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.

Preparing for Retirement

I took a hike today. Hiking is an activity I want to do after I retire on January 7, 2022. It occurred to me this week that I didn’t need to wait until then to research hiking groups. A simple Google search led me to a Twin Cities hiking meetup at Afton State Park on Sunday. 45 people had registered for the hike.

Crystel gave a hearty laugh when she scrolled my Facebook (she was home for the day from college). Twin Cities Bike Club, she chortled. I might do that when I retire, I said a bit defensively. Even though I have an electric bike I can still join, right? Doesn’t Crystel think that I pedal? Just because I put the bike on cruise on for an entire twenty-mile ride on my recent 63rd birthday?

Other activities I’m interested in are pre pre-beginner lessons in pickle ball. The few times I’ve tried the game I awoke my inner Frankenstein as I lurched for the ball. Most often I missed the ball entirely. I’ll also be pursuing writing, classes, reading, travel, and cross-country skiing.

I expected to be fully retired in January, but a recent job offer with minimal hours has altered my thinking. I’m excited about this new job opportunity.

I’ve also recognized an internal shift about the idea of being a grandparent. When the kids were in their teens, I preached, lectured, and cajoled safe sex. Topping it off with a trip to Planned Parenthood on a Christmas Eve. Though I feel the shift, I continue to want grandparenting to be years away. Jody and I were older parents to Juan and Crystel. We can be much older grandparents.

I’ve explored other meetup groups and added them to my profile: Twin Cities Indoor/Outdoor Sports, Minnesota Hardy Hikers, Outdoor Introverts, Outdoor & Snow Lovers, Cross Country Skiing, MN Sierra Club Outings and Intrepid, Fit & Social.

One group put my membership on hold. They required a photo to join. I had Jody snap one of me on our Sunday hike and uploaded it to their site. The administrator requested a new photo that showed my entire face with no sunglasses. She also mentioned that she couldn’t tell by my picture but wanted to give me a heads up that the members’ average age is just over 50. She didn’t want me to be surprised if I was a lot younger than that. I was still welcome to join but it was up to me.

I uploaded a new photo. I hope they can keep up with me.

Ditch and Run

I didn’t think dropping Crystel off at college would be hard. I’m really good at ditch and run.

Often Jody will say to the person that she’s talking to at a party, “Oh, I guess we are going now,” after I’ve tapped her shoulder on my way to the car. There’s no stop in me. I’m done now, my whole body is saying. When Jody wants to socialize at an event, we drive separately. Later, after a party, I’ve had people tell me, “We didn’t see you leave. You were just gone.”

I couldn’t tap into my own experience of being dropped off at college. I’m not even sure who drove me to my dorm in Menomonie, Wisconsin from Ellsworth. What I do recall is a few weeks later my mother telling me not to come home anymore. There wasn’t any room for me. I no longer lived there.

Crystel was able to move in early at the University of Minnesota because of her involvement with Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE). I helped her pack the van. A refrigerator, clothes, plants, hangers, and more plants. At the dorm it was my job to hang her clothes in a certain direction on the hanger. Jody made her bed. Two hours later, I had only finished one suitcase. She had that many shirts! I couldn’t believe that I would patiently undertake this miniscule tedious task. I mentioned that. We had just enough time to drive to Target for more hangers and a few items before joining MCAE for their parent and family kickoff event.

I accompanied Crystel into the large banquet hall. Jody was waiting in the car for my help to locate parking. I asked Crystel if she was okay for me to leave her. Above her mask I could see her stricken eyes. I hurried to the car to ask Jody to find parking herself. 

The banquet hall filled up. Dinner was served. Speeches started. I looked over at Crystel. Shook my head at each possibility that came to mind. There would be no ditch and run. She needed her moms.

I cried when we got home. I was already missing her. In the following days, I realized that for her, going to college is a step towards an independent life. I’ve texted and talked with her frequently. She’s getting settled. Meeting new friends and old. Involving herself in activities. Studying. My heart is with her. Hers with me. Where we intersect is home. There’s always room.

Vacationing with Young Adults

It started a year ago with an email, “Jody, look at Cabin 9. We could bring the dogs and maybe Crystel and Juan could bring a friend.”

Our first friend trip was to a 3-bedroom cabin near Walker, MN on Leech Lake in August 2020. Juan chose the bedroom furthest away from his parents. I’m guessing it had something to do with me saying, “If I hear any noises coming from your bedroom, I will embarrass you.”

The trip was a success. We shared meal prep and cleanup, evening board games, tandem biking, and driving a 22’ Sea Hunt 225 HP boat for the first time.

When Jody asked if they would like to do a winter cabin trip, both kids enthusiastically said, Yes.

This time, it was a rented house at Heartwood Resort in Wisconsin. Again, Juan chose the furthest bedroom from his parents.

We seemed to have the recipe for success: a friend, the sharing meal prep and cleanup, board games, cross country skiing, and dogs.

Mount Rainier was our most recent friend trip. Six of us in a 30ft RV with the dogs for eight days. Crystel and her friend chose to set up a tent outside of the RV. Juan and his friend had the space over the cab.

There weren’t any board games this trip, although I had packed a cupboard full. After hiking Crystal Mountain and Mount Rainier, cooking and cleaning, our energy was zapped. On the last day before our long two-day drive home, the kids took an Uber into Seattle for an adventure. Jody and I stayed back for much needed R&R with no teenagers.

As the kids have aged into young adults, Jody and I have made the transition as well. It has been a pleasure vacationing with Juan’s girlfriend and Crystel’s boyfriend.

Our future travel plans include a month in Florida in February 2022 and a trip to Yellowstone in July. Of course, accommodations for all.

We do hear comments from others that at some point the kids will stop wanting to travel with us. I’m not concerned. Crystel asked me the other day if I was interested in backpacking in Europe. If Jody and I keep paying and having accommodations for all, this arrangement could go on for some time. And, when it stops, we will make the transition.

When Death Becomes a Mystery

We know that we are going to die. We read about death in the newspapers. People we know and do not know. Obituaries are posted on social media.

The further away a death is from me the less I question it. It’s just a fact. People die.

But then Sam Spratt died. He was 25 years old. On Wednesday, May 19, 2021, he was in a car accident and died at the scene. He was our neighbor and Juan and Crystel’s caregiver for over four years. Death suddenly became a mystery to me. Why did Sam die? Was he done living his life? Did he accomplish all that he wanted? My world instantly felt less safe. I was nervous getting in my car. Now I knew I could die. If Sam could die, I could die.

There is no more do-over for Sam. What he did in this life is done. Or is it?

Sam’s funeral was overflowing with young, middle-aged, and old people. Friends, neighbors, relatives, high school classmates. Attendees spoke about how kind Sam was. How understanding. The deep conversations they had.

Juan and Crystel experienced the same with Sam. Sam was 12 years old and the kids were 5 when he started nannying for us. Monday to Friday he came to our house while Jody and I were at work. He even spent an occasional overnight when Jody and I were out of town.

Sam and our children became a familiar sight throughout the Richfield community and parts of Edina. For years they pedaled their bikes to dentist and orthodontist appointments, Tae Kwon Do, swim lessons, movies, library, restaurants, bowling, swimming pool and the neighborhood parks. Sam took on the additional responsibility of Juan and Crystel’s friends for play dates in our backyard swimming pool.

I was compelled to write a blog post about our experience with Sam when I read a parenting book that warned against having a teenage boy babysit – the children would be at risk.

With intention, Jody and I welcomed Sam into our home and into our lives. We were blessed to have this teenage boy responsible for our children’s safety.

On Easter five weeks before he died, Sam walked down the street to our house to visit with Juan and Crystel. He was planning to come to their graduation party in June. “He wouldn’t miss it!” he said. The three of them chatted as they would do, cajoling and teasing each other. Juan and Crystel were ‘his kids.’ He had taught them how to read, made sure they brushed their teeth, and that they weeded the garden.

Now he’s teaching Juan and Crystel about death, grief, and loss. How to navigate when a loved one is no longer with us.

His death continues to be a mystery to me. I’m still asking questions. Still pausing my mind when I pass the area where he died.

Sam was right, though. He did show up for Juan and Crystel’s graduation. I finally looked at Juan and Crystel’s picture boards at the end of their graduation party. Juan had many photos of himself, Crystel, Jody and me on his board. Prominently displayed in the center was a photo of Juan, Sam and Crystel.

I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day.

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

I nurtured two souls, Sam can say. I gave them my heart and they gave me theirs. To that end, I taught them love for another.

Sam Spratt October 17, 1995 – May 19, 2021.  Never forgotten.

Endings and Beginnings

Juan and Crystel’s graduation is this week.

There are graduation parties, athletic banquets, Senior party, after grad parties, and bonfires.

I was kicked out of school the last week of 12th grade. I was banned from attending my senior party. I was unpredictable. Impressionable. Dangerous. I never attended a prom. It wasn’t because of COVID.

Juan and Crystel are experiencing life differently than I did at their age. They have more of a life, more joy, more celebration, more love.

It makes me cry.

A different life from what I had is always what I wanted for my kids.

“You have great kids,” a track coach said at their athletic banquet.  “I don’t know what they are like at home but here they are awesome. Polite. Happy.”

I cried some more.

Plaques lining both their walls say, “MVP Award, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Award, Work Horse Award, Most Valuable Distance Runner, Most Valuable Teammate, Spotlight on Scholarship, Eagle Scout.

Jody and I have great kids. We have done a lot of things right. And, when we haven’t, we have apologized and explained why we had the reaction we did.

In middle school, Juan nudged me out of his room when we had a disagreement about his phone. I said words that I’m not proud of. Later that evening, I called a family meeting. I apologized to Juan and I told him that my reaction was because I lived with violence growing up in my house. I told him that our home would not ever be like that. We were never to touch one another in anger.

Jody and I are frequently asked, “How does it feel to be empty nesters?” 

I just shake my head.

My mother made it clear that when you graduated high school you were not to come home, again.

Wherever we are, Juan and Crystel will be.

The porch light is always on.

I always wanted to know what love looked like. I know.