“Let’s Pretend…..”


Once upon a time, when I was young, I loved to pretend. I loved to imagine that I was someone other the same old boring me. With just those words, “Let’s pretend,” my old bike turned into a wild stallion, and my suburban streets were instantly the wild and dusty west.

I remember, so well, those hours spent riding our horses across the west, racing to get to the next pioneer outpost.

“Let’s pretend,” I’d say, and my best friend would turn into Paul McCartney’s sister. We’d grab tennis racket guitars and hair brush mics and take off on our own version of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”

There was a time when I slipped easily from reality to pretend and back again.

But let’s be honest. Those days were more than a half century in my past.

It isn’t so easy to shed my rigid old skin these days. When there’s laundry to fold, dishes to wash and emails to check, it’s really hard to jump into the world of fantasy.

But you know what?

Sometimes it’s worth it to ignore the dryer, let the dishes soak and tell the messages to wait.

Because I spend all day with my toddler grandchildren, I have at least 700 chances every day to relive my childhood.

Today was one of those days, where both of my grandkids were completely invested in playing “Rescue Riders.” We try not to watch too much TV, but when we do turn it on, this show is one of our favorites. It has brave kids, funny dragons, simple problems and lots of bright colors.

God help me, I have even heard myself making comments like, ‘Burple wouldn’t fight the Slinkwings.’ as we discuss the latest episode.

So what could I do when Ellie turned those huge brown eyes on me, and said, “We’re playing Rescue Riders! You are Chief Duggar!”

I pretended to be the Chief, of course. Ellie was one dragon, Johnny another. We raced around the house, shouting things like, “Oh, no!!! I’m caught in a cave with Elbone!” and “Winger is getting sick with the Dreaded Dragon Flu!”

Maybe it was because it’s been a tough week, but I had to throw myself fully into my role. It could have come from a desire to prevent the two year old from belting the four year old. Perhaps I was hoping to stop the four year old from whining and sobbing at every move made by the two year old.

Or maybe the laundry and dishes and bills and news alerts and school shootings and impeachments had Nonni feeling like she just wasn’t up to facing reality today. Whatever the cause, I found myself free to throw myself fully into the pretending and the fantasy roles.

It was fairly exhausting, to tell you the truth. After a while I was getting a definite headache.

But then “Chief Duggar” got trapped in a cave, and I found myself hiding in a closet. I heard the “Rescue Riders” searching all through the house and found myself in the darkness, behind the coats and shirts, trying not to giggle.

When at last the two little dragons found me, and opened the door to my “cave,” all three of us burst into the kind of honest, deep, belly laughing joy that rarely happens in the life of an older lady. We laughed so hard that we were crying.

I found myself sitting on my guest room floor, with a laughing little one in each arm. I kissed those sweet, sweet heads and pulled them in against me.

I have no doubt that at some point tomorrow my back will ache from hiding, my foot will hurt from running, and I will be heartily sick of pretending.

Still.

It was worth it.

It was so so so worth it.

As I head off to bed tonight, I’m going to try to remember the feel of riding that stallion across the wild west.

Toddlerhood Ain’t For Sissies


I know that most people think childhood is just one big party. You get to sleep a lot, watch cartoons, be carried around whenever you get tired. There are all those toys, crayons, dress up clothes.

Sounds sweet, right?

Most people I talk to think that the hardest thing about toddlers is having to take are of them.

And as an aging woman who takes of 2 or 3 toddlers every day, I understand.

But here’s what I have been thinking about lately.

It is no picnic to be a kid between the ages of 1 and 5. I get to see, up close and personal, how much stress there is on those little toddlers.

Think about this:

When you’re a little kid, you have almost no control over the world you inhabit. You can’t get your own food when you’re hungry. If one of the grownups in your life finally agrees that you can have a snack, they might hand you a string cheese when you are desperately craving a bowl of cereal.

If you aren’t yet toilet trained, you have to spend a certain amount of time every single day sitting in your own pee and poop. You can’t go outside when you want some air. You can’t have ten minutes to yourself, because the adults are afraid you’ll eat a toy or fall down the stairs. You get to lie down and get some rest only when one of those grownups decides that it’s time.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “Why not just ask for what you want?,” you sniff.

But toddlers can’t do that. In the first place, they most often don’t have the language to express the subtleties. My little grandson, at the tender age of 2, can tell me, “Me hungry.” But he can’t say, “I’m feeling a little run down. Maybe I need some protein.” He can’t say, “I’m not actually physically hungry, but I need a little taste boost. How bout some popcorn?”

Nope. He can’t yet get past, “Me hungry. Have a cereal bar?” I might say yes, but more often I’ll say “no” because his Mom and I are trying to be careful about sugar consumption. I might offer him a cracker or an apple.

At this point, he is likely to have a bit of a meltdown. Remember, he is hungry, and has physical feelings that he can’t recognize or understand. And even if he did, he can’t articulate it.

And even if he COULD tell me, “I am craving something sweet and filling,” he doesn’t have the power to make that happen. He has to depend on me to understand him and to grant his request.

Yeesh. That never happens to adults.

So language is one huge obstacle that toddlers face every single day. But the stresses of human interactions are even harder.

If you have ever spent more than 4 minutes with a couple of toddlers, you have heard dozens of variations on “That’s not fair.”

It might happen when the kids decide to play with a bunch of trolls. “But I WANT the one with the pink hair!” will be met with “But I got the pink hair troll FIRST!!!!” As the adult in charge, you are very very likely to respond with something like, “But there are 64 trolls in the basket.” or “You need to learn to share the pink haired troll.”

I’m pretty sure that what the toddlers hear is this: “You can’t have what you want. You have to give up your dream.” The toddler, at the tender age of three, does not think “big picture”. He does not think, “I can always get the pink hair later.”

Nope.

If your entire life is only 30 months long, you don’t have the same sense of time perspective that all those frowny grownups have. What happens right now is all that exists for these little guys.

It’s an incredibly frustrating thing for adult caregivers to mediate. I get it. Here’s an example of a real life experience in my house this week, when three toddlers were having a snack.

“Can I have popcorn?”

“I want popcorn, too!”

“Can I have cereal? No want popcorn.”

Nonni dishes out the snacks.

“No, I wanted the yellow bowl!”

“But I want the yellow bowl! That’s my favorite color!”

“No, it’s MY favorite color!”

“Me don’t want cereal. Want popcorn. Inna yellow bowl.”

Naturally, Nonni tried to mediate this situation, pointing out that the popcorn would taste the same no matter what color the bowl happened to be.

The kids, because they are kind and well meaning, went along with it. But once again, I think the world must have felt just a bit out of their control.

If you spend time with children in this age group, you will know that nearly every conversation includes some kind of negotiation. Every interaction includes a decision about what to play (“Want to play Elsa and Anna?} as well as who will play which role (“I am Elsa.” “No, I want to be Elsa! You are Anna!”) . Every interaction includes some sharing of materials. (“I’m using this playdoh shape!” “But I NEED that shape!”}

And you know that every ten minutes or so (if you are a very lucky caregiver), someone has to scream out loud that someone else is hitting/grabbing/yelling/ignoring/refusing/arguing/wrecking everything.

As an adult, this feels ridiculous, stupid, pointless and endlessly repetitive.

But you know what?

As a small, powerless, tender little being who spends all day trying to learn the rules, find the words, gain some control and still be loved, these interactions are the biggest thing in life.

I have one example to share with you from my day today.

My grandson, only two years and 5 months old, played all morning with a four year old friend. They argued, screamed, played, laughed, fought, argued and yelled.

The friend went off to preschool, and my four year old granddaughter came home. Now my little guy was put in the position of negotiating with a whole new big kid. A big kid with different ideas, different needs and different words than the one who had been here all morning.

At one point, my grandson argued with his sister and ended up scratching her. She shrieked. I approached. I told him that he couldn’t hurt anyone, and I told him to go to the “time out” chair.

Now, this wasn’t his first trip to the chair, and he usually sits quietly for one minute and expresses his remorse.

This time, though, little Johnny burst into tears and collapsed onto the floor. He was sobbing, so I went to him. He leaned his forehead against mine, and put his arms around my neck. Through his tears, he whispered, “How bout if you just rock me instead, Nonni? Me so so tired.”

So I did.

And it made me think about the long, stressful day that this sweet little boy had put in up to that point.

All I could think was that toddlerhood is a pretty tough row to hoe.

It ain’t for sissies, that’s for sure.

Love is Weird


I love this mess. Really.

I don’t mean that romantic kind of love that makes you agree to watch endless basketball games just because the Celtics were wicked good at the time. That love makes you feel as if your soul is melting into another soul, and that you are now the owners of the first mutual love soul ever.

And I don’t mean the kind of love that you give to your dog, because he’s just so incredibly doggie. That love has no strings, no thoughts, no need to measure for reciprocity.

No.

I mean the kind of love that you think will be less intense, but turns out to be enough to pull your heart right out of your soul.

I’m thinking about the love that parents feel for their children. The kind of love that makes us sit up at 2AM, gazing into the eyes of someone who can’t even focus on our faces yet, thinking that we would happily give our own lives to insure that this person would continue breathing.

It’s the love that makes parents buy the food that their children love. The love that makes us choose orange juice with no pulp for a full 25 years, even though we really like the pulpy juice ourselves.

I’m talking about the love that makes us put up paper ghosts and orange blinking lights in October, even though we are in our sixth decade of life.

Love is weird.

Love makes us happy to play in the dirt when our backs hurt. It makes us laugh at “Captain Underpants”, even though we’ve retired from teaching and don’t have to pretend any more.

I’m talking about the kind of love that makes us happy to deal with poopy diapers, and drooling babies, and dropped crumbs. It’s the love that makes us so incredibly happy to finally get to the weekend, when the kids will be at home with Mom and Dad for a couple of days. And it’s the love that makes us irritable on Sunday night, because we can’t wait to get the kids back here into our kitchen.

Love is weird.

Love makes us willing and eager to buy candy googly eyes so we can make cupcakes next week. It makes us happy to order a case of food coloring, thinking of baths and playdough and cookies to come.

It is the love that makes all of the aches and pain, all of the stress and worry, all of the whining and crying simply fade away with one big hug.

Love is weird.

I’m so so happy that I have a chance to feel that ridiculous sappiness every day.

How We Talk to Our Kids


I’ve spent a lot of my adult life with little kids. I was blessed with three kids of my own, and now I am the daycare provider for my two grandchildren.

In between those lucky adventures, I’ve also been a teacher, a speech pathologist and a babysitter for a few extra kids.

I’ve been to dozens of professional development classes, countless meetings about child development and a ton of visits with friends and their kids.

In all that time, I’ve learned a lot.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the way we talk to our kids. I’ve been paying attention to what we adults say to our children in everyday interactions.

I’m not impressed, truthfully.

Let me put it this way. Let’s pretend that the words we say to our kids every day were said to us instead.

Pretend that you are about to head off for a day at work. You’ve showered, dressed, eaten breakfast, grabbed your work bag. You embrace your spouse for a kiss goodbye, and hear them say, “Now you be a good person today.”

Huh?

Wouldn’t you think, “Wait a minute! Do you think that I’m NOT a good person?”

What if you were about to head off to a meeting, and you heard your boss say, “Be a good listener. Don’t give the presenter any trouble!”

You would be furious, I have no doubt. But you’d also probably feel pretty damn insecure. You’d ask yourself, “Why does my boss think I’m going to be a bad listener and a troublemaker?”

We do this to our kids all the time.

All. The. Time.

As parents drop kids off at daycare, school, music classes, swim class, they most often kiss the little one and then give a warning. “Be a good boy today!” or “You listen to your teacher!”

When they pick those children up after a day of playing with friends, most parents ask, “Were you a good girl today?”

We do this because we feel like it’s required. We feel like this is the right way to help our children become responsible adults.

But it isn’t.

Instead of giving our children the idea that we suspect them of bad behavior every day, why don’t we give them the message that we trust them and believe in them?

I think of my son-in-law, who brings his two toddlers to me every day. He never tells them to be good. Instead, he kisses them, tells them that he loves them, and says, “Have fun today!”

The message to those kids is this: I know that you’re a wonderful person. I know that you will be as kind and as thoughtful as any toddler. My wish for you is a day of fun and happiness.

It isn’t about obedience. It isn’t asking children to behave well in all settings.

It gives kids a happy, hopeful, self-affirming message.

So how about this, just as a suggestion.

As we drop our little ones off at daycare/preschool/kindergarten, why don’t we say something like this:

“Have a fun day, honey! I’m so proud of what a great listener you are! I can’t wait to hear about how you shared with your friends today!”

The way that we talk to our children shapes their views of themselves. It shapes their belief in our expectations. Our words truly do shape the people that our children will become.

I am reminded of my very last school field trip. I was one of three fifth grade teachers taking our students to Olde Sturbridge Village. As the bus pulled up to the entrance, I stood in the aisle at the front of the bus.

“Boys and girls,” I said, “I hope that you all have a wonderful time today. I wanted to tell you that I am so proud to be your teacher. You are a great group of kids, so kind and so respectful. I’m so lucky to have a class that I know will impress all of the adults here. Go and have fun!”

One of the Mom’s on the trip turned to me with wide eyes, and said, “Wow. Even I want to be good just to make you proud! That was genius!”

But it wasn’t.

It was common sense.

We all want to hear good things about ourselves. We want our spouse to tell us, “Have a great day, honey!” We want our boss to say, “I’m glad you’re the one going to this meeting.”

We believe what people tell us about ourselves, especially when we are only babies, taking our first tentative steps out into the wide world.

Let’s stop warning our kids and telling them that we don’t trust them. Let’s tell them that we trust them to be the wonderful people we know they can be.

PERFECT day


We went to the beach today.

It was the first time since February that I found myself afloat in the Atlantic ocean.

Perfect.

The kids were so excited to be there, even though the waves were a little bit daunting. I was with my daughter and one of her best friends. Two fabulous moms at the beach with their happy, excited, beautiful kids.

The sun was out. There was a gentle breeze. Fish were feeding off shore and terns were diving.

We met families celebrating 4th birthdays, families from abroad, families of young people who were clearly just starting out. There were other grandparents, smiling with joy at their little ones.

There was salt. And sand covered fruit. And the booming of the waves. And the sound of children and gulls screaming together.

It was a perfect day.

I floated. I jumped in the waves. I made sand castles with Ellie and pushed a toy beach buggy down the sand with Johnny. I jumped through the surf with Hazel. I laughed with three little children, and shared my lunch with all of them.

I spent the day with my firstborn child, my amazing and beautiful daughter.

I am undeservedly lucky, and humbled by that fact.

It was one PERFECT. DAY.

First Day of Summer


Well, happy Solstice, everyone! Yay! It’s finally summer, for real!

The days get shorter from here.

Sigh.

I guess you can see how ambivalent I am about the end of the school year. Now that I’m no longer a classroom teacher, the end of the year is less about having time off and more about feeling at loose ends.

My daughter has the summer off, which means I won’t have my grandkids here for a few weeks.

I mean, I am very, very happy to have some time to rest and recuperate. I love watching my grandkids every day. I really, really do!! Toddlers are magical!

Exhaustingly magical.

So I obviously need some time to catch up on sleep. I need time to organize all these art supplies, old toys, and dried out play doh. I want to garden and read and maybe finally submit some writing somewhere. Summer is a good thing!

On the other hand, it’s amazing how dull it can be when the only one to talk to around here is me. I’m somewhat less riveting than I thought.

So day one is coming to a close. I’ve watched the news, read a lot, argued and snarked at people on social media and done four loads of wash.

Yay, me.

Now what?

I need to figure out how to fill my hours without the kids here to say, “Nonni, watch!” and “Nonni, guess what?” I need to feel useful without serving food every hour on the hour to hungry kids.

At least I have the dogs for company.

But you know what?

Both Lennie and Bentley spent this entire first day of summer wandering from room to room looking for the kids. They both spent a ton of time sitting in front of me with their big, sad, hound-doggy eyes.

We took a walk. They liked that!

But then we came home and they both went from bedroom to bedroom to kitchen to the deck. They both sighed. They both turned in circles. They gazed out the window. They chewed on their nylabones, but you could tell their hearts weren’t in it.

It’s going to be a long summer, pups. No kids until September, at least not on a regular basis. No games. No laughing. No sweet snuggly little girls to wrap an arm around your furry necks. No giggly little boy for you to chase down the hall.

Most importantly, no dropped cheese for many long weeks.

What are we gonna do?

You mean….nobody will be dropping string cheese?
I kinda need a hug.

Perfect?


My little Ellie has started to use the word “perfect” lately, and it makes me uncomfortable.

She says it when she has worked hard to make a picture that she thinks is realistic.

“Nonni!”, she will call, “Look at my perfect polar bear!”

Now, Ellie is not quite four years old. While her artistic instincts are wonderful, her artistic realism is still somewhat lacking.

And so I hesitate to embrace the concept of “perfect.”

“Wow!” I always say, “That is a very original polar bear!”

Or a very interesting puppy. Or a wicked cool camping trip.

Whatever.

I just try to back off the whole idea of “perfect.” I have seen too many little children striving for “perfect” to ever feel at ease with either the phrase or the concept.

Art is, above all else, NOT perfect. Art is perception. It is emotion. It is my truth offered up to all of you. It is not a perfectly rendered reproduction; that would be a photograph.

And ‘perfect’ has even less meaning when it comes to the literary arts. What is a “perfect” story? A “perfect” poem? As a classroom teacher, I steered away from that word every day. As a parent, I used every possible synonym before I ever went with “perfect”.

As a Nonni, I am even more committed to making sure that my grandkids understand that perfection is a pointless goal. It can never be reached, but it can become a lifetime obsession.

So I rarely think in terms of perfection. I shudder, in fact, when I find myself falling into the lure of it’s siren call.

But guess what?

At the ripe old age of 63, on a day when I was fighting off a cold, cranky from lack of sleep, looking forward to my summer respite, I think I accidentally stumbled upon perfection.

It happened like this.

I was tired, dealing with a sore throat and achy muscles. Today was very warm and pretty muggy. I took my two little grandkids outside to play. My thought was to let them ride bikes and throw balls and I would sit in the shade and read The Grapes of Wrath.

But the kids had other ideas. They rode bikes across the lawn. They pulled up dandelions, blowing the seeds across the yard and screaming with joy. They used binoculars to find my giant rhododendron.

“Nonni!”, they crowed, “Watch! Look! Come play!”

I was pulled in to the vortex of their energy. Every little tiny thing in this beautiful spring time world is a miracle to them! And they shared it with me, oblivious to my fatigue.

Isn’t that wonderful? I had no choice but to become a part of their play, to become completely present in their little miracles.

We turned on the hose, and they raced across the muddy lawn, following “the stream that goes to the sea!”. They twirled, and jumped and threw up their arms in pure pleasure.

For them, these few moments were everything. They were the world. The cold water, the hot sun, the squishy, joyous feeling of mud between the toes. The yard became the universe. They were it’s center.

When they screamed out, “Nonni!!!! Jump in the mud!” they pulled me in to that moment of perfection.

And as I danced on the driveway, feeling the slippery mud between my toes, following the cold stream from the hose as it made its way across the pavement, I was surprised to hear this one word spoken inside my head.

“Perfect.”

Say My Name, Say My Name


Oh, jeez, Nonni.

Get a freakin’ grip.

I remember a time when I was very young, one of six children clamoring around my Mom. I remember her barking at us all, “Stop yelling “Mom”! Stop, you’re making me crazy!!!! I’m gonna change my name and not tell you what the new one is!”

At the time, afraid that my Mom was about to disappear on us, my siblings and I cried and moaned and tried to guess her new name. It was pretty harrowing.

Of course, I now realize that the entire time as we were crying and guessing her new name, we were all yelling, “Mom? Momma? Mommy! Ma! Mom! MOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM!”

Still, I thought she was being just a tiny bit heartless.

Hahahahahahahaha!

Silly me.

While I have no clear recollection of feeling the same way about my own children, I now fully understand my Mother’s frustration at hearing her name called out roughly 987,675 times a day.

And this is where the whole grandparent thing gets weird.

I will never ever ever forget the first time that my sweet Ellie looked up at me with those melting brown eyes and said, “Na. Na ee.” My heart rate jumped right up to about 300 and I almost stopped breathing. “She said ‘Nonni!!!’ She said it! She said ‘Nonni”!!!”

Thrilled is way way way way way too weak a word for the joy that coursed through my bloodstream! Huzzah!!! She KNEW me! She recognized the key and unforgettable role that I was playing in her life! We were bonded forever, me and my girl! Oh happy, happy day!!!!!

You get the picture.

And it has only been the past month or so that little Johnny has started to use my name. He, for reasons that nobody can explain, talks like a little old Italian man. Like more than one of my old uncles, in fact. When he wants a snack, he asks for “cheese-a”. To answer the question “Who wants a snack?” he answers “Me-a!”

So of course, he calls me Nonna. With the long ‘nnn’ that marks a good Italian accent.

‘Nonna’

Si, that’s me! La Nonna!

Picture the same heart stopping joy and delusional beliefs of eternal love that I felt when Ellie first called out to me.

Yup.

Happy, happy old Nonni/Nonna. Happy and joyful me-a!

Sure. For the first nine million times.

The problem is this: Ellie has learned to use the phrase, “But, Nonni….” to open every single comment. If she is asking me a question, it’s “But, Nonni, what part of our body helps us to chew?” If she needs something, she says, “But, Nonni, can I have milk?” To tell me about her weekend, “But, Nonni, we had so much fun with Grammy and Grampy.”

But, Nonni…..

“But, Nonni……?” Over and over and over again. All day. Every day. ALL WEEK.

Even if I’m looking right at her, and we are the only two humans awake in the room. Even if I just said to her, “Honey, maybe we can do some art.” Even then, her first words are, “But, Nonni……….”

There are moments when I am sure that my head will explode.

Then sweet little Johnny, our man of few words, reaches out his arms to me. “Nonna?” He’ll ask, “Up? Arms?”

“Nonna!!

And I melt again.

Mom, I’m sorry for making you pretend that your name was Rumplestiltskin. I had no idea.

Love,

A Grandmother to be named later

Screen Time Warning


When I was a young Mom, way back in the old days of the mid 1980s, we were warned that we needed to limit our kids exposure to TV. Given the fact that we didn’t have cable yet, and there were only a few channels, we were pretty comfortable with limiting TV.

It wasn’t that hard, cuz, you know, not that much was on.

Then the years went by, and suddenly we all found ourselves surrounded by tablets and desktops and laptops and “smartphones” and “smartTVs”. Suddenly the world became an endless series of googles and posts and updates.

As a grandmother, in charge of the tender care of my little grandchildren, I am acutely aware of every warning.

“Screen time will give your child rickets!,” or something along those lines, appears every day on my Twitter feed. “Don’t let the kids watch TV/YouTube/Netflix!!!! They will become serial killers!” Facebook tells me.

Or something like that.

I tend to ignore this stuff, to be honest.

I mean, you can’t actually convince me that we were better off watching Howdy Doody than our kids are watching Sesame Street and Dr. McStuffins.

At least these new shows have a semblance of educational value.

I do believe, in my deepest Nonni heart, that kids are better off playing outside, using playdoh, painting, or looking at books, than they are when they’re watching TV. So I make sure that our day includes lots of the former, but not that much of the latter.

Yay, me.

BUT:

Here’s the real point of this post.

SCREEN TIME IS DANGEROUS!!!!!

Not so much for the kids, if you ask me, but holy crap. Screen time for them is REAL danger for us!

Let me give you a couple of examples, so that you can draw your own conclusions.

There was the day this week when I totally slept through my alarm. Although the alarm has been set for 6:45 since September, I found myself rolling over at 8 and wondering why the sun was up so high. Luckily for me, my husband has an internal clock, so he was already up and ready for the kids. Unluckily for me, someone who shall remain nameless (Ellie or Johnny) had pushed the “total silence” button on my phone. I was enjoying my total silence. Yikes! I barely had my clothes on when I had to start serving waffles.

Then there was the time I called my phone company to complain that I was absolutely unable to get a text, even though I’d been getting them for months. I blamed the phone, the provider, the Russians, whatever. I was pissed off.

The not-quite-smirking young man on the other end of the phone walked me through a few troubleshooting steps. “Check on your ‘airplane mode’.” he told me. I pshawed. I haven’t been on a plane in MONTHS. “It’s not on.” I snarked. “Did you check?” he asked. So I did.

Yeah.

“Airplane mode: on”.

Gah.

I wonder who did that?

Then there was the status update on my niece’s Facebook page. She put up a lovely post about going to the beach on a sunny weekend day. My response to her was this: ]0\0k\000000k00kk0k0

Yup.

She replied with “WHAT??????”

My first thought was that I’d had one too many glasses of wine, but it was a weeknight. No, I didn’t! Then I remember that I’d left my laptop open while I went into the kitchen to get Ellie a snack.

Johnny was standing there right before my computer.

I think we all know what he did.

So there you go.

At the age of a year and a half, any kid can access your Facebook, change your settings, order a yacht online or send for a Russian bride.

This is NOT good.

Ergo: I now warn you about screen time. I don’t care if the kids are watching too much PBS. I care about protecting you from that doorbell ring where the guy on the steps asks, “Hi! Are you the one who ordered 7,000 red worms?”

Sure we look innocent! We have your phone and your iPad under our chairs!

My Small World


Do you remember when you were in high school? Your entire world consisted of your friends, your classes, your teachers and coaches and maybe, on the outer edge, your parents and siblings.

Everything that occupied your soul and your heart and your mind was contained within the smallest circle around you. You only thought about the people you came in contact with ever day.

In a way, that was a wonderful life. Relationships seemed so deep, perhaps because they were so few.

I know that when I was in high school I thought of myself as very worldly and aware. I read National Geographic every month. I sort of followed the news, because my parents did. I knew who was running for which public office.

But I never stayed awake at night worrying about the Middle East, or the Irish troubles or the cold war.

Nope. I stayed awake at night worrying about if he liked me or if he “LIKED ME” liked me. I worried about who was mad at whom, who was heartbroken this week, who made which team and what I should wear on any given day.

My world was small.

Then I grew up. I went to college and had a career. I had a family and a life in a community. My world expanded so much that I sometimes felt overwhelmed. How to balance the work relationships, the community relationships, the hockey mom connections, the girl scout friends, the family and neighbors….During those busy and crazy years of raising kids, I was also involved in local town politics, and to some extent in state and federal politics, too.

I read a lot. I listened to the news and watched the news and debated the various political points and positions with all of the bright and engaged people in my life at the time.

I learned every day, too. I learned from my colleagues in school, from the mentors I had in education, and from the parents and kids I interacted with every day.

I learned, I grew, I felt myself to be a part of a wide, interesting, challenging world.

My world was big. It knew no limits.

So you can see why I am struggling a little bit now, in my Nonni years. Now my world has shrunk so much that sometimes I wonder if there is a greater universe out there at all.

Now I find that my life, so much like the one I lead back in my teens, is composed uniquely of the people I love and interact with every single day. I don’t really follow local politics anymore, to my shame. I try to read and watch and listen to the political news from my state and from this country.

I’ve always been a follower of international relations, so I do my best to keep up with latest Brexit development.

But the truth is, when I lay myself down to sleep at night, my thoughts now are limited to questions of which toddler will like which art project. I worry about finding nutritious snacks that will pack in some extra calories.

I sometimes wake up at 3 AM thinking about Princess Poppy from Trolls.

My world has closed right in around me.

There are weeks when I honestly don’t leave my property from Monday through Saturday.

And this is where I struggle.

Is it bad that I don’t mind settling in quietly to my small, enclosed, circumscribed life? Am I being a coward when I simply stay in the house with the kids and make soup?

I miss being a part of a team. I miss the ongoing intellectual challenges that I knew as a teacher, and before that as an interpreter. I miss getting to each Friday feeling as if I’ve learned something that I didn’t know on Monday.

But I love shaking off the stress and fear and angst of trying to keep up with all of the needs of those around me. I love huddling in my safe little cocoon of babies and finger paints and preschool art projects.

What I worry about is this:

Am I closing myself off too much? How do I continue to grow and learn and stretch and challenge my mind when my days are filled with rocking and singing to my best beloved little ones?

How do I balance the big old world with my safe and happy little one?

This is my whole world.