Pulling An All-nighter


When my three beloved babies grew up and moved out, I was devastated. Bereft. Heartbroken.

I told myself that I would spend the rest of my life missing every beautiful moment of motherhood. “Oh, woe is me!” I cried to the universe and my every patient husband, “How I will miss those little moments of mother love!”  I just knew, with every fiber of my overly emotional soul that I would miss EVERY SINGLE THING about spending time with little ones!

I was, of course, completely delusional.

In my grief over missing the hugs, kisses, and bedtime stories, I forgot about the fevers, tantrums and midnight pukies.

But guess what?

Now I remember!

Yesterday my grandkids were here, as they are every weekday while their parents work. Two year old Ellie wasn’t looking so good in the morning, as pale as milk and droopy eyed. She wanted extra hugs and snuggles, though, so I didn’t make too much of it. Her baby brother, the red cheeked, ever grinning Johnny, was as robust as ever.

Then their Mom texted to say she was heading home from work. She was sick herself, so could I keep the kids until the end of the work day? Of course I could! I was happy to watch my beautiful little ones so Momma could get over her norovirus. In fact, I had an inspiration!

“Why don’t we keep Ellie here for the night?” asked the generous and kind Nonni. I pictured us snuggled up under the covers, her arm around my neck. I pictured her eating breakfast and chatting with me and Papa. Visions of happiness danced in my head.

Mom and Dad agreed to my plan, with gratitude, and I cheerfully made dinner for Ellie, Papa and I. We ate, we baked butterscotch cookies. We watched a movie, got our pj’s on, and snuggled into bed.

Perfect. Just absolutely perfect. Right down to the goodnight kisses and that little arm around my neck.

Then reality pokes its grimy, nasty head into the room.

The little body next to me turned as hot as a stove. The arm around my neck became a vise. The “I love you, Nonnis” turned into “I want you to walk away RIGHT NOW!”

The next 9 hours consisted of taking her temperature (“OWWWWW!!!! YOU’RE HURTING ME!!!”), giving her Tylenol, (“I want MORE tasty medicine!!!!!”), and trying to decode the meaning of the sob coated screams (“PICK! UP! MY! BLGHRUMNAH!”)

Every once in a while, we’d both fall asleep, and then the neck choking and fever rantings would start again. Ellie would whimper, “I need water…” and I’d fumble around on the bedside table, invariably knocking over the water bottle. Plop myself out of bed, find the water, hand it to her, try to stay upright while she drank, put the water back.

Repeat.

Sometimes it would seem as if we’d been asleep for a while. When Ellie’s whimpers would start again, I’d think to myself, “It’s OK. We’ve probably been asleep for a few hours.” I’d fumble around for the phone and my glasses, and check the time.

“Gah!!! It’s only been 13 minutes!!”

That must have happened at least ten times. There was the time when I had to turn on a light to locate the missing Elmo (hiding from all the noise under the quilt). And the moment when she kicked me in the chin while trying to figure out why she was all turned around.

We made it until morning, when I was awakened by a warm cheek on mine. “Wake up time now, Nonni.”

It was a long and grueling night, that’s for damn sure. But I learned a few things during those uncomfortable hours.

I learned that there are definitely aspects of motherhood that I do not miss.

I learned that the old adage about grandparenting is true; one of the best parts is that you get to send them home.

I learned that taking care of little ones is a young woman’s game.

Now I’m sitting here in my flannel pants with a plate of butterscotch cookies, enjoying the silence and wondering how many naps is too many for one day.

 

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The Universality of Motherhood


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When I was a new mother, I felt sorry for every other Mom on earth. I felt badly for them, because they didn’t have MY little one to love. I felt sorry for them because I knew, deep deep down in my heart, that there was no possible way that they could love their babies as much as I loved mine.

I was a jerk.

OK, I was a jerk in the most life affirming way, believing that my kids were the most beautiful, most beloved little beings in the universe. But, let’s face it, I was a delusional, mother-hormone-crazy woman.

Now I know the truth.

Now I know that ALL mothers love their babies just as intensely and profoundly as I loved mine.

I know because I see it every day.

I leave my house every morning and drive for 15 minutes to pick up my grandchildren for the day. I wind through the little streets of our small community. I stop every day for the school bus that seems to inevitably be right in front of me.

So I have had many, many mornings to watch the moms in our community putting the kids on the bus. I’ve come to look forward to seeing them every day. I watch how they interact with their young children.

And I know that no matter who they are, they adore those sweet little munchkins heading off to school.

There is one Mom who has caught my eye this school year. She stand outside every morning, rain or shine. She looks to be in her late 30s or early 40s. She is round, in both face and form. He hair is dark, thick, and curly, like my daughter’s. Her skin is a light coffee color, and her eyes are wide and dark. Although I usually only see her as I pass slowly by the bus stop, I know that she spends these precious before school moments with her son. She looks at him. They grin at each other. One day I saw them dancing.

I have seen them standing in the humid mornings of September, gazing up at the yellow leaves above them. I’ve watched them hold each other under a big black umbrella on rainy mornings. I’ve seen him running around his Mom, grinning and calling something that I couldn’t hear. I’ve seen her laughing at him as he does.

And I’ve seen this woman waving, and waving, and blowing kisses as her boy climbs the steps of the big yellow bus and settles into his seat.

I’ve watched her stand with a hand shading her eyes as she waves him off to school.

And I know that she loves this happy little curly headed boy just as much as I loved my own first born. I know that wherever she goes after he gets onto that bus, she is thinking of him all day long.

I don’t know this woman. She wouldn’t ever recognize me. Still, I know that we share the universal bond of crazy pants mother love.

She probably feels bad for all the other Mom’s she meets, too. Thinking how sad it is for them that they don’t have her little guy to love.

 

What I thought was lost


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It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It’s cold outside. I’m home alone, resting, looking back, feeling nostalgic.

I started looking through old photos, seeing my three sweet kids when they were little. When they were home. And that got me thinking about my two little grandchildren. The happy little souls who spend every week day here with me. And I was reminded of all the little joys that come with caring for children.

There are so many tiny moments every day that make me smile. Things I thought I would never experience again. Little things that I thought were lost to me once my own kids grew up.

But they weren’t lost at all! And I get to do them again now, treasuring every moment. Here’s a list of some of those little daily gifts.

  1. Brushing and braiding hair. Ellie’s hair is a miracle of shiny curls. I’m obsessed with it. I get to brush it at least once a day, then I ask her what style she wants and we chat about clips and hair ties. I love those five minutes every day! hair
  2. Bath time. I don’t get to do this every day, but when we get muddy, or we fingerpaint, or someone is learning to eat bananas on his own, I fill that tub with warm water and bubbles. And I get to hold warm, clean, wiggly little bodies wrapped in soft towels. I get to kiss the water off of little noses. Back breaking, for sure, but still something I am so grateful to still enjoy!towel
  3. Watching babies and toddlers eat. Maybe it’s the Italian in me, but there are few things that give me a warmer feeling than watching babies eat. This is especially true, of course, if I’ve cooked whatever it is! I never thought I’d have the pleasure of serving up nice warm, buttery pasta to a little one again! Johnnyspoon
  4. Holding a sleeping baby. If you’ve ever done it, you know why I missed it so much after my babies grew up. The soft, even breathing, the warmth of the skin against my cheek, the scent of baby hair. When I hold my grandchildren as they sleep, the years disappear. The world disappears. selfie sleep
  5. Those “I love you” moments. What can I say? My heart….A smile, a hug, a little hand on each of my cheeks. A little head resting on my arm. “Oh, my Nonni. I love you so much!”

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What a lucky do-over!

The Pros and Cons of Being a Childcare Nonni


I am the luckiest woman in the world. Bar none. Honest to goodness, I mean it.

I have been given the huge honor and privilege of taking care of my grandchildren Monday – Friday while their parents are working. It’s been a blast, and I love it. I do!

But you know what?

Now that I am home every day with a smart, sassy, articulate, imaginative two year old and a chubby, happy, drooly 4 month old, I am realizing that there are HUGE pros and cons to this whole thing. Upsides and downsides to being the primary daytime caregiver that I never even thought about when I first told my daughter that I wanted the job.

I mean, if you have ever been a parent, you will know that there are at least a million tiny details that you never anticipated. And they hit you in the face every single day.

From the point of view of a grandmother, these details can make or break your child caring experience.

For example, here are some of the positive daily events that I could never have predicted:

  • The unexpected grins of joy that flood the babies’ faces when they see me. There is nothing on this beautiful, green earth that matches the feeling you get when your grandchild’s face lights up at the sight of you.
  • That moment when your grandchild asks for you to provide the only possible comfort. “Hold me!” “Snuggle me!” “I need you…”  Sigh…… A person could live off this feeling without ever resorting to actual food for sustenance.
  • Potty training is hilarious. Today Ellie and I had this exchange as I tried to put her into bed for her nap. “Hey, Nonni! I feel a poop in my belly. It feels like a big one! Let’s go, hurry!”  Off to the bathroom we went, and she sat herself on the pink princess potty, where she narrated the events. “Oh, I feel it! It feels like a big one! Here it comes!” Then she stood up with pride to look over her product. Alas, she was a bit let down. But it was still hysterical. “Oh, you’re just a little guy! I’ll pour you out, into the toilet.” (And she did) “Bye, bye, little guy! I’m sending you home!”  Who ever thought that poop would be so funny?

But of course there are the cons to think about, too.

  • There are moments when your grandchild looks at your much beloved face, then wrinkles his face into a mask of horror and cries like his heart is broken. This may be due to the fact that you can’t actually provide breast milk direct from the source. Or it might be just because he or she really, really, really wants Mommy, and for all your loveliness, you are. Not. Her.
  • Sometimes the exact moment when your best beloved grandchild wants you to snuggle/cuddle/warm me up/hold me happens to be the exact moment when you finally have a chance to heat up that burrito. Or worse yet, when your laxative has finally kicked in. (You are, after all, getting on in years.)
  • There are times when nobody in the entire neighborhood seems interested in a nap except for you. You will, to your great shame, find yourself gently placing the baby in the swing and turning it up to 5 while you whisper a prayer to Winken, Blinken and Nod. You will also find yourself skipping entire pages in the nap book just so you can get the toddler to lie down before the baby wakes up. If you are not careful, you will also find yourself snoring on the couch with a dirty diaper on your chest for the entire 7 minutes while both babies are napping.
  • Toilet training might be funny at times, but it is also disgusting, frustrating and filled with moments of wicked nausea. There WILL be pee on your rug, your couch, your bed, your newly washed laundry and probably your dog. There WILL be poop on the floor, the pants, the edge of the toilet and in many many of your daily conversations. Get used to it.

Child number one will no doubt move past the toilet issues just in time for child two to take them up.

But rejoice! You will still get the hugs, the songs, the angelic smiles and the sweeter-than-any-honey kisses.

And they will erase every muscle ache, every yawn, every poopie rug and every toddler tantrum.

You’ll be exhausted, but you’ll be happy.

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Eventually, they all sleep.

 

 

“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.

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I only kiss Elmo.

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.

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“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!

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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.

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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.

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A life lesson…for Nonni


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

I know the buzzwords.

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

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

We lived our childhood lives, our parents lived theirs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was all about that idea.

Until this morning.

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

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

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

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

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

Then I thought about “grit” and resilience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“New Elmo!” my brain ordered.

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

I thought about Emmo and his shattered plastic eyeballs.

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

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

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

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

She was not fooled.

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

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

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

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

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

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