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Bittersweet Lullaby

(by Nefertiti DiCosmo)

“Can you come by today?” I beg.

“Sure, what time?” she replies.

“Now,” I text back. Or at least I thought I texted back.

“Stupid autocorrect!” I complain, and I fix it immediately before she has time to get offended. “I meant now, not NO.”

My mom was a fun mom growing up, and it’s no surprise that she is a fun grandma. “Grandma Angie is coming by today to play with you,” I tell my son. His eyes open wide, and I see a burst of energy fill his soul. He jumps up and down. “Yea! Tell her to bring the seven thousand houses project. I have a good idea.” He is so excited that he does several victory laps around the couch.

An hour or so later, my mom knocks on the door, and my son jumps up and runs to greet her. “How is Grandma’s big boy?” she asks, squeezing him tightly. “And how are you, Mija?” We aren’t Hispanic, but my mom loves the language, and even though she can’t speak it well, she has her favorite words. Mija, or daughter, is her favorite and she uses it a lot. She always makes a point to hug me and connect with me when she comes in, reminding me that although I am a mother, I will always be her baby.

My son whisks her away quickly. He does not want anyone to interrupt his time with his grandma. He holds on to her attention like a comfort blanket. And I feel a sense of gratitude. He is so engaged and happy in those moments that I imagine he forgets how lonely it is to be an only child.

My mom loves to play with kids. I do not. It’s boring, and I can only play for an hour or so before tapping out like a WWF wrestler in a choke hold. So I love when my mom comes over. I get some much-needed time to myself, and my son has a play date.

Today they have decided to explore water and experiment with wind. My mom takes him outside as my husband and I finish up a day of tele-work.

I hear laughter and screams of excitement. I check on them before I start dinner, and they are both marveling at how the wind blows empty plastic bottles around in circles on the back porch. You can’t see the wind, but then again, maybe you can. He can’t get enough. He is squealing and jumping and explaining to me what’s happening and why it’s so cool. My mom has been playing with him for three hours straight. I don’t know how she does it, but she always does.

I was a Mama’s girl growing up. I’d cry just thinking about her not being around. Once when I was seven, my mom left me with my grandmother for a few hours. I cried the whole time. My grandma was incredulous.

My mom and I haven’t been very close since my parents’ divorce, nearly 17 years ago. It was hard. It is always hard to break up a family. I stayed with my dad because he represented stability, and I was nearly done with high school, so it was the only practical choice. I became closer with my father during that dark time, and the connection I once felt with my mother was gone.

When my son was born I decided to let her back in, not for me, but for my son. He needs all the love he can get, and she represents a huge part of that love.

She was a good mother. She always encouraged me and let me do fun things. My sisters and I used to play with her hair, and when my dad was out of town, we’d play dress-up and have dinner parties. She used to make sun tea, a large jar of tea brewed under the heat of the summer sun. She always came to comfort me at night when I was scared, to the chagrin of my father.

She nurtured my artistic side where my father insisted on facts and science. She would listen to my stories and poems with an attention and awe that only a mother could show. She was the sweet part of a bittersweet childhood.

Now, she will be the sweet part of life for my son. We live an hour away from her, but she comes out every time she can. It’s pure joy for my son and warm nostalgia for me.

We are social distancing now, but not on quarantine, so she comes by every so often to visit, and she has really helped my son through the boring days of home arrest.

We will probably never have the relationship we had in those prelapsarian years, but I am making an effort now to develop a better one.

Now that I am a mom, I realize that my parents are the only people in the world who will truly love me unconditionally. Their love is unending; it reminds me that I am a precious wonder in their eyes.

Before she left, we all had a nice dinner. “It’s family dinner time!” my son calls as he grabs the plates and sets them on the table. It’s his favorite food: Mom’s spaghetti. It’s my favorite food, too. I made the spaghetti this time, and it’s good. My son hums while he chews; he approves.

I like it too, but it’s not the same as my mom’s spaghetti. She always sautés onions, garlic, and green peppers for the sauce, making it a more savory experience. “That was great, Mija! Isn’t your mommy the best!” she beams, and my son nods in agreement and hums his approval. As we finish our plates, I take a brave next step in our relationship.

“Mom, can you show me how to make it the way you do? You know, from scratch?”


“Of course, Mija, I’d be honored,” she says in her faux fancy voice, just like she did when we’d play dress up and have dinner parties all those years ago.

I get ready for bed after a long day. I picture my mother cooking spaghetti for me when I was five and imagine her teaching me to cook it with my son, 30 years later. I fall asleep as memories of my mother flow through me like a bittersweet lullaby.

---

Nefertiti DiCosmo is an actress and poet based in DeMotte, Indiana. She currently works full time as a life scientist for the federal government. She can be found at Backstage and at Perspectives Poetics.

Grandma Angie’s Spaghetti Sauce

1 T. olive oil

1/2 c. chopped green peppers

1/2 c. chopped onions

1 garlic clove, chopped

6 oz. tomato paste

16 oz. tomato sauce

1 T. + 1/2 t. garlic powder, separated

1 T. + 1/2 t. Italian seasoning, separated

1 T. + 1/2 t. dried oregano, separated

1 T. dried basil

1 T. ground black pepper

salt

pinch of cumin

pinch of paprika

1 1/2 pounds ground beef or turkey

16 oz. diced tomatoes

1 bay leaf

1 T. sugar

Heat olive oil in a saucepan, and sauté green peppers, onions, and garlic.

Set aside.

In a separate pot, combine tomato paste, tomato sauce, 1 T. garlic powder, 1 T. Italian seasoning, 1 T. dried oregano, 1 T. dried basil, 1 T. ground black pepper, pinch of salt, pinch of cumin, and pinch of paprika.

Simmer for 5 minutes.

Add sautéed vegetables to the sauce, and simmer while you cook the meat.

In a separate pot, cook ground beef or turkey with 1/2 t. garlic powder, 1/2 t. Italian seasoning, 1/2 t. oregano, and 1/2 t. salt until browned.

Drain meat of excess fat, and add to the sauce.

Simmer for 5 minutes.

Stir in diced tomatoes, bay leaf, and sugar.

Simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve with your favorite pasta.

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