugh. Then, she'd remind me that I was lucky that my biggest problem on the home front was the animals. I'd thank her for the perspective.
I am thankful I got so many years with my grandmother. And I am thankful my kids got to belong to that exclusive club of people who got to experience a great grand mother's advice first hand.
Upon hearing the news that Nana had died this past weekend, my daughter painted her nails green and topped her thumbnails off with a butterfly decal, Nana's favorite animal. I can't think of a better way to honor her memory.
I am sad as I head home. But I know, as I look forward to reminiscing with my extended family, that this is not a tragedy.
And I will plan to wear lipstick on both the plane ride home and at the funeral. Because Nana was right, you do never know whom you might run in to.
May her memory be a blessing.comments powered by Disqus
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.
Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.
There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.