A life lesson…for Nonni


Before I start this sad, sad tale, I must tell you that I am a modern teacher lady. I am an up-to-date grandmother.

I know the buzzwords.

When I was a little child, our parents were very busy. They had a lot of us. They loved us deeply, but they didn’t make it their personal goal every second of every day to make sure that we were ecstatically happy.

If you grew up as a “Baby Boomer,” you know what I mean.

We lived our childhood lives, our parents lived theirs.

Then our generation became parents, and everything changed. Women went back to work. That meant a few things. It meant that Dads learned to vacuum.

It also meant that both Moms and Dads were buried under a gigantic avalanche of guilt. Your baby is upset because he didn’t like his broccoli? Oh, my god! That’s because I WORK! My mom didn’t work…I think we liked our broccoli…”

The truth of course is that you hated your broccoli, but your Mom just took it away and waited until the next meal, when she served you peas.

Our generation somehow got it into our heads that our children should NEVER experience the slightest difficult emotion.

As a teacher, I saw this a lot. Anxious parents, bless their well meaning hearts, asking for my help because, God forbid, the math was hard. I empathized with them. Kids cry over homework and it breaks a parent’s heart. I get it.

But I also understood, as a teacher, that if the math wasn’t hard, the child wasn’t growing.

I learned, as a mom and then as a teacher, that it is good for kids to experience all of life’s richness. Including the hard stuff, the sad stuff and the scary stuff. Otherwise how will they ever emerge as adults who are strong enough to cope with reality?

So. I know what the education gurus mean when they tell us that we need to teach children to be resilient. Or to have (cough, cough) “grit.” They need to just suck it up and deal with it when life is hard.

I was all about that idea.

Until this morning.

My beautiful, loving, funny, 20 month old granddaughter, Ellie, was helping me make a batch of meatballs. She was standing on a kitchen chair, with Nonni behind her. She helped me crack the egg, put in the bread crumbs, add the spices. She was in the process of peeling two cloves of garlic and an onion.

Suddenly both of us heard the sound of our puppy, Lennie, chomping on something deliciously plastic. Crack! Crack! Crunch!

I rushed into the living room, where I found the perp happily destroying the bulging plastic eyeball of Ellie’s absolutely favorite stuffy, Elmo. I grabbed the toy from the pup, swearing under my breath. I stepped out of the room, out of Ellie’s eyes, and looked at the damage.

Holy crow. Elmo was missing his right eye completely, with only sharp pointy pieces left. His left eye was broken, but still in place. I was immediately swept with fear.

My first thought was, “Hide him! Replace him!” I thought of a quick run to Amazon…a new, perfect Elmo could be here in 24 hours!

Then I thought about “grit” and resilience.

I slowly walked the wrecked little red guy into the kitchen, where my beautiful girl stood in her orange apron, garlic bulb in hand. I held poor Elmo out to her. I said, “Uh, Lennie chewed on Elmo…”

In a reaction that far outpaced her tender age, Ellie burst into tears and reached for her beloved friend. “Oh!” She sobbed, repeatedly kissing Elmo’s head. “Poor, Emmo, poor Emmo!”  She rocked him, she cried, she kept looking at me. “Nonni! Emmo!” I had no idea what to say to her.

“I know, honey. I’m sorry. Lennie broke Elmo’s eyes…”

“Poor Emmo! Emmo!! No, no, no!” She sobbed. She sat down on the chair, clutching broken, eyeless Elmo to her chest. She rocked and cried and kissed his chewed up face.

As an experienced, professional teacher/mom/Nonni I knew how to respond.

I grabbed both Emmo and Ellie to my chest and sobbed along with her.

“New Elmo!” my brain ordered.

But then I grabbed a tissue and gulped down my sadness. Lennie was curled up on a rug, looking guilty.

I thought about Emmo and his shattered plastic eyeballs.

I went to our medicine cabinet and pulled out a roll of self-sticking injury wrap. I grabbed a roll of bright red bandage, and wrapped up Elmo’s face. I presented the bandaged toy to Ellie.

“Emmo?” she asked. “This?” She touched the bandage and looked up at me with her huge, tear filled, dark eyes.

“Yes!” I said in my cheery voice. “It’s a bandage! It’s over Elmo’s eye. So he’s…um…he’ll be better! Ah…Elmo is OK!”

Carefully, with a grace I would never expect from such a little girl, Ellie gathered Elmo into her arms. “Emmo,” she murmured into his fur. “Emmo. Poor Emmo.” She kissed his cheek.

She was not fooled.

Ellie spent the rest of the day gently rocking and kissing poor Emmo. She napped with him, carefully tucked under the covers. He came with us to the grocery store, the hair salon and the vet, where lots of adults commented on his wrapped up head.

Ellie just stared at all of them. She didn’t say a word.

But she gently, gently kissed that funny bandaged head. She whispered, “Emmo” into his neck.

I guess Ellie learned something today. Life can be hard. Forgiveness is necessary. Dogs sometimes eat plastic eyeballs.

And I learned something, too. An idea on paper or in theory is very different from an idea in real life. I am fighting the urge to order that new Elmo at this very moment. And blind Elmo is sitting here looking at me.

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So I have a missing eye, but Ellie still loves me!

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22 thoughts on “A life lesson…for Nonni

    • I don’t know…I’m still weepy when I look at Elmo…but my daughter and son-in-law thought it was all good, and Ellie, Elmo and Lennie are all doing fine today!

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  1. Perhaps this new Elmo will serve to teach a curious 20 month old about difference and acceptance as well as courage and resilience… Elmo’s little mishap and the resulting facial change does nothing to detract from the love Elmo will still share with Ellie 🙂 Good luck!

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    • Thanks, Deb! That definitely crossed my mind; I was a special ed teacher for years, and Ellie’s Mom teaches in a classroom with several differently abled kids. Ellie and I actually talked about the fact that Elmo can’t see very well, but he still loves to dance!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Karen, I loved the line, ” An idea on paper or in theory is very different from an idea in real life.” As a graduate of an Early Childhood Education program I recall years ago trying to apply some of the skills I had learned with my own children. My husband found me in a “not so perfect” mother moment one day, in total frustration. He just looked at me & smiled, saying “all sounds great in theory, doesn’t it?” I still laugh about that one!

    Me thinks Ellie is getting a new Elmo! Perhaps you could just switch them out & tell her she did such a great job of caring for him, that his eye has healed!

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    • I’m not sure whether Ellie would buy this or not, Lynn.
      In any case, I agree with Deb that this mishap could be a learning experience about love and acceptance, even for a two year old. (You should have seen the state of my daughter’s beloved teddy bear from many years ago, when she was very young. I kept sewing the poor thing in various places because it had been poorly made, but it got more and more raggedy, and she would be sad for awhile about each new “wound,” but would get over that and still loved it and accepted it. It was still “Teddy” to her, no matter the “wounds” it had and the Inferior sewing jobs I did on it.)
      An alternative idea might be to get her a new Elmo, still keep the damaged one, and tell her that “new” Elmo will be “wounded” Elmo’s friend and helper, and she can love them both. I’m not entirely sure, I’d have to know the child myself to judge how she might take this approach.

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    • Perfect timing, Lynn! I just talked myself out of ordering a new Elmo on Amazon. Going to try to just tough it out. Ellie seems completely fine with the “new Elmo” this morning. And I laughed out loud at your story! I have a degree and training in special education, and my husband is child psychologist. You should have heard us when one or the other of our kids acting up and we had no idea how to fix it!

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      • I can understand that, absolutely. I have degrees in both psychology (with an emphasis in child development) and special education.
        I had no problems dealing with the difficult kids in my classrooms, but when it came to my own kids? Oy!

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      • PS I learned a lot from my mother, who only had a high school diploma, but she did have five kids, and we all did well in life.
        To boil it down, she basically said “Love your kids, accept them, help them, but don’t let them get away with murder. And let them learn from their mistakes, although not if that mistake would lead them into danger.”
        (Well, that was the basic message, although she didn’t state it that way.)

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  3. That is one sorry-looking Elmo! I think you should order a new one, tell Ellie that Elmo is going to the hospital to be made well (hospital here actually being the garbage), and then give her the new one. You don’t want her to have to deal with other kids making fun of her damaged Elmo. Start fresh!

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    • We just got back from a full day out with cousins. butterfly place, petting zoo, lunch, sandbox. Elmo and her favorite stuffed puppy were with us every step of the way. People commented on Elmo’s bandaged face and Ellie just calmly said, “Eye.” Then kissed him.
      I suspect we’ll keep him forever…

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  4. A lot of kids today in my country China need the same opportunity as you provided to your granddaughter, an opportunity to take life as it is, to face the harsh side of the world. Unfortunately some ‘good-willed’ parents just deprive their kids of the opportunities simply by sweetening the bitter aspect of life. A great article.

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