Little room filled with people

Every morning I come to this little room to pray.
My mother’s saggy blue recliner
stands on its last legs and embraces me.
Two pictures speak of her —
Native American mother and child
mother chimp and baby, dew droplets on their fur.

My grandmother’s lamp preens in the window
its dangling crystals casting rainbows
in ways she, a difficult woman, was unable to do.
A stone turtle basks in the sun on the sill,
gift from the nephew who called me Aunt Turtle.

On one wall is the print my husband and I bought
at the Mystic Art Fair four years into marriage —
little boy sketched in only black and white,
red-orange butterfly sitting on his sleeve the only color.
On another, the print we bought in Alaska
thirty-five years into marriage,
blues, gold – snowy mountain, full moon.

The couch underneath sports two jewel-toned pillows,
embroidered folk art from South Africa
where we met Marshall, whose head is scarred
from the bullet that grazed him
during the Soweto Youth Uprising.

Hanging near the door is a Mexican Madonna
from my mother’s second husband,
the one who made her happy.
And under it my mother-in-law’s little desk
where she paid bills, faithfully making ends meet.

On the table is a folding icon, gift from a student,
Jesus holding a book on one side,
Mary holding an infant Jesus on the other.

Every morning when I come to this little room to pray,
I, too, am held.

Carol Mitchell
May 30, 2020

little room

Loud Grace

Martialing my arts

I fight off fear.

I line up my thoughts like soldiers:

Count your blessings!!

Send love out to the world!

Stay in the present!


But the moment comes when

fear wisps in through the cracks

wondering what’s next

whispering what ifs.

It slips past my sleeping sentries


like carbon monoxide

like a virus

unnoticed until it’s dug itself in.


A door flies open and

like superman

like a whirlwind

not using his inside voice

my grandson yells

Amma, can you play with me?



Fear flees like fog phantoms

blown away by five-year-old exuberance.

— Carol Mitchell

Variations on our theme: Upstairs/downstairs, next door, down the street, around the world

Globe Across the HallAmong the benefits of doing journalism online are the ways readers expand and extend your story by adding their own.

Earlier this month, the Boston Globe Magazine published  my story about our across-the-hall living arrangement, and I wrote a Facebook post to encourage friends to take a look. (Original story also viewable here.)

Kevin Ransom, the first to comment on my Facebook post, noted that our arrangement represented a return to a centuries-long tradition. That got me thinking about how lucky we are to find ourselves in this position as a matter of choice as opposed to necessity. Continue reading

The pesky question “why?”

I had completely forgotten about that stage of toddlerhood when “why?” becomes the most important question.

It goes something like this:

Me: “Leila, look at that bird in the tree”

Leila: “Why is the bird in the tree?”

Me: “Maybe she’s looking for something to eat.”

Leila: “Why?”

Me: “Maybe because she’s hungry.”

Leila: “Why?”

Me: “Because she hasn’t eaten for a while.”

Leila: “Why?”

And so on into infinity.

I often wonder if the word “why” means the same thing to her as it means to adults. If you Google “why do toddlers ask why?” you’ll find some answers. But mostly you’ll find advice about how to handle the frustration of constantly being asked questions you can’t always find answers for. The site I found most informative suggests that toddlers aren’t as interested in cause and effect as we are. Rather, they want to know more about a subject and have discovered the power of that little word to keep an adult talking about it. They’re also learning about and practicing conversational give and take.

Maybe all of this is fueled by wonder – that sense of looking around outside of oneself, marveling at what’s there, and wanting to know more about it.

Leila looking upOur daughter, Kate, when pushed to the limits of her knowledge, often tells Leila, “I don’t know. We’ll have to look it up.” She began to notice that whenever she asked Leila a question she didn’t know the answer to Leila would tilt her head back and examine the ceiling. This puzzled her immensely until the day she asked Leila if her brother had taken a nap while the nanny was there. Leila said “I don’t know, Mommy, let me look up.” Continue reading

Wednesday’s choice: Mateo gets the nod over Mateusz

Mateo and Papa

Mateo and Papa hanging out at lunchtime. Photo by Marton Balla

The (mostly) retired life in Boston holds two big attractions for us: Proximity of not only family but of more interesting things to see and do than we’ll ever have time for. Sometimes, like today, those two attractions collide head on.

Monday night, taking advantage of one of those many interesting things to do, I joined an SRO crowd at Harvard to hear Washington Post (and former Boston Globe) editor Marty Baron interviewed by On Point’s Tom Ashbrook. I bumped into Grzegorz Piechota, a Polish journalist (and Nieman Fellow) who tipped me to another cool event upcoming on campus: A lunchtime discussion with democracy activist Mateusz Kijowski.

A relative unknown (at least to me), Kijowski in recent months has assembled what the Associated Press describes as “the largest civic protest movement that Poland has seen since Lech Walesa’s Solidarity defied the communist regime.”

Thirty five years ago, I was excited to be running around Warsaw and Gdansk in pursuit of Walesa. In those early days of Solidarity, there were so few foreign correspondents in Poland that it wasn’t unusual for several of us to follow Walesa and his family home from Sunday Mass and squat on his living room floor as he sketched his vision for a democratic Poland.

All of which is to say that the chance to get a look at “the next Walesa” was pretty intriguing. Until I was reminded this morning that I had lunchtime duty with Mateo, covering an hour’s gap between Marton heading to work and Kate returning from school.

As I’ve written previously, there have not been many occasions — despite our across the hall availability — when Carol and I have found ourselves in traditional babysitting roles. But this was one of them.

At first I whined to Kate about not wanting to miss Kijowski (her furrowed brow spoke louder than words: “Who?”). But then I did my best to man up and come to grips with my new reality: Hanging out with my grandson instead of pondering the looming power struggle in Poland.

I’m sure Mateusz was compelling over there across the river. But there was no way he could measure up to the clapping, grinning and drooling choice I made instead.


What are some of the interesting choices you’ve found yourself faced with recently?