Letter to Mom – Written Two Months After She Disappeared

Dear Mom,

I’m so sorry about all of this. If there was something wrong with you before you broke your hip and had surgery for it, why didn’t we figure that out? I’m not supposed to think like this – because you were old and old people die.

God Mom, I miss you so much. I want to talk to you. It’s just little things that I’d say. Today I’d tell you that I went for a swim in the rain. And that I’m scrapping off some old wooden chairs to repaint. You’d admire the chair job because it’s frugal – and will be bright and colourful. You lived a whole long life without learning how to swim so you might not think of it as enjoyable in rainy weather, but it was.

And I’d tell you about going to the farmer’s market at the near-by community hall. Remember, it’s not like the ones in the city. Out here at the cottage they really are farmers selling cucumbers (got some) and zucchini’s (got those too) and fresh potatoes and corn (our supper). Maybe I wouldn’t tell you I bought a beautiful little bird house made by a local artist. It’s exquisite but you’d wonder how many bird houses I could own?

Did I ever tell you that we got the birdhouse off your garage before your house sold? How many birdhouses do I have to own before I’m a bird house collector?

Those are some of the things I’d talk about with you if you were still here. But you’re not and so what I want to talk most about is Dad. God it’s so hard with him. When you first left us (where did you go Mom?) his dementia seemed suddenly less of a factor. Like he was shocked into being clearer. Mom, I know you were 89 and I guess in worse health than we thought, but we were shocked when you died. (You know Dad doesn’t like the term ‘passed away’ so I try not to use it.) When you were first brought to the hospital with that stupid broken hip you said, You didn’t want to do ‘that hip thing’. And I knew what you meant – how a broken hip and surgery can lead to a slow downward spiral. But it wasn’t a spiral at all. It was way faster than that. I’m angry with myself for not staying with you at the hospital 24/7 but I had no idea we were going to lose you. If I could go back in time – I’d go back to then, but I’m guilty of magical thinking believing that I could have changed anything by being there. Your lung collapsed Saturday night but no one knew that . I’m glad I had a sister with me at the hospital, holding your hand and wiping your brow, but she and I are also glad the others didn’t see you, so they can remember you differently than that.

So yeah it’s hard with Dad. Cause he’s not clear now like he was that first week. He’s so lost without you. But maybe I shouldn’t tell you that. Though is there some way that you know? People I’m close to are saying there is. I don’t know what I believe. Are you looking over my shoulder at my fingers moving quickly over my iphone keys right now? Or are you just gone? I thought that I would have somehow felt you by now. There was one morning when I saw you in a dream and it was comforting then, but it wasn’t enough. I’m waiting for something like that again.

Mom we’re doing our best with Dad. It’s so hard as he doesn’t always seem to know that. And they are wonderful with him where he lives. He’s getting out a lot – like really a lot. He asks us to take him places constantly and none of us can say no, even if we’d taken him on a long drive in the country the day before. But we’ll barely have him back and he’s asking when we can do it again.

You’d be proud of your grandkids – they’re visiting him too. Hey, we made the family jelly – your special rose petal (maybe I felt you watching me that night), and raspberry jelly, and the peachy pear. I think we did alright.

Oh – and in this high tech world I taught my granddaughters how to embroidery one evening at the lake. I knew that would make you happy. Oh mommy. I miss you so much. I thought this letter might help. Maybe the first try is the hardest.

I could just imagine your response. I know you’d give me advice about the jam (it all set, but I did have one runny batch). And you’d just love that your six and nine year-old great-grand daughters were embroidering. It was cool to see how much they liked it and went free hand with their names above their carefully stitched puppy and butterfly.

I think you’d tell us we were spoiling dad and we don’t have to take him out so much. I know behind the dementia is my ‘real’ dad, who would never be so demanding. But both that dad and this dad are so lonely for you. I’m sitting here on the end of the dock, feeling as lost as daddy. I’ll slip into the lake and swim, I guess. I don’t know how to sign off.

Love you forever Mom.

Ps. I haven’t done the best job with your bills. Some got paid late. I know you’d hate that. I’ll do better.

Pps. Did I ever tell you that Rose says if she ever had a baby girl she’d name it Vera – after you. I hope I did.

Embrace Technology Because I’m Too Young for a Paper Shredder

I’m not old – not some little granny – well, I’m a grandma, but a young grandma – just fifty-one.  That’s just eight years older that Julia Roberts who just finished eating, praying and loving, and it’s ten years younger than Merly Streep.  And I’ll be any age that lets me sing my heart out to Pierce Brosnan ( age fifty-six)) on a mountain top in Greece.

But I breezed into my local office supply store to update my printer because it ‘thinks’ way too long before it will respond to my tapping the print button, and in no time I felt like I was born in ‘the early days’ as my grandmother used to say.   I had to direct myself to listen really, very carefully to the twelve year old sales clerk who was so patiently telling me why it wasn’t the printer that was at fault, but that the printer was too fast for my much older tower computer’s USB port and what I needed was not a printer, but to replace the ancient computer with a small lap top which I could buy for not much more than the high tech printer I wanted (but didn’t need) and if I wanted the teeny tiny laptop that would fit in my purse, all I needed was a exterior hard drive which was the size of a deck of cards or I could even (be patient, I could have this confused in my addled fifty-one-year-old mind, as my  concentrating was further impaired when the baby clerk mentioned something about the system his wife used – did twelve-year-olds have wives – was he possibly twenty-four?) …yeah, I could even sign onto a hard drive warehouse thingy where they (were they robots) could keep my hard drive contents on a shelf somewhere far away.

We have a same age friend who tells my husband and I that we have to “embrace technology”,  and believe me I want to.  I do.  Or I did. But my heart was beating so, so fast in my efforts to embrace what the hec this clerk was talking about and I remembered that I needed a new  fade and water resistant uni-ball bright coloured felt pen to replace the old one that one of my adult kids took off with the last time they were home, so I let the nice ‘man’ help someone else while I went to catch my breath one aisle over.  What caught my eye next was a paper shredder – I refuse to buy a paper shredder.  Now that is a testament to one’s age.  Ask anyone over sixty – they all own paper shredders.  Probably even Merly Streep.

Frozen Toothpaste Spit

Mornings for our family of six were hugely chaotic when we were all younger.  I don’t miss the chaos, but rather all that energy.  My husband and I, and our daughter, Lily, developed a routine when the three older kids moved out.  Will left the house just before I had to haul Lily’s skinny butt out of bed, and Lily ate her cereal in the car while I drove her to school. After her Cheerio’s she brushed her teeth, and spat her toothpaste out the car window, ready (late) to do algebra with a fresh smile.

It was less organized when they were little kids, though there was a predictable rhythm to our chaos.  Will and I would lie in our warm bed, allowing the alarm to go into snooze mode.  “We’ve got to get up.  We’ve got to get up,” he always grumbled.   Motionless and on cue, there would be our little Hudson at the bedroom door.

“Is it a school day?” he would ask, wiping away the water rolling down his forehead from his saturated cow lick.  Back then Hudson was our morning child.   I would assure him that it was a school day, swinging on my bathrobe and plodding downstairs, without even splashing water over my squinched up face.  Cole would have hauled his quilt off the top bunk and hunkered down in front of the T.V.  I would go into automatic pilot – new day, same words.  “Cole TV off.  Clothes on, please.”  He’d roll off the couch and stagger into his room while I rushed off to  Zoë’s room.

“Come on, sweetie,” I’d urge, lifting the covers, and just as I would be about to give Zoë’s shoulders a gentle rocking, the veil of sleep would lift and she would get ready to join the din that was fast enveloping the house.  Cole, the son created in his father’s image, would be calling for me to find him socks, while his dad, who denies he’s ever made such a request, would be banging the dryer door and stomping about trying to locate the laundry basket.  My bladder would demand that I pay attention to it but there were not enough wheels rolling.  Everything had to be in motion before I could afford to pause.

Upstairs Hudson would already have a bowl of Cheerio’s.  My legs would circle like the Roadrunner’s as I located the socks for Will, who would be ready to make his exit, barefoot in his suit and tie.  (He’s not a breakfast eater or brown bagger.  Thank God.)  I’d lay Cole’s socks on the table and grab a cereal bowl just as Cole asked for a grapefruit.   My morning aerobic routine would move into full swing. Slice the grapefruit, spin and deliver.  Bend to the refrigerator for the ham and mustard. Long stretch to the top of the stairs, “Zoë, are you coming up?  You should be up here.”  Do the ham sandwich for Cole.  Count – one lunch down, two breakfasts, no kindergarten snack.  Zoë would come up, and I’d shove the Rice Krispees box in front of her.  With everyone in motion I’d race upstairs to use the bathroom, consider my disheveled state in the mirror for a split second, and run back down to the short order station to slap together a peanut butter and jam sandwich for Zoë’s lunch.

Ready before all of us, Hudson would suddenly be missing a school library book that he’d urgently tell me the teacher said he would have to pay for.  “What’s on the cover?” I’d ask and looking uncomfortably warm in his jacket, toque and mittens, waiting for the others at the door, he’d say, “A green pig maybe.”

“It’s under Lily’s bed,” Zoë would tell us.

“Don’t wake, Lily,” I’d warn Hudson, but of course he would and she would be down making some unreasonable demand on me, like a bit of food tossed her way for breakfast.

Hudson would request an apple for his kindergarten snack, instead of the orange I was about to pop into the pack he was already wearing on his back.  I’d take the stairs to the basement two at a time and find the apples were wrinkled, but would decide if I approached from the back I could get one into Hudson’s pack unseen, and throw in some cookies to compensate.

One of Cole’s friends often phoned to offer him a ride with his mother. Theirs was a two kid family – I’d attempt to hustle all of mine out together so they could stuff themselves into that neighbor’s compact car.  But then Cole would have lost a glove and someone else wouldn’t be able to locate her vinyl lunch bag, and on cue I’d say in an exasperated but determined voice, “I’ve had it.  This is crazy.  From now on you find all these things at night.”  Cole loved this particular pair of gloves so he would wear the one he had and put his other hand in his pocket.

“I hate taking paper.  It’s so wasteful.” Zoe would protest, long before paper became taboo.

“Bring it back and I promise to use it over and over and over again.”

By then Lily, would have joined our merry clan, asking for toast and jelly.  “Not now,” I’d tell her too abruptly, and she’d start to wail.

The neighbor would beep a friendly sort of ‘we’re here’ beep.  Zoë was usually last out, and always just about to pull her hat over a coiffure that looked like small animals had burrowed in it during the night, before I noticed and raced for the kitchen comb (once there were even kitchen toothpaste and toothbrushes in my endless attempts to do this better).  Keeping the door open with one foot and hoping I wasn’t exposing myself with my sloppy bathrobe, I’d tug the comb through her hair, one eye on the fully clothed and carefully groomed neighbor behind the wheel of the car she probably had time to heat up, before she loaded the dishes from her boy’s omelets into the dishwasher.

If the perfect neighbor weren’t picking them up they would all make it out to the steps and ask, “Can we walk?” – meaning do we have time? And I would say in a determined voice, “No, we have to change our ways,” and then urge them on with, “Now, run, run, run,” following up, in as calm a tone as I could muster, “Bye, have a good day,” because I felt strongly that something should be calm about their send off.   Still I’d have to direct them, “Go, go, you three,” like a shepherd, blocking off the stairways into the nether regions of the house, shooing them along.

I’d see that poor Lily had again been forced into self reliance and had made herself toast, dripping with blueberry jam, so I’d collapse on the couch, bundling her onto my lap for a bit of the one-on-one attention that we both craved, while I allowed her to feed me.

I did miss all that action years later – alone in the house, home from driving Lily to high school, lecturing her on being late and telling her that her toothpaste spit would still be frozen on the corner of Elbow Drive when she walked by on her way back home.  Weird – but I did miss it.

Snowboard Boy’s First Suit

Considering what we’d paid to turn his sister, Zoë, into a dazzling Mary-Kate Olsen look-a-like for her coronation, when it came time for our eldest son’s high school graduation his dad and I graciously decided, aware that he had spent his entire life in jeans and the obligatory hoodie – we would offer to buy Cole a suit, instead of going the rented tux route.   One of Cole’s crew informed me the rental shop he’d gone with had offered him insurance in case he threw up on his tux, i.e. a barf policy. I questioned whether my son shouldn’t just pick up a cheap rental, after all.  The absolutely most dressed up Cole had been in his seventeen years was cords, new runners, and perhaps a tucked-in shirt for half an hour.  “Even if you don’t wear the jacket often, it’ll be nice to have dress pants,” I reasoned.

“Sure,” Cole said, slipping into a herringbone jacket while the salesperson, who was a teenager himself, calculated his size.  Cole tripped me up by asking, “Dress pants for what though?”

“Well, you know, you don’t know what you’re plans are for next year.  You might get a job where you need something special.”  The three guys – Cole, his prepared to be barfed on friend, and the sales guy considered Cole’s image in the mirror – the classic jacket over his Bili-bong t-shirt and baggy jeans, with his baseball cap tipped backwards.  “For instance you might sell suits,” I had to add.

Cole had applied to a few universities but was leaning heavily towards taking the gap year.  His most recent employment aspiration was to work as a snowboard instructor in any range of mountains, the further from home the better – no suit need there.  Shopping, and any other slow paced activity, had never been his forte.  As a baby, even being held was too sedentary for him.  He grew into a kid who, when he wasn’t playing sports, was calling friends up to do some rails.  His greatest achievement in the eyes of his father and I, was that he sat still for six hours a day in a classroom for twelve long years.

The sales guy suggested Cole try on both pieces with a dress shirt.  “I’ll probably just wear one of my dad’s,” Cole said and I pictured him in kindergarten with a shirt of his father’s buttoned on backwards to keep the finger paint off it.   The sight I was treated to a few minutes later was stunning – my seventeen-year-old kid all put together in a gray herringbone suit.  We three stared at Cole, who stared at his own image in the mirror.  “Dude, it makes you look older,” his friend said.

“Yeah, you’re not kidding.” Cole agreed.

I swallowed.  The sales boy had seen blubbering mothers before.  He turned away to give us our moment of awe.  The suit didn’t make Cole look older to me.  It made him look handsome, but not older.  In fact, I couldn’t get the image of my little kindergarten boy out of my mind, which led to a mild panic attack.  There I was coming undone, trying to determine how we got from then to now.

We paid up, ordering minor alterations and I bought the boys chicken wraps in the food court.  They choked them down while checking out teenage girls, oblivious to me getting out a pen and paper and trying to gather my thoughts.  I’d dealt with Zoë leaving home to attend art school in Vancouver.  She was back for summer break and we were working on getting used to living together again.

But what about this one?  The son who I had to remind that we, his parents, were in fact, in charge.  Was he at all equipped to survive away from moi?   Once again I had to tally up what my teenaged kid didn’t know?

My kids had all mastered food foraging.  Judging from the theme he’d chosen for his bedroom, which was monk-like austerity, I didn’t have to worry that he would lose himself in his own mish-mash of belongings the way two of his siblings could.  This son would even gather up those clothes from time to time and do laundry, which was one of his most admirable characteristics.

Cole asked if I’d mind if they separated from me for just a few minutes to get the phone number of a girl.  “And you think she’ll give it to you?” I asked incredulously.

“Sure.  Why wouldn’t she?”

Optimism would get him places.  “Stalk her politely then,” I said, before ducking out of sight to make some anxious notations. Had I told him you can’t turn right on a red in every city?  To disinfect all his cuts? How to recognize a rabid animal?  To leave a window open in a tornado?

What about girls?  Did I tell him they just wanted him to listen?  In a more practical arena  – could he politely wind spaghetti onto his fork?

“Are you okay, mom?” he asked, catching up with me.  “You have your worried look on.”

“I just have a lot to do. And I’m running out of time to get it done.”

So How DOES a Grandma Dress?

When I told one of my twenty-something son a few months back, that he was peppering his sentences with the f-word so much that it was annoying and meaningless (inferring that I use said word only when called for) he told me, I didn’t understand the way today’s youth communicates.  And when I told my twenty-year-old daughter it was weird for her to call her female friend, “Dude”, she informed me that I had no understanding of how her crew rolls. So I’m the one that needs to find a new personal steez.

Flash forward a few months and despite the fact that I’ve heard that fifty is the new forty, (except that your back hurts in the morning and you read all the articles about botox) my journey to be more chillax with said youth has been complicated by my new status as a grandma.  Suddenly it’s not cool for me to be cool.

Take the other morning – my precious, adorable, gifted (how can she not be?) three- month-old granddaughter, who I love to absolute pieces, was bawling her beautiful eyes out.  “Oh baby, baby, what are you bitching for baby?” I crooned, in the presence of above son, the uncle to the screeching infant.

“Mom, don’t talk like that,” said twenty-two-year-old new uncle, “you’re a grandma now.”

“Hey, I was joking,” I said to Mr. F-word.

He wasn’t amused.  “Just imagine my grandma’s talking that way,” he said.  “That would be gross.”

Okay, he’s a sensitive kid.  But this grandparent image doesn’t end with my vocabulary. My poor husband  wore a handsome new cardigan, instead of his usual sports jacket, to work on a casual Friday and not one, but two people joked that just because he was a grandpa, he didn’t need to dress like one.

Which brings me back to my personal steez. Okay, Grandma or not, I like to be in style.  But the height of last season’s fashions, and this, and probably next season’s too, has been skinny little leggings, or stirrups.  I wore both in the eighties, taking me through all four pregnancies in comfort, but these thighs of mine didn’t belong in leggings then and especially don’t now.  Neither do they take well to skinny jeans.  Wondering the mall in another season’s wide leg pants and feeling so not down with fashion, I discovered a look I could do – granted I’d have to give up pants completely until these styles –  suited only for women with peg legs – disappeared, but I could mimic several of the chic shoppers I saw and  wear black tights, and one of the several casual straight black skirts already in my closet.  Top it with a t-shirt, put on a cardigan, (not fearing ageism in cardigans), step into my sensible but stlylin Clarks and presto – I would fit in, a grandma with a little flair, straight off the chain – the kids might say.  (Actually, I imagine the kids are going to text and tell me I should have got them to proof read the slang.)

I zipped home, tore off the baggy jeans, pulled on the new tights, found the right black skirt and tee-shirt, added a black jacket (black is the new black) and stepped up to the mirror.  I’m proud to be a grandma.   But my uniform for this fashion season which is devoted to the peg legged women, looked like that of a f-ing (sorry son) aging flight attendant.  For reals.



I Was A Teenage Sympathizer

 

A plate of Nachos—tortilla chips topped ...

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So our first born daughter, at barely eighteen-years-old was going away to school. It was time for me to grow up.  It was on a Wednesday in June that her dad arrived home and inquired as to why so many of her friends were gathered in our basement again.  This was moments before he noticed that the boys in the gang were in their boxers.  Forever a teenage sympathizer myself, (and I think you can get arrested for that) I handed him the ice for his drink and said calmly, “Some of them just wrote their last exam.  I think they’re feeling celebratory.”

“Will there be another party when the rest of them write their last exam?”

“Oh, come on Dad, this isn’t a party,” Zoë told him.  Zoë’s a good kid.  If it were a party she would let us know.  Eight kids having a water fight, with the boys stripping down to boxers, then all of them whipping up a pan of nachos in the oven and testing my teenage sympathizer levels with their rap music, was definitely not a party.

Will demanded further explanation.  “Wasn’t there a celebration for this already?  Didn’t they call it graduation?  Wasn’t that the night we spent a zillion bucks dressing Zoë up so she could sit at a banquet for two hours, have three dances and change back into her street clothes in a washroom like a super hero, before vanishing for the real celebration out of our sight?  Further more, wasn’t there a party here three days later, after we watched five hundred of them march across the stage – symbolizing once again that they were done?”

“Oh Dad, that was convocation, not the end of exams.”

Zoë explained further to her clueless father – “This is the last day of exams…” she lowered her voice and stuffed a nacho into her mouth,  “… at least for some people.”  Zoë and a few of the others still had four more days before their last exam and then it would be their turn to be giddy and celebratory… and in their underwear.

“You see,” I said, “maybe this is the universal plan to help us let her go.  If they drive us crazy over the summer, it will be easier to separate.”  I choked on the s-word, confirming in my mind that I needed to be some Shirley Partridge type of mom, hip but mature enough to set some rules, take back the stereo – play Fleetwood Mac on it instead of Bowling For Soup, or take her shopping for school supplies and perhaps study street maps of Vancouver with her and teach her how to grocery shop for ripe melons and reasonable cuts of meat.

But I wasn’t ready for all that.  There was something magical about the summer after high school. I was feeling more like Lorelai Gilmore, the mother-as-friend from television’s Gilmore Girls, then the more sensible (though pop band singer) Shirley Partridge.  The mood of the young adults was contagious.  At that point we still had the party for Zoë’s eighteenth birthday to plan, and there had to be some sort of event before she officially went away.  Forget the grocery shopping lessons, bring on the nachos, I said, kicking off my shoes and preparing to run through the sprinkler.

.

Is There A Patch For That?

 

Complete set of the seven books of the "H...

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See, I wasn’t a mom of the nineties – waiting until well into my thirties to get pregnant so that I could be zooming around in a mini-van in my forties, hauling my grade school darlings to the perfunctory piano and swimming lessons, and then a decade later – freezing my butt off at soccer matches and amateur rocket launches in my fifties to keeps my adolescent rebels from joining gangs and tattooing their foreheads.  And then probably more then ready to let them go, as my sixties loomed.

While mini-SUV’s stuffed with our peers offspring were trucking between Sunday music recitals and vogue over-the-top children’s birthday parties – my husband, Will, and I had already survived hip hop concerts in our basement and read the riot act at a host of eighteenth birthdays for young-adults-gone-wild.  Of course, I didn’t feel that young.  While my same-age friends were doing espressos to make it through the day, after getting up in the night with the little one’s bad dreams and winter colds, I needed a daily fix of latte and chocolate cake because one of my kids hadn’t returned a phone call in two days and another one would be calling incessantly because the road trip he was on had gotten a little sketchy.

Life is a journey and all that.  But during what part of the journey was it easiest to deal with colic and a latent thumb sucker, and when have we learned all the skills necessary to convince a sixteen-year-old that they have to take pure math and that all the kids who say they’ve had sex really haven’t?  I was only forty-two when my oldest daughter left our chaotic home in Calgary.  I can see now that I was guilty of stalking Zoë with emails and phone calls, though it’s hard to believe I had time for stalking while still immersed in patrolling two teenage boys’ covert activities, and being a choir-mom for my youngest.

I had all these cooing babies that became boisterous teens – to fill our home and hearts and consume my time, patience and energy.  For years and years, I had never thought much about them moving out and how my heart would deal with that.  It was what was supposed to happen – the launch from the nest.

Zoë found her way to leave home with her copies of Love in the Time of Cholera, Harry Potter, and Dragon Quest gone from the shelves, her colourful collection of shoes gathered up from the closets, and the vanilla scented products stripped from the bathroom.   Were my parents just as stunned and confused to have a child slipping out of their grasp and away from their influence?  The media would have us believe that we have overindulged, overprotected and generally, now that parent is a verb, over-parented.  Could this explain why I suffered from the jitters when one by one, all too quickly, my children dispersed and I desperately wished I could visit my local pharmacists and buy a patch to help ease me off them.   What, I wondered, would be released for not NRT (nicotine replacement therapy), but rather CAHRT (children at home replacement therapy)?   A chemical that could create the sound of their cell phones chirping incessantly, or of the front door creaking and them downloading a movie at two a.m., or produce the irritation caused by the sight of their chaotic rooms, or imitate the sensation of pleasure when one of them slowed down long enough to wrap their arms around me in a hug?

An astute observer would recognize that, though I was attempting to pull myself together, I was unable to concentrate on a task and was lumbering back and forth from one activity to the next.  Bewildered, I felt like a mother bear I had seen in a film whose cub had been taken away too early.  She had rolled her head from side to side, and clumped through the forest in a distressed fashion.  Learning to deal with my first strayed cub my heart pounded, my sleep was uneven and I couldn’t concentrate to complete a task.

My kids say I could start my own lending library with my vast collection of parenting tomes, yet there was a void of information to guide me through these turbulent times, starting with the spring day that I scrunched up the envelope so I could see through its window that my daughter had been accepted at a university across an entire mountain range from home, until I realized I had worked myself out of a position with which I was damn comfortable.

They left home in the order they were born.  Not enough time passed between Zoë, the oldest, moving out and Lily, the baby, phoning from a crowded European city to tell me how hard it was to find a place to cry out loud, the way she preferred to cry.  Back up you kids, I thought.  I want to run through that all again.

Zoe … Zoe leaving threw me for a loop.  It’s almost thanksgiving 2010.  Zoe is home for the week, sleeping right now in her renovated bedroom – with the little baby beside her who recently made me a grandma.  Me?!  But when Zoe left home six years ago I was the big crying baby.  I’ll take you there – on Monday’s post…