My entrance into this world was a bit controversial. My parents were well into middle age when they had me. My father was 57 and my mom, 44 years young. Sure this may not be uncommon now, but back in the late 1970s, this was completely unheard of. In fact, my mom’s doctor, upon delivering the news of her pregnancy and thinking I was an “Oops Baby,” said he could “take care of it” if my parents wanted. He was concerned about the health risks associated with her having a baby later in life. My mother was horrified at the thought and told him that she intentionally set out to have a sibling for my sister, who was almost five at the time. My parents beat the odds and the conventional wisdom at the time and had me anyway.
Even though my parents were young at heart and physically active, I still spent my whole life correcting strangers who assumed I was their grandchild. I remember once someone called me a miracle baby, but the true miracle was that I was born to such fantastically beautiful people. The only downside to this age difference has meant that I have had to endure the loss of the physical presence of my parents at a much younger age than my peers. My father passed away a decade ago this month and my mom is very ill and unable to help me raise my children.
So I rely a great deal on my memories, photos, and items that belonged to my parents: Like my mother’s earrings that I have now passed on to my daughter. Every time Mia wears Nonna’s earrings, I tell her that she has her magic powers of kindness and strength. When my kids are sick or scared, I try to rock them in the same way my mom would rock me when I was little. It always made me feel like I was in the safest place in the world. And all I have to do is look at my son’s face, who is the spitting image of his “Nonno”, and I know that he is still with us.
And while I find myself wishing they were both still here in good health, I have told my daughter stories of Nonno who’s grave we visit together, who is in heaven. My husband and I felt as unprepared to explain death and what happens after to a child, as we were to raise children in the first place. Yet, somehow we have managed to give her what my husband calls the “Readers Digest” version: “Nonno is my daddy, and he’s in heaven.” When we drive by any cemetery now, my daughter, undisturbed by the complex theological and emotional questions, happily shouts out “Look, there’s some heavens!”
There are many times when the unfairness of not having my parents around to share in the joys that my children bring seems all consuming. But yet, I would never change a thing. I could not have asked for better people to be my parents. Even though they may not be around in person to help me along this journey of parenthood, they have provided me with the fundamental tools to keep their legacy alive. If I am half the parent they were to me and my sister, then I will have suceeded.