Monday, June 24, 2013

Where Have All the Grandpas Gone?

James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano

I was shocked and saddened like millions of others when I heard that James Gandolfini died last week of a sudden heart attack at 51.  Best known as Tony Soprano, he had traveled with his thirteen year old son Michael and family to see the sights of Rome and later speak at a film festival in Sicily.  

I couldn't help but think of his young son finding his father on the floor, calling for help, and then learning that his dad didn’t make it.  Friends say the two were as tight as thieves, and it will be a monumental task for this teenage boy to grow up without him.
Gandolfini with son, Michael
How common is this? I wondered, because in my family it’s the natural state of things.  When my husband was 17, his father collapsed in his arms at the age of 52.  My own father died at 54, but at least I was in my twenties and grateful that he knew my daughter Stacey, his only grandchild at the time.

He was nuts about her, coveting her latest pictures, and grinning when she emptied his breast pocket, pulling out his lighter and comb.   At twenty-two months, she doesn’t remember him, and neither will Gandolfini’s nine month old daughter, Liliana Ruth.  

 They say 10,000 people die each year of heart disease at around the age fifty, which means that there are thousands of kids who will grow up without fathers and even more without a grandpa.
Both my mother and mother-in-law remarried to personable and giving men.  They spent time with my daughters, and my girls enjoyed their company.   Still it wasn’t the same.   These men had their own grandchildren, and besides, they didn’t have the Schwartz sense of humor, or the love of boats, ice-cream, or Bernie’s edge on politics,  history—and of course, his wit.
Gandolfini with Michael and wife, Deborah Lin
The Gandolfini children, too, will never replace their father, but I hope that in the coming years there will be other male figures to guide them. 
And how about all the future grandchildren?  They too, will eventually feel the pain for not having met this remarkable man.
Joni Mitchell used to sing, “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”
And it's true, believe me.  I look at my children, and I know that it is.



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Turning the Car Seat Around

Facing forward at last!
 My grandson Hudson used to sit in his car seat facing the rear, staring at the upholstery and the small mirror above.
A few days ago, my daughter turned his car seat around, and lo and behold Hudson, sixteen months, looked up and out.   Stunned for a moment, he grinned and then laughed.  It was a whole new world!  Once on the road, he saw houses, trees, stores, cars, and people passing by.  Never viewing life from this position before, he sat mesmerized at the action around him.   There was no turning back.
Loving the phone
What a feeling, I thought—suddenly discovering an entirely new existence just by swiveling a hundred eighty degrees. 
 Which got me to thinking.  When was the last time, I was so surprised, so awestruck, that I stopped  in my tracks with innocence, with wonder. 

Machu Picchu, I remembered.  When we finally plodded up the hill and climbed the steps of this ancient Inca city, I gasped at the enormous grassy terraces filled with crumbling structures before us.  
Machu Picchu, Peru
 It was an incredible sight, and I was stunned into silence.
 And boy, that’s something for me.

But do you have to trek to Peru or China’s Great Wall or the enormous statues on Easter Island to feel that way again? 
Sometimes it’s closer than you think.

Oh I know that they tell you to smell the roses or take a walk in the park, and that’s all very good, but you gotta feel it inside.  It’s got to strike you in the heart, stop you in your tracks.
And that’s the thing about babies.  When they experience something new, you see their natural surprise--their eyes twinkling, glittering, and an enormous grin spreading across their face.   
There’s no hidden agenda, no effort to make a sale, impress, flatter, or beg.  It’s merely the face of pure innocence, and it knocks us off our worn jaded feet.   

But do we need a toddler to help us step down from our complicated reality into a simpler but more heartfelt existence?
I hadn’t noticed till recently how happy my husband looks when I enter a room—how he smiles and how his face relaxes when he sees me.  It surprised me at first, and then I smiled too, suddenly realizing that his subtle expression changes a lot about me.

So look around.  The innocence still shines.  Go connect with a preschooler, or better yet, turn that car seat around.  There’s a whole new world out there.