Acting Your Age

baby-dressed-in-granny-wig“Act your age” grownups were always saying to us when we were kids. I recall vividly one time I heard it. It was the time my big sister Nan flipped me onto my back, straddled me, pinned my arms out to either side and began ever so slowly lowering a long string of spit down from her mouth toward my screaming face.

That’s when our mom suddenly loomed in the doorway and boy, did Nan get it then. “Here you are almost 20 and acting like this!” she shouted by way of winding up her tirade.

In fact Nan was all of 12 at the time. And she was acting her age. Sort of. Certainly the 12-year-old boys we knew were doing this kind of thing to each other all the time

Whether or not Nan ever did heed the command to act her age, I know I could never quite seem to. I say this because when I was 14 I acted like I was 40, probably as direct result of the sad thing happened in our family that year. All I really know is that within a month of this terrible detonation I had changed completely from a carefree self-involved 9th grader to someone who had committing herself to a habit of over-functioning that lasted for more than 50 years.

Give you an example: Every Thursday night in my early 30s I would leave the house to tutor some young people in English. I would get them started on their essays, tear over to choir practice at the church just across the street, then tear 90 minutes later to work with the young people for another 90 minutes. I thought I could add in anything, help anyone, transport some ride-needing youth clear across the state and still be back in time to make the supper. Of course I could! I’d just need to get up a little earlier in the morning.

I might have gone on like this indefinitely if the year 2016 had not offered me some surprises.

First, I broke a bone in my back by running around the edge of the swimming pool to get to a shivering grandchild. Then, six months later, I tore my biceps tendon by lunging for the ladder of a dock while attempting to leap jauntily from a moving swim raft. And just last week I twisted my fists into my eyes, causing one of my contact lens to fold in two and shoot up into my head, where it remained for four excruciating days and causing a painful infection that had me just about blinded for almost week.
But what did I expect, knuckling my eyes so childishly? And trying to stretch like Gumby between a moving swim raft and a stationary ladder? What did I think would happen when I ran around an indoor pool past no fewer than four big signs that read “NO RUNNING“?

It’s a mystery to me. At 14 and all through my teen years I behaved as if I were 40. Now in my 60s I’ve been behaving as if I were ten. Will I ever come to understand how old I really am and start acting accordingly? Check in on me when I’m 90. If you find me in long sable curls and my bell-bottoms from the 70s, take me aside and counsel a wiser course.

PS. Of course I did also fall into the lake when I practically yanked my arm out of its socket reaching for that ladder – and that reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from On Golden Pond. Enjoy!




I’ve Stopped

planning the prom at Somerville High School

A couple of weeks ago I stopped writing the column I have been producing every week since the fall of 1980.

This is what I looked like when I started. I’m the one in the puffed sleeves, I should say, the one with the post growing out of her head.

in  those 35+  years, I never once missed a deadline.

I leaned in, you might say.

I wrote it recovering from an early miscarriage and the fierce spinal headache that put me back in the hospital two days after the D & C.

Two years later, I wrote it as labor began and finished it in the hospital the morning after the birth of our third child.

That time, my husband took the copy home, typed in the final two paragraphs I had composed there in the hospital, photocopied it and put it in the mail to all my subscribing papers. (Transmitting a thing electronically to a newspaper was almost unheard of infancy then – heck,  faxing seemed to us all like a literal miracle – and for years there, filing the column meant quite mailing two fat handfuls of envelopes.)

But this past summer, for the first time ever, I did take a little time off, only because the media group who was my biggest customer needed to cut its freelance budget,  and knew for first time what it felt like to be on  vacation. I enjoyed the break, though I felt kind of floaty as week after week passed and I stayed silent.

But slowly, slowly over that time, I began to realize that for quite a while now, Change has been knocking at my own personal door. And so, a couple of weeks ago, I notified all my various editors to say that I was quitting.

The Winchester Star’s Melissa Russell who is among the most talented editors I have ever worked with, did this piece about my stepdown.

In the next little while I’ll come back to the topic of what it has felt like to stop doing a thing I have long been doing, and maybe I can ask you others what that experience has felt like to you.

No longer the girl in the puffed sleeves with the wannabe Farrah Fawcett hair  I am content to be  just Terry,  just another blogger, peeping away in that vast blogger meadow.



You’re Doing That Wrong

you're doing that wrong.jpgIn  my post of a few days ago, I did all this bragging about how competent women are; about how we women GET THE JOB DONE.

This  Harry Bliss cartoon shows the flip side of that in that it illustrates our need to control and/or comment upon just about every aspect of life around the house.

Maybe that’s a human thing more than s a gender thing though, because in truth we all have our domains.

My husband’s domain is Pantry Management. Every three or four months he takes every single item off the pantry shelves and lines them all up on the kitchen counter according to category. That way, when I note an absence of, say, cornstarch, and go to the store and buy some, he can do what he always does: With neither fanfare or remark, he walks over to those many shelves  and take out all three, or four, or five of the boxes of cornstarch that I somehow didn’t see.

Come to think of it, I guess I should count myself lucky that he never, in our many years together, has said I was doing the shopping wrong. (It’s true he never buys the food or helps me bring  it in from the car – “I have no shoes on!” – but he does put it all away God bless him, and that’s a job I hate even more than. emptying the dishwasher!



My Classic Nightmare

the-emperors-new-clothes-1My recurring nightmare isn’t the one where you’re naked in public on the subway platform  with only the odd stray animal there to help cover you up – though I have had versions of this nightmare.

I’ve also had the one where I’m 15 again and walking toward my 10th grade locker, only to look down and see that I’ve forgotten my top and – darn it – my real-life bras just never look like the bras you see on the Victoria’s Secret cuties.

But the phantasm scenarios that really haunt me are the dreams like the one I had last night. These dreams , which I have had a million times, involve being unprepared:

  • Unprepared to give that speech I am slated to give, with not a notion in the world  about what I’m expected to speak about, as I stand  before an  audience of 1,000 people.
  • Unprepared to talk off the top of my head while being videotaped for a news site.
  • Unprepared as a teacher to give a math lesson in front of the principal because I didn’t even know I was teaching math this year….and there  are a dozen others.

Last night’s bad dream had an education  theme like that third  one. It took  place at a school completely new to me  so I didn’t know my way around the building. Worse yet, I was a student yet and it was a Spanish II class I enrolled in and  was expected to attend , only I had apparently skipped all of Spanish I, skipped it for whole months at a time over the previous school year.

This is the kind of thing that really makes my vision wobble and pulse in any bad  dreams: the idea that I didn’t just fail to prepare for one single event, but that for  dating back who knows how long , I had been derelict. I had failed to do the work.

I’m a woman, so  you can see why this would terrify me. Because women do DO the work. Women do the reading. Women wouldn’t dare  close their eyes on a school night without knowing just what clothes the kids will be able to put on in the morning and just what food they’ll be able to eat before they get  home from school again tomorrow.

Women get the job done –  not unlike the more than 300 years of immigrants to these shores have done. Take a minute now and listen to this cut from the runaway Broadway hit Hamilton. It’s about the embryonic nation and Washington’s victory at Yorktown. To me it’s very inspiring and illustrates the truth of what the hitherto marginalized can accomplish.  Plus the music! Ah, that music ….!


Remember the Ladies Indeed!


I found this cartoon in a satirical book about old-time etiquette. I’ll hunt down my copy and put the link up here as soon as I can put my hand on it again.

In case you can’t quite read the text here, it says “No lady should stand or linger in the halls of a hotel, but pass through them quietly, never stopping alone for a moment.”

What it’s suggesting is that a woman who does choose to sit or stand as she waits in the hotel lobby is soliciting; is, in other words, ready and eager to offer herself to any man with the cash.

Do you get that that’s what the advice is suggesting, you young women lucky enough to inhabit a far different world? Or, wait, is our modern world so different really? “Remember the ladies” Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John when he had left their working farm in Braintree to help build the new American government at the Continental Congress. Maybe America’s problem all this time has been that we remembered the ladies too much. Remembered them as ‘the fairer sex’, ‘the sacred vessels’, the delicate creatures with finer sensibilities that suited them. Some might say that even now in many corners of the American landscape women are still seen as inhabiting a category. Rather than being regarded as a freestanding human being with her own plans and goals, a woman can still be seen as a prop, a cardboard cut-out, a life-size breathing “bracelet” on the arm of some… man.

The summer I was 20 in my work at the Massachusetts State House, I was introduced to man in his 60s who promptly asked me to lunch to talk about a two-week work opportunity.  Baby lamb that I was, I went to the lunch, at Anthony’s Pier 4, a landmark eatery looking out on Boston harbor. He was a heavyset Tweedle-Dum kind of a guy with a cigar and a waddle, somebody’s kindly grandfather as I saw him, a good man eager to empower the young. The day of the lunch I wore flats and a sleeveless boat-necked, knee-length linen dress in an effort to look like Jacqueline Kennedy though in truth, as old photos now show g me, I looked more like a highly unworldly version of  Anna Nicole Smith, only without the makeup.  Because I didn’t really know what makeup was. My body looked like her body is what I’m saying, though it never occurred to me that that’s why, when we walked into the restaurant a number of equally old Tweedle-Dees, also with cigars, hooted their hellos to my host.

He walked me over and introduced me to them all before we sat down to the lunch, during which he offered me this wonderful opportunity: to be his companion at a two-week-long conference at the Cape. He told me what my salary would be. So much money! I could get a real jump on repaying those student loans I was racking up!

That night I told the boy I had just become engaged about my great opportunity. “Are you out of your mind?” he said on hearing and I believe this was the first time he asked me this question, though five decades into our life together I can tell you it was far from the last.

The point is, he saw what this old guy with the cigar was really proposing. The guy was assuming he could get me at the very least to stand by his side and act as if we were together. Me, the former Terry Sheehy who was mere months past believing that kissing for more than five minutes was a mortal sin that would land you in Hell.

I have smartened up since those days of course. I have learned all about the guys who even when you’re over 50 will follow you out of the Post Office or the coffee shop or the supermarket because they say they could tell by your smile that you’re really into them and why didn’t we go someplace where we could talk.

Really into them, jeesh. Where do these guys get the nails to say a thing like that?

What I am really into is hotel lobbies. In fact, I love them. In a hotel lobby you’re out in the stream of humanity and yet you are safe. Your little bed is an elevator ride away and the man behind the desk might as well be Hector Elizondo for how nice he is to you.

So rush through a lobby or fail to smile because of the construction some guy might put on those things? Fat chance I say, fat the hell chance.🙂



Could be the Keys

img_2374Last night I dreamed I parked at our local transfer station, turned off the car and climbed out, tossing the keys back in through the open window and onto the passenger seat. That was safe to do, I figured; I was only there to throw a few bags of trash onto the conveyor belt, that great River of No Longer My Problem.

But as I was doing this, I happened to see out of the corner of my eye that an old white guy had slid in under the steering wheel, picked up my key ring and was fumbling with it in search of the key he would need to turn the car on. I remember thinking “So here’s the value of carrying so many keys around! It foils thieves!”

He got away with my car anyway, as well as my money and all my credit cards, but that isn’t the part of the dream that sticks with me.

Really the dream got me thinking about all the keys we carry these days.

Used to be, people carried their keys around in a small hard-shelled key case. All three or at the most four of your keys could be tucked away in there until you flipped one out when you were ready to use it. But now most of the people I know don’t use key cases. Instead, they have what I have: a series of strong rings from which dangle five or six or eight keys, some from rings that in turn dangle from the big ring.

So who do we think we are, Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey, managing a household brimming with larders and linen closets for a late-sleeping landed family and a large live-in staff? Do we think we’re St. Peter and these are the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and its Many Mansions? Why do I have literally 13 keys that I carry around in my fist? They weigh a pound if they weigh an ounce. I mean, I could use them as brass knuckles.

I recently read that some 80% of Americans complain about back pain. Under our 20 pounds of skin and the circuitry of our nerves and blood vessels, under the mighty muscles and the tendons and the strong, strong ligaments we have a skeleton,  this delicate scaffolding that we must  keep balanced like a tower of teacups as we move.


Isn’t it just possible that it’s these 16-odd ounces of  keys that throws us  out of kilter and gives us pain? If we keep them in a pocket they pull down that side of our pelvis. If we carry them in our purse, they yank down that side of our shoulder girdle.

THINK ABOUT IT! And then pray for the day we can start our cars AND open our houses with retinal scans that let us walk around free. And who knows? Maybe by then all our official docouments and our credit card info will be neatly imbedded in our skulls.🙂




Farewell to Summer


The Summer came and the summer passed and now it’s mid-September and the dauntless ivy has once again taken over the screens on the front of our house . So is too late to look back at this season of long days and steamy nights?

I hope not.

In July, our  niece and godchild Grace celebrated a big birthday here, with all her siblings who came from all over; and also my own sister Nan from Florida who is her mum, and her husband Troy and Troy’s parents and so many great others. It was a happy day, with food and drink and maybe just ONE small pack of smokes.


There were games…



There were drinks, and strolls, and smiles.


Lots of smiles..





And this  was just one sweet weekend in July.

August came and Nan had elective surgery the complications fro which kept her in the ICU for 8 days and THAT was sure scary, for what would any of us in this family do without Na, the mother of Grace, this first friend to me her little sister?

Thank God she is mending now. In fact, apart from learning to walk with a titanium knee joint implanted in her living flesh, she is sharper than ever, more ‘Nan-like’ than ever, as I saw when I flew to Tarpon Springs to help with the transition from the hospital to home.

And so the season wound down. We had a whole week with three of our four grandchildren and a little guest and that was great, though some old guy tried to hustle them at pool.(Haha, no. That’s my husband David, their grandpa.)


During that week we climbed ev’ry mountain, we forded every stream..img_2238

Also in August had a Marotta Family Weekend with all of David’s brothers and their kids and played  baseball..


A sort of an unrecognizable kind of baseball.


One day we all got back-to-school haircuts.


 Always we dressed for the sun, I in a get-up that USED to button, back in my skinny-day 40s..


And finally we had one last weekend together, on Labor Day when we we sat around some more…


The children joyfully in the momentimg_2285

and we older one often in more pensive moods.


Because we knew it was coming: The Autumn.

And now here we are on the lip of it and I’m remembering all over again that the descent into winter is in fact every bit as lovely as that long slow climb into summer.

Because, I mean, what’s nicer than a view through a latticework of ivy buzzing with the happy bees?