Oh, What a Funny Idea!!!


I really liked being a teacher. I mean, I really, really liked it. As in, I loved the hell out of being in charge of a group of ten year olds.

I loved helping them to grow and learn in the most important ways.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you know that I was pushed out of teaching by a cranky old guy who resented my ideas. You know that I miss teaching every single day.

I loved those kids. I really, truly did.

Even when they were making me CRAZY because they couldn’t manage to find a way to compromise with their classmates.

Oh, holy headache. I remember long, long, long, long classroom meetings where I repeatedly told two groups of kids, “Yes, you can find a way to compromise.”

I worked so hard to show them that if Team A gave up the idea of football at every recess, Team B might respond by saying they would accept football every day for those who wanted to play.

There were days when I felt like all I did was repeat the idea that ‘If you get one thing that you want, the other guys can get one thing that they want.”

I remember sitting at my deks, waiting for the two groups to come to some compromise.

I remember telling the kids, “If you can compromise, we can go outside to play. If you keep arguing we will miss our recess.”

We did miss a couple of recess breaks. We did. I clearly remember the absolute shock of both sides of the classroom argument as they realized that EVERYONE LOSES when nobody can compromise and come to agreement.

I thought it was wonderful when my ten year old charges understood that compromise was the only way to have the whole community move forward. I was so so proud of those children when they came to that incredibly powerful realization.

So you can see why I wish that Congress and the Executive could be brought under the control of a really good fifth grade teacher.

Until then? I am completely disgusted with every single person in Congress and the Executive Branch who draws a paycheck out of my tax payments.

I would be absolutely delighted if a fifth grade class could address the government shutdown in its morning meeting.

We could find a way to compromise!!! Why can’t you guys?

Motherhood


It was so many years ago, and it all seems almost like a dream. Even so, I remember all of the sadness, the struggles, the joy. I remember it the way you remember those things that change you at the most minute level of your every cell.

More than three decades ago, when I was a young, healthy woman, Paul and I finally came to the point in our lives when we were ready and eager to start a family. We’d been to college, had our first jobs, gone off to graduate school.

The age of 30 was looming ahead of me, and I was getting anxious about putting off motherhood. After all, I was the oldest daughter in a family of six kids. I considered my own Mom, and her mother before her, to be the epitome of women who were fulfilling their life’s true purpose.

Of course I knew that times were changing, and that women of my generation were expected to have college degrees and jobs and careers. I was delighted by all of that, but I still longed for the chance to become a mother. I had fed and changed and cradled my youngest siblings, and my maternal instincts were incredibly cranked up.

So we put aside the birth control and waited for the miracle. And we waited. And waited some more. My heart became heavier with each passing month, and eventually we realized that we’d need some medical help.

My deepest and dearest wish seemed to be out of my reach.

But at last, at last, at last. Just before my dreaded thirtieth birthday, I conceived. My dream was coming true. Slowly, through those long, anxious months, I began to believe that I would finally hold my own baby.

And it happened. On January 11th, 1986, after more hours than I want to think about, my beautiful girl came into the world. I took one look at her and my heart melted into a pool of motherly smoosh.

THIS was the most gorgeous, most perfect, most lovable and loving human being that had ever been born. I immediately felt badly for every parent who had to learn how to love their inferior children.

I’m not kidding.

I was beyond in love. The smell of her cheek, the darkness of her brown eyes, the shape of those tiny lips…..all of it was completely intoxicating to both Paul and I.

At last, I was a mother. My dream had come true.

Now it is 33 years after that life-changing moment of birth. My beautiful, perfect little baby girl has become a strong, passionate, smart, funny, wonderful woman. She is a fabulous teacher, loved by her students and their parents.

She is a mother of incredible humor, grace, gentleness and love. She is a better mother than I was, and I was pretty damned good. She’s a great cook, a loyal and devoted friend, a supportive colleague. She is a political activist, a well informed and passionate progressive.

She is still a miracle to me. I am still so in love with the beauty of her smile, the shine of her gorgeous hair, the strength that I see in her interactions with her kids.

Happy, happy birthday to the incredible young woman who I still consider to be the most excellent and perfect of dreams come true.

My lovely girl with her lovely girl.

“Let’s Pretend”


One of the very best parts of spending all day with children is being reminded of the magic that surrounds them. As a past middle aged woman, as a grandmother, I am far removed now from the wondrous days of make believe.

But when I watch the children playing in my house, I am pulled right back into that magical pretend world, whether I’m ready to be there or not.

Today was the perfect example of how children move effortlessly between reality and play.

Today I had my two grandchildren here. Ellie is about three and half, and her brother John in halfway between one and two. They play pretty well together when the game is purely pretend. Ellie will be sitting there for a moment, then she’ll suddenly turn to me and say, “I’m Elsa! You’re Anna.” And off we go into the land of “Frozen.” Johnny will happy jump around and follow us through the house in his relatively undefined role of “Olaf.”

But two days a week our little drama club is pushed up a notch when our friend Ella is here. Ella is a wise, mature four year old. She understands all of the subtle nuances of pretend play.

When Ellie announces that she is “Elsa”, her friend doesn’t even bat an eye. “I’m a kitty”, she will announce. “Elsa has a new kitty.”

Because they are little ones, and because their magic has no need for reality, Ellie might respond by saying, “I’m the kitty’s Mamma!” Elsa will be instantly forgotten, and the magic will simply shift.

It’s so gloriously empowering to watch them at play. As they move from scene to scene, I can almost see the world that they are creating.

“The Momma kitty is sick!” one will wail, “She is at the kitty hospital!” And as the Momma kitty collapses in a dramatic heap, I swear that I can see the pristine white walls of the kitty hospital around her. I feel the anguish as her “baby kitty” runs into the hospital room with a desperate “Miaow!!!!”

I imagine the world around the kids as a series of beautiful chalk drawings, forming miraculously from the words that the girls share. “We are running on the beach!” means that the world around them is filled with the colors of the sand and the sea. “The baby kitty is sleeping in her bed.” makes that world melt and shift and turn itself into a quiet cozy room.

As the children see those magical worlds, they let me see them, too.

I am so grateful to the little ones who share my days. I am so thankful that at the not-so-tender age of 62, I am still able to feel and see the magic.

“I’m a magic butterfly……”

You Know What I’d Like to See?


I’d really love to see some of the grownups in our government (assuming that there are a few), come right out and address this giant pile of steaming bull shit that we are currently calling our “partial government shut down.”

I would love, more than I can say, for the Democrats to come right out in public and say this:

“We recognize the fact that the President of the United States is having a giant temper tantrum over his ridiculous wall. We know, because we actually look at facts, that the crimes committed by undocumented immigrants are far fewer than those committed by American citizens. Nevertheless, we are willing to overlook the President’s hysteria and panic.

We also know that there is no emergency at the border. We have spoken to the mayor of El Paso, whose city has found itself responsible for thousands of unexpected immigrant families. We get it. Our immigration system needs a major overhaul. We need some laws, some fences, some plans in place for how to help asylum seekers.

But we know that there is no “crisis” calling for emergency powers or sending troops or any of the other hoopla that the Pres is demanding.

Most of all, we Democrats understand that we are wasting way too much time and energy on President Trump’s ridiculous fantasy of a “big beautiful wall that Mexico will pay for.” We recognize the fact that this is all just a big made up pile of nothingburger designed to make Trump feel powerful.

So. Because we have a whole lot of actual governing to do, and we have a boatoad of investigations to start, we are going to give the big baby his 5 billion dollars. We want the American voter to understand that we are giving in to a tyrant and agreeing to waste a bunch of your money. We apologize.

But we’re doing it because time is a-wasting. We need to start governing. We need to deal with a few actual crises. Things like guns and endless wars and climate change. You know, serious issues that are beyond the comprehension of the Clown in Chief.

We are doing this because we understand that you guys elected us so that we’d actually run the country. You don’t care who ‘wins’ in a stupid bullshit made up fight over a big fat nothing.

Wouldn’t you love that?

Let the Democrats finally act like grownups. Let them very publicly roll their eyes, make the “crazy” finger twirl next to their ears, and pat Trumpy on his big fat orange butt. Let them end this entire stupid embarrassing spectacle and let him go play with his little orange bricks and build his pointless wall.

Somebody out there needs to finally start running things around here.

Baby Donnie. Yes, this is the man in charge. He hasn’t progressed emotionally since this photo was taken.

Who Will Speak the Truth?


It is so difficult to watch as a loved one shows changes in thinking and language. When we watch someone struggle to find the correct word, or when we ourselves can’t follow their train of thought, our hearts sink.

I spent a couple of decades working as a speech/language pathologist, so I have a pretty good body of knowledge when it comes to how language is organized in our brains. I’ve seen all kinds of language disorders and deficits, and I recognize them when I run into people who are exhibiting the symptoms.

I’m pretty familiar with the language of dementia, too, having watched a few loved ones progress into old age. I recognize the signs when someone begins to jump from one topic to the next as if every conversation is simply a stream of consciousness. Each comment triggers the next, with a diminishing connection to the original idea.

Here is an example of what I firmly believe is a language/cognitive disorder. Try to follow the thread and see if you notice what I mean.

Q: “Is there a number below five billion that you might be willing to accept in order to reopen the government?                                                                           A: Right.Well I’d rather not say it, ah, could we do it for a little bit less, it’s so insignificant compared to what we’re talking about. You know I’ve heard  numbers as high as 275 billion dollars we lose in illegal immigration and  here we have a wall that you’re talking about, to complete, because, again a lot has already been done because we’ve been getting money in…somebody said that we didn’t spend the money, well, we have spent it but we don’t paycontractors before they finish the job, that’s one of the other things that Pat and I sort of instituted. We like to have people do the work, so if we’re  building a wall, we’re paying as they build it, we pay it when it’s finished.  So they do a good job.This way if they don’t do a good job, we don’t pay them. So not all of the money has beenpaid, but the money has been used. So  maybe you guys could remember that we you say that I haven’t spent the  money, we’ve spent the money. We wanna finish it up. The five billion, five point six billion approved by the House is such a small amount compared to the level of the problem. When you see that the democrats want to give  away twelve billion extra, and we’re giving away 54 billion in foreign aid.  So we give money to countries but we don’t give money to our own country, which is another thing that I’ve been complaining about, and we’re cutting that back. It’s very unfair. When we give money to Guatemala and to  Honduras, and to El Salvador, and they do nothing for us. When we give  money to Pakistan, one point three billion dollars, I ended that, a lot of people don’t know it, because they haven’t been fair to  us. We wanna have a great relationship with Pakistan. But they house the  enemy, they take care of the enemy, we just can’t do that. So I look forward  to meeting with the folks from, and the new leadership in Pakistan, we’ll be doing that in the not too distant future, but I ended the one point three billion that we paid, like it was water, we just pay it. To Pakistan. And I ended that. And we ended a lot of other money that’s being sent out on a  monthly basis, and a yearly basis, to countries that don’t even vote for us  in the United Nations. We give them billions of dollars, they don’t even vote for us in the United Nations. When we want something, to help certain  countries…..and you know it’s not all about the rich countries, cuz the rich countries really do take advantage of us cuz they pay a very small percentage of their military….and they cheat on trade. They take advantage of us on trade. Other than that, they’re wonderful, OK? But there are countries that are poor, that we will com…we don’t want  anything from them! We want to help them. There are some horrible things going on in the world. And we wanna help those people, we don’t want  money from them. We don’t want that. We’re not looking for that.But when you have massively wealthy countries, that have very low military costs  because the United States subsidizes them, so they take advantage of us  on military…they could easily pay us, the full amounts. And they also take  advantage of us on trade. So when I speak up, I mean, that’s why I got elected, issues like that. Issues like the border and it would be so easy  not to do anything. When they say I’m not popular in Europe, I shouldn’t be popular in Europe! If I was popular in Europe, I wouldn’t be doing my job. Because I want Europe to pay. Germany pays one percent. They should be paying four percent.They pay one  percent. They should be paying even more than that. Other countries pay a small percentage of what they should be paying. So when I say, ‘I’m sorry,  folks, you have to pay up’, I shouldn’t be popular in Europe. They do a poll, I was at 88 percent and now I’m at, you know, a very low number. And Europe, I don’t care about Europe. I’m not elected by Europeans, I’m elected by Americans. And by American taxpayers, frankly. So, I think my relationship, I will tell you, with the leaders is very good. A lot of them don’t even  understand how they got away with it for so many years. I’ll say to….Angela, and I’ll say to many of the other leaders, I’m friends with all of them, I’ll  say, ‘How did this ever happen?’ And they sorta go, like ‘I can’t believe it either.’ They can’t believe it! You know why, cuz their  Presidents and other people within their administrations, in the past, they  allowed them to get away. Like some of them would say, ‘Well no one ever  asked us to pay.’  We have negotiations going on with numerous countries right now to pay a lot of money to the United States for what we’re doing for them. I wouldn’t say they’re thrilled. Because they’ve had many many years where they didn’t have to pay. So now they’re gonna have to pay. And if that makes me unpopular in those countries, that’s OK. But we’re doing tremendous service to those countries, and they should at least respect us. They didn’t respect us, and that was the problem.”

 I assume that you noticed a few disturbing things about this “response” to a simple question. Hopefully, you saw that the question was never answered or even addressed. The speaker went on for four minutes and forty five seconds without pause, but never even tried to answer the question.

You may also have seen that each idea lead fluidly to the next, with the speaker never realizing that he had strayed completely off the path of the original question. That lack of self awareness is another hallmark of disordered thinking.

The speaker (pretend it’s your Uncle Pete) also assumed that his listeners were following his internal thoughts. The speaker refers to the Democrats hoping to “give away twelve billion extra,” but never explains what he means. Extra in what way? Beyond what amount? Given to whom?

When he says that “Germany pays one percent,” he doesn’t explain. He seems to believe that we already know, because he does. One percent of what? Why?

I also think that in spite of his ability to recall exact dollar amounts, this man shows signs of a word finding problem. Note the pause before he pulls out the name “Angela” when thinking about European leaders. Note the use of phrases like “certain countries” and “many leaders.” Few specific labels are found anywhere in this response.

Please watch the video that I’ve put at the end of this post. I ask you to turn off your partisan reactions, and pretend that this language and this thinking is coming from your elderly relative.

Then reach out to our members of Congress, no matter which party they represent. Reach out to the media. Ask why in the world nobody is willing to stand up and say that Uncle Pete needs a neuropsych evaluation as soon as possible.

The entire world is put in danger by a US President with this kind of disordered thinking, no matter what its’ cause.

Listen with your eyes closed and try to follow the tangents.

Well, They Don’t Look Like Me


Welp. Here we are in January of 2019. The 116th Congress of the United States has just been sworn in. There’s been a whole of news about this group of Congress people, especially the incoming “Freshman” class.

I’ve seen the group photos. I’ve read the biographies and the position statements and all I can say is this:

This Congress does NOT look anything like me.

I mean, I’m 62 years old, white, Christian and heterosexual.

They don’t look or sound like me.

But you know what?

That’s what makes me so excited and so hopeful for the future of this nation.

I mean, let’s be honest here, OK? For the last two centuries or so, the country has been run by older white Christians. Sure, they were almost all men, but they still were pretty much my descriptive demographic.

And I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s really done a whole lot of good.

I don’t mean to be ageist, racist, sexist or anything else-ist, but I am more than thrilled to see a new House of Representatives that actually seems to be representative. I am filled with hope and excitement when I see women of color, Muslims, Hindus, gays, transgender folks and lots and lots of young people taking up the mantle of leadership.

The United States is no longer all white, all Christian, all straight. Our leaders shouldn’t be either. My generation has had plenty of time to wield its influence.

Chalk it up to my decades of bleeding heart liberalism, but I am so excited to see what the bold, brash, unashamed young multicultural crew will bring us in the next few years.

They have my full support.

It’s way past time for somebody to shake up the power elite around here.

Who Are They?


I had the grandchildren today, for the first time in almost two weeks. I was absolutely filled with joy to have them back.

But I was also absolutely beat beyond belief when they went home.

So after they left, I started dinner, and poured a big glass of wine. Then I went out into my hot tub.

I turned on the jets, aiming at the sorest parts of my neck and shoulders. I sipped. I sighed. I laid my head back against the side of the tub. And I looked up.

I saw the many stars arching above me. I saw the undersides of the trees around my yard.

And I saw the blinking lights of the jets passing by so far overhead.

I couldn’t help but wonder. Who’s up there? Where are they going?

I live in Northern Massachusetts, so I know the general flight paths that cross over my head. I know that many of the flights coming from my West will turn toward the North, to Canada and the maritimes. The ones that come from my South will eventually make their way toward the Canadian maritimes, and will then swing out across the North Atlantic toward Northern Europe, or they’ll turn toward the South and aim for somewhere to my West.

I watched the lights crossing my sky. I thought about the passengers whose flights I was seeing.

Of course I had no idea who was up there, but that’s the beauty of it, right? I was able to make them up. To imagine the lives of the people who were silently intersecting with my own life.

Maybe, on this flight from West to East, there was a woman in her 70s. Maybe she had lost her husband five years ago, and was struggling mightily to move forward into some kind of future. I pictured her opening a letter from an old friend, someone she’d known decades ago in college. “Come to visit, please!” I pictured the note saying, “I’ll meet you in Shannon and drive you out to our place in Connemara. You can meet our friends and have some fun.” I saw the women frowning, shaking her gray head. I saw her waking up in the darkest part of her lonely night, reading the note again.

I imagined her buying her ticket, telling herself to go.

I wished her all the best as her flight crossed my path.

Then there was the jet that ran from South to North, too high in the sky to have come from Boston.

On this one, I saw a young woman. I imagined her feeling stuck in a dead end job, wondering where all of her dreams had gone. I saw her in her little apartment in Charleston, eating a lonely take out meal and opening her mail.

Now I pictured her on the flight above me, heading toward a meeting with a man she had so far only met online. I could imagine her friends telling her to go, but to be careful. I saw her mother, looking very much like me, telling her not to go. Telling her that she could find someone right here, right in our very own town.

I saw her, as my head lay back against the edge of my hot tub. I saw her brown hair, recently done up with highlights. I saw the hope in her heart and the caution in her mind.

I watched her fly across my deck. I waved as she passed. I wished her luck and courage and strength and love.

Our lives cross back and forth every day with so many people we will never meet. How lovely to imagine their paths. How powerful to wish them well.

Who are you up there?

“Time Keeps On Slipping Into the Future.”


Sometimes, like all of us, I wish that I could make time run in reverse, and go back to earlier days.

I wish that I could visit my childhood again. I’d still have both of my parents. My Dad would be alive and full of fun and handsome and strong. My Mom would still be his beautiful bride, and their six kids would giggle as he pulled her into his arms for a kiss before dinner.

I wish that I could reclaim the sense of endless hope that pervaded those days. When I’d sit in the backyard and gaze at the full moon and dream of the adventurous and romantic life I’d lead one day.

More than that, though, even more than that: I wish that I could hit rewind, just for a few minutes, to see my three little children playing on the living room rug. I wish I could hold each of them in my arms, my beautiful babies. I wish I could hear those voices, laughing or crying, or calling “Mom!”

But time doesn’t work that way, does it? No matter how much we want to hold onto the past, or hold onto today, all of it keeps slipping into the future. And as impossible as it seems, here we sit on the eve of the year 2019.

I will turn 63 this year. My Mom will turn 89. Both are impossible from the vantage point of my heart.

My oldest child will turn 33, and her oldest will turn 4.

Impossible. Unbelievable. Somehow all of it simply wrong. Too soon, too quick, too rushed.

I am not ready.

And that’s the beauty of the whole thing. Time doesn’t care if we are ready. Time doesn’t care if we have grasped our own mortality, or if we’ve accepted the losses that it has brought us.

Time keeps on slipping into the future.

So what is that I wish for in my 63rd year of this wonderful, tiring, surprising, inspiring life?

I wish for another year with all of my children and their partners happy, healthy and filled with hope. I wish for a year of growth and new adventures and continued good health for my grandchildren, my best beloveds.

I wish, with all my heart, for another year with my Mom on this earth. I wish for more shared meals, more jigsaw puzzles, more hours spent pouring over old photo albums. Her memory is weak, so sometimes these jaunts into the past are more upsetting than pleasant. Even so, I wish for more time with her as the rudder in my life.

For my country, I wish for a year of healing. Somehow, some way, I hope that we can find our way back to the days of arguing without hatred. I hope and I wish and I pray that something will change to bring us out of these dangerous times and help us find our way back toward some sense of national unity.

Time keeps on slipping into the future.

We can’t turn it back. We can’t stop it.

We can only keep moving forward, faster and faster every year, keeping our minds and our hearts open to each other. Trying to grow and learn and improve.

Wishing all of you a Happy, Healthy, Joyful 2019.

Time Keeps On Slipping

Old Dog, New Tricks, Holy Smokes.


Before I begin this post, let me assure you that marijuana is legal in Massachusetts. Entirely legal. Got it? Nonni here ain’t heading for the slammer. Not anytime soon, anyway.

So here’s the story.

It all started a couple of years ago. My adult sons were home for Christmas. I had been telling them (as in, complaining and moaning non-stop) about my various aches and pains and terrible insomnia. “I haven’t slept in weeks,” I groaned. The kids knew I had tried everything from SleepyTime Tea to Ambien in search of decent sleep.

Because they love me, and because they no doubt wanted to shut me up, the boys made a suggestion. “Mom,” they said, “Come smoke a bowl of weed with us.”

I knew that my kids smoked marijuana, but I had been adamant that it not be done in the house. I didn’t like it, even when it stopped being a crime. It just made me uncomfortable.

I mean, I had tried a joint or two back in the day, but it just made me giggly and stupid. I preferred a couple of glasses of wine. And the stuff available now was nothing like what we used to have. It had none of the alluring Indian incense smell that I remembered from the 70s. This stuff was more reminiscent of an angry skunk. I wanted to no part of it in my house.

But I was desperate, I tell ya, just desperate. After hosting various holiday crowds, I found myself in the middle of a fibromyalgia flare and every inch of me hurt except my hair.

So I gave it a try. Two puffs on the boy’s magic peace pipe, and off I went to bed. I remember reading under the covers and thinking “This stuff is useless. I don’t feel a thing.” I closed my book and turned on my side.

The next thing I knew, the sun was in my eyes.

It was like a freakin’ miracle.

I had become a convert.

For a while I smoked marijuana to help me sleep, but I didn’t like the taste or the burning in my throat. Sometimes it gave me asthma. I moved on to using a vape device, but didn’t love that, either.

Finally, through the incredible generosity of some friends, I found the delight of cannabis butter. Mmm-mmm good!

Weed butter. This miracle cure is a simple concoction of marijuana and real butter. Every night now, I put a tiny bit into hot water, mix in a little turmeric and cinnamon, sip it and drift off to peaceful sleep. The aches and pains subside. I wake up feeling rested.

This old dog has learned a whole new trick!!!

Here’s where it gets dicey, though.

Nonni doesn’t exactly have a lot of contacts in the world of weed. I don’t want to depend on the generosity of friends who are too kind to charge me for my medicine.

(Plus, those friends are away for the winter, so…….)

I asked my boys to get me some weed for Christmas. They did! In fact, they gave me enough to last me probably two years (people their age go through it quite a bit faster than I do….). I took a little bit and made my fist batch of butter.

Oh, boy! I was excited! I carefully followed the recipe that I found on-line, after reading all about the process. I even took notes.

Everything was fine as the butter and weed simmered on the stove. The house smelled more like a bakery than a skunk den, so I figure it was fine.

Until the unmistakeable smell of burning popcorn seeped into my consciousness and I jumped out of my chair. I rushed to the stove, where I saw that my mixture had faded from creamy yellow to a dull brown. The butter had begun to burn, which accounted for the popcorn smell. I quickly pulled it off the stove, and hoped it wasn’t ruined.

I strained it and cooled it until bedtime.

Then I took a tiny bit in my usual cup of hot water. I sat down to watch a movie with my husband.

An hour later I felt like I’d been slammed with a dose of morphine mixed with vodka. Holy headspins!!!

I managed to brush my teeth and fall into bed, but I couldn’t read because my eyeballs were rolling around in my head like marbles. My mouth was so dry I thought I’d choke on my tongue.

My night went like this: Roll to the side, sip water, roll back, experience the thrill of riding a giant rollercoaster. Stay still, taste the entire Sahara in my mouth, roll over for water, take a sip. Now experience the delights of riding out a hurricane in a rowboat.

So.

I learned a few more things last night.

One: all marijuana is NOT the same.

Two: it’s really really hard to get the right dose.

Three: Even riding a roller coaster in a hurricane is better than staying awake all night.

Now if only I could get the marbles to stop rolling….

This is what happens when old dogs try to self medicate.

Through the Eyes of a Child


One of the reasons why I’ve always loved being with children is that they are so honest. They don’t play emotional games. They tell you what they think.

I loved that in my classroom, because I learned pretty quickly that if I just listened, I could let them guide me toward a happier, more cooperative classroom.

As a Mom, I wasn’t always successful, but I tried to listen to what my kids were telling me. I tried to listen when they used words, expressions and actions to tell me “Mom, I love when you make up silly songs!” I tried to listen, and look, and understand, when a terrible tantrum showed me that my child was thinking “Get me out of here! I am confused! I don’t understand!!! It’s too loud, too bright, too happy, too sad…..”

I have always loved the honesty of children.

I remember how happy I was when one of my own kids, after a big argument between us, told me, “What you said wasn’t fair. I’m really mad at you.” It was so incredibly freeing, because I was able to tell him he was right, move past the fight and get to the root of our differences (whatever on earth they were.)

And I remember when I once told my class to let me know if I upset them, and the one little boy who told me, “You’re way to happy all the time.”

I remember the children who told me, “Your eyes make me happy.” and “I love the way you walk.” I love the honesty of children. I trust it.

So of course, I have a story to share about this Christmas with my grandkids.

I am used to the fact that when the big family gathers around, both Ellie and Johnny try to keep their distance from me. I’m the every day caretaker. Not as necessary as Mom and Dad, yet more familiar than those exciting Aunts, Uncles and grandparents from further away.

If I try to play with Johnny, he smiles his sweet smile, but makes sure to point toward his parents. “Mamma”, he says firmly. “Daddy.” I get it. He’s telling me its OK for me to hang around, but I better understand that he’s safe at home with his parents right now, and doesn’t intend to move.

When I reach for Ellie as I come in, she often smiles, waves and moves back out of my grasp. “I’m talking to Aunt Cynthia right now,” she’ll tell me.

I’ve learned to keep my distance and to embrace the adult conversations at these gatherings without the pressure of childcare. Watching Ellie play with the extended family is so sweet. Seeing Johnny in the arms of my siblings or his other grandparents melts my heart completely.

I think the kids associate me with long days away from Mommy and Daddy. I know they love me, but still….I’m like the comfy sofa. Always there, but not particularly exciting.

But this Christmas Eve, I got a much clearer idea of why Ellie has mixed feelings when I arrive at family gatherings. She barely spoke to me during the many hours of eating, drinking, gift giving, laughing, hugging and family revelry.

She danced by me once or twice, but we didn’t really connect.

Finally, though, when everyone had headed home except for a few of us, she threw herself into my arms and kissed me with joy. I was ecstatic to finally have her to myself, and kissed her cheeks and hair.

Leaning back into the curve of my arms, Ellie grinned up at me. “Oh, Nonni! Thank you for having this big party with us! The whole whole world was here at our party!!!!”

I squeezed her tight, telling her how much fun it was for me to be there with her.

Then my sweet girl put one hand on each of my cheeks and smiled right into my eyes.

“Nonni,” she told me earnestly. “You were so good here tonight! You were so so good!”

“I was?” I asked, wondering what she meant.

“Yes! You were so quiet!!! You didn’t talk at all! You were so so good!” She kissed me again in gratitude for my silence.

Really? All she wanted was for me to shut the hell up?

“Uh,” I began, “I did talk to my family….”

“I know!” She crowed joyfully. “But you didn’t talk to me!”

*********************************************************************

And so.

I can either laugh at Ellie, laugh at myself, or think about the message she was sending.

I decided to think about the message.

I have realized that because of my background as a speech pathologist and teacher, I have a tendency to talk my way through every day. I think of it as language modeling, and of staying engaged.

But my Ellie, in her honesty, has told me that sometimes she needs a chance to think. A chance to just be, without all the words swirling around her.

Once again, a child is teaching me how to regulate myself. How to pay attention to the effect I am having. A child is showing me how to be a little bit better at my job.

That ability to learn and grow is a huge part of what I miss about teaching.

On the other hand, I haven’t missed that feeling of being a jerk!!

“Good girl, Nonni. You hardly said a word!!!”