Happy Birthday Fatty

This in honor of the recent birthday of my youngest, seen here in Fifth Grade, impersonating America’s tubbiest President, William Howard Taft.

mpm as fatsuited wm howard taftFor a while there, we were in danger of some real solemnity in this family; of growing downright grave what with practicing the quieter virtues. We had two children at first, both females, and I can tell you we all floated along on a great river of calm.

Even when a third child had come and was, of all things, a boy, we still moved with tranquility, and for a while the baby seemed to do so too – until the day at about 12 months old when he stood up in his crib and began hollering to his stuffed animals. A certain vividness surfaced for us all then; and quiet understatement went down for the third time.

This little boy’s grandmother had been a wise-guy and we all loved that about her. She died when this third child was only three so he doesn’t remember her.

But I found myself calling my sister not much more than a year after her death. “I know this sounds weird, but I think Mom’s back!” is what I told her. Because this third child was a happy little wise-guy himself, and brought to the once-peaceful supper table of family life a level of hilarity we never would have predicted.

He fancied toilet plungers as a First Grader, and when, at the hardware store, he saw a display of very small ones, he cried out with joy and began promptly applying them, with great sucking sounds, to his ears, mouth, and bare tummy. He asked for half a dozen for his birthday.

He told us in Fourth Grade that the teacher said they would need string for that night’s homework.

“What if we have no string?” he asked her. “Use dental floss,” she replied, setting herself up for it. “I can’t,” he answered with mock-sadness. “My family doesn’t believe in oral hygiene.”

We dreaded the next parent-teacher conference.

Around this same time, he got a new jacket imprinted, as these jackets often are, with our town’s name. The nice man helping us pointed out that with so many jackets alike, it was a good idea to have his name stitched on the sleeve.

“OK!” he agreed readily  “Only have it say ‘Fatty,’ he added, and three grownups could not talk him out of it.

At this point he was four foot eight inches tall and weighed 72 pounds. Every spring at his yearly checkup, the doctor would say, “Due for a growth spurt soon!’ And every year he would look ironically over at me.

But while we awaited this famous growth spurt, we had some dandy fun.

I recall the time he pulled some hair our of my hairbrush, glued it to his bare chest, sauntered into the living room and said in a theatrically deepened voice, “Dad, I’d like to use the car tonight.”

When he finally turned 11th, I remember we got him everything but more toilet plungers – and also a cake reading “Happy Birthday, Fatty.”

Of course he insisted on being the one to light its million candles; then rushed into the darkened next room and made us march in with it, singing.

“What did you wish?” one of his sisters asked after he blew out the candles.

He wouldn’t say – some things are serious, after all – but I knew what I wished: that night. I wished we could rewind the eleven years and run them clear through again.

And the 11 years that followed them too. Ah, those years too.

David & Michael Junior year

Life With Young Children

the calm before the boy child

The fact that today is the birthday of my third and youngest child  who was not yet in the world until his sisters were five and seven, has me remembering back to the fun we had in the years raising our kids, and the sense of peace I still feel when I am among them… For In a family, you are known. You don’t have to pretend or explain. They take you as they find you – even if they do take frequent joy in mocking you

On certain nights, around the supper table, one of our kids would suddenly say, “OK, let’s switch roles. You be Mom, you be Dad,” etc.  Then a fast improv would follow.

Once, I drew the then-13-year-old; swung my hair over one eye and said, “I need money, need a ride, I need money, I need a ride…”

This youngest, the then-five-year-old whose birthday it is today, once acted out his father for us in this game. He puffed out his  tummy, lay down on the floor and began snoring with a newspaper over his face.

Our then ten-year-old then ‘did’ me. “Come to dinner, people!“, she shrieked. “Come eat your dinner before I throw it in the yard!”

It’s instructive to watch yourself thus parodied.

And there’s never a dull moment, just generally in a family, because in a family, everyone comes home with tales of pain and triumph – and with funny stories too.

That then-kindergartner, being new to the world, had the most stories: The story about the little girl in his class who squeezed her eyes shut and clasped her hands as if in prayer every day when she recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Or the tale of the older boy who told him he had his pants on backwards. “I can’t understand it,” I remember our little guy saying. ” I put them on this morning and they were frontwards! Sometimes I put one pair of underpants and find out later I have  two pairs on. One day I put on a pair and looked later and they were gone!”

“You talk a lot,” one of his older sisters observed to him mildly, after ten straight minutes of this monologue.

“I can’t help it,” he said earnestly. “School is a strong thing.”

School sure is a strong thing. And work is a strong thing too. We all go out each day to face strong things.

I remember how the morning would come and one alarm after another would go off in this house. The sound of five showers would drum in the bathroom. Coffee would be gulped, cereal smeared and sprinkled around. Then there’d be a mad scramble to find shoes.

Now too there are those same scenarios in households the over world.  Folks go out into their day and return for supper, glad to be back home.

Back in the years I am thinking of now, when the children were asleep at last, we two tired parents would make the rounds and collecting stray socks. We would kiss their sleeping faces and they smelled so good; like apples, and geraniums, and fresh-baked dough.

We knew that one day these children would be gone from us, and dinner would be a  far quieter affair.

We were right there for sure.

But today, on the birthday of our youngest who is up in his 20s by now,  I’m reminded again of how much their dad and I have loved them all; and how much they have made us smile.

mpm's 1st day of school

Ah, the Play Place

Play Place

Some people might find spending 90 minutes at a McDonald’s Play Place akin to working for 20 years on the chain gang, like Jean Valjean does in Les Miserables.

hard time for jean valjean

I’m not one of those people. To me going to that room of brightly-colored interconnecting tubes is just the thing when I have charge of my two young grandsons. I find it does them good: the climbing in and out of them, the hollering gaily to other children, the swinging themselves round and round the sturdy steel poles that hold the structures up.

It’s a metaphor for life the way they ascend up out of their grownups’ sight. We old people all sit down below, holding their coats.. We can’t get at them with our big old grownup bodies. All we can do is pray they’re OK .

Used to be when we came here the littler one of these guys would climb up inside and then just sort of slow down in there and start pondering things. Oh God  he takes after me! was all I could think, since I was always sitting down in the outfield WHILE THE KICKBALL GAME WAS GOING ON; just kind of easing down onto the ground to run my fingers through the grass and dream. Was that what he was doing, when he‘d park himself inside that final slide-tube and just secretly remain there, like an intestinal blockage, preventing all the other little ones from getting by unless they clambered over him?

Add to that the fact that he’d sometimes be crying.

But none of that happened yesterday. The bigger one continued his ministry of niceness, finding out other kids’ names and offering to give them a boost up. He has been like this since he looked like this at age five and kindly asked me, when we were in the bathroom of his house once, if I needed for him to reach me a tampon . (That shows what life with a houseful of women will do for a child!)

eddie ready for snow

And the little one, seen below here?

david with yoda at the Play Place

This time at the Play Place, he neither wept nor created any blockages. He just sat right with me and his Yoda toy as we ate and only much later disappeared up into that place where adults cannot follow.

The two are in kindergarten and third grade now and I find myself wondering: How many more times will they want to come to the McDonald’s Play Place with old TT which is what they call me?

Who can say? There are things we cannot know as well as places we cannot go. I think on my tombstone it should say: “It was enough to have held their coats.” 🙂

Back to Reality

Sometimes you get home from a week away and find that the pipes have all burst.

That happened to us one winter. We went to my sister’s in Florida, leaving a 20-year-old house-sitter here with the cats.

Her phone call to us three days later was so sweet:

“Well,” she said “things are fine, really. But it’s 33 degrees in the living room and the cats and I are under the electric blanket in your bed.”

She was such a dear. She was from Austria where for all I know it’s 33 degrees in everyone’s living room.

Or maybe being just three months in the States, she thought this was normal for us.

“Thirty-three degrees!” David yelped when I conveyed the news to him. “The pipes are going to burst !”

This was at 3:00 in the afternoon and even down in Florida we knew that temps back on our northerly shores were headed down to zero.

The pipes burst all right. It was New Year’s Day and we couldn’t get hold of the furnace man in time and when we came home the whole first floor was under water.

It wasn’t that bad this time.

This time we came home from our week on Kiawah Island to rain and 56 degrees. Our floors were just fine however. And our nice neighbor Henry had brought in all our mail and kept an eagle eye on the needs of my zillion house plants, still enjoying summer camp on our screened-in porch.

The problem we faced – or rather the problem I personally faced – is the problem I came home with, and isn’t that always the way? My problem continues to be a computer riddled with viruses and an external disk drive so oddly configured by well-meaning amateurs that even the guy at the Apple store couldn’t discern what was on it. I can’t use the new Mac Book until I can bring 30 years of writing over. So it’s back to a period of speechlessness for a while as the files are being ritually cleansed and then brought over, because really how much can a journalist produce just using her smart phone and I-Pad?

I realize that in the last week I have written more about my family than is my custom and am grateful to all who bothered to read it all. We were all together except for Carrie’s wife Christine, ‘Mama’ to those three young children while Carrie is ‘Mum.’ Chris just couldn’t take the week off work and we sure did miss her. Hopefully she will be with us next time, in five more years, when Eddie will be 13 and David 10 and little Callie 5, and who knows? There may even be other little ones by then.

Carrie took this picture of little David at Olde Charles Towne Landing where she brought both boys for an outing while we stay-behind adults worked together to mind one 13-pound baby.

He asked his mother to take it, which almost never happens. He wears an expression on his face her I find very interesting. I can’t say in what it means but it strikes me as oddly reassuring. He looks so content, and assured of something….

Do the young see more than the rest of us? Does he see the day when his little lisp will vanish and he will tower over his parents rather than vice versa? Can he imagine the day when he will perhaps speak at the funeral of these grandparents he spent a week with in the summer when he was five?

Who knows what lies ahead, whether leak or flood or cascades of virus? We are kids ourselves, in the backward -facing seat of that classic old station wagon. We see only where we have been, and thank God for that.

Wedding by the Sea

What’s nicer than a family wedding on a Sunday in September?

When the sky is so blue

And the prelude is by Pachelbel



And even the view from the hotel room just lifts the spirits.

And then we have the bride and her father. Ah the bride and her father~!



Such a day is bound to be happy,


as folks stroll and play

And toast and yell and wave their spoons around …


And everyone claps the “May I present Mr. and Mrs.” moment…


And the dancing goes on for just hours.

Saints? We’re No Saints

Somebody said to me yesterday, “You and your husband must be saints, having teenagers in the house all summer”  -see yesterday’s post “The Give and the Get” – but it makes me so uncomfortable when people start with that you-must-be-saints stuff.

I grew up in a three-generation household so it feels totally normal to me to have a bunch of people under one roof and I’m guessing it feels normal to  Old Dave too. Wasn’t he one of four brothers in a three-bedroom house that also included a single aunt?

Didn’t he share a room with that aunt as a baby?

These are the four Marotta boys on the left here. That’s oldest brother Toby looking like a teen idol, then my future husband David with his striped shirt and his white teeth, then in the front row younger brothers Skip and Jeff.

Even here in our current house we’ve had many years when there were six or even seven kids, only three of whom our biological ‘own’ kids – and this is back in the era when we had just one shower. .

David does occasionally have insomnia these days, so the one request I made to the guys when they moved in last June was that they be out of the downstairs after midnight which is when the affliction really hits. I figure what sleepless adult born before the first moon landing wants to come downstairs with his George R.R. Martin book to find a 17-year-old draped on the couch in front of the Cartoon Network?

They got that. Of course they got that. They also got it that I don’t want to be chatted with when I’m writing.

And for our part we ‘got’ some things too. A long time ago we started ‘getting’ it that most houseguests don’t want to be fussed over. Accordingly, we showed the boys the spoons and dishes and bought them the right milk and the right cereals and the kinds of chees and rolls and coldcuts that they like. We showed them the pots and the cutting boards and kept the fruit bowl full and that was about all we had to do.

They were easy – in part because they are ABC Scholars, young people who because of their academic ability and their ambition applied as eighth graders to the national A Better Chance program and ended up coming here to this town with its first-rate high school. They left home and family at 14 to do this – some came at 13 – and they know better than most of us how to navigate new waters.

Plus having lived with one another in the ABC House, they’re wonderfully neat. The bathroom they used all summer never had so much as a wet towel in it never mind any toiletries. They carry those things in and when they’re done they carry them back out again.

Then they’re so funny and smart and they wrestle each other to the floor just like I used to see Dave’s brothers do with him when we were young and I was first coming into the Marotta family.

So saints? We’re no saints. We’re just doing what we’ve always done in this house. This below is Dodson, our own ABC host son, when he lived here too just before heading off to college in long-ago 1990. Then under that here is he is again teasing our oldest girl Carrie. They painted the study for me and earned money pulling  the old shingles off the front porch roof that summer. I look at these pictures and remember back over  these last two months and think, well, the fun is where you make it in life!

The Last Fun Day

On the last fun day we had together, we built a race track that these two had given to our little guys. They waited this long to bring it forth, knowing it would be a big hit after things had settled down some. After the little boys had done simpler things, like climb into this unfinished cabinet and make twin bunk-bed forts there. After they had worked on their Lego sets for hours and done all the puzzles and cooked up the Shrinky-Dinks.

All my life I wanted to replicate the family feeling I grew up with when my sister Nan and I had a mother and a grandfather, a pretty young aunt coming over every day to work at the family business and the real stars of the show, those ancient great aunties, one in the chair where she sat in her old-lady shoes with her stockings rolled down to her ankles and the other scooting around in her dark blue Keds, making the beds and the jelly and the chicken ‘n dumplings 90% of her waking hours and only then sitting, when her 90-year-old legs begged her for a little time off.

When we came into the kitchen there were always people there, our pretty Aunt Grace with her light high voice like a bell or our mom with her contralto growl. (Was it the cigarettes or was it the irony she cloaked herself in to keep pain at bay? ) Great Aunt Margaret when not saying her beads, would beopening her mail: ten thousand solicitations from the world’s unfortunates. (“I‘m dead with praying for the blind orphans!” she once cried.) And Great Aunt Mame, a spinster since she stopped looking in the 1880s, would be snorting at the engagement announcements in the paper. (“For every old sock there’s an old shoe!” she would tartly pronounce.)

The women cooked all week for the one man in the house, our grandfather, who came home from some bland emeritus tasks at his law office to sit in his wing chair and read his histories and biographies, carefully cutting the pages open as he went with a pen knife once belonging to his own dad (seen here as he looked newly arrived from Ireland in the early 1850s.)

How keenly do I miss these many now! How more keenly still would I miss them had I not been able to make a family very similar to that one I grew up with. By which I only mean to say that for the last week there were nine of us together under one roof, ten if you count that unborn baby. And when our kids were kids it was the same: every room filled with kin, both ‘real’ and ‘honorary’ such that at night to the owls passing high overhead this house must have seemed to billow with our common breathing.

Anyway, here’s the race track in motion. That’s our first ‘honorary’ son Dodson and his Veronica admiring it to the left, and our youngest ‘child’ Michael doing the same to the right. The little guy in the middle, named for ‘my’ David, has the last word, that as far as I’m concerned, can stand for this whole ride of mine through life:

“That was awesome!” you’ll hear him cry at the end. And yes it was and I hope I have the sense to say so too.