They say that parenting is the one job that when done correctly, makes the worker obsolete. You raise your kids, you do the job as well as you can do it. You protect them, love them, teach them, and then you step back and you let them go.
If you have done it well, you won’t be needed anymore. That’s sad, but it’s wonderful, too.
If you are very lucky, the independent young people that you have sent off into the world will stay close enough for you to watch them as they surpass you, leaving you in awe.
If you get to watch your children grasp the complexities of the political world in ways that have always eluded you, you’ll find yourself learning things in your old age.
If you are near enough to see them fall in love and form relationships, you might realize that they have built upon the model that you showed them.
Sometimes you’ll be served a dinner made by your kids, and you’ll be delighted to see that they learned from you, but they added some tricks of their own. Maybe they’ll serve you a drink you’ve never heard of, or make a dessert you wouldn’t have dared to tackle.
And one fine day you may find yourself smiling in admiration as your very own baby child demonstrates complete mastery of this whole parenting thing. You won’t believe your eyes when that child stays calm in the face of a melt down, or wrestles a thrashing toddler into a warm sweater, or firmly places a screaming child into a time out space to cool down.
If you are very lucky, like I am, you’ll get to have that moment where you take a deep breath and think to yourself, “Damn, we did a good job of raising these people! Now we can sit back and let them handle things on their own.”
At such a moment, if life has been good to you, you’ll smile at your spouse, pour another glass of wine, and sit back to watch the snow fall.
After all, you’ve made yourself obsolete. It’s someone else’s turn now.
I am finding it difficult not to jump up and dance when I see the actions and words of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and some of her colleagues. I find myself smiling behind my hand when I read her tweets about her introduction to Congress.
I love her posts that show the hypocrisy and the nepotism and the overt money grubbing that goes on the hallowed halls of our most esteemed centers of power.
But more than anything else, you know what has me doing the happy dance these days?
It’s the number of women who will now be representing our national interests in Congress.
I am ecstatic when I see all of those female warriors lining up to take the reigns of power.
You see, I am the mother of a woman. I am the mother who watched CNN relentlessly during the Iran-Contra hearing way back in 1988. I can remember it so clearly and so perfectly.
I was a young mother of one little girl. We lived in an old rented house that needed quite a bit of work. I remember the day when I was removing old paint from the bannisters that lead from our first floor up to our second. I remember that the TV was on, and that my little girl was sitting beside me with a paint scraper in her hand as the hearings were shown.
The talking heads were opining about the seriousness of the events. The camera panned across the hearing room. My little girl saw the people who were assembled, knowing that they were our national leaders.
I will never forget the moment when she looked up at me with her deep brown eyes, a frown on her innocent face. “Mommy”, she asked, “where are all the ladies?”
In that moment, I had no answer for her. I didn’t know where all the “ladies” were. I didn’t know what to tell my girl about the powers that ruled our country, our lives, our world.
Now that little girl is a woman. She is a teacher, an activist, and a mother of her own little girl.
A little girl who I love more with every breath I take.
And that is why, when I see the incoming freshmen in Congress, and note the rows of powerful young women, I have to rejoice. I have to stand up, raise my arms, sing praises to the goddess and to all of the powerful women figures who have lead us to this moment.
This time, when I sit with a little girl and watch the actions of the Congress of the United States, I rejoice in the fact that I will not be asked, “Where are all the ladies?”
Why are some women born with an innate ability to decorate the spaces they inhabit, while other women are born with the idea that plaids look great with stripes?
Now don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that I dislike home decorating. That isn’t it at all! In fact, I yearn for the day when I will live in a place where every item is artfully chosen and precisely arrange.
It’s just that when I actually try to decorate my home, I inevitably come up with something that looks like it was done by a third grader let loose in K-Mart.
I didn’t even know that I was born with this deficiency until I had lived in this house (the one and only home we have ever owned) for several years. We were contemplating a paint job in the living room, and I decided to ask one of my many decoratingly gifted relatives for help.
“So Sue,” I asked my sister-in-law, “Do you think the living room would look good in a shade of Colonial blue?” (This was the 90’s. Don’t judge.) I mean, I was proud of myself for even knowing there was such a thing as “Colonial blue.”
Sue paused for a minute, looking around the room. “Well,” she said, “That depends on what you want to do with the kitchen and the dining room. You have to make sure that your colors flow.”
Flow??? My colors are supposed to…..um….flow???
I though she was referring to spilled paint, but it turns out that she meant that since all of the rooms connect and are visible to each other, the colors should be compatible.
She helped me pick out flowing colors, and the painting was done. Phew!
Over the years, with the help of both of my stylish sisters and my three “we could have our own showrooms” sisters-in-law, I have learned a few things. I sponge painted the upstairs at one point. I learned that the bath towels are supposed to match the hand towels which need to be color coordinated with the rugs, the soap dispenser and the shower curtain.
I now use table cloths when I have company, and they are (sorta kinda) color matched to my curtains, lampshades and picture frames.
I’m getting better! Yay, me!
But now it’s Christmas.
Now I am faced once again with the inarguable fact of my complete lack of taste.
Christmas decorating in this house means pulling out the old, puppy chewed toys from my husband’s youth. It means dredging out the aging, beloved, lopsided popsicle stick ornaments that our kids made 20 years ago. If I have been particularly inspired, it might mean a new Christmas candle or two.
What it doesn’t mean, (because I. Can’t. Pull. It. Off. ) is a perfectly arranged side table with crystal ornaments artfully displayed alongside beeswax tapers and perfect Charles Dickens lanterns. It doesn’t mean a gorgeous arrangement of antique toys or a tiny sparkling Christmas village complete with skating Victorian era children.
Oh, sure. I can put out a glass dish of red and green m&ms, but that’s my limit. How the hell does everybody else even FIND all those perfectly shaped, matching-the-wall-colors, adorable little decorative boxes? Huh?
How do all the other women just automatically KNOW how to set up the miniature reindeers? AND how the hell do they get miniature reindeers wearing bows that match their living room lampshades?
If any of you out there know the code to get into the secret society of decorating genius women, will you please, please let me know?
Meanwhile, I’ll be in the attic seeing if I can find the 40 year old plastic Santa with the chewed off mitten. He’s supposed to stand on the shelf next to floppy Frosty with the frayed scarf.
Our house is an interesting place these days. I mean, like really, ya know….”interesting’.
We are renovating two bathrooms. That means that we are now tearing apart two out of our two bathrooms.
Ergo: we don’t have any bathroom sinks this week. And we only have one working toilet. The one that is in the hall of our main living area. The one that has (cough, cough), no DOOR.
Now, let me be clear. Our house is about 35 years old. We’ve been here for roughly 28 of those years. We have been in the same bathrooms all this time.
Oh, sure, we’ve painted and put in a couple of new medicine cabinets after the original $3.95 cabinets kind of fell apart. We did a little bit to make things better, but still.
We were bathing in a wicked old tub and a wicked old shower. The drains were…in a word….gross. The bathrooms had those horrific “popcorn” ceilings.
It was PAST TIME to update.
And we are.
We have hired a crew of very skilled men who are ripping things to pieces while adding plaster, paint, a new tub, new shower, new toilets, new vanity. It’s gonna be LOVELY.
In the meantime…..
I am here in my house. With two or three toddlers every day. One is in a diaper, so he’s safe, but the other two? Well….they need a toilet every two hours. Or less.
So I have to call out to the nice worker men, “Can we use the toilet!?” They say “Yes!” and go into another room. Then I take the identified toddler and put her on the pot. I stand in the doorway, since both are suddenly all about “privacy” and we have NO. DOOR. on our bathroom.
Here it is:
This means, of course, that the kids sometimes pee in their pants. It means that the working men have to tell me, “Just a head’s up, gonna use the bathroom!”
And it means that old Nonni here holds it in. All. Day.
Nonni is channeling her inner teacher. But still…..yikes.
It means that when the kids go home and the worker men go home, and Papa hasn’t arrived back from work yet….Nonni rushes right into the incomplete bathroom and finds some relief.
It also means that at 3 AM when Nonni feels the call of nature, she has to stand up, turn on her phone’s light and stand there for a minute. She has to think “Wait. Bathroom. Huh? Bathroom? What bathroom? Oh, yeah in the hall….with no door….in the middle of the freakin’ night…..” Nonni finally gets there, but she is left with a strange feeling of “what the FUCK?” as she climbs back into bed after answering the call of nature.
This is a very strange place to be.
And here we are now. At 6PM. The kids and workers have gone home. I have organized and cleaned the living room and started dinner.
And I look around the house, thinking about Nonni’s needs.
We do have one working toilet (thank you, dear Lord, for the half hour with nobody home except for poor old backed up Nonni!). We have a new floor in our small master bath (Nonni will sing the praises of these worker men for months….) We have smooth walls, with no paint or color….we have no sinks, but we can brush our teeth in the kitchen sink for a couple of more days…..
Nonni is working very very hard to remain calm and serene. She is overlooking the plaster dust, the missing toilets, the lack of bathroom doors. She is trying to embrace her inner camper woman, she is trying to recognize that many people around the world are in much worse shape…..
Nonni is kind of “all done.” I will be thrilled to have new paint, new fixtures, new smooth walls.
But I am ready to have this all done. Nonni is ready, thank you, to have a nice, private place to go to get some relief from nature’s most primitive urges.
Please, please help me! I am in a desperate situation. Desperate, I tell ya. DESPERATE.
I don’t know what to do, or where to turn. I can’t take it any more, and things are looking very very grim.
Please help me.
I must find a way to rid myself of the most dreaded ear worm in the history of hearing.
Here is my sad, sad story.
I am, you see, the caregiver and loving Nonni of a three year old girl. This means that I spend a lot of time brushing hair, making cookies, hugging, blah, blah, blah.
But here’s the problem: I spend WAYYYYYYY more time acting out the part of either Elsa or Anna from the Disney blockbuster “Frozen”. You know the one I mean. The one with all the lovely visual images, the sweet story of true love between sisters, the adorable reindeer, and all that other crap.
You know this story.
It’s the one with the epic song “Let It Go!” Which ranks right up there in the pantheon of brain stickiness with “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” ‘
After roughly 12 straight weeks of watching “Frozen” every damn day, I am now about 4 seconds away from complete insanity.
Here, dear sympathetic readers, is a typical day in the life of Anna/Nonni:
Wake up at midnight from a little back pain. “Mmmm….comfy position….mmmmmm….”Let it go! Let it go! Can’t hold it back any more-or-or….” NOOOOOOOO!!!! Eyes snap open, heart rate increases…..”NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” Clamp eyes shut, start internal singing of the alto parts in Handel’s Messiah….fall asleep…… Wake up at 6 AM. “H’m….today is Monday, so today we need to…’Let it go!!!! Let it go!!!!!!” Roll over, shove pillow over head and into left ear…moan pitifully…Begin to sing “Born to Run” right out loud. Take shower while singing “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” at the top of my lungs…..step out of shower…..”Do you wanna build a snowman????”
This goes on All. Day.
These songs are relentless. They have embedded themselves into my auditory system, where they are slowly chomping their way toward my cortex. They plan to overpower me. I feel it.
I feel the advance of the Frozen Earworm. I feel it! It’s coming for my soul!!! I don’t know where to turn!!!
But today, at last, I thought I might get a brief reprieve.
Today was the first day of our big bathroom renovation, and the house was full of big burly men with muscles and baseball caps and huge Dunkin Donuts coffee cups.
“Huh”, I thought to myself. “They will probably have a radio! It will probably be playing old Bon Jovi songs.” I smiled a little. I felt safe. These were obviously NOT Disney Princess types.
I let the men in with a sigh of relief, and got ready for the kids to arrive.
When Ellie and Johnny came in for the day, I introduced them to the big, manly builder people. I felt so….protected…you know? All was well. I felt almost smug in my sense of safety.
After breakfast, Ellie naturally asked to put on her blue Elsa dress and wanted to watch ‘the movie’. “Sure!” I said happily. “I’ll put it on!”
I still assumed that the manly men would be playing classic rock songs to scrub Disney right outta my cerebral neurons.
I’m an idiot.
Because here’s what actually happened.
Movie starts. Ellie begins to dance around in her blue Elsa dress, belting out the lyrics to every song.
Burly man #1: “Oh, so cute! Look at her! I have a six year old daughter and she loves this movie!”
Bulky muscle man #2: “I have two daughters! One is 13 and one is 11. Oh, I miss the days when they used to dance around in their Elsa dresses!” This one started to hum along with the music. I started to hyperventilate.
Manly worker dude #3: ” I have five kids! But only one daughter. This music really grabs you, doesn’t it?”
I was horrified. I felt so betrayed!
The music played. My earworm dug in even deeper. I am pretty sure I started to twitch.
I tried to relax. I started to hum Barley, by Birds of Chicago. I hummed really really loud. I stuck a finger in each ear and hummed some more.
When my heart rate returned to normal, I slowly withdrew my shaking fingers.
And this is what I heard, in three part dissonance from the men tearing apart my bathroom:
“Let the storm rage onnnnnn!!!!! The cold never bothered me anyway!!!!!”
You can’t count on anyone any more.
I am desperate.
And for the record, the cold ALWAYS bugs the hell out of me!!!!!
OK, it’s time to own up and admit just how selfish I really am.
For the past few days Paul and I have been shopping, cleaning, organizing, brining, and then shopping some more. We have decorated the house (if you can call Pinterest-inspired, toddler-created turkeys as “decorations”). At any rate, we put out a lot of energy as we got ready for our usual Thanksgiving dinner here at our house.
One of my closest and oldest friends was here to help with the chopping, basting, dog walking and general chaos as we got ready. That made the whole event more festive and more fun, and gave us the sense that it was really a two day holiday instead of only one. It made up for the fact that two of our three kids weren’t here.
Still, it was hard work. I’ll admit it! Hours of preparation, but then lots of Fun. Spending time with the family, laughter, catching up on each other’s lives. There some extra silliness from the sparkling birthday candles I got for my sister Liz, who has always had to celebrate her birthday on Thanksgiving. I made sure there was a cake for her, remembering all the years of candles stuck into pumpkin pies!
We had lots of prosecco, wine, beer and maybe a bit of bourbon. Which could explain some of the silliness.
Because I come from a family of cooks, we had so much food that the coma started before the appetizers were nearly finished.
Don’t even get me started on the pie.
It was great! I love hosting any event, but I especially love hosting Thanksgiving. I do!
But you know what? It isn’t because I imagine myself to be some kind of wannabe Martha Stewart. It isn’t because for some reason I suspect that I make the best turkey (how do you screw up a roasted turkey anyway?) I don’t invite everyone here because my two jump-in-yer-face dogs are such a treat or because we live in the middle of freakin’ nowhere.
I’m so sorry, dear beloved family.
I do it because I LOVE the Friday after Thanksgiving. It’s probably my favorite day of the year.
And no, it’s not because we shop.
No. We sleep in. We wake up to a house that is organized and neat with clean bathrooms and no bugs in the light fixtures. The laundry is done (because sometime during the holiday I ran out of dishtowels) and the dishwasher is full of clean items (for obvious reasons).
Best of all, there is always a fridge full of food that I don’t need to cook today. There is always a bowl of whipped cream that I can plop into my coffee and a dish of nuts to crack later. Best of all, there’s always leftover rice/sausage stuffing from my Mom that I can heat up with a big blob of cranberry sauce and eat in front of the TV in my flannel pants.
I’d like to say I’m a paragon of hostessing wonderfulness, but nothing could be further from the truth.
I’m just a lazy woman who totally relishes the day after the big event when the most pressing thing on my agenda is deciding which kind of pie I want for breakfast.
Hope you all had a wonderful holiday, and have some leftovers of your own to enjoy!
My house is generally sort of clean. Ish. I sweep the floors or vacuum pretty much every day. I have been known to wash my floors (if its muddy and the dogs have been coming in and out.)
I don’t do clutter. Unless you count the pile of papers that live on my counter, waiting to be looked at later.
So, you know. We are generally pretty clean.
But all I can say is that it’s a damn good thing that we have the occasional holiday. And it’s a damn good thing that I host them sometimes.
I say this because even thought today is a full three days before Thanksgiving, I have already cleaned two closets, dusted 25 picture frames (do you clean people do this on a regular basis?) and completely reorganized by kitchen.
I’ve located matching wineglasses and cleaned them all. I’ve counted out enough matching napkins for every guest to have one. Except me. I’ll get the mismatched napkin, but it’s all good. No doubt everyone will notice my extreme self sacrifice.
Today I found myself noticing all the dead bugs that have collected in various light fixtures. Ewwwwww and yuuuuuuuuuuuk all at once.
So there I was, standing on a chair, unscrewing light globes and shades, removing bulbs, and washing and dusting all of it. The back it all went.
What the heck.
I feel like I do a fairly, sorta, kinda good job of keeping ahead of the dust bunnies and grime.
At least I try!!!
But after all, it’s a good thing that at least once a year I have a reason to reach down deep and really get things clean.
Excuse me now. I need to go scrub the baseboards behind the toilet.
This is not a funny story, but if my words are chosen carefully and cleverly enough, I hope that you’ll at least chuckle a bit.
This is how it all unfolded.
I was at home this morning, as usual, with my two grandkids and our four year old friend. We had our breakfasts and cleaned up. We played a few rounds of Elsa and Anna and then we made some ridiculously goofy and adorable paper plate turkeys.
It was just your average day in the life of Nonni and the gang.
But suddenly, I heard something truly unexpected.
I heard my garage door opening.
“What the absolute FUCK?” is what went through my mind, while, “Oh, my goodness” came out of my careful Nonni mouth.
Nobody was due here in the middle of the day. Not my husband, my son-in-law or my daughter. Not the guy who is going to be renovating the bathrooms, not my neighbors, nobody.
But the garage door had definitely opened.
In the first ten seconds, I watched the reactions of the dogs. If a car that they know pulls into the driveway, they yip and dance and jump around like a couple of happy drunks. If it’s a stranger, they bark like they mean it and they both get a ridge of hackles down their normally smooth backbones.
Today, as the garage door opened? Deep barks and semi-hackles as they looked out the window into the drive. I peeked over their heads.
And saw nothing.
Now our garage has one of those openers with the little push button devices that sit on the cars’ visors. You can’t manually open the door. So, if there’s no car in the drive, there’s no device on a visor. Nobody should have been able to open the garage door.
But I am not quite insane. The door had definitely opened. The dogs and I had heard it. And there was no car anywhere in sight.
Ergo: Nonni panicked. I looked to make sure that all three kids were safe in the living room. They were. I didn’t hear anyone in the garage, so my assumption was that a bad guy was standing there, listening to the sounds of Olaf chasing Anna around the ice castle.
I can’t retell the next 30 seconds with any clarity, but this is a rough estimation of what went careening through my addled old panic stricken brain: “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod…there’s a bad guy in the garage….he must have some wide band thingymadgigy that can open garage doors ….he knows we’re in here….whadooIdo? I’ll stay here with the kids and keep them safe! Whaddayamean safe? SAFE? From a crazy assed KILLER BAD GUY? I can’t keep them safe.”ˆ
By now my heart rate was approaching 200 and my head was absolutely splitting with adrenaline pain. I had a split second of complete indecision, and then for some reason, my brain said this, “I can’t hide up here with the kids…I have to go see who it is…if I hear any sound at all, I’ll just dial 911. where’smyphonewhere’smyphonewhere’smyphone? I got it, don’t drop it, hold it tight, tell the kids to stay here, tell them to sit on the sofa, they won’t sit on the sofa! Why would they sit on the sofa? Tell them to go hide in the bedroom! No, I’ll scare them…tell them you’re doing laundry….NO! They love laundry, they’ll wanna come! Just open the frickin’ baby gate and go face the deadly threat!”
At this point my whole body was shaking. It had been roughly two minutes since we’d heard the door open. The kids were still blissfully playing, making so much noise that I knew the bad guy must have heard them. I didn’t have a real plan in my head, but it seemed to make sense that I should try to scare off the threat. I could dial for help if it got dicey. No matter that chunky old Nonni couldn’t fight off more than chipmunk at this point, it still seemed like a good idea. So I went.
Our house is a split level, so the front door opens onto a set of stairs that go down toward the basement and garage, as well as a set that go up to the living room. I crept down the upper stairs, cell phone in hand, and glanced out through the glass pane of the front door.
There was movement out there on what should have been my empty lawn!!!
I took one more slow step. I got closer to the glass.
And there was my husband’s car, parked in the middle of the lawn. Behind it stood the man himself, pulling a bale of straw out of his trunk.
“It’s Papa!!!!” I yelled to the oblivious kids. Then I flew through the door and let the poor guy have it.
“OhSo, The daySo
So. The day is over. Papa made it safely back to work, and I made it back into the house. All three kids made it safely back into the arms of their parents.
After all that drama, there was no bad guy. No killer. No menacing stranger. I tried to tell myself that I had over reacted, but what else could I have thought? I couldn’t think of any other explanation for no car, no door opener but a wide open door. I started to chuckle at my foolishness, but a sudden thought stopped me:
I’m 62 years old. My back hurts pretty much every damn day. My neck is stiff. My knees are achy.
I have kids here in my house. Ergo: I must pretend.
Today my little Ellie asked to watch her favorite movie, “Frozen.” I agreed right away because I love the music in this movie. And I love the lesson that it teaches, too. “True love” isn’t necessarily found in the arms of the cute guy who makes you swoon.
True love is found when one truly loves.
Great theme. Great music. Great imagery in the movie.
So when Ellie asked to watch, I was happy to say, “Sure!”
After watching roughly a quarter of the movie, Ellie announced, “I’m done with the movie, Nonni. Turn it off!”
And I did.
Which meant that Ellie came running into the room with her “Elsa dress”, asking me to zip her into the dress and give her “one big braid”, just like Elsa. I did what I was told to do and before I knew it, I found myself playing the role of little sister “Anna” to Ellie’s Queen “Elsa.”
Now, given the fact that we have little Johnny in our care, as well as two small but energetic dogs, we had pretty much the main cast of the movie right in our living room.
“You’re Anna!” Ellie told me. “You need to try to follow me, but I will run away!”
Johnny was given the role of Olaf, the snowman. Lennie was the snowmonster and silly Bentley was put in the role of “Sven” the goofy reindeer.
To be clear, we didn’t actually follow the story line of the movie. But we did spend almost an entire day running up and down the hall in our house, shouting with intense emotion.
“Elsa!” I would yell, “My dear sister!! Don’t leave me!”
“Stay back!!! Stay away!!!!” Ellie yelled back over and over again, “I love you, but I will freeze your heart!”
“ahhhhhha! Mmmmmmah!” Johnny/Olaf crowed every time the two of us ran down the hall.
“Grrffffff..mmmmmmm…..?” the dogs would whine as we ran past them through the house.
This went on for hours. The entire day was taken up with Elsa, Anna, Olaf and the meaning of “true love.”
And as I sit here tonight, my back throbbing and my neck sore, I think I understand what Princess Anna meant when she talked about true love.
I think she meant the joy that an old lady could feel when asked to pretend once again. I thinks she meant the feeling that a Nonni could feel while sitting back and watching her grandchildren completely embrace the role of magical movie characters.
When I held Ellie on my knee today, watching the end of the movie, I was overwhelmed with the magic when she turned and whispered in my ear, “Look, look! That’s me making the ice castle! Look! It’s me sending you away!”
Ellie lived completely within that movie today. She WAS Elsa, the Queen who was afraid of her own emotions. And that let me live for a while as Anna, the Princess who loved and trusted her sister.
What a gift.
What an amazing and incredible gift it is to spend time in the imaginary world of the very young.