I spent some of my creepiest nights in a convent growing up.
It’s no secret my mom’s sister, aka, Aunt Lucy was a Franciscan nun, and my mom, a devout Catholic. Sometimes we would visit her in Poughkeepsie when she was the principal of St. Francis School, and because of the distance back home, we would dine and sleep with the nuns.
The nuns were all kind and fawned all over me because I was little.
But, I could not escape the rickety-ness of everything in their very meager, old, musty smelling abode, laden with saint statues whose eyes seemed to be on me at every turn. I found solace in the itty bitty chapel, but when I slept over I used to hold my pee overnight so I didn’t encounter St. Rose of Lima by the bathroom.
There was no en suite toilet, and I had my mom walk me in the morning because I was scared. There was something about it that reminded me of the Haunted House ride in the Magic Kingdom. I expected spirits to join us at breakfast and I couldn’t wait to get in the car and split.
As I grew older and more mature, aware of the sacrifices of religious vocation, it wasn’t the décor or the saint replicas which threw me for a loop…it was the lifestyle.
Aunt Lucy entered the convent at seventeen, and never looked back. I understand loving the Lord…my devotion falls just slightly short of moving in with a horde of same sex devotees for the rest of my life, so I understand her passion and her devotion…but no man is an island.
I remember peering at her once when she didn’t see me, when my niece Jennifer was born in 1977. We went to visit my sister in Sherborn, Massachusetts. With nobody watching, she took Jenni out of the bassinette, just to hold her. No fanfare. No noise. No crying. Just her and this little newborn. That moment is etched in my brain, and on my heart for 44 years.
When I think about it, there must have been a craving for motherhood, because for most of us, parenting is natural. A woman’s desire for a baby can override every thought, every importunity in life, and yet she chose, chose I say, to fight the natural instinct and human desire to be close to another life.
I knew she loved family. She loved our holidays, our meals, our stories, speaking Vastese with her siblings and sharing childhood memories, but how do you walk away from that after a few hours and not need a mate…someone to rehash, recap, uncoil with? How do you go to bed alone without a good-night kiss, and “I love you.”
It must be lonely. It must have been lonely, but she would never admit it.
How do you spend your existence with other nuns who have nothing to really contribute to your existence except the same day to day devotion, which is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but that’s it.
How do you not want to hug someone after a long day, your partner, your equal in life, your coparent, whether your day was good or bad, and look forward to that moment when they walk through the door. Yeah, I get it, not every day is “that” day, but there is some element to the comfort of a human hug, a kiss, normalcy of a homelife.
As I raise my kids now as a single mom, and I stress, with the RIGHT person, my BFFL, my companion, my confidant, I miss the adult comradery, the alone time, a dinner, and adult conversation with someone who has my back every day. I look forward to that eventually.
I realized the other night when I had a not so pleasant encounter in the teenage life of one of my kids, I was derailed, crying, emoting, and I needed logical back up. Someone to say, “Lin, this is teenage crap. Back off. Let it settle. Let’s talk. Let’s go for a drink or ice cream. Don’t be so emotional. Don’t be so dramatic. It hurts, but this is how it is.”
I didn’t have any of that, and I just cried in my room, like a room in the convent…and it sucked. I was alone in my thoughts, rehashing the ugliness of the last half hour.
Nobody sat on my bed, I didn’t feel the warmth of the body heat only another person can produce, the smell of cologne or B.O., or even a bad breath kiss.
Someone might say, but you are surrounded with love…you have eight children. And, I never take it for granted. But, it is not the same love.
Genesis 2:18, even the Lord in his infinite, primitive wisdom said:
“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make him a suitable helper.”
Helper? Hmm…but the take home is that man, (as in mankind) needs a mate, a back up, a refuge.
It is also written, Proverbs, 18:22:
“He who finds a wife, finds a good thing, and obtains favor with the Lord.”
Let’s stress good wife, here. Like myself LOL.
Lonely can be by choice, whether it’s religious devotion like Aunt Lucy, or the proverbial bachelor, who just can’t commit.
Sometimes people, like myself tried so hard to make the relationship work, but it takes two people who want to make it work, who understand what it’s about.
But, in the end, we need “that person.” It’s unnatural not to have “that person,” in good times and in bad, venting about an ugly moment with the kids or shit that went on at the office.
And, “in sickness and in health.” My God…dying alone.
Not being cared for by someone who committed themselves to YOU…holding your hand through a scary procedure. Waking up from anesthesia and seeing your forever person there smiling at you because you just snored in the nurse’s face and farted uncontrollably for two hours. Or, taking the day off for your colonoscopy or mammogram because you are scared shitless.
Yeah, you can call on your best girlfriend to get you there and home, but when they go back to their families, you are alone in the convent.
Although we think we can make it alone, do it alone, and for the toughness I think I have, deep down I don’t. I don’t think anyone does.
Everybody needs somebody. God created us to procreate so we can have our own people, and give our people to someone else’s people.
It’s that simple. It’s that natural. It’s that beautiful.
So, as I reflect on my aunt, her anniversary coming up in August, if she could hear me, I would say…
“Aunt Lucy, you have to admit…it must have been lonely in that convent.”
Parenting is constant.
It is a difficult activity that takes up every ounce of our being, every minute of every day.
Yet, the most joyous, the most rewarding, the most passionate of all loves.
Passion is not always joyous.
There are tears galore, frustration, the feeling of wanting to choke the shit out of another human being, (but if you are sane, even at that moment of insanity, you don’t), saying crap in another’s face that at that moment sounds good because they just touched every sympathetic nerve with a heated barb.
Parenting is an intense road of constant direction, worry, and needing to impart your beliefs on another for their own good, even if it doesn’t really go over well.
That’s if you’re doing it right.
One thing I always say about passion…even in its worst form…anger, tears, telling someone to F-off, it comes from hard core emotion. Most of the time it comes from love. Without love of something, a person, an occupation, a food (if you’re Italian), there is no passion. There is no anger when the other person rejects our idea, rejects an apology, a hug, a kiss, without passion.
Passion is hurt. Passion is anger. Passion is rejection. As twisted and uncomfortable as those emotions are, it means we love.
Indifference is passion’s nemesis. When we can walk away without feeling or caring even under explosive circumstances, or feel nothing in a relationship that is supposed to bring us joy, indifference is born.
Parenting is full of passion. But, that passion doesn’t have to be gooey and demonstrative every day of the week.
Whether it’s a grand explosion of embraces, trips to DQ, shopping sprees and pinatas or the day to day grind, passion for parenting allows us to get up every day and do it again and again.
But, using the word “No,” just to say it so we know we are in the driver’s seat isn’t the balance, either.
Parenting is totality. It’s not about the one moment in time when you pissed each other off, or the one vacation to Disney that was so dreamy you bought everything at that store in Tomorrowland to redecorate your kitchen.
It is the mundane, every day routine, but your constant presence of love…your rock for your child, that bologna or meatball sandwich, the project they forgot that you dropped off when you were in your workout gear…it’s all passion. It’s consistency and totality.
Parents who have incessant rigidity will never get to the core of their kid..their needs, and most importantly who they are. Once you unlock this mystery, you will be better adept at navigating the relationship. They seem to be too focused on the mechanics of parenting, rather than the heart.
Have you ever heard this stupidity: “I’m not your friend. I’m your mother?” Right-o mommy-o, oh most holy one. Wrong.
Most relationships, even the romantic ones, the ones with staying power are built on friendship first.
You were your kid’s first friend. First true love, first confidant, their entire world. Their trust.
And, now, just to make a point from the throne, you have demoted them to royal subject and rent free squatter to hold dominion over them because…why?
Without that level of friendship and openness, your mini me will search for other pastures, and others who will listen to them.
I did not say they are your equal. That’s different. Respect is foremost. But, the balance between parent and friend is key, and as I told my daughter the other night during a moment of negative passion, respect begets respect. Yeah, mom, dad, it’s hard.
Showing the omnipotent, infallible teenager respect for their space by asking (even though you own their car, the car insurance, and are the gas cash cow) if they will drive their sibs to dance, what their schedule is, trying to work around their lives, only promotes a giving back of the same. Remember, at any age, children learn what they live. They learn to love from you, how to treat others, and for the good and bad of it, probably how to parent.
I made it through 25 almost 26 years of parenting, without one chart, one colored sticker, one fucking emoji calendar. I don’t put anything in my phone, and my head is my secretary. I fly by the seat of my Fabletics, I can be disorganized and messy. I suck at banking and I can’t get past fourth grade math. And, some days I feel like I suck at it all.
But, I didn’t follow some psychologist’s rubric on how to raise my own child. I didn’t use a book. My mom was dead, and my father was kind, but he didn’t know anything about potty training or diaper changing. I winged it through instinct.
Follow your instinct. F everything else. Teach love. Not Hare Krishna Kumbaya, My Sweet Lord Love, but every day useful love.
Teach compassion. And the best way to teach is to show. Don’t pontificate. Get pissed, because we all do. But, be able to say I’m sorry.
Be generous with uncovering your foibles, because we all have them. Kids will pressure themselves less if they know you are not perfect. Be kind when they fail, falter, bring home a bad grade. We’ve all been there. Demonstrate the compassion and patience you would want demonstrated to you.
Keep your home open for them to bring friends over. You would rather have them there than anywhere else, even if it means a group of long haired teenagers use your house like an after prom shore romp.
Build up the good moments of love and tolerance like an investment, so when you need to let it rip, because as parents we have to, it will balance the softer moments, and above all, leave space for the uncomfortable part of setting a ground rule, dealing with repercussions and lesson learning.
Vexatious moments will arise all through life that need to be pointed out and dealt with…be armed with parental authority and recognize the teachable moment.
Passion isn’t just sex, making out, hanging all over your significant other on the couch watching Netflix. It is about loving what you do…loving others in good moments and moments of distress, discord and disagreement.
Passion in its most beautiful form is an expression of love.
Don’t be guilted by the ugly moments, for they come from love. When you embrace your children, embrace the passion of parenting. It’s hard core, it’s timeless, it’s never ending.
It is a gift.
As I ponder my life at 53, almost 54, and how much has changed in my faith, my thoughts, my direction on the eve of this Father’s Day, I need to address my dad’s influence on me.
But, it may not be in the gooey, typical Father’s Day tribute you will see posted everywhere. YAWN.
For the Italian American community, and sometimes beyond, my dad was, as I am finding, a beloved icon.
My Iast name is not a common one, and a dead ringer I might be related. Sometimes I see how excited someone gets when they put the pieces together, recite commercials from the 70’s and 80s that I can too recite ad nausem and were just a part of my every day existence.
As a kid, I just knew my father as dad. I could not understand the applause. I just knew the guy who lunched at Valentino’s, smoked a pack of Marlboros a day, drove the same car ten years in a row (and of course the Ferrari), only drank Chianti or a Beefeater Martini up with a twist or two, and always came home to his family.
He would inevitably fall asleep on the couch watching 60 Minutes or Gunsmoke. He snored so loud because he was minus his adenoids since he was like ten, and my mom couldn’t take much of that and bought every snore trapper device she could find.
He worked tirelessly and passionately until he entered hospice at 76, and as I go through a divorce, I am proud and excited to go back to my maiden name.
It’s not about the celebrity, it’s about the man.
The man who, set the bar so high, I couldn’t find a real man representative of what a man should be.
My father was the most committed individual to anything he embarked on.
He never left a project unfinished, or slept in until 11 a.m. There was work to be done, money to be made, and a family to provide for.
Even during the not so wealthy days, as an immigration attorney, he always knew there was more. Make it better. Make it the best. Be a good person, with honor, integrity and care. Treat everyone as if they were paying your bills. Remember your employees are part of your success, and your front line. Love them until the death. (and he did). Be loyal. Love your wife like she is the last woman on earth. Provide for your kids even when they become adults. Then, provide for your grandchildren.
Legacy. Lineage. Roots.
He never forgot any of them.
If he were alive, I would probably tell him I find him single handedly responsible for my failed relationships. I’m sure he would laugh and then ask how the hell this could be.
And, I would tell him:
Dad, I thought everyone was you.
I thought every man was you.
I thought men were inherently good, honorable and faithful.
I thought any man knew his role, knew how to love, knew how to treat a woman, his wife.
I thought every man would work like a dog, provide for his family and never rest until he achieved his goal, and still never stop.
I thought every man would be selfless, egoless and upstanding beyond.
I thought every man was honest and knew how to love.
It’s all I knew, dad, and I thought they would all be you.
So, as I venture into my almost mid 50s, embarking on a new life, I will look for my dad in an incredibly special man who gets it. He needs to be very Catholic, compatible with my faith, and if you are not Italian…need not apply.
It’s not about money. It’s not about wealth. It’s about understanding what love is, the sacrifice it takes, the calling it is, the unwearying desire and devotion to your better half, and your family. It’s about not wanting to hurt someone to vault your own ego, but about forgetting the ego to boost someone else’s. It’s about caring so much for others that you die with nothing to check off, and hopefully no regrets.
It’s about loving the way a man should…without boundaries, without limitations and never, ever worrying about what the rest of the world thinks.
Dad, you set the bar way too high for an average man.
Mostly because you don’t know what average is.