“No!!! No kisses on me!!!”


My granddaughter, my Ellie, is the love of my life.

She is smart, sweet, beautiful, strong, feisty and affectionate. Sometimes, when I least expect it, she puts both arms around my neck and hugs me tight. “Oh, my Nonni!” she sighs. “My Nonni. You’re here!”

Sometimes she demands that I hold her, rock her, keep her warm. “Snuggle me!” she begs, after drinking a cup of the cold milk the she loves so much.

At just a bit over two years old, I am happy to indulge her. First of all, I know that a child this young truly needs to be held and loved and made to feel safe and special. But second of all, I know how fleeting this time will be. This magical time when she wants me to cuddle her and nuzzle her cheek and tell her how much I love her.

So I follow her lead. When she orders me to hug her, I do it happily.

But there is another side to this shiny coin, and it is one that Ellie’s Mom and I have talked about a lot.

That is the fact that sometimes when it’s me who asks for kisses or hugs, Ellie firmly states, “No. No kissing me.”

When I was a child, that message was most often met with, “Oh, that’s not polite! Kiss your Grandma/Aunt/Friend/Uncle/Neighbor.” Children were expected to respond with pleasure to the signs of affection from adults. Especially well known and well loved adults.

But those days are gone.

And good riddance.

Now when Ellie frowns and states, “No!” I back off as quickly as I can. “OK.” I say. “No kisses.”

It’s so hard, though! I love her SO much! I feed her, dress her, take her to the potty, rock her when she’s sad, kiss her boo-boos, tuck her in for her nap every day. I want to kiss her sweet cheek. I want to rest my lips on her brow. I want to rub my cheek on hers and nuzzle her neck.

But if she says NO, I understand that it has to be NO.

Because even more than I want to kiss her while she is still Nonni’s little girl, I want her to grow up with a sense of ownership of her own body. I want her to know the value of her affection. I want her to know, with absolute certainty, that her kisses are her gifts to give or to withhold. I want her to feel, in the deepest fibers of her heart, that if she doesn’t want to kiss someone, she doesn’t have to kiss them.

Even if that someone is her very own Nonni who made her buttered noodles today and sang her songs and washed her face ten times and didn’t fuss about the spilled juice on the rug. Even then.

If Ellie says “NO” then the answer is “NO”.

I want her to have the power to say “NO” and to mean it. Even if she says it to me.

IMG_20170920_111816

I only kiss Elmo.

Advertisements

The Munchies


Have you ever heard of Munchausen syndrome? It’s a mental illness which causes people to fabricate illness so that they can get support, approval, caring. They make themselves seem sicker than they are, just so you’ll feel bad for them.

You know what this is. It’s the person who constantly talks about his bad back/heart disease/ulcers so that everyone in your social group is constantly taking care of him. It’s the old hypochondriac pattern that we’ve all seen. Someone who is constantly suffering from a broken bone/allergic reaction/torn muscle/rare syndrome. The one who at first seems so stoic and strong, but later seems just plain determined to be suffering at all times.

If you’ve known this syndrome, you may also know about Munchausen by proxy. In this case there is a caregiver, almost always a mother, who becomes so fixated on her role as the parent of a sick child that she goes to incredible lengths to keep that child sick.

I have known some of these moms. They were all incredibly devoted, completely involved and impressively knowledgeable about the challenges faced by their young children.

I knew a Mom who used to show me a huge three ring binder of medical notes about her two year old son. She showed it to me every single week when I came to do speech/language therapy with her son. She went over it every week for over a year. She used to smile gently, and give a little shake of her head as she told me, “The gastroenterologist thinks I should have a medical degree by now!”

It took me a long time to realize that her sense of pride was incompatible with what should have been her desire to make her baby well. In fact, I came to realize over many months, she didn’t want him to be better. She wanted him to continue to be her beautiful, fragile, brave little guy. She wanted this because she wanted to hold onto her role as his brave, smart, caring, patient mother.

And you know what?

He WAS beautiful, fragile, and brave. And she absolutely WAS brave, smart, caring and patient.

I thought that it was all just crazy.

Until I started to understand her desires and motivations.

It happened to me when I had two little boys of my own with chronic severe asthma. And I became the Mom who was told by our allergist, “I hope you don’t mind, but I have two med students here for your appointment. I wanted them to meet a Mom who does everything right but still has boys with severe asthma.”

If you don’t think I swelled up with pride over that visit, you don’t understand maternal motivation. I LOVED that day.

So now I find myself a grandmother. A Nonni who takes care of her two little grandchildren every day so their parents can go to work without worrying about them. I find myself the doting Nonni who took care of not one, but two sick babies last week. Both of them had a bad cold, coughs, congestion, head aches.

I took care of them.

They were sick. And suddenly, so sweetly, my independent, self assured two year old Ellie looked up at me and said, “Nonni pick Ellie up? Nonni make Ellie feel better, please?” I scooped that beautiful little one into my arms and started to rock her in my soft red rocking chair. She put her head on my chest and sighed. “Nonni make Ellie feel better,” she said, and my heart almost swelled right out of my chest.

I was happy that she didn’t feel well. I was. She needed me. She asked for me. She told me that I was the answer to what ailed her.

Her baby brother, little three month old Johnny, caught the same cold, and the next day he could only be soothed by my arms and my rocking and my off-key singing. There was more than one point in that day when Nonni held one child in each arm, rocking and singing and kissing warm, fevery foreheads.

And that is why I understand the allure of the Munchausen by proxy set. I know what it means to feel retired, old, out to pasture, not quite anyone’s Mom. And I understand the incredible power that comes through in the moment when a soft, warm cheek is pressed to mine in search of solace.

I have never, ever, ever, in my entire life, felt more important or more valued that I have in the moments when my children or theirs have needed me to make them feel better.

I promise, I swear on everything I love, that I will never, ever do one single thing to make my little ones sick or hurt. This is why I am not a Munchausen Mommy.

But.

I will absolutely and positively revel in those few sweet moments when my little loves need me to comfort and care for them.

I guess I am just the tiniest bit “munchy”, but I don’t apologize. Rocking a feverish toddler is one of life’s great pleasures, and I don’t mind the fact that I love it.

IMG_20170516_094931

“Nonni, hold Ellie now?”

 

“Stay at home…..Nonni”


I am a child of the 60s. My stay at home, Italian, Catholic, good girl mother was the very first feminist I have ever known.

Mom got married at 20 and raised 6 of us kids before she finally went back to get her college degree and begin a career in education. She was a feminist without ever calling herself that.

She organized the paraprofessional educators in our town to form their own union. She argued with our middle school principal when the rules insisted that girls had to wear skirts to school, even when it was 5 degrees and snowing out. She told him that when the boys wore shorts, her daughters would wear skirts.

The rules changed.

I grew up expecting myself to be a liberated woman. I knew that I wanted a career, even as I recognized my desire to be a mother.

I married my sweetheart at the tender age of 22. We both went to graduate school, where I earned a Master’s Degree while he went all the way to a doctorate. We both believed in our careers and our skills and our desire to contribute to society. I became a Speech/language Specialist, working with young children. He became a Clinical Psychologist.

We loved our work. We were proud of what we did.

So when we had children, it wasn’t a hard decision for me to go back to work. We needed the money. We needed the insurance that my job offered.

And I needed a place to go where I could feel smart and valued and worthy.

Now,(as the politicians say) let me be perfectly clear: I loved my kids so much it was kind of ridiculous. I thought of them 24 hours a day, I adored them, I treasured them, I hurt when I wasn’t with them.

But the thought of staying home all day, every day, to tend to the diapers and spit ups and juice boxes of those early years would have had me running off into the night without a thought.

And that’s what I am finding so funny now.

Now I am a stay at home Nonni. I spend all day, every day, Mon-Friday, with my two-year-old granddaughter and her three-month-old brother. I change up to 12 diapers a day. My fingernails have Desitin under them. Even as I write these words, I can smell old spit up milk and peanut butter crackers on my shirt. My sweaty, wrinkled, stinky old T shirt.

I wash faces 20 times a day. I brush tiny teeth. I read the same book over. and over. and over.

I chip baby pukies off the bottoms of my chairs. I do laundry ever other day just so I can have a clean burp cloth and at least one clean facecloth.

I can name every single character in “Finding Dory” and sing all the songs from “Moana.”

Thirty years ago, this would have made me insane.

But now I love it, poopie smells and all.

And it makes me wonder how a young feminist became such an old softie. How did I go from wanting to change the world to cheering when my little girl does pee-pee in the potty?

I’m not sure.

But I’ve given it a lot of thought, mostly while rocking babies to sleep.

So here are some of my thoughts on the subject of staying at home to nurture babies:

It’s easier now. It’s so much easier not to take every tantrum and every ignored meal personally.

From the vantage point of old age, I realize that little kids are tiny humans with their own moods and temperaments. They have their likes and dislikes. They have bad days. It is not about me. I would never have understood that as a young Momma.

It’s easier to let myself be a slob now. Nobody is looking at me and thinking, “wow, she let herself go.” If the neighbors see me outside in my flannel pants and baggy sweatshirt, pushing a double stroller, they think, “Oh, good for her!” They don’t think, “She looks like hell. Where is her self-respect?” At thirty, I could never have let myself be so comfortable.

And most of all, at the happy age of 61, I no longer feel like I need to prove myself to the world. Unlike my young, eager, unproven self, I am now happy to accept the fact that I am just fine. I have earned my place in the universe. I have raised three great humans. I have had a solid and successful career. I still have interesting and thoughtful friends. I read. I write. I vote. I’m enough for me.

So if my entire morning is spent playing with Playmobile jungle animals and eating gold fish out of paper cups….who the hell cares?

I am so very grateful that when I was a young mother with a full head of steam and lots of ambition, I had a place to do good work. And I am even more grateful that now, when I am finally ready to accept myself for who I have become, I am able to spend my days making home-made playdoh and watching Elmo’s Playhouse.

I am a stay at home Nonni and I’m proud of it!

IMG_20170425_132220

Yes, these are our toys.

The Day I Just Plain Sucked


Have you ever had a day where, from the moment you open your gritty eyeballs, you just can’t get anything right?

Have you ever had the kind of day where every god, goddess and bad guy in the universe is seemingly engaged in a conspiracy to prove that you are a total waste of molecular energy? The kind of day where, if you could just quiet the roaring of your overflowing toilet, you’d actually hear the sound of distant maniacal laughter?

No?

Welp. I have.

In fact, as you have probably already surmised, I had one of those days today. And, yep, you’re right. You’re going to hear about it.

Let me just set the stage first, alright?

Today was the last full day in the life of my beautiful old hound dog, Tucker the Wonder Puppy. Also known as “The Wolf King.” At the age of 12 and a half, Tucker has walked his last walk, chased his last frisbee, eaten his last beef bone. He is losing his vision, and can barely get himself up or down the stairs, even with lots of loving human support.

It’s time.

The call has been made, the appointment is set. Today is his last full day on this lovely green earth.

So of course, last night Paul and I were up at 3 AM easing him down the stairs and out the front door to poop. We were up again bright and early this morning doing the same thing. We are sad, tired, nostalgic, sick at heart.

We are not at our peppy best.

And this is the first full week of school, which means that it is Nonni’s first week of trying to juggle a three month old and a two year old, both of whom miss their Mommy all day long.

All of that would have probably been more or less OK, except that it was also pouring and pelting buckets of rain all day. And I somehow messed up the bottles so that the wrong nipple was on the wrong bottle and poor baby Johnny could barely get a drop of milk all day.

Oh, and I invited my granddaughter’s best best friend and her Momma to come over to visit today. Because…why not?

So.

There I was.

New company at my door. Rain pouring down. Old dog whining on the rug. Puppy yipping, jumping and relentlessly trying to mate with the young woman who came to visit. Baby Johnny desperately trying to get milk, to no avail. Two year old Ellie and her bestie, Hazel, trying to work out the fine points of sharing while Ellie shrieked “ELLIE’S TOYS!” at about 95 decibels.

I was trying to bake a gingerbread cake, but it was in process when our guests arrived, because I had spent an hour sobbing over my old dog and I was behind schedule. I was trying to control the puppy, but I have honestly never seen him so determined to fuse himself with a human while yelping and yipping nonstop and shedding at the same time. I was trying to help Ellie with her sharing while simultaneously trying to get her to stop screaming at the top of her tiny little lungs.

I wanted our new friends to look at me and think, “Wow! Nonni sure is on top of things! What a lovely nurturing figure she’d be in our lives!”

I failed.

I failed wicked.

Instead of looking calm, serene and loving, I looked insane, sweaty, tearful and overwhelmed.

I mean. Jesus. This is NOT my first rodeo. I swear; I really can host lunch for a mommy and her adorable, sweet little girl! I CAN!

Except that today, I couldn’t.

Get this.

I offered them lunch, saying that I had lots of cold cuts and peanut butter and jelly. “Sure!” said lovely young Mommy. “We love peanut butter and jelly!”

So I went to get it out. And I discovered that…….

…..I had no bread.

None.

So I served peanut butter and jelly on graham crackers while the baby cried and the puppy howled and the old dog moaned and the wind blew and the rain poured down.

I. Absolutely. Sucked. Today.

My only hope at this point is that lovely young mommy and sweet little best friend will give us another chance. Maybe when old dog is gone, puppy is calm, the weather is good, and I’ve remembered to shop.

Sigh.

I guess you can’t win ’em all.

img_20161115_150654

Please!!! Please can I lick your face off????!!! 

 

 

A Parable, Perhaps?


Three acorns fell from the oak behind our house.

One landed softly in a pile of old rotted leaves. The second landed half on the soft leaves, and half on an area of pea stone. The third acorn fell onto the driveway.

After two weeks, the first acorn had sent two roots into the ground below its shell. It had simply and effortlessly split that shell and grown its two tender roots to feel the soil and search for moisture and nutrients.

The second little acorn had split in exactly the same way as his brother, and had sent out two little roots to look for life. One root found itself safely encased in leaf mold, but the second root had to struggle and bend and search-reach-search until it finally found a tiny space between the stones, where it desperately dug itself into the earth.

The third acorn simply lay where it had fallen. There was no nurturing earth below it. There was nowhere for a root to take hold. The shell of this acorn stayed whole. No roots were ever sent out into the world.

Six months passed, and winter was giving way to spring.

The first acorn had produced a little tree. It had a thin, straight trunk and three sets of leaves. As the spring sun struck it, it worked happily to make new leaves and to reach toward the sky.

The second acorn had also sent up a trunk, and had managed to make one set of leaves. His trunk leaned hard to the left, because only half of him was supported by good soil. He worked hard. Harder than he thought he’d ever work. Each day was a struggle, but he kept on reaching, reaching, reaching for the sunny sky.

The third acorn sat on the hard blacktop of the drive. It had been frozen, and thawed and frozen again. There was one crack in the bottom of the acorn shell, but no root had come out. There was nowhere for that root to go.

Another six months passed with the seasons. The first little acorn was long gone. In its place there stood a small but sturdy oak. Tiny branches sprouted from its growing trunk, reaching easily toward the sky. It had soil and rain. It had strong roots to benefit from them both. It had taken its place in the woods, and could grow and thrive and one day drop its own little acorns onto the earth below its feet.

The second acorn had also created a little oak, because it landed just on the edge of the drive. This oak was thinner, and not quite as straight as its brother, but it also had three sets of leaves and was reaching ever higher toward the sky. This little tree might make it, if no car drifts off the pavements, and if no new owners decide to repave. It is more vulnerable to drought and wind than its brother, but if all goes well, it could one day be a full grown oak tree, too.

The third acorn is gone now. It never opened, never sent out a shoot, never had its chance to grow into a tree. It simply fell in a place that couldn’t support it, and it died before it had gone through one winter.

So.

Was the first acorn smarter, more caring, more deserving than the others? Was the third one guilty of some unknown crime? Was the little oak that faced a lifetime of struggle somehow at fault for landing in an imperfect place?

Of course not. We all know that. We all know that for acorns and oaks, life or death is just the luck of the draw. We don’t think that there is a God who chooses which acorns will do well and which will end up as food for a squirrel.

So was it the mother oak’s fault that some of her offspring fared better than the others?

Nope. We wouldn’t even ask that question. And we wouldn’t ask why one oak tree dropped its acorns on fertile soil while another only had pavement below.

Life is what it is. Fragile, amazing, random, unplanned.

Just as no God sits on a mighty throne deciding which acorn should survive, there is no God deciding who should have children easily and who should be infertile. There is no God passing judgement on which children will thrive and which land on pavement.

The oak tree isn’t responsible for the fate of the acorns. Every oak is designed by nature to drop those acorns onto the very best soil. But no oak has control over whether or not that happens.

Life is a miracle. Life is a gift. Lift is a matter of where we land, and what nutrients we can reach, and how close we are able to get to the sun.

SONY DSC

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.

IMG_20170405_181106

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

Conquering the Wolf King


The Wolf King is aloof. He is regal. He needs no man.

Oh, OK. He needs man, or woman, to get the kibble out and to gently mix in the carefully cooked chicken livers. Sure. And, yeah, fine, he needs man, or woman, to let him out in the morning so he can do his royal doody.

Still.

The Wolf King is the ruler of his domain. He does not rely on any human for emotional support.

And yet.

Today the little one in our house was sick. She had a bad cough, a stuffy nose, a little bit of a fever. She was OK for most of the morning, but by lunchtime, she was really droopy.

WomanWhoFeedsMe put away the toys and handed Little Girl her favorite stuffed Floppy Puppy. They went down the long, dark hall into the nap room. The Wolf King watched them go.

He stayed in the living room. That hall is really long. And dark. He laid his royal nose on his powerful paws. He started to doze.

And then he heard it.

Little Girl was crying. The Wolf King lifted his head.

She was making that choky sobbing noise that he hated so much. There were words in her choking cry. He tilted his head to the right, and then to the left. What was she saying?

“Huck” she coughed. “Hucky..” she choked. He heard the sound of WomanWhoFeedsMe, gently cooing, trying to calm the little girl.

The Wolf King rose slowly to his feet. His back hurt. His back legs were shaky and his spine was making creaky noises.

He took one step toward the long, scary hall.

“Tuck…Tucky….hhum!”

He heard it. He heard the sound of Little Girl, calling his name. She was telling him to “come.”

The Wolf King gave one soft whine. Really?, he was asking. You really want me to walk all the way down that hall?

“Tucky…hum!”

He gave a sigh. He shook himself, from head to tail. He walked down the hall, really slowly. Past the dark, scary doorways, over the creepy scary reflections of light. He moved forward.

He would not be afraid.

Little Girl needed him. She WANTED him. He would not fail in his duty.

The Wolf King made his way to the nap room. He walked to the bed and rested his chin on the mattress.

“Tucky!!!” Little Girl cried, coughed and reached out one small hand to touch his warm head. “Tucky.”

“mmmmm,” the Wolf King answered as he lowered himself slowly to the floor beside her bed.

“Tucky…” she murmured as she curled into the arms of WomanWhoFeedsMe. She fell asleep.

So did he.

IMG_20170317_161928

Mutual admiration…

What I miss every day


 

imgres

“Hand in that homework or else!”

I retired from teaching almost two years ago.

It wasn’t exactly a planned retirement. In fact, the decision came in mid May of my last year. It came after my evaluating administrator made it real clear that I was going to be rated as a bad teacher, even though for the previous 21 years I had only had great evaluations.

It came after the Principal at my school accidentally let it slip that I was on his short list of “old teachers who need to be eased out the door.”

The timing for me was good. My first child, my daughter, my teaching colleague, was due to deliver her first child. The problem of finding good childcare was on all of our minds.

When I realized that I was going to be the target of intense pressure to move my old fashioned ass out of our school, it wasn’t hard for me to decide to retire and take on the role of full time daycare provider for my new grandchild.

I made the move. The year ended. I left.

I took on the role of Nonni with love and joy and a huge sense of gratitude. I had never been able to be a stay at home Mom, and now I was able to give myself fully to the daily raising of a beloved child.

But.

I miss teaching. I miss it so much.

I was a good teacher. I was a teacher who connected with kids. I loved my job. I loved my students, so much. I loved their humor, their warmth, their vulnerability.

I remember so many kids who made me smile. Kids who only wanted to sit beside me. Kids who thrived because I greeted them in the morning and asked them how last night’s game had gone.

I loved their sassiness, the way that they challenged me. I remember kids who sat in front of me with tears in their eyes as they said, with shaky voices, “Yeah, but I disagree.”

I loved helping them find the best parts of themselves. I remember the shy children who lead the morning meeting. I remember the unpopular kids who directed our class plays. I remember the moments when the very cool kids independently reached out to the struggling kids.

Every night, I dream of school. Every night. I dream of teaching. I dream of my colleagues and my friends. I dream of rooms full of smiling kids.

Every night I dream that someone is trying to keep me out of my classroom. Or that it is my last day of teaching, and I have to say goodbye to the kids, but in every dream there is no real way for me to do that.

I dream that I am on the outside of school, looking in at kids I loved so much. I dream that I am a substitute teacher, but that no one one knows I’m a “real” teacher inside. I see myself on the edges of my old life. I feel myself sobbing as I say goodbye to a line of children I once knew.

I love my new life. I am happy to be at home with Ellie.

But, oh, man. I so miss read aloud. And birthday songs. And recess. I so miss those moments when the kids light up about a history lesson.

I miss the social connections. I miss the afternoon game. I miss the greetings. The math lessons. I miss the bursting out laughing with 24 people who all share the joke.

I was a good teacher.

It should have lasted longer.

 

Memories of a snowy school day


Happy snow day to everyone living in the Northeastern U.S. It’s been pouring down hard all day, and we’re enjoying time by the fire.

Of course, now that I’m retired from teaching, a snow day is a mixed blessing. I get the day all to myself…yay! But I get the day with no beautiful granddaughter…boo.

I was lying in bed this morning, watching the snow falling out my window. I was thinking back on past storms, past snowy memories. Thinking of the times I enjoyed the snow with my own kids and the kids in my classroom.

There is one particular school day memory that still makes me smile.

It had snowed hard the evening before, but the roads were clear by dawn, so school was open. It was the first significant snow of the winter, and everyone was talking about it when they arrived.

I was standing in my classroom, teaching math, I think. The kids were restless. Feet were tapping, pencils were being rolled on desks. They weren’t misbehaving, but their minds were clearly not on multiplying fractions. I tried to pep things up a bit with made up word problems using their names, but it didn’t help.

I caught one little boy sitting with his chin in his hand. His face was aimed at me, and he was sitting quietly in his seat. But his bright blue eyes kept cutting to the window.

I looked outside myself.

The sky was the same china blue as my student’s eyes. The sun was shining down on a scene of perfect, pristine, sparkling snow.

Our playground didn’t have a single footprint on it.

I glanced at the clock. Two hours until recess.

Without saying anything, I suddenly closed my math book and snapped off the Smartboard. The kids sat up straighter in surprise. Every eye was on me.

Were they in trouble? What was going on? Why would a fifth grade teacher suddenly stop teaching in the middle of a math lesson?

“OK, gang.” I said, reaching under my desk for my boots. “Get your coats and snow gear on, quickly. If we move fast, we can be the first ones to hit the playground.”

The sound and the sight of those 24 ten year olds bursting through the back doors and racing across the snow has stayed with me for the past 10 years, as clear as can be.

They were the embodiment of pure joy.

I just stood there in the sun, watching them jump and kick and roll in that perfect snow.

For a little while, I felt like the greatest teacher in the world. I felt like a hero.

I hope some of them remember that morning. I hope they remember what it felt like to let go and just give in to happiness.

I’m sure they all went on to eventually master fractions.

But I hope they remember that sometimes it’s important to drop the book and just get jump in the perfect snow.

 

A Puppy, A Baby and a Sleepy Old Nonni


One of the many pleasures of being a ‘stay at home Nonni’ is that I get to nap when Ellie does.

I have always loved naps. Always.

My dad was a wonderful napper. He could close his eyes and sleep for 15 minutes and wake up completely refreshed.

I get this talent from him.

When Ellie was very small, we used to nap together in the recliner. I’d hold her in my arms and we’d both drift off.

Now she’s too big for that to be safe, so now we lie down together on my bed. She goes to sleep, and I read or write. Sometimes (OK, pretty much every day) I fall asleep , too.

Today was one of those challenging days, when you’re not sure you can make it all work. It was snowing hard when the puppy woke me up at 6. I stayed awake checking the school closings. Would Kate have to drive to school? Would she be able to go in late?

I finally realized that her school schedule was unchanged, which meant that mine was, too. I made the coffee and headed out into the icy snow/rain mix to get my granddaughter.

It was a long, slow, slog to her house and back, a round trip of about 10 miles. At least we turned into our driveway, and I gave the old Colonial America cheer, “Huzzah!”  To my joy and pleasure, Ellie yelled it right back at me.

The day was fine, but by the time I saw Ellie rubbing her eyes at about 2 o’clock, I was ready and willing to rest. I had already cooked, served and cleaned up both breakfast and lunch. I had wrestled Lennie for possession of 4 boots, 6 socks, a mitten, 43 toys and one winter coat.

I was more than ready to bring Ellie into my bedroom for a nice nap. The problem was that Lennie was NOT in nap mode.

He was running in circles around us, grabbing at the blankets, my book, the pillow…..

I tried offering a treat. “Good boy, Lennie, good dog. Lie down!”  No good.

I tried putting down a nice warm blanket. “Lennie, time to rest!”  No good at all; he tried to eat it.

Finally, I had had it. Ellie was whining, wanting a book. My back was aching. It was snowing outside and I wanted to LIE THE HELL DOWN.

So I turned to the puppy and snarled, “LIE THE HELL DOWN!”

To my shock, he did.

Ellie and I settled in, read “Good night Moon” and she fell asleep. I wrote an article for LiberalAmerica, and then I went to sleep, too.

And when I woke up, Ellie was still snoozing, her soft curly hair moving with her gentle breaths.

I looked over the side of the bed.

There was my baby Lennie, curled into the shape of a snail. And right beside him, curled up in the exact same shape, only three times larger, was my old dog, Tucker. Side by side on one doggie bed.

I lay back down, listening to the combined sounds of two sleeping dogs and one sleeping baby girl.

Life can be so unexpectedly perfect, you know?

img_20161121_123656