A final, loving touch

April 27, 2014

Francesca chose to write about one of the most difficult and painful subjects, the loss of her beloved grandmother Mother Mary, and she did so in a way that was original and poignant. Francesca took wonderful care of Mother Mary in hospice, and you can tell in every line of this column that they had a special relationship. Generally, we hear a lot about how important grandchildren are from a grandparent's point of view, but it's equally wonderful to hear how important grandparents are to their grandchildren, to the very end. - Lisa

Last week, we lost our beloved Mother Mary. She passed peacefully at home, without pain, surrounded by all of us. It still hardly feels real to me, so it isn't easy to write about. My head, and my heart, aren't ready to put her in the past tense.

I feel lucky I was able to be with her for the last weeks she was home with us. I tried to help however I could and keep her company the rest of the time. But hospice is a game you play to lose, and it was difficult to adjust.

Often, I felt helpless.

So when my uncle said that my grandmother had specifically asked for me to do her nails, I was elated - unlike the daunting medical side of hospice, this was something I knew I could handle.

My grandmother took meticulous care of her fingernails. She always carried an emery board in her handbag, and even when her knuckles knotted with arthritis, she kept each filed to a perfect almond shape.

Even now, she could feel her nails were long, but she couldn't feel the advanced cancer in her chest.

One of many blessings.

So I was happy to help. I envisioned giving her a salon experience, complete with soaking bowls of warm, sudsy water and a hand massage with scented lotion. I wanted so bad to do something nice for her, something special.

When you know that anything could be the last something, you want everything to be perfect.

But the next morning, I could see she was exhausted, more so than the day before.

It takes a lot for a body to launch a spirit. Especially one like hers.

I put my hand on her shoulder as she napped on the couch. "Is it all right if I do your nails while you rest?"

She opened her eyes for a moment and gave a nod.

I took her hands one by one, my fingers threaded through hers. I filed each nail gently, so as not to disturb her, rounding the tips into half-moons. I ran my fingers over them to make sure they were perfectly clean and smooth, no rough edges.

I thought of all these hands had done in 90 years. Before my time, she was a songwriter, and her hands played many melodies on piano. I imagined her penciling in the margins of a new song, adding dynamic changes, a ritardando at the end.

If only there were a ritardando in real life. But you can't hold on to one minute longer than any other. And the more you try, the faster they seem to go.

I thought of all these hands had done for me. How many meals had they prepared? How many other babysitters served homemade ravioli as an after-school snack? How many times had they stroked my hair? Touched my cheek? How many gestures of love can a lifetime hold?

In my grandmother's case, countless.

So I held on to her hands while she slept. And I whispered to her, told her things, some important and mundane, some I'd said a thousand times before, some I'd never said until then.

I hoped she could feel in my hands the love returned to her, the lessons learned, the strength she'd instilled in me now trying to be strong for her.

I always admired my grandmother's combination of grit and warmth. She could be tough and tender, hard and soft.

Although she was all soft with me.

She loved without rough edges.

After some time, she woke up, or maybe she hadn't been asleep at all, and she ran her thumb over her fingertips. She smiled. "Good," she told me, and she blew me a kiss.

I wondered if she had heard me say that I loved her enough to hope she could let go.

Even though I wanted to hold her hands a while longer.

'Slimming apparel,' my butt

Feb. 15, 2009

This is the column that people stop me on the street and say they remember. That makes me so happy because I think this column exemplifies the true spirit of Chick Wit. We like to write funny stories about everyday, relatable problems, like trying to fit into your jeans - or worse, your Spanx. These stories may not be the stuff of headlines, but they are the stuff of life. - Lisa

Something dangerous is going on in the world of women's underwear, and I want to nip it in the butt.


I am referring, of course, to Spanx.

If you don't know what Spanx are, I have one word for you: girdles.

I got introduced to Spanx by accident, when I bought a black-patterned pair, thinking they were tights. I got my size, which is B.

For Beautiful.

I took them home and put them on, which was like slipping into a tourniquet. Then I realized they weren't tights, they were just Tight, and I checked the box, which read Tight-End Tights.


I actually managed to squeeze myself into them, then I put on a knit dress, examined myself in the mirror, and hated what I saw. From the front, I looked like a Tootsie Roll with legs. From the back, instead of having buttocks, I had buttock.

In other words, my lower body had been transformed into a cylinder. I no longer had hips where hips are supposed to be, or saddlebags where God intended. I was the cardboard in the roll of toilet paper.

And another detail - I couldn't breathe.

Also, the elastic waistband was giving me a do-it-yourself hysterectomy.

I didn't understand the product, so I went instantly to the website, which explained that these were no ordinary tights but were "slimming apparel." This, under the bright pink banner that read, "It's what's on the inside that counts!"


The website claimed that "these innovative undergarments eliminate VBL (visible bra lines) and VPL (visible panty lines)."


Would this be a good time to say that I'm in favor of VBL and VPL? Especially VPL. In fact, I want my P as V as possible.

You know why?

Because I wear P.

I don't know what kind of signal we're sending if we want our butts to suggest otherwise. Bottom line, I'm not the kind of girl who goes without P. In other words, I'm a Good Girl (GG). And GGs wear P.

Same goes for B.

I admit, I get a little lazy, especially at home or in the emergency room. I don't always bother with B all the time. But if I'm in public and not wearing a down coat, I wear B. And I also want my B to be V.

You know why?

I want extra credit.

If I went to the trouble to put on a B, I want to be recognized for it. Here's an analogy: I'm not the kind of person who makes charitable donations anonymously. If I give away money, I want a plaque or maybe a stadium named after me, so everybody knows that I'm nice, in addition to being good. (N and G). In fact, that makes me an N and GG.

But back to P and B.

I went back to the mirror and noticed something else - that the fat that properly belonged on my hips, having taken up residence there at age 40, was now homeless and being relocated upward by my tights, leaving a roll at my waist that could pass for a flotation device.

But have no fear. I checked the website, and Spanx has the solution: "slimming camis." That is, camisoles that look like Ace bandages, which presumably pick up the fat roll at the waist and squeeze it upward, so that, having nowhere else to go, it pops out on top, as breasts.


Or rather, ta-tas!

This is interesting, for physics. Natural law says that matter cannot be created or destroyed, but that was pre-Spanx. With these babies, you could destroy the matter at your waistline and increase it at your bustline, merely by turning your body into a half-squeezed tube of toothpaste.

And, of course, you'll need a new bra to catch all your homeless fat, so the website sells "the Bra-llelujah!" It even states, "So, say goodbye to BBS (Bad Bra Syndrome)!"

Thank God. I hate it when my B is B.

I looked at the other articles of slimming apparel, and there were even tights for pregnant women, which was great. I wouldn't want my baby to be born with VIL (Visible Infant Lines).

And there were Power Panties, which made me smile.

If women had power, they wouldn't need Spanx.

Wordplay with a worried mom

July 19, 2009

There are some issues unique to the mother-daughter relationship - OK, a lot of issues. Years later, readers still mention this column and tell me, "OMG, you're me," and, "That's my mom." It feels good to know we're all in this together! And though I'd like to say I've gotten better at talking to my mom, you know what they say: The more things change . . . the more moms worry. - Francesca

Did you hear about the 10-year-old who writes self-help books? His name is Alec Greven, and he penned, or crayoned, How to Talk to Moms. Presumably, the intended audience is other 10-year-olds, but I think this book could have broader appeal.

Namely, me.

I wasn't attracted to it in some condescending, look-how-cute way, either. I need this book. I need help figuring out How to Talk to Mom.

But here's the problem. I need the 24-year-old-just-moved-out version.

As you know, my mom and I are very close. When it comes to the big issues, feelings, emotions, etc., I can always speak frankly with Mom. It's the small stuff I'm sweating.

For instance, last night, I went to see my cousin in Long Island City. No big deal. So I mentioned this mundane outing matter-of-factly to my mother over the phone. But, as a matter of fact, she didn't find it so mundane.

"How are you getting there? The subway? At night? ALONE?"

I thought I said, "I am going to see Paul's new apartment," but in mom-speak that translates to: "I am going to meet certain death in the New York City subway tunnels that are soon to be my tomb."

Talk about lost in translation.

So how should I have said this to avoid throwing Mom into an unrecoverable tailspin of fear and worry?

Recently, I met a nice guy while out at a bar with friends. He's a young lawyer and it turns out he grew up near me and we have a lot in common. I gave him my number and, lo and behold, he actually called me to go out. I share this good news with Mom, but, again, in plain English. Her response?

"Dinner with a stranger? Did you verify what he told you? He could be anyone. You have no way of knowing."

See, my story in Momese translated to "I met a guy named Ted Bundy, and I think he really likes me!"

To appease her, I had to google the guy, find his last five addresses, proof of his alleged alma mater, and one official Notice of Appearance in court to prove he was a practicing (she immediately assumed he was laid-off) lawyer. And she still wanted me to spring for the $19.95 criminal background check.

I didn't.

God help me the night I actually went on the date.

I understand playing it safe, so my mother and I discussed some strategies on how to protect myself just in case. Meet him at the restaurant instead of my apartment, make sure I get in the cab to go home alone, tell my roommate where I'm going and plan when she should call me and expect me back. I thought I had said all the right things in my pre-date Talk With Mom. But I made one critical error - this time not with what I said, but what I did NOT say.

I did not say, "I'll call you when I'm home."

Big mistake.

Like, huge.

You see, New York dinners start kind of late, so I was still out at 11 p.m. when she texted the first time. And the bar we went to afterward was loud, so I didn't hear my phone ring at 11:37 p.m. or again around midnight. And we happened to have a conversation about how people who constantly check their BlackBerries are so annoying, so I kept it in my purse while the four other text messages chimed in. And, at the very end of the date, the guy actually seemed to want to kiss me, so when I finally did hear my ringer go off, I quickly silenced it and leaned in.

Kiss of death.

In the cab, I saw I had five new text messages, three missed calls, and two new voicemails. I winced when I listened to the first voicemail and heard my mom's barely controlled voice saying, "Hi, honey. Just making sure you're OK. Please call me when you get home."

But this time, I could translate.


I felt terrible. Sure, my mom was overreacting a little (I found out when I did call her that she had even emailed my roommate). But the fact remained that for a couple hours there, she was really scared for me, and all because of a simple breakdown of communication.

So how does the newly-moved-out twentysomething talk to Mom?

Alec Greven can't grow up fast enough.

Supermom? Let me introduce you

May 13, 2007

Never underestimate a mother - and if she's a grandmother, take cover! It was hard to choose, but I think this is my favorite of all my mom's columns. I love it because she captured the powerful force that was Mother Mary, with all her spunk, determination, and a dose of magic. And I love it because, perhaps without realizing it, my mom captured the greatest lesson both of these powerful women passed down to me: Never underestimate yourself. - Francesca

I am a mother, I have a mother, and I love mothers. I think mothers are a natural force, and maybe an alternative source of fuel.


My mother, Mother Mary, lives with brother Frank in South Beach. She awoke one morning with a start, convinced that her bed had moved during sleep, as though there had been an earthquake. But nothing was out of place in her bedroom, and it was a cloudless Sunday, still as a postcard. Nevertheless, she was sure there had been an earthquake. She went and woke up my brother, who told her to go back to sleep.

She didn't. She scurried across the street like an octogenarian Chicken Little, to warn their neighbor. He told her to go back to sleep, too.

Instead, she went home and called the Miami Herald.

She told the reporter about the earthquake, and he told her that the sky wasn't falling and suggested she go back to sleep. He also took her name and telephone number, which turned out to be a good thing, because he had to call her back, later that day.

She had been absolutely right. There had been an earthquake, at the exact time she had felt it.

The clincher? The earthquake occurred 397 miles from Miami, in Tampa. And the only person who felt it in Miami was my mother, Mary Scottoline.

I'm not kidding.

Soon, TV news vans began arriving at my mother's house. My brother, whom you may remember is gay, told me he put on his "best tank top."

The Scottolines have style.

The reporters interviewed my mother, and under her picture on the TV screen, the banner read EARTHQUAKE MARY. They asked her how she felt an earthquake that took place so far away. She answered that she "knows about these things."

The Miami Herald published the story, as reported by Martin Merzer and Aldo Nahed. My favorite part reads, "It was a pretty nice weekend in Florida. Except, you know, for the 6.0 magnitude earthquake . . . In South Florida, the event passed virtually unnoticed, though Mary Scottoline, 82 . . ."

If you don't believe me, go and find the story online. Google "Mary Scottoline." Or "I-Told-You-I'm-Not-Crazy Scottoline," "Nobody-Ever-Listens-To Me-Scottoline," or "You-And-Your Brother-Think-You-Know-Everything-with-that-Cockamamie-Computer Scottoline."

It wasn't the first time that Mother Mary had something in common with a natural disaster. Once, I made her fly north to me to avoid a hurricane, and she wasn't happy about it. When she got off the plane, a TV reporter stuck a microphone in her face and asked if she was afraid of the hurricane. She answered:

"I'm not afraid of a hurricane. I am a hurricane."

So you see what we're dealing with. A force of nature. A 4-foot-11 bundle of heart, bile, and moxie.

And superpowers.

I've known for a long time that Mother Mary has superpowers. She used to cast off the evil eye when somebody gave me a "whammy" by chanting a secret spell over a bowl of water and olive oil. She dipped her fingers in the water, made the sign of the cross on my forehead, and whispered mysterious words that sounded like osso bucco. This spell was handed down to her by another Italian Mother/Witch on Christmas Eve, which is the only time it can be told. She won't tell me the spell because I'm a lawyer.

But I digress.

Your mother may not smear olive oil on your face but she has superpowers, too. Spider-Man has nothing on mothers.

We don't think of mothers as having superpowers, but they do. Mothers can tell what we're doing when their backs are turned to us. They know we have a fever without using a thermometer. They can be at three places at once, a soccer game, a violin lesson, and the high school play, even if it's Annie. They can tell we're sad by the way we say, "I'm fine."

And, magically, they can change us into them, without us even knowing how or when. Mother Mary used to make me call her when I got home and let the phone ring three times, as a signal. (This, in a time when long-distance calls cost money.) I thought it was silly, but she said, "When you're a mother, you'll understand."

And, finally, I do.