GUEST COLUMN: Life’s little decorations

My grandmother used to say, “Children decorate our lives.”

I painted those words on my daughter Shanna’s bedroom wall when she was 3 years old. My Nana’s words have become a way of life for generations who never take for granted the beauty, humor, grounding and joy that children bring.

My Nana had 10 beloved children, the last three at once. My mom is the youngest of the triplets by a minute, the youngest of the 10.

At 40 years old in 1941, with none of today’s advanced medical technology, Nana was not aware she was carrying triplets. The shock was simply joyful for my grandmother, who treasured her children and made sure they knew it every day.

My mother owned and operated a family day care where she cared for and loved many children over the years, potty training them, hosting birthday parties, creating traditions and memories, and often buying them holiday outfits. The kids became like family to us. My mother is called “Auntie” by the now-adults she cared for years ago.

When I was 4, she began caring for a boy who spent so much time with us, sometimes living with us for periods of time, that he became a cousin. I still remember the “cousin adoption ceremony” we had in our kitchen for Dino who, along with his wife and children, is still an integral part of our family.

We would hold another such ceremony for Ericka and Stacy, two daycare cuties who came to us and bonded for life. Now we have Ericka’s daughter, Zoey Catherine, who has my sister to thank for her middle name and who calls Shanna “GMama” (godmother). Zoey tells everyone she has a “million aunties,” but people struggle when they look for a blood relation. My mother taught us that is not necessary when making a family.

My father lives by his mother-in-law’s words as well. He was a youth basketball coach, held a tournament to raise scholarship funds for years, and at 84 is still broadcasting every sport he can on the Lynn cable channel as he has for four decades. He is known still as “Coach Hoffman,” “Mr. Hoffman” and the “Voice of Lynn Sports.” He loves to shine a spotlight on kids.  

I make sure to thank my mom and dad regularly for showing me how wonderful it can be to love the children we meet — really see them and make them part of your life. Not everyone gets it. Not everyone wants to get it, I know. But for my mother, father, sister, myself and my daughters, my Nana’s words ring true. Children absolutely decorate our lives.

When my pool was destroyed in 2020, I was devastated. My husband Rick was relieved. He was done with pool care after 20 plus years. My girls weren’t too upset; they didn’t use it as much anymore, but I was heartbroken. The pool brought me so much happiness, so much of the company I love. The pool was a magnet for happy kids.

So, I bought another pool. I told Zoey it was for her — and it truly is — but it is also for all the little ones we bring into our lives.

I bought this pool for other people’s children, I told my husband when he shook his head at me.

“Are other people’s parents going to pay for it and clean it?” Rick asked.

No, no they are not. But the children who come to swim in it will bring me joy. He couldn’t argue with that because he knows it’s true and, like most husbands, loves when I’m joyful. He also loves having kids around.

We made a deal that I’d learn more about how to clean the pool, and it was installed last April. He has enjoyed swimming in it and watching the kids jump, yell and splash in it, too, even if he doesn’t admit it like I do.

Shanna called me this week to say she was going to the Peabody Essex Museum with some kiddos and friends. She didn’t call just to tell me what she was doing; she called to invite me knowing I would want to come.

As I was walking toward the museum, 10-year-old Delaney saw me and came running for a hug. Shanna babysat Delaney and her siblings years ago and, as the oldest, Delaney spent a lot of time at our house.

When Shanna got a full-time job, I started weekly visits with Delaney because I missed her. I meet up with her new nanny sometimes so I can stay connected with her and her three siblings. The running hug I got from her and the “I love you” from her sister Millie when I left the museum filled my heart and made me smile.

Zoey recently made me a birthday card that said — in her best kindergarten writing — “I like spending time with you.” Right back at you, Zo. Wanting to spend more time with her, I surprised her last week and picked her up at school. When she heard me call her name, she turned with childlike excitement and leapt into my arms. These fun, kind and loving kids keep me coming back to them.

This year, at the neighborhood Easter egg hunt we host annually, my friend Christen’s husband expressed surprise at how many kids were there. Because we changed it from Easter Sunday to the week before, we were able to invite more families. We didn’t have to serve dinner immediately after as usual, so we went all out this year.

It rained heavily, but thanks to Star of the Sea Church, we had an indoor space. We had 21 kids and 30 adults, lots of fun and so many eggs (325)!

George saw all the kids and commented to Christen that he didn’t realize I had so many kids in my family.

“Nope,” said my friend. “Only one of them is her family, Zoey.”

Everyone who knows us knows that despite the lack of a blood relation, Zoey is family. The others are kids we have met along the way and have come to love: our neighbors, our neighbors’ friends, work friends, kids my girls babysit or have babysat.

In this family, we see kids for the life decorations they are and make sure we celebrate them whenever we can. Thanks, Nana. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Christine McCarriston, Marblehead resident, regularly contributes to the Current.

Christine McCarriston
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