Perched on the Edge, and Scared to Move On.


For the fifth or sixth year in a row, my deck has become a haven for baby birds. We have had a phoebe nest under there for many years, her nursery built higher and higher each spring until this year I wonder how Mama manages to fit in under the boards.

This year, like last year, we also have a family of tiny robins who have hatched under the deck. Every morning when I pull up my bedroom shades, I see a couple of adult birds with mouths full of worms and beetles, standing along our fence and ready to fly to the kids with breakfast.

When I walk softly and carefully around to the back of the house, and peer up at the spiky little nests, I am filled with a sense of awe as I watch the impossibly tiny beaks opening and closing as they wait for the meal that they trust will be coming.

I love this time of year. I love the reminder that no matter what is happening in this deeply troubled human world, nature goes on and on. The robins don’t question the wisdom of reproduction; they simply follow their instincts. They sing, they mate, they nurture and they live.

I wish I had the same faith.

For humans like me, life seems to come in stages. At one moment we are the babies, dependent and faithful, secure in our nests and happy to wait for someone to feed us. In the next, we are expected to spread out inexperienced wings so that we can take to the sky and start our own journeys.

For birds, I imagine, this is a relatively simple process. They are born, they fledge, they find a mate and make a nest and repeat the process until death comes to take them off for a rest.

It isn’t so simple for us, though, is it?

I am at one of those “milestone” ages in the life of a human. The US government has decided that I have reached the level of “old human.” They have provided me with Medicare to take care of my expected old human ailments. My children are all grown up, with partners and nests and babies both planned and newly birthed.

If I were a bird, I’d be settled and secure and happy to perch on the fence. I’d be ready to let the seasons change and to die when my time came along.

Alas. I’m not a bird.

I’m only a human.

And I find myself perched on the edge of a new stage of life that leaves me both afraid and sad.

You see, unlike birds, we humans are filled with a sense of devotion to our parents that leaves us hopelessly tied to our pasts. It leaves us filled with dread and poignant sorrow as we watch our parents age into the next phase. It leaves us unprepared and insecure as we make the decisions that will shape the final days of those who have given us life.

We are not ready to make these choices. Nothing has prepared us for the need to feed and clothe and house our parents. Nothing has taught us how to bathe them and clean them and reassure them when they are confused.

The life of a human does not contain lessons on how to stop relying on the woman who advised us and supported us through our own long journeys into parenthood. It doesn’t set us up for the moment when we must admit to ourselves and to the world that our parent is no longer the one who holds the answers. It doesn’t show us how to embrace and support the generation before us even as we do our best to support the generations that have come after us.

I look up every morning at those tiny robin babies. I know that in only a week or so, they’ll be perched on the edge of that carefully crafted nest. I know that they will pull up those shaky wings and spread them toward the sky.

They’ll take a deep breath, I think, but they’ll know what to do.

They will fly.

I wish I could do the same. I wish I could find some kind of old-woman wings that would lift me gently over the deeply painful decision of where my Mom will spend the last days of her long life. I wish I knew how to fly out of this childhood nest, and how to fulfill my responsibilities as a human being to the one who gave me this life.

I stand on the edge of this next phase of life. But I am far too afraid to fly.

I Can Quit This Stuff Whenever I Want.


I know I’ve been on this medication for seven long years, and that it has melded itself right into my DNA. Sure. I know that.

I know that this stuff has eased all of the aches and pains of the fibromyalgia that had been slowing me down. It gave me some energy, that’s true. It helped me to sleep. And, you know, even though it’s prescribed for the fibromyalgia, it is actually an antidepressant.

So, ya know, it might or might not have made me a little more serene than I used to be.

I don’t know.

All I know is that as I wrote a while ago, I am ALL done with this liver pickling, dependence-creating Big Pharma non-hippy chemical answer to my problems.

I don’t need it.

I can quit any time.

Which is what I’m trying to do. Really carefully. And very slowly. Because the drug in question, “Cymbalta,” has it’s very own recognized syndrome. Yes, “Cymbalta Discontinuation Syndrome” is a thing.

Like, an actual, real medically recognized thing. Getting off this stuff is like quitting alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, Bridgerton and weed all in the same week. Or worse.

If you know me, you know that I am a big old baby when it comes to physical discomfort.

So I talked to my doctor, and we decided that I should reduce my dose from the 90 mg I’ve been taking for four years, and go down to 60 mg. I can’t cut it down more slowly because some genius in the marketing department at whichever big pharma company makes this stuff decided that it could only be made in dosages of 30 mg and 60 mg. And they’re not nice solid pills that a person could chop in half; it only comes in capsules full of tiny dots of magical poison. You can’t cut them in halves or fourths.

Eek.

I reduced my dose by 33% and hoped for the best.

And here I am, two weeks later, thinking “I CAN QUIT WHENEVER I WANT TO” and “HOLY ACHING EXHAUSTED BODY” at the very same time.

Sleep has become something of a joke, as I fall happily asleep somewhere around midnight now (instead of 9 pm). I sleep deeply until roughly 12:10, at which point I wake up to pee and remain awake for roughly two hours. I fall back to sleep around 2, wake up at 3, wake up again at 4, and then sleep well from 4 to 7.

(oh, I forgot to mention: yes, I have a medical marijuana card. Yes I use my edibles and now the occasional middle of the night vape. Nada.)

I lie awake and ache in ways that make me wonder how many nerves there actually are in a human neck and back and arms and legs and ribs and feet and jaws. So far neither my ears nor my nose is hurting, but I am expecting both to start up soon.

So all of this is hard.

But I can cope. The world has ice, heat, ibuprofen and menthol rub. I can cope.

Alas, there is one other teeny weeny issue that has made this withdrawal a bit challenging. That would be my experience with what the medical world refers to as “irritability.”

See, I’m getting pretty damn irritable.

I’ll give you a sample.

The other night my beloved husband (the clinical psychologist with a specialty in children and adolescents and more than 30 years of experience) came home from work. As usual, we chatted about our day over dinner.

I proudly explained to him how well I had handled a behavior issue with our 3 year old grandson and his older sister. I told him what I did, how I responded, feeling good about my ability to manage the emotional storms of young children.

My husband, bless his ignorant soul, made a casual comment about my choice of consequences for little Johnny. Now, mind you, he didn’t criticize my choice. Instead, he made a casual comment about the ways that he and I have approached the concept of “logical consequences.”

Honestly, I can’t even remember what he said.

All I know is that he made a comment and the next sound in the room was the roaring of blood through my head. My heart rate went from 70 to 400 in a nanosecond and sweat broke out under my gray hair.

The next ten minutes included poor Paul making attempted comments like, “No, I didn’t say…….” and “honey, maybe this isn’t a good time”.

For my part, I’m pretty sure there was a reference to the fact that he had NO FUCKING IDEA OF WHAT IT TAKES TO RAISE A CHILD because obviously our three kids were raised by me, single handedly. There was a comment about my decades as a teacher and his complete and total lack of any actual experience with kids at any point after 1981.

I have a vague recollection of promising to kill him dead and toss his body under a passing train.

Then I cried, ugly cried with the nasal snot and the hiccups and the drool, for about three hours.

Yup.

I’m (cough, cough) “irritable”.

Please pray for Paul. I will stay on this dose for another couple of weeks, but then I have to drop all the way down to 30 mg, a reduction of another 50%.

I may suggest that he move in with one of our kids for a couple of weeks.

You know what they told us back in our younger days, right? “Kids, don’t ever do drugs.”

On Being a Mom, Momma, Mammadukes, Ma, Momochka


Happy Mother’s day. Happy, joyful mother’s day to every woman who has carried a brand new tiny life inside of her own body. To every woman who has felt that first movement, sobbed over those painful rib-busting kicks, celebrated the rolling motion that assured her that her baby was alive.

Happy Mother’s day to every woman who has pushed a being the size of a grapefruit out of an orifice the size of a lemon. And to every woman who has endured the surgery, the stitches, the aching pain of a C-Section.

Wishing Mother’s Day love to every single woman on earth who has opened her heart and her arms to a baby through adoption, and who has made the deliberate and thoughtful choice to embrace and love that child forever.

Love and Happy Mother’s Day to every Aunt who has been there to talk, to listen, to advise and to guide even when the needy child is not “your own”. Love to those women who made it a point to appear at every sporting event, every concert, every elementary school play, and who always made that event so special.

Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers who are mourning the loss of beautiful children this weekend. To those who lost babies at birth, or who never even got that far. Love and sympathy and affirmation to those women who lost young children to illness or accident, to those who lost a teen to suicide or drugs or cancer or car crashes. Love to those who have lost young and vibrant adult children to the most inexplicable and unpredictable of events.

Happy Mother’s Day to every woman who has helped to raise a child. To the daycare staff, the teachers, the coaches, the scout leaders, the advisors and uplifters.

Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day to the neighbors to stopped the bullying. To the woman who delivers the mail every day with a smile and a wave and a special hello to the kids. And the same to the delivery folks who greet the kids and let them carry the packages to the door.

Happy, Happy Mother’s Day to the women who put up the solar panels, carrying tools on their shoulders as little children watched. The same to the women who provide the medical care to wide eyed young kids, and to the ones who author the books that they love, and a special shout out to those to write and perform the empowering music that inspires them.

Happy Mother’s Day!

A Happy, healthy, joyful Mother’s Day to every woman on this lovely planet who has helped to raise the next generation of humans.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a big band of loving women to raise a child in love and hope and power.

Happy, Happy Mother’s Day, to all of my fellow warrior women “Mammas”.

Surprised by Sadness


It’s spring. The sun is out for the first time in several days and the breeze is balmy, soft with fragrance, floating through the house.

I’m with my sweet grandson, who is snuggled on my lap, his cheeks full of the frozen waffle he’s using to ease his sore gums. He grins at me, and those dimples appear in his rosy cheeks.

There’s wonderful music on, an old playlist of my favorites.

So what’s with the tears that won’t stop leaking from my eyes?

I kiss Max’s head, then rest my cheek against his. He chortles at me, and pokes one chubby hand into my hair, where drool and waffle mingle as he shares his treasure.

I can’t stop crying.

I’ve been filled up with a pool of sadness that seems to have sprouted from nowhere.

In an effort to stop the flow, I sing along with the music. It’s the Birds of Chicago, an Americana/Roots group that we’ve been following with devotion for the past six years. We’ve been lucky enough to have gotten up close and personal with the musicians, and have shared several conversation and some hugs.

I love the Birds. Why am I crying?

Maybe part of my heavy heartedness is because the band is changing. Like many other artists before them, they’ve come to a point in their creativity where their focus has shifted. The brilliant lead singer is working on her solo career.

And that’s wonderful! I’ll buy all of her music, and follow her as she tours. I’m excited to see what she creates.

So why am I crying?

I think it’s because I didn’t get to say “goodbye”, as silly as that sounds. After seeing the band some 15 times, I wish I’d known that the last show I saw would be the end of my experience with them. I wish I’d celebrated all that they accomplished. I wish I had known what I was losing. I wish I had had a chance to cry then.

It’s a theme that echoes for me, this lack of a goodbye. My teaching career ended very suddenly, which meant that I didn’t get to honor and celebrate each of the “lasts” in my final year. I didn’t realize that the trip to Sturbridge Village would be my last field trip, or that the Halloween parade would be my last. I didn’t appreciate the poignance of my class’s last “pajama day” or the last laugh of that final April Fools Day.

We need to say our goodbyes to the parts of our lives that move on and change. We need to grieve for the old in order to embrace the new.

As I sniffled and sang along with the Birds of Chicago, I thought about all that the past year has taken from us.

The first day of kindergarten didn’t happen for my granddaughter. My son didn’t have the wedding he’d been planning. The end of a relationship meant the loss of a woman I’d come to love as one of our own family.

Restaurants closed. Music venues disappeared.

None of it came with a realization that it was happening, and none of it happened in a way that allowed for the emotional processing that usually goes with such change.

Covid took away our sense of security, too, and our misguided belief that we could control our own safety. It took away the closeness of many relationships; it took away the physical contact that, for me, has always been a part of every friendship.

We had the life before this pandemic. Now we have the life after it. I’m not sure that the old life was in every way the better life.

I just know that I wish I’d had a chance to say goodbye to it before it disappeared into history.

Finding Friends in Odd Places


So if you read my last post, you know that we are in the midst of having our kitchen renovated. Finally, after 20 years of planning and 10 years of yearning and 2 years of sheer desperation, we are having our kitchen renovated.

Huzzah!!!!

Naturally, being the overly dramatic Italian woman that I am, I have shed some tears over past memories. But now that the new clean, white, wide, sturdy cabinets are in, I’m feeling a whole lot better.

The process isn’t finished quite yet, as I have no counters and no sink, but it still looks a million times better than it did two weeks ago.

I’m delighted with my new space.

But the best part?

The guys who did the work are now three people we consider to be friends.

It’s funny. The crew who did this fabulous work are all blue collar, red voting, conservative GOP guys. One is a retired cop.

To get to our house, they had to turn in just past the rainbow flag. They parked their cars by the shed with the huge “BLACK LIVES MATTER” banner. They maneuvered past our cars with their “Millionaires Can’t Buy Bernie!” stickers and their “People’s Party” magnets.

The Chauvin trial was on TV while they were here, and I was watching it the whole time.

Should have been awkward to say the least, right?

But these three men were kind, thoughtful, funny and open minded. I gave them coffee, offered them lunch, laughed about getting in their way. They cleaned up every speck of dust they created, thanked me for letting them use the bathroom, and helped with more than one little issue that cropped up during the week.

We shared our opinions with honesty and respect. We laughed about our differences. At one point, I handed out cups of coffee and one of the guys said, “Jeez, who knew socialists could make such good coffee.” I kidded them that if they used the soap in my bathroom they’d turn into commies.

The man who owns the construction company brought his beautiful German Shepard with him every day. He told me that she’d be happy to stay in the truck while he worked, but I have a fenced in dog yard and two excitable young dogs. So every day for a week, that Shepard came into the yard and ran and played and chased with my dogs. The payoff, of course, was three tired and supremely happy dogs every night.

And on a few of the days, that same man brought his daughter with him to my house. At first he was hesitant, and promised that she’d only be there for a short time and that she had a backpack full of things to entertain herself. He said that she wouldn’t bother me.

Welp.

That wonderful young lady and I spent the better part of two full days together and it was the best part of my week. We went outside on a nature hunt. We painted. We sketched. She came with me to my violin lesson. We shared music, and played video games and ate lunch together. She was a shining light who brought me so much joy. I taught her how to say “I love you” in Russian and we hugged each other as we said it. She asked her Dad if she could come back to see me soon, and if I could be her babysitter once or twice.

With our arms around each other, we looked at her Dad, my contractor and simultaneously begged him “Please????”

Life if such a funny thing.

I am just about the most opinionated old lady around. I wear my heart and my thoughts on my sleeve. I regularly yell at the TV when the speaker says things that strike me as wrong.

But in my house, in my kitchen, surrounded by kind and loving humans, all of that political stuff falls away, and friendships bloom.

If only we could find a way to spread that into the wider world, huh?

Good Bye, Horrific Old Kitchen


So here’s the thing. We moved into this house 31 years ago this month. Back then, this was a reasonably nice 5 year old house with a cheaply made interior. The kitchen was basic, functional, not particularly beautiful. The countertops were laminate, the cabinets made of particleboard. There were plastic “lazy susan” shelves in both corners.

It was way better than the run down apartments we’d rented before, and more up to date than the kitchen in the one decent house we’d lived in earlier.

We had finally had our first child, and were awaiting our second. We had finally, finally, finally finished graduate school and scraped up enough money for a downpayment. We bought this house in a relatively rural small New England town.

At the time, I fell in love with all of it. I fell in love with the fact that this soil, these trees, this average American house, was all OURS.

To embrace an overused cliche, we definitely set down our roots here.

We have lived in this house long enough now to have replaced the floors, updated the paint, renovated the bathrooms and tamed the yard. We’ve turned the cellar into a cozy playroom. We’ve raised three kids here. We take care of our three grandkids here.

It’s a nice house.

Except that the kitchen has gone from basic to disgusting. The cabinets are filthy and uncleanable. One shelf is actually held up by a book. The laminate counters are cracked, peeling, burned, dirty and faded.

Don’t even get me started on the floor.

Or the 35 year old kitchen light that was cheap when it was bought way back when.

So.

At long last, after having saved for years, our kitchen is about to be totally renovated. New floors, new sink, new lights, brand new paint job. Brand new white, shiny cabinets and drawers and a specially designed spice cabinet just for my giant spice collection!

Finally, after more than four decades of marriage, I am about to have a trendy, fashionable kitchen with white tile backsplash, brushed nickel appliances and even a special slide out drawer for trash and recycling.

This is a life changer for me!

So you would imagine me dancing the happy dance all around, wouldn’t you?

Well. I am dancing. A lot.

I have danced my way through pulling apart every drawer, every shelf, every cabinet in my kitchen. I have danced through donating a dozen boxes of “what the hell is this” and I have danced through weeks of reorganizing junk drawers and plastic storage items.

But now everything is empty.

And now my inner sappy-soft-hearted-ridiculous old woman is breaking through.

Last night my long suffering husband found himself faced with a wife who was finally getting her one big wish. A brand new kitchen! And that wife was sobbing and moaning, in spite of the updates ahead.

“Oh, honey,” I sobbed to poor Paul. “There are so many memories in this old kitchen!”

“This was the corner where our baby girl sat and played ‘LightBrite’ on the day we passed papers on this house!” Our Kate was only four, and the house was cold and empty. But we signed the contracts and we came here and set her up at a little table to play as we looked through our new house. On that cold April day, that kitchen looked like the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.

“Remember when we had the little picnic table here?”, I asked as I wiped my nose. “I can see our three kids here having lunch.” One of my favorite pictures of them was taken in this spot, at that funny plastic table. I could close my eyes and picture the neighbor kids here, too. Chrissy and her brother Nick, grinning with my kids. And sweet Alex, our dear Alex, who died far too soon. This corner was where they laughed and snacked and argued and grew. And were I watched over them as they did it all.

Paul wasn’t sure what was making me so weepy, but when I turned to the cracked plastic of the spinning corner cabinet, he understood.

These two words, written in Sharpie on our old shelf, brought both of us back to the days when our kids were young.

I could remember the night when I wrote those words. The kids were just old enough to come home from school by themselves, and to spend two hours at home before I got here. One day I came home with groceries and as I went to put them away, I realized that most of what I had bought the week before to provide lunches and snacks for school had been eaten by the home-without-Mom crowd.

So after complaining and griping at the kids, I put the food into the cabinet and wrote the words on the shelf. “School food!!!!!” was strictly off limits to the crew. It became a source of argument, negotiation and many jokes for the next several years.

I had forgotten all about it until the moment when I was emptying everything out for our renovation.

And I was suddenly pulled back to all the meals, all the birthday cakes, all the brunches, all the holidays, all the batches of virus busting soups of the past three decades.

And I cried. A lot.

Tomorrow these old, busted, broken, dirty cabinets will be torn out and tossed into the dumpster. The floor will come up and the appliances will be moved. In a couple of weeks, I’ll step into the kitchen of my dreams.

I’ll be happy. I’ll be delighted!

But I will always be a little bit nostalgic for the crappy old place where I cooked a million meals for the people I love so much.

For the First Time, I Do Not Want to Be Just Like My Mom


My mother was beautiful. She was elegant and stylish. She always looked immaculately put together and ready for anything.

She was a wonderful cook, and was able to keep 6 kids and our Dad happy, well fed, and healthy on a very tight budget.

Mom was an artist, and could paint and draw in ways that left me amazed.

As the oldest daughter in a family of six children, I grew up very much in awe of my Mother. She was fiercely opinionated, always outspoken and she never backed down from a conflict. I remember her as the champion of young girls in town when one historically snowy winter had her contacting the principal of the local Junior High School to demand that her daughters be allowed to wear pants to school. “I will send my daughters in skirts when all the boys have to walk to school with bare legs, too.”

She was my hero.

By the time I was old enough to understand the concept of time, I wanted to grow up to be exactly like my Mother. I wanted to be smart. I wanted to be artistic. I yearned to know how to cook and I was determined to become a mother myself.

So much of my life has seen me happily copying my Mom. So much of it has seen me wanting to echo her strength and her resilience.

But something has changed in the past few years, and it has shown me that my mother can still teach me lessons even as I reach the age of Medicare.

Mom is 91 years old now. She has overcome cancer, pneumonia and even Covid 19. She still lives in the house where she raised all of us, where she cared for our Dad through several illnesses, and where she watched as he died.

Most of her children are still around her, still sharing meals in that same kitchen, still watching TV in that same room.

Along with my brothers and sisters, I try to take my turn visiting Mom, and doing what little I can to help take care of her. She has a lovely woman living there as her Home Health Aide. She watches TV, and naps in her favorite chair, with her sweet little kitty on her lap.

I come to visit, bringing home made soup or a pasta dish. We chat and smile and watch a bit of TV.

Then I get back into my car and head home. And I think, for the first time in all of my long life, “Please, universe, please don’t let me be just like my Mom. I don’t want to live as long as she has.” Please don’t let me follow in her footsteps as she gets to the end of her path.

I love this life. I have had a wonderful, joyful, hilarious time on this funny planet. I am in no real hurry to leave.

But please, dear Universe and gods and goddesses and fates, please don’t let me live so long that I am unable to cook my own dinner. Please don’t let me live to be a woman who can no longer sing, or swim in the ocean, or pick my own herbs, or write a blog post, or read a good story. Please don’t hang onto me so long that my children worry over who will weed my garden and who will wash my hair.

Life is a sacred gift. Each of us has our turn on center stage. Life is a fabulous blessing.

I am eternally grateful for the life I have been given.

Please let me squeeze lots more laughter out of it. But please, please, send me on to the next big adventure before I am unable to remember the pleasures that came with this one.

I Think Spring is Going to Kill Me


I love spring. I really do. I love the smell of wet earth and the sight of the first few robins. I love Easter, and stale Peeps and the first time we roll out the grill and make some burgers.

But I’m realizing that there are certain parts of the spring ritual that are not really designed for the elderly. Especially the elderly like me who have the kind of memory issues that make us forget the arthritis in our spines and the nerve issues in our necks.

Today was a beautiful day out here in North Central Massachusetts. It’s been a pretty dry and pretty warm March. My crocuses are open and the daffodils and tulips are poking their heads up through the straw that I put over them last November.

Today was the first day of this year when the leaves piled on my gardens were thawed enough to rake. It was the first day when the soil was unfrozen, so that I could scrape back the mud and find the emerging shoots.

This was the first day of the miraculous rebirth that comes around every year. Hurrah! Time to get out there, old Nonni! Grab that rake, sweep up all those mouldering old leaves! Find the thyme plant and the phlox and the yellowish tips of the sprouting tulips!

So out I went, with my grandkids in tow. Five year old Ellie grabbed her child’s rake. Three year old Johnny grabbed a trowel. Almost one year old Max sat happily in the grass, but it was obvious that he wanted to taste some sticks and dirt.

With one eye on the baby and one on the barely surviving stems of my two year old hazelnut trees, I started to rake. And I raked, baby, oh did I ever rake. I sang songs to keep Max distracted while I raked every old leaf off the newest flower bed. I gave simple directions to Ellie and Johnny, who were simultaneously raking, arguing and pretending to be superheroes.

The sun was shining, the birds were singing and it felt fabulous to work hard in the springtime air.

Until it didn’t.

One of the funny/not funny parts of getting older is the way my body can alert me at the exact moment when it has had enough. Like a tornado siren on a summer night, it suddenly shrieks out of nowhere, shocking me into the reality that these old bones are no longer thirty. Every tiny nerve ending reacts simultaneously, which means every muscle seizes up and every joint freezes.

I went from Happy Farmer to Sobbing Zombie in about three seconds.

OWWWWWW!!! My thumb was screaming. A blister! And all the skin came off!!!!

YOWWWWW!!!! My lower back was shooting lightning down both legs and I was bent over at a ninety degree angle. I wanted to drop the rake, but my right hand was cramped into a claw.

Why was my calf cramping? And who applied a vise to my achilles tendon?

I took a breath. And wheezed.

Turned my head to look at the kids. My neck cramped.

The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. Step, ouch! Bend, ouch! Lift 25 pound baby, ouch ouchie mcouchums!!!!

I convinced the “big kids” to come inside with the promise of a cookie. Do. Not. Judge.

I am very happy to report that today is a rainy day.

Huzzah.

There is no reason for Nonni to drag herself out there and scoop up the mountains of moldy leaves. Today is a day for the heating pad, the ice pack and the play pen.

Spring is a time of wonder and joy. It is flowers and baby birds and rainbows.

It’s also a time to check the mirror and look at the wrinkles before getting carried away in the garden.

Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

Spring is For Children


Spring is always uplifting, always rejuvenating, always full of hope.

But after watching 64 springs come and go, I know that I can get a little jaded. I mean, of course I’m happy when the first few crocuses open and the daffodils start to push themselves up through the straw and pine needles.

The thing is, I am old enough to know that here in New England, it might snow again before it’s really time to relax and enjoy the weather. Yesterday I walked through my yard and what caught my eye was the mud, the downed branches, the many piles of deer poop all over the place. I saw the winter. I saw the work ahead of Paul and I. My back gave a twinge at the thought of raking up all those moldering oak leaves.

Spring. Yay. Whatevs.

But today. Today was a completely different experience.

That’s because today my grandchildren were here with me and we went outside to play right after breakfast. It was cloudy, there were puddles on the driveway, and every step resulted in the squishing of mud and poop and mulch under our boots.

I dragged out a lawn chair and plopped myself down as the kids began to race around the yard.

And they opened up my eyes and my heart in a way that only young children are able to do.

“Nonni!!!!” Johnny shouted it out with all the power of his almost four-year-old lungs. “Nonni! I see a beetle!!!!!!!” The nearly microscopic black beetle was crawling over a tiny rock in my flower bed. I would never have seen it in a million years, but Johnny did. His absolute delight had us both kneeling in the wet grass to watch the tiny creature make his arduous journey.

“Do you think he’s looking for food? Do you know where he’s going? I wonder if he’s a baby or a kid or a grownup bug.”

I had no idea, but I was thrilled to watch the light shining off of the back of the little beetle, seeing it reflected in John’s dark eyes.

“Oh, Nonni!” This time it was five year old Ellie shouting with glee. “Nonni, remember that sand we used to play in? It’s still here!!!”

A part of me chuckled, and thought, “Of course the sand is still here. This is my yard. It has sand.” Unfertile, annoying sand, right there over my septic field.

But the rest of me smiled, and opened my arms. Ellie ran into them, hugged me hard, and raced away to find a bucket. “Sand! And it’s WET! Sand castles!!!”

The kids are amazed and thrilled with everything this spring. The wet sand is an old friend who survived the long, long winter. The tiny beetle is a miraculous creature on his way to great adventures.

The red buds on the tips of the maples? Astonishing! How beautiful they are when we look up and see them against the blue blue sky!!!

The tiny shoots of grass that are beginning to turn green? Wow! Who could have possibly predicted that would happen?

And when the temperature rose suddenly today, and we went from 60 to 78 in a half hour, these two little ones peeled off their shirts and danced in circles around and around the pile of brush that we will need to burn soon.

Like beautiful woodland sprites, the held hands, they turned in circles, they shouted and laughed and kept calling out to me. “Nonni! Look! Do you see it? Oh, Nonni!”

Spring belongs to these young ones. Just as the future belongs to them. The purest joy in simply being alive, breathing in the warming air, celebrating the sight of a butterfly. All of these belong to the youngest among us, who are still innocent enough to be enchanted by it all.

I am so grateful that they are still willing to share that joy and amazement with me. I am so very grateful that I’m able to see the beauty through their eyes.

I Do It For the Joy


I take care of my grandchildren every day. I have done it for the past 6 years.

I know that this makes me look a bit ridiculous to some. I know that people think, “She’s giving up the best part of her retirement!” and “She’s letting herself be taken advantage of!”

I know.

I have many friends who tell me, “I am willing to babysit once in a while, but I’m not giving up my hard earned freedom!” They tell me that now is the time to focus on myself. Now is the point in my life when I should just have fun and do whatever I want.

Even after six years, I don’t know exactly how to answer them. I feel a little sheepish, honestly. I feel a little bit lame, a little bit silly.

At the not so tender age of 65, and dealing with a couple of minor health issues, it really can be a challenge to take care of one, or two or sometimes three children under the age of six. Sometimes I have all three for two days in a row, and when they go home, I am truly physically beat. Muscles in me hurt in ways I had never predicted. I’m often asleep by 8 pm.

But why does that matter?

You see, I take care of my grandchildren because every single day with them brings me moments of pure joy.

We older adults don’t often get a chance to dig in the dirt just for fun. We aren’t often asked to dance “really fast” in a circle while holding hands. After six decades of life, most of us don’t experience full on belly laughs that make tears pour down our cheeks.

I don’t know how to explain it, I guess. But I like the feeling of playdoh. I like fingerpaints. And I love walking around the yard with people who are amazed and delighted by a pile of deer poop or a pile of fungus on a log.

I watch my grandkids because I want to.

I just plain want to be with them.

Sure, it helps my daughter and son-in-law. Sure, it gives the kids a chance to leave the house in this pandemic year.

Whatever.

I don’t take care of these three beautiful, happy, loving humans because I want to be a martyr. Or because I want my daughter to feel indebted to me. I don’t do it because it helps them to save money. Or because I feel any sense of guilt or pressure.

I spend my days with these wonderful kids because the people I most enjoy on this lovely earth are people who are very young.

I really, REALLY prefer the company of kids to that of adults. I am good at this nurturing thing. I am! I am delighted to spend my time in the company of people who tell me directly, “Hey, can you be really silly right now?”

There is nothing in life I’d rather do with these wonderful years of hard earned freedom than to spend them with people who make me laugh, who tell me dozens of times a day that they love me, who grin from ear to ear when I sing a ridiculous made up song.

I do this for me. This time spent with my grandchildren is the gift I am giving myself. Nobody needs to think that I’d be better off going out to lunch or shopping or sitting at home with a book. The thought of those things makes my skin itch.

I do this because nothing else in the world would give me this level of pure joy.

Today I had all three kids, and it was busy, and stressful and fun and challenging and exhausting. At various times today, I wiped soup off the wall, wiped a poopy bottom, held a tantruming three year old, stopped a five year old from bossing her brother off of his bike and tick checked three little heads of thick hair.

I also said the word “hug” to a not quite one year old, and received a hug, a series of pats on the back and a heartfelt, “Awwww”. I was asked for snuggles three times, and watched a movie with a sweaty three year old on my lap. I got a kiss and hug from a sweet kindergartener who threw her arms around my neck and said, “Oh, Nonni! I love you so much!”

I would not trade one second of today for all the rest in the world. Not for a week on a private Caribbean island. Not for a billion dollars, or a chance to sleep in, or a month of travel in Europe.

I do what I do every day because joy is fleeting. Children grow too quickly. Life is made for love. I do this because this is what I want.

THIS is my best life. And I am so happy to be living it.