About Elizabeth di Grazia

An artist, I follow the nudge inside of me. This nudge led me to write Peace Corps stories, find the front door to the Loft, and to graduate from Hamline’s MFA program. The story that became my thesis for Hamline is woven into my book manuscript: HOUSE OF FIRE: From the Ashes, A Family, a memoir of healing and redemption. It’s a story about family. And a story about love–for my partner Jody and the son and daughter we adopted from Guatemala. Most days, I can be found working as a Human Resource Manager for a foundry in Minneapolis. When I am not at the foundry I may be volunteering as a Police Reserve Officer for Richfield, MN or kicking butt at Kor Am Tae Kwon Do.

Our Dog Is Vegan, Too

Sadie outside screen door expecting to be let inside with her stick after failing to bring it through the dog door.

She’s following in Crystel’s footsteps who has been a vegan for over three years. Sadie helps till the soil, then comes the planting of the seeds. All last summer and winter she brought kale into the house, ripping the greenery to shreds before chewing on the stem. When Jody is making salads, Sadie waits for her portion.

Our dog Buddy used to be Trouble. Sadie is the real terror.

Crystel can no longer put a flat of seedlings on the bottom shelf of her greenhouse. Sadie thinks she’s the gardener. She’ll take out the tray. Nose the organic clump from the cell pot into its former soil mixture. She was put out when Crystel eliminated the bottom ledge. Sitting on her haunches, whining at the greenhouse.

Sadie thinks she ought to make bigger holes than what we think is necessary. Her face a ring of dirt, her feet mud sticks. We try catching her digging so we can parent properly but she knows when she is just outside of our line of sight. She is uncanny like that. I’ve become jumpy not knowing where she is.

It was no surprise that Sadie was the first to find an Easter egg in the garden. I thought she’d eat the money before I stopped her. You owe me her look said.

On walks she trails her nose on the ground. Every few feet we excavate something out of her mouth. A leaf, a stick, a ragged dried piece of a flattened squirrel, rocks, a bird wing, pinecones, even a chewed piece of gum. While we are enjoying the surroundings, she’s picking up litter. I bring an extra bag just for her. The ends of her ears are grey. I’m convinced it is because she drags them on the ground, nosing her way down the street.

Trying to keep Sadie off the pool cover is useless. It’s her water dish after it rains. A trampoline when it’s dry, jumping and leaping, round and round. 

First egg found

I told my two 18-year olds that they were easier to parent as children than the dog. They didn’t think that was much of a compliment. They know Sadie. Helped choose her. Named her. She’s a wonderful dog. We all love her. It just makes you reconsider having kids.

Sadie is the first retriever dog that we have ever had. But, boy, leave anything out and she will eat it. Even your distance learning homework. 

She’s a COVID dog. She’ll be a year old this month. I guess you could say that she’s done her part, kept up her side of the bargain. Offering us endless distraction.

Mom at 62

I’m 62 years old and a mom to two 18-year-olds.

In my mind, this conjures up an old lady parenting two young spirited teens who are placed at a disadvantage. An old lady who could not possibly understand their children’s struggles and desires. An old lady completely out of touch with today’s slang, music, and dress.

I do admit I asked Crystel what ‘Shawty’ meant a couple of weeks ago when she was cheering on Juan and friends who were competing at a Nordic ski meet. I stuck to my tried and true, “Go Spartans! Woo-hoo!!!”

Juan and Crystel are joining with four others to hold a high school graduation party. I was a bit taken aback when discussing appropriate music for the party (preferring an absence of certain words). The six soon-to-be graduates looked back and forth at each other and quickly decided that my playlist of 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s music would be best.

Jody is 58 years old. Unless we’re standing next to other parents at sports events, we usually don’t notice our age difference. Then, Wow those parents look so young, might pop into our heads.

Another time it might occur is when other families are especially active going here and there: winter carnival, parades, ice castles, weekend trips. Jody and I just look at each other and shake our heads. We have no interest. We don’t take it as a sign of slowing down. We have always been that way. Sorry kids. That’s why you have chosen aunts and uncles. Crystel and her Uncle Marty participated in the ALARC ice dive this year on January 1st.

You can find Jody and me volunteering at Juan and Crystel’s school, sports, and scout events. We’re active in the police reserves and often host get-togethers at our house or swimming pool.

The kids never seem embarrassed that we are old. There are so many other ways that I’ve mortified them. Showing up at school unannounced to sit with them in their classroom and walk from one class to another to understand why my student couldn’t make it to the next class without being tardy. Walking into the men’s bathroom to check on my son. In my defense, I did text him and tell him that if he didn’t come out in five minutes that I was coming in. This was at a Taylor Swift concert.

Jody and I believe it’s important to make sure your children have a heartbeat. Cliff jumping, zip gliding, and mountain climbing in Guatemala, helicopter rides over the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore, swimming with dolphins, hot air balloon ride, dog sledding, horse riding, mountain snowmobiling and skiing and more. If we can do it at our age, then they can, too.

At an earlier age, you could find Jody and me sky diving, inline and running marathons, distance biking, and completing the Tough Mudder. Jody continues to run marathons. The kids had their first sky dive on Crystel’s 18th birthday. They’ve yet to complete a marathon. The old people still got it.

Inspector Clouseau of Spy Craft

“Did you tell your kids?” my niece asked.

I gasped, “No, no. The spy cam isn’t for inside the house. It’s for outside. And … we offered to have the app put on Juan and Crystel’s phone as well.” (They didn’t hesitate to say yes).

I’d been wanting to get outside cameras for a long time.

Once before, Jody and I briefly tried a spy cam/tracking device with Juan and Crystel. I’m not even sure they ever knew about it. Jody and I paid the price. There was a short period when we wanted to know where our car was going when we weren’t in it. I tucked the electronic device in the back pocket of the car seat. I never did figure out how to use the device correctly. I even bought two of them thinking the first device was faulty. Jody and I tracked the car to Chick-fil-A down the street. We couldn’t find the car anyplace. It was mind-boggling. We figured that Juan found the device and threw it out of the car into the grassy area. We drove to the high school where he said he was going and there was our car in the parking lot. Right where he said it would be.

The next and last time we were tempted to use the electronic tracking device was after a school administrator told us that all kids vape. Jody and I were like, “WHAT!” We didn’t think our kids vaped. Her certainty freaked us out enough that we jumped in the car and drove to the Richfield Ice Arena. Juan was walking into the facility when I hollered for him to come to our car. He was startled as heck to see us. “Are you vaping?’ I asked. He told us no and we believed him. Still do.

I figured if we weren’t using the tracking device, then we weren’t paying for it. I didn’t realize that we had a monthly subscription that continued renewing. This went on for more than a year before Jody tracked down the credit card charge that kept popping up. It was an expensive lesson for the parents.

I’m still trying to figure out what that lesson was exactly. So, I was bound to repeat it. Hence, my hesitation on going ahead with any purchase of outside cameras.

What helped me to decide was seeing our neighbor on a ladder putting his cameras up. I asked him if he would put spy cams up for us if we bought the same cameras. Easy enough. Now we have three outdoor cameras. The app is installed on all of our phones.

The cameras chirp every time they’re tripped. With an active household of two eighteen-year-olds, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, two parents, two dogs, two cats, Amazon, mail, and newspaper delivery, they are tripped a lot. We also have the occasional neighborhood cat come by during the early morning hours.

The first weekend after the cameras were up, Jody, Juan, and Crystel were on a ski trip out of town for five days. Every time I walked outside to walk the dogs or to run an errand, they would talk to me through the camera. I’d also hear them calling to our cats and dogs sitting on the stoop or backyard patio. It quickly became routine to wave and greet the camera as I was coming and going. I enjoyed this intimacy.

The spy cam was especially great at night, just before bedtime, when I would take the dogs out for the last time, and I’d hear Crystel’s sweet voice saying, “Night, Mama.”  

On one occasion during the first couple of weeks that we had the cameras, Jody and I overheard Juan’s girlfriend telling him,” You are obsessed with that camera.” He was at her house but was saying Hi to his cat at home through the spy cam and the camera was picking up their voices. Naturally, we replayed it for them at the first opportunity.

If only I could figure out how to talk to anyone through the spy cam.

Do-Over

Have you ever been unable to forgive yourself for a past action? Your do-over was never enough? Your action, or in my case inaction, continued to pain and haunt you? Prayers and wishes didn’t subside the memory.

I had one such pain.

Aunt Kate asked me to meet her at a funeral home. A dear friend of hers had passed away. I told her I would. I didn’t show. I had plenty of good reasons. I was in my early twenties, had worked all night. I was just plain tired. I needed sleep. I could hear the sadness and disappointment in her voice when she said, “You didn’t come.” I pictured her sitting by herself waiting and waiting for me.

Of course, I told her I was sorry. I could never get over not showing up for her. She never asked for much, if anything, from me or anyone else. I had more fondness for Aunt Kate than I did my mother. Her constant love continues to sustain me although she’s been dead for over 32 years. It’s her that I want to greet me on the ‘other side’ when I die.

I know she forgave me. I never forgave myself no matter how many little pieces of paper I threw into the flames on Solstice or New Year’s Eve.

Until now.

Every day, I do a do-over. And, it finally feels good enough. It didn’t start out as that. It started out as one neighbor helping another.

On Halloween, sitting around the fire bowl on our block, I listened as our neighbor said he’d be driving north for a week to his cabin. His wife, who is in her eighties, would be by herself. I imagined her falling in her kitchen and no one knowing. I asked her if she’d like to start taking a daily walk.

She often told me on our strolls that I was the only person she had talked to that day. COVID-19 had pushed her further into isolation. She didn’t like to walk by herself and wouldn’t, but she would walk with me. Sometimes, I’d bring our two dogs and hand her one leash while I grasped the other. The dogs began to greet her like family. At other times, Jody would walk with us while the neighbor and I chatted.  

Our conversations were generally the same: the weather, the home and garage projects in the neighborhood, and what our families were doing. I never tired of it.  

After her husband came home our walks have continued. She has become my companion.

We don’t talk politics. We don’t talk religion. There is so much more to bind us.

I sense Aunt Kate’s spirit when we walk. I know she’s pleased. I know she’s happy. I have a different image in my mind. She’s not sitting alone in the funeral home waiting for me. She’s walking beside me.

Senior Spotlight

At this time of year, high school seniors are applying for colleges, grants, and scholarships. They are answering this simple question a dozen times over from their friends, classmates, and adults: What are your plans for after graduation?

Crystel decided to apply for one college and one college only. This isn’t much of a surprise because she goes after what she wants. Always has. She doesn’t stop until she achieves her goal. She rarely alters her course. I’ve become a believer of her dreams ever since she overcame a speech disorder. At 3, she could not talk intelligibly. Juan who could understand her best often spoke for her. There came the day when she told him, “STOP.” By the time she was 7 she had graduated from speech therapy and was onto her next achievement.

When she told me that she only applied to one school, I held my breath. She didn’t have a backup plan. She submitted her college application without telling Jody and me. I thought she would have at least asked me for advice about the personal statement. After all, I am a writer. She told me that she reflected on her friend who was accepted. He’s Hispanic with a single father. I quizzed her. Did you tell them that you have two moms? Adopted? Hispanic? She kept nodding. She also said that she was Vegan. What about your Tae Kwon Do 2nd Degree Black Belt? No, she had forgotten about that.

All I could do was hope that she got accepted.

Juan on the other hand, recently told someone he was taking a gap year. Several years ago, I so strongly believed in a gap year for Juan and Crystel that I bought several books:

The Complete Guide to the Gap Year: The Best Things to Do Between High School and College

Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs

Gap Year, American Style: Journeys Toward Learning, Serving, and Self-Discovery

I don’t think Juan opened a page of any of those books. Especially since I had already dropped them off at Goodwill.

Even so, he had latched onto the concept of not going to college. Not now. Maybe not at all.

For many reasons, Jody and I support Juan having a ‘gap’ year. He’s in the National Honor Society, active in Student Government and just finished his last season of Cross Country. Still, his path is not Crystel’s.

An adult recently asked Crystel, “What are you doing after graduation?” She responded, “Going to the University of Minnesota.” (She was accepted). The question was followed with, “What about Juan?” Without pausing she said, “He’s going to the basement.”

Juan is graduating from his bedroom to our finished basement. His current bedroom will convert to Jody’s home office. He will continue to work as he has since he was 14-years-old.

Crystel’s desire is to study abroad. I’m sure that will happen. Juan is looking forward to living in the basement. It has the feel of an apartment. He’ll move out when he’s ready. Until then, Jody and I will have a roommate.