57: Grandma’s Bread

57: Grandma’s Bread

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Grandma’s Bread

A grandmother is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher, and a little bit best friend.

~Author Unknown

“So no behavioral shifts in school — that’s a relief. He seemed happy when he told me about your cooking lesson,” I said to my son’s kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Flint.

“What cooking lesson?” asked Mrs. Flint.

“Didn’t you teach a cooking lesson?”

“No,” said Mrs. Flint.

“What? Brian told me he baked bread in school. He even described all the steps,” I said, confused.

A smile crossed Mrs. Flint’s face. “Did your grandmother bake bread?” she asked.

My grandmother had passed away a few weeks prior to the teacher conference. Ever since then, my older son, Brian, had been behaving in alarming ways at home. He was being extremely hard on himself. Any time he made even a minor mistake, he would cry that he was the “worst ever.” Sometimes he would hit himself. He would wail every night at bedtime because he was having dreams that my husband or I would die or he would die or my younger son, Leo, would die. He missed Grandma, but death in general was rocking his happy little almost five-year-old world.

One night at bedtime, he threw a tantrum and screamed that he would “just jump out a window!” His behavior and words were breaking my heart.

She was your typical Italian, Catholic grandma. She and my pop immigrated to New York and moved mountains to give their family a chance at the American dream. She worked hard in a curtain factory. She was a dutiful wife; she cooked like crazy, said zany things, and had no problem sharing her opinions, because obviously, she knew best. She took care of all of us. Italian grandmas take great pride in their grandchildren but take great, grand pride in their great-grandkids, and my boys felt it.

“Look-a ma great-grandson. ’E’s a good boy,” was a typical greeting, followed by a bear hug and wet kiss.

Her food was legendary. Homemade spaghetti, hand rolled gnocchi, lasagna, meatballs, pizza, polenta, pastina, pizelles — everything delicious that came from Italy was her specialty. Everyone had a favorite, but if you asked her what she liked best, she’d say “If you put-ta me in prison, I be fine. Just give-a me bread and I be okay.”

“Bread? Really?” was my response. But as I thought about it, I realized the beauty of it. She baked her own, of course. Sometimes she would let me help her.

“Wash-a you hands. You want to poison the dough?” was her famous line every time.

I ate it toasted, with butter, for as long as I can remember. We dipped it in sauce, in oil, ate it with olives, peppers and prosciutto. It was there with every meal, nourishing us.

When I was pregnant with Brian I was extremely ill. I was diagnosed with hyperemesis and had to have IVs to get through it. I couldn’t stomach anything, not even water. I felt awful and was frightened to my core that I wasn’t sustaining the baby. I got on my knees and prayed for a healthy child every night. The only thing I could tolerate was my grandmother’s bread. I lived on it, which meant he lived on it.

We had a family meeting over breakfast the day after my grandmother died. “Boys, I have good news and bad news,” I started. “The good news is that Grandma went up to heaven to be with Pop-Pop. She feels strong and happy. She is having fun and can watch over us. The bad news is that we will miss her very much.”

“Will we ever see her again?” asked Brian.

“Someday, when we are very old and God decides it’s our turn to go up to heaven, she will be there waiting for us,” I replied.

I tried to reassure him that everything was okay. “It’s normal for very old people to go to heaven. It’s okay to miss her but you don’t need to be afraid of anything happening to any of us. You will see her again someday . . .”

Our talks about death continued around these very logical and . . . hollow themes. My reassurances were not reassuring. The truth was, I was in no position to tell my son not to fear, because from the moment I was pregnant with him, I had been petrified of death. I was afraid I would die, or the boys might die, or my husband would die. I knew logically, that there was no reason to think that way, but the fear had a stranglehold on my heart.

I became a hovering, helicopter parent. I thought it made me feel in control. I felt that their happiness, not just their wellbeing, was my responsibility. I put heavy pressure on myself. I beat myself up over little things like the tone of my voice or not giving each boy enough one-on-one time. Then I had the nerve to wonder where my son’s anxiety came from.

“Brian, do you remember when you told me you baked bread in school?” I asked.

“Yes, it was so fun,” said Brian.

“Well, Mrs. Flint told me she never did that with you.”

“No, I did it with Grandma. She picked me up in my classroom and brought me down to the cafeteria. She said to wash our hands to get the poison off,” he said with a smile. “Leo was with us,” he said.

“Yeah, you have to roll the dough and then you pat it. It feels squishy,” added Leo.

“But first you have to sprinkle the flour on the board so it doesn’t stick,” Brian reminded Leo. “Then you put a towel over the dough and let it grow.”

Those were the exact steps my grandmother always took. But here’s the thing: my boys never made bread with Grandma or anyone else for that matter! I called my mother.

“She must’ve come to them in a dream. They both said the same thing. How could Brian know about the wash off the poison thing?” I said.

“Kelly, you’re not going to believe this, but I keep smelling her bread,” my mother said slowly. “I smelled it constantly right after she died. Now it comes and goes.”

I think my grandma stayed with us, to give us peace. After Brian “made bread” with her, our conversations changed. It wasn’t about being logical, or trying to control death by explaining when people die. It was about having faith that we will always be connected and that love is everlasting. We talked about leaving it up to God, trusting him as our father, so that we could let go of the worry. We started living in the present and rediscovered the joy each day held.

I landed my helicopter and began parenting with less control, anxiety and pressure. We broke out of our prison of fear. We love freely now, thanks to my grandma’s bread.

~K. Seward

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