I lifted the fork to my mouth and closed my eyes. It was creamy and hot and I wondered how I've lived a lifetime without this taste--this perfect golden, happy, sunshine of a bite.
I opened my eyes, looked around the classroom at Sur la Table and wondered if my classmates would notice if I moved the steaming bowl of Risotto Milanese to my own table and just ate it all myself--slowly with a fork as my the taste neurons in my brain did their own little fireworks performance in my brain. There were other things we prepared in this Classic Italian Cooking class like Pizza Margherita, Lasagne Verdi al Forno, and Tiramisu but The Risotto, good God, the risotto!
One of my closest (funniest/ kindest/ smartest) friends, Melethia suggested we take this class last Wednesday and once again, good choice, M.! Chef Joel Gamoran taught us the miracle that is this risotto as well as this entire Italian menu.
It's 60 degrees outside and a cloudless perfect fall day. The sky is so azure blue it almost hurts to look at it against the orange and red maple leaves. Oh, autumn. S'magical!
This is the time of year when I start browsing Epicurious.com for apple and pumpkin recipes so I was overjoyed on Saturday morning when my friend and neighbor Chef Joy (Whole Foods Salud Chef) swung by to have me taste test her new pumpkin hummus recipe that she was whipping up for a healthy eating class for moms. She arrived with a blender of hummus, lemons and a can of pumpkin. Chef Joy wondered "Does this need more lemon?" I dipped a spoon in the smooth hummus and lifted it to my lips. I smelled pumpkin and warmth. I tasted it and oh, it was divine. It was autumn in a spoon. Pumpkin and cinnamon, seriously divine.
I started thinking about food that can make you happy and while Cool Ranch Doritos and tuna casserole previously lifted me into nirvana, now that I've lost 58 pounds I'm making better choices like this one. It made me happy and there was no "Dear God, what have I done?" hangover. Try this one evening when it's cool outside. Toast some pita chips (cut pitas in 4 triangles, brush with sunflower oil and bake for 5-7 minutes in a 350 degree oven) and mix up this quick hummus recipe. Add a pear, walnut and gorgonzola salad and it's a wonderful light, healthy autumn dinner. Pumpkin is a great source of Vitamin A, fiber and is low on the glycemic index!
Chef Joy's Pumpkin Hummus Recipe
1 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans
1/2 15 oz. can of pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling which is sweetened)
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of tahini
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt, pepper to taste
Add ingredients to blender/Cuisinart and blend until smooth. To serve, top with a couple tablespoons of roasted pumpkin seeds (Whole Foods carries these in their bulk foods section.) Enjoy!
p.s. Before this autumnal dinner, go for a walk around the block and see what fall is like around your neighborhood!
It was a technicolor blue, sunny, crisp, perfect winter Sunday morning when I got the call that they had died. I was away from home in my hotel room when she called to say that she was very sorry but our babies did not survive.
I don’t know why I did what I did next but I left my room with my phone and room key and walked down the hall to the elevator. I remember looking out from the top floor of the hotel and noticing how the sun bounced off the Welcome to Las Vegas sign. I took the elevator down to the casino level and walked across the lobby. It’s so odd to me now but at the time it seemed to be exactly what I should do. I found a chair in front of a Kitty Glitter slot machine and I sat down. I had to tell my L., my husband that they were gone.
I dialed his number. I was staring at Kitty Glitter’s green eyes when L. picked up.
“Hey,” I said barely, softly. “I’m sorry.”
“What happened?” I could picture him sitting forward in his chair, his brow furrowed, staring out the window.
“They’re gone” I said.
“The babies are gone. They’re gone. They died. Our babies are gone.”
“Where are you?” L. asked. He must have heard the ding, ding, ding from the casino.
“I’m in the casino sitting at a Kitty Glitter slot machine. This seemed like the only place to go.”
What do you say after this? What is there for either person to say but I’m sorry and I love you which is what L. said.
After hanging up with L., I wondered about those little babies, so tiny.
Attending Catholic school for my entire education I remember one day in religion class hearing a passage from the Bible that said God is even aware of the tiniest sparrow that falls to the ground. These babies were smaller than a sparrow’s head when they died. Did that mean that God was unaware of them? Did they have souls? Are they in purgatory now for eternity?
When you lose a baby so early there is no ceremony when she dies. One day you are a mother and in one moment you are not. There was no mourning for these babies, no sending them off to be with God. There were no casseroles or sympathy cards or hugs. Most of our friends didn’t even know these babies existed. But they did exist, even for a fleeting time.
I talked with my therapist. I talked with my priest. I pleaded as to how this could happen. Did I do something so terrible that God took them away? Did He think we would we be horrible parents? I had an entire convent of cloistered nuns in Massachusetts praying for these babies. Why couldn’t prayers protect them? How could they have died before they even had a chance to take a breath?
The priest couldn’t tell me why this happened. Just that he would pray for us to feel better and that yes, God is aware of what happened.
This did not help.
I went to the library and found books on grief and loss. I researched quantum physics and most of the popular religions including Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Baha’i, Shinto and Christianity. I tried to find passages on babies who die. Did they go to heaven? Were they reincarnated immediately? Did they just evaporate into the ether?
I decided to go further. I found an intuitive psychic and took a class series with her. One evening a classmate sitting next to me said she felt the presence of a little girl with brown curly hair sitting next to me. It freaked me out. I cried.
This did not help.
I saw an astrologist who predicted changes. Right.
This did not help.
I met with a really groovy Shaman who during meditation tried to get pieces of my soul back from the top of a mountain. She also said she liked the image of the Virgin Mary in my bag. I hadn’t opened my bag in front of her but in the inside pocket I did have a booklet of Novenas that my grandmother had given me. On the cover was the Virgin Mary.
This was pretty cool but this did not help.
I came to the conclusion that there seemed to be nothing that would help me understand the loss. I shelved the grief. I felt better.
And then it was another pristine, perfect, bright blue, sunny day. September 10th. It was their birth day---the day L. and I should be welcoming our babies into the world. I had been dreading this day. I didn’t know how I would get through what would have been the happiest day of our lives. I thought of getting away, going somewhere tropical. It struck me that the next day 9/11, there would be thousands of people wondering what they were going to do too as they mourned their families and friends they lost on that tragic day in 2001. How do you handle grief? What is the best way? My heart hurt so much that I was amazed that a human body can keep going through such grief. I thought surely there must be a point of grief when your mind/soul thinks "That's it. I'm done. Let's just stop all processes." I thought of staying home in bed and crying. That was my very first thought. Then I thought “Well, mac & cheese pretty much helps everything.” But I’ve lost 51 pounds since June and going backwards is not an option. Wine? Drugs? No and no.
September 10th, I went to the gym. I got on the treadmill and I walked until I couldn’t walk anymore. I showered in the locker room and I cried a little in the shower with my forehead against the wall. And then I stopped. I had a salad in the restaurant. I drove home. I listened to Sirius Radio comedy channel Laugh USA. I laughed driving home. I walked inside the house, went upstairs and found the puppy asleep on the carpet in the nursery. She was curled up in a little ball next to the crib. I sat next to her. Sitting there petting E., I had a thought that I needed to let these babies go. I had been holding on so tightly to them for so many months.
I remember one of the interviews I did with Sylvia Browne, the psychic. She once said to me that your loved ones come to you in a dream so they don’t scare the holy hell out of you by appearing at your kitchen table when you’re enjoying a nice roast chicken. Every night since the babies died I would think of them before I went to sleep hoping I could meet them in my dreams. I thought of bringing them home from the hospital, their first day of first grade in their Catholic school uniforms, a trip to Walt Disney World taking turns sitting on L.’s shoulders. I tried to live a life with them in my dreams but sitting on the floor of the nursery on September 10th I realized that I needed to let these little souls go and begin to live my life.
I've been doing a lot of thinking since I started The Happy Girl Experiment and what I have learned is that grief can't serve its purpose when it's bottled and put up high on a shelf. Weirdly enough in order to let it go, you have to feel it. Say what needs to be said, grieve and then breathe. It will get better.
I read that one thing that can help grief is to write a letter to the one you miss. If there are things to be said, say them. This helps you move on. So, if you'll indulge me, there is something I would like to say.
To our extraordinary little ones, I have carried you in my heart for months wishing I was carrying you in my body. I have dreamed of you since I was a little girl and I would literally give up my life if there was a chance for you to live.
We tried so hard to give you life. After you left I even tried to give you a little glimpse of a life in my dreams but I realize that tethering you to this earth, to your father and I doesn't feel right. They say as a parent you give your children roots and wings. I could only give you wings.
I love you more than I could ever imagine loving anyone. I am grateful to have had the time that we had with each of you, just a flutter of a moment in time. I like to think that my grandparents are with you until we come to you someday but if you come right back around and are meant to be the child of another mother, I wish you all the love and laughs and birthday parties and puppies a little one could ask for. I do know, though, that there is no man on this earth who would have loved you and protected you as much as L. would have. He has very strong shoulders for you to ride on and he would have been so proud to show you the fireworks at Walt Disney World. Your father is brave and handsome and so smart and he makes your mother laugh. You would have adored him.
Thank you for choosing me to be your mother. Until the day I die, you will live right here in my heart. It’s funny sometimes. I can almost feel you around me and then I look at the puppy and she is looking up in the air. I think she can see you.
I am going to live the rest of my life living every day as though I had sweet, fuzzy, soft, little heads looking up at me, expecting the best of me. Because after all, I am your mother and I owe you that.
All my love,
And this? This helped.
Living in a trailer park on the border of Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts had some good points.There were some weird points too like my grandfather duct taping most things down in our trailer because the gigantic C-5’s would take off right over our little home and the vibrations would scatter things off tables and even my crib would scurry across the floor like loose marbles.
Then there were the lessons I learned living in that little park like how to behave when you lose your undies. In front of hundreds of men.
The good: As a little girl living with my grandparents and my young mom in our trailer I hoped my mom would meet a soldier and get married and we’d live in a house that wasn’t on wheels with a yard and a dog, Travis. We were, in fact, in such close proximity to the base that you couldn’t step outside the trailer park without bumping into a pod of men in uniform in Cumberland Farms or in their caravans driving down Memorial Drive to the base. I idolized these men in their dress and even in their day-to-day uniforms. This may have very well influenced my unnatural passion for “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
My grandfather being a veteran of WWII taught me to wave to these men that deserved our respect. My mom waved too but I think the boys waved back at us for different reasons. With her bright green eyes and wavy chestnut hair that reached below her waist, my mom was a vision in her Bohemian t-shirts and jean shorts. I think back now of what my grandparents were thinking in the late 70‘s moving with their teenage daughter and her baby into a trailer park so close to thousands of men.
Our little trailer was cozy but in the summer it was HOT. We baked in that aluminum box. My grandfather built a glider one summer and after dinner my mom and grandparents would glide in the slow coolness of the early evening while I hunted for bugs which I usually put in my mouth, not to hurt them of course but rather to see what their feet tasted like. (I can’t explain it, maybe being an only child made me a weird little kid.)
Sometimes if it was too hot to sit still my grandmother (Meme - French Canadian slang for grandmother pronounced Meh-Mey), mom and I would walk down Westover Road to the icy cool of Cumberland Farms for ice cream (ice cream sandwich for Meme, Italian ice for mom and Creamsicle for me.) It was a good walk, a half mile down the main road to the convenience store near the gates of the base.
On this particular sticky summer evening, the boys must have been returning from successful maneuvers because there was a long caravan of military trucks and soldiers in wildly good moods whooping it up as they drove back to base. Meme was walking closest to the road with me in the middle and mom holding my other hand. Mom got a lot of honking and whistling that night before the event even happened.
Meme as usual, was wearing a housecoat that she had made. She was one incredible seamstress and fond of pastel floral fabric. I remember she was holding my hand with her left hand and with her right hand she was holding her rosary beads in her pocket as she always did. As we walked and the trucks slowly drove by us I felt my grandmother’s hand slip out of mine and as I turned to look up at her I saw her granny undies slowly sliding down until they were around her ankles. The rubber band waist had chosen an inappropriate time to give way.
Meme then did the most amazing thing. With the soldiers beeping and hollering and my mom mortified as her mother’s undies landed around her ankles, Meme stepped out of her undies and without looking down or skipping a beat we kept walking, leaving her white granny undies on the sidewalk on Westover Road. I remember looking up at my mother who kept looking back at the undies on the asphalt. Meme never did look at my mother or at me. She held tightly onto my hand and said to my mother “Jacqueline, we’re walking. Walk.” And we did. We walked all the way to Cumberland Farms for our ice cream and walked all the way back home without saying a word. In fact, we never spoke of this again.
I’ve thought about the “Undies Incident” often in the past year since The Perfect Life I had imploded, especially in the last few months since I started The Happy Girl Experiment. I’ve been hitting myself over the head (metaphorically speaking) and wringing my hands (not metaphorically speaking) and rehashing what I did or didn’t do or said or should have said and I wonder if I could have changed the outcome of any of it if I had acted as Meme did. Could I have handled any of the life-changing devastating things that happened in the past year somehow differently?
I am amazed with Meme for the grace she showed when she must have been humiliated in front of hundreds of men who clearly saw her losing her undergarments and what should have been her dignity. I realize that all these years later Meme has taught me an invaluable lesson for when I do something embarrassing or stupid and I just want to collapse into myself like a dying star.
What I learned is that you may do something humiliating or something may happen in front of others that horrifies you and you have two choices.
1.) You can acknowledge it and be mortified and apologize and rehash it over and over and hit yourself over the head for being a dumbass.
2.) You can acknowledge it for a millisecond and move on. You may slip on something, fall and drop your full tray in the cafe at dinner on your very first day of college (Yes, I did that) or you may say something you shouldn’t have and you didn’t mean to get around to EVERYONE or in a conversation at work you say how you think people who own boats are pricks and yes, your boss who owns a Chris Craft yacht is standing there sipping his coffee as you say it. Get over it.
Whatever you did or said is done. The best thing for everyone is to move forward, say you’re sorry and mean it if the situation calls for it but close the door and be done.
You may lose your undies or your humility for a second maybe even in a very public way but you do have a choice to make in how the aftermath plays out. Next time you so something that makes you feel stupid or embarrassed or humiliated remember Meme.
Step out of the situation.
Hold your head high.
Keep going and treat yourself to an ice cream sandwich