“Let’s Pretend”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m a magic butterfly……”

Through the Eyes of a Child


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

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

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

I have always loved the honesty of children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so.

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

I decided to think about the message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit!!!!


Way back in time, when Paul and I were mere grad students, I was introduced to a very intriguing concept. It was the end of one grad school year, and one of our friends stated that she and her professor were “decathecting.”

I had no idea of what the term meant, but as a grad student in speech/language pathology, it struck me as uniquely interesting. “Does one cathect?” I wondered. If not, how could one “decathect”?

It turns out that the term made a lot of sense to my husband and his fellow doctoral student in psychology. It meant, as I came to figure out, stepping back and detaching oneself from a relationship that was coming to an end.

Like that feeling that you’d get toward the end of a semester with a great professor and a fabulously supportive group of classmates. “Decathecting” meant that you would decide that nobody in the group was all that great anyway, so you wouldn’t mind leaving them.

Sort of a fancy way of saying, “You can’t fire me! I quit!”

I learned the true meaning of this term when I was teaching. Every June, I had to learn how to say goodbye to a group of kids I had come to love with my whole heart and soul. That meant, of course, that by May 1st, I was starting to think to myself, “These kids are actually kind of annoying.” At the same time, they were thinking, “Karen’s a pretty nice teacher, but we could do better.”

It meant a few weeks of rolling our eyes at each other, barking at each other and generally finding ways to look forward to our parting at the end of the year. We all knew that we were simply trying to protect our own hearts, and that we were sad to be leaving each other. Still, the process seemed to help smooth the way toward the end of our relationship.

I saw how “decathecting” worked when my children were teenagers, too. For the month or so before each one moved out, I found myself thinking, “Go ahead! Move out on your own! I’m tired of you anyway!” And I knew that every one was thinking, “I am so so tired of having my Mom hovering over every single thing I do!”

We parted ways with tears, hugs and a big old sense of relief.

We decathected.

So.

I think today was my day for “decathecting” with my grandkids before Christmas break. I’d probably feel guilty about that except for the fact that its, you know, a real psychological term. And because I know it doesn’t mean that you stop loving the people you really, really need to get a break from.

Our Nonni/grandkids decathecting took place on the last day of school for the kids’ Mommy before Christmas break. Both of them knew that starting tomorrow they’d be able to stay at home with Mom and Dad. Both of them knew that they would be able to nap in their very own beds.

They have both been sick all week, too, so the desire to be home with their parents was even stronger than usual.

So today, both of my beloved grandchildren managed to express this thought to me: Who are you, anyway???? You’re not my Mommy! I don’t wanna nap here! I don’t wanna eat here! I refuse to eat/sleep/relax/readabook/color/drinkmilk/peeonthepotty/liedown/dance/sing/doapuzzle!!!!!! 

It was a VERY. LONG. DAY.

I was cooking for a family party tomorrow. A party at which I will NOT be in charge of toddlers. I wanted to concentrate on my calzone instead of worrying about who need more playdoh.

Johnny kept grabbing his jacket and boots and going to the baby gate at the top of our stairs. He’d grab the gate and shake it for all he was worth, shouting, “my mama! my mama!” This went on for hours.

And Ellie, my one true love, spent the day with her braid completely unbraided, growling, “Don’t do my hair! Nonni! My MOMMA will fix my hair!!” and “I am so so tired! I need to sleep!!!” And when I’d suggest that she go to lie down in the very same bed where she has napped for three years, she sobbed, “NO!!!! I am so tired of this bed!!! I need to sleep in my own bed at my own house!!!!”

You get the picture. The theme of the day for the kids was, “We need a break from Nonni! We want to be home with our Mom and Dad!!! Help! Get us out of here!”

The theme of the day for Nonni was, “Two more hours until I can hand you off to your Mom and pour myself a drink! Help! Get these kids out of here!”

We were decathecting.

And it worked for the most part. Until Kate arrived to gather up her little ones and take them home. At that point, of course, Ellie began to sob.

“I don’t want to go!!! Nonni!!!” she sobbed desperately, “Nonni! I need you!!!!” Hurling herself against my legs, she seemed to be terrified of leaving.

Luckily, I know how this works. I hugged her back, kissed her teary cheeks and said in my firmest voice. “I love you. Go HOME.”

I guess we are still cathected on some level. Even so, I am really looking forward to a few days of adult thoughts and interactions.

“My Mommy makes better ice cream cones.”

What We Forget


As a grandparent, I am well aware of the fact that I forget a lot of stuff. I forget when I’m supposed to be at the dentist, for example. And I forget why I just walked into the living room.

But that isn’t what’s important.

No. What I think is important, as a grandparent who is completely engaged in the lives of my grandchildren every single day, is that I have forgotten what it feels like to take care of a sick child.

I forgot about the comforting/suffocating smell of Vicks Vaporub wafting through the house. I forgot, for some unexplained reason, how it feels to spread that very same Vicks on my chest, under a clean cloth, so that I can hold a coughing, wheezing child close to my heart. Knowing that the camphor smell would help that child to breathe.

I have forgotten what it feels like to wipe those dripping noses, every two minutes. And what it feels like to smooth a bit of lotion on that red, sore upper lip.

I can guarantee that I have forgotten what it feels like to be stuck in the house with a child or two who can only be soothed by two hours of some TV show that is so unbearably sweet that you actually think about getting yourself some insulin.

Surprisingly, I seem to have forgotten what it feels like to keep water steaming on the stove. And what it feels like to cup my hands and tap, tap, clap, bang against a child’s congested lungs.

I’m reminded of all of that this week, though. Both of my grandkids are down and out with a nasty cold. Both have had the endlessly running nose, the deep cough, the lack of appetite.

Both of them have needed extra hugs, extra rocking and (God help me) extra episodes of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”

I’ve been running, cleaning, washing, rocking, dosing, cleaning again, listening to lungs, checking ears, rubbing backs, feeding again and cleaning again.

I had forgotten how it feels to be covered head to toe in germ infested snot. I had forgotten how it feels to clean up the choked over and redeposited snacks. I had somehow forgotten how gently one has to wash a red, irritated face as a little one cries.

But you know what?

I had also, somehow, managed to forget how sweet it feels to sit still on a cold winter day with two sick children wrapped in my arms. I had forgotten the heart filling feeling of cuddling a feverish little body in my arms. Of singing the wordless humming tunes that would ease that little one into sleep.

I had forgotten the joyful burst of love that comes in the moment when a sick little baby pulls his head back and looks into your face. I had forgotten how special and how empowering it feels when that baby looks up and sighs and settles his aching head against your heart once again.

I wish everyone a healthy Christmas, with no snots, no wheezes, no fevers. But if you are hit by those illnesses, I wish you a few moments of sweet pleasure as you enfold those hot little bodies in your loving arms.

I don’t feel so good…..

This Will Be the Death of Me


Before you try to guess what I am moaning about, let me tell you that it isn’t what you think. Oh, sure, you’ve read my pitiful complaints before. You think you know me.

“I’m getting old,” you’ve heard me say. “My back hurts! Boohoo!” Sure. Pain is definitely a pain, but that isn’t what’s going to finally break my noble spirit.

“I lift hundreds of pounds of little kid, every single day,” I’ve written. You think that I’ll just curl up one fine day and die of pure fatigue. But that’s not it, either. I still have weekends and school vacations to rest and recover. I will not succumb to toddler-hefting syndrome.

“The current madness in this country is too much for me!” OK, I admit it. That one really does seem dire. The President is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad man. He is mean, nasty, dishonest, evil and probably has dementia on top of his malignant narcissism. Worse still, his entire political party is pretending to be blind, deaf and ignorant as far as he’s concerned. We are probably headed for the collapse of the world economy, the American Republic, democracy and perhaps human life.

But even that is not what has me perched on the brink of utter despair.

No, my friends. 

Tonight I am facing a more demoralizing and devastating reality. Tonight I am contemplating another week of having to cope with the two most diabolical inventions of humankind.

Glitter and string cheese.

Glitter is my worst nightmare. It is insidious. You try your hardest, as a good modern progressive Nonni, not to use it or have it in the house. You do NOT buy jars of glitter just for fun. Even when the adorable little girl with the world’s most beautiful brown eyes gazes at you and whimpers with desire for such a thing.

You hold firm. But it gets to you anyway. It arrives the sparkly nail polish that an aunt bought. It attacks you from the blue gauze of the multiple tutus and Elsa dresses that have found their way into your home. It sneaks up in Christmas wrapping paper and inexpensive headbands.

And it hits your floor, sticks to your feet, finds its way into your eyeballs and nostrils. No vacuum can defeat it. No duster can erase it. 

It. Will. Wear. You. Down.

And then there is the string cheese issue.

Now don’t get me wrong; string cheese is the perfect toddler snack and dog training treat. It is not messy. It doesn’t stick to things. It is healthy. It is super easy to carry in a purse or diaper bag. It’s inexpensive.

But.

When you need it most, it will be impossible to open. 

Im. Possible.

This is especially true if you have a barefoot toddler who just broke a glass and two puppies running around the house. If this happens, you will think quickly and grab a string cheese so that you can lure the pups outside and settle the toddler in the playpen while you clean up the mess.

You will be in a huge rush to open the cheese and get everyone out of danger. You will grasp the cheesy little niblet in one hand and try to pry apart the opening with the other. 

You. Will. Not. Find. The. Opening.

You will give orders, “Stay!” “Down!” and “Sit down on the couch!” You will scrabble for the two tiny pieces of see-through plastic that keep sticking together when you’re supposed to pull them appart. And you’ll scrabble some more.

You’ll curse. You’ll tear at the plastic. You’ll scrabble even harder. You’ll try to use your teeth, but the sturdy freakin’ plastic will defeat your strongest molars.

Time will go by. The pups will dance around and the baby will chortle. All of them will be thinking, “Cheeseycheeseycheese!”

After about ten minutes, you’ll be soaked in sweat and will have cramps in all ten fingers. You’ll finally grab a pair of scissors and cut right through the words “easy open”.

You’ll give out the cheese and clean up the mess.

Then you’ll say, right out loud, “I will pay two million dollars to the person who can make string cheese in actually, truly “easy open” packaging!!”

One or the other of these will finally be the end of me.

Must…Kill…Worm…


Dear Readers,

Please, please help me! I am in a desperate situation. Desperate, I tell ya. DESPERATE.

I don’t know what to do, or where to turn.  I can’t take it any more, and things are looking very very grim.

Please help me.

I must find a way to rid myself of the most dreaded ear worm in the history of hearing.

Here is my sad, sad story.

“I’m Elsa! You’re Anna!”



I am, you see, the caregiver and loving Nonni of a three year old girl. This means that I spend a lot of time brushing hair, making cookies, hugging, blah, blah, blah.

But here’s the problem: I spend WAYYYYYYY more time acting out the part of either Elsa or Anna from the Disney blockbuster “Frozen”.  You know the one I mean. The one with all the lovely visual images, the sweet story of true love between sisters, the adorable reindeer, and all that other crap.

You know this story.

It’s the one with the epic song “Let It Go!” Which ranks right up there in the pantheon of brain stickiness with “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” ‘

After roughly 12 straight weeks of watching “Frozen” every damn day, I am now about 4 seconds away from complete insanity.

Here, dear sympathetic readers, is a typical day in the life of Anna/Nonni:

Wake up at midnight from a little back pain. “Mmmm….comfy position….mmmmmm….”Let it go! Let it go! Can’t hold it back any more-or-or….” NOOOOOOOO!!!! Eyes snap open, heart rate increases…..”NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!” Clamp eyes shut, start internal singing of the alto parts in Handel’s Messiah….fall asleep……                                              Wake up at 6 AM. “H’m….today is Monday, so today we need to…’Let it go!!!! Let it go!!!!!!”  Roll over, shove pillow over head and into left ear…moan pitifully…Begin to sing “Born to Run” right out loud. Take shower while singing “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” at the top of my lungs…..step out of shower…..”Do you wanna build a snowman????”

This goes on All. Day. 

These songs are relentless. They have embedded themselves into my auditory system, where they are slowly chomping their way toward my cortex. They plan to overpower me. I feel it.

I feel the advance of the Frozen Earworm. I feel it! It’s coming for my soul!!! I don’t know where to turn!!!

But today, at last, I thought I might get a brief reprieve.

Today was the first day of our big bathroom renovation, and the house was full of big burly men with muscles and baseball caps and huge Dunkin Donuts coffee cups. 

“Huh”, I thought to myself. “They will probably have a radio! It will probably be playing old Bon Jovi songs.”  I smiled a little. I felt safe. These were obviously NOT Disney Princess types.

I let the men in with a sigh of relief, and got ready for the kids to arrive.

When Ellie and Johnny came in for the day, I introduced them to the big, manly builder people. I felt so….protected…you know?  All was well. I felt almost smug in my sense of safety.

After breakfast, Ellie naturally asked to put on her blue Elsa dress and wanted to watch ‘the movie’. “Sure!” I said happily. “I’ll put it on!”

I still assumed that the manly men would be playing classic rock songs to  scrub Disney right outta my cerebral neurons.

Hahahahahaha.

I’m an idiot.

Because here’s what actually happened.

Movie starts. Ellie begins to dance around in her blue Elsa dress, belting out the lyrics to every song.

Burly man #1: “Oh, so cute! Look at her! I have a six year old daughter and she loves this movie!”

Bulky muscle man #2: “I have two daughters! One is 13 and one is 11. Oh, I miss the days when they used to dance around in their Elsa dresses!” This one started to hum along with the music. I started to hyperventilate.

Manly worker dude #3: ” I have five kids! But only one daughter. This music really grabs you, doesn’t it?”

I was horrified. I felt so betrayed!

The music played. My earworm dug in even deeper. I am pretty sure I started to twitch.

I tried to relax. I started to hum Barley, by Birds of Chicago. I hummed really really loud. I stuck a finger in each ear and hummed some more. 

When my heart rate returned to normal, I slowly withdrew my shaking fingers.

And this is what I heard, in three part dissonance from the men tearing apart my bathroom:

“Let the storm rage onnnnnn!!!!! The cold never bothered me anyway!!!!!”

You can’t count on anyone any more.

Please help.

I am desperate. 

And for the record, the cold ALWAYS bugs the hell out of me!!!!!

Panic in Nonni World


This is not a funny story, but if my words are chosen carefully and cleverly enough, I hope that you’ll at least chuckle a bit.

This is how it all unfolded.

I was at home this morning, as usual, with my two grandkids and our four year old friend. We had our breakfasts and cleaned up. We played a few rounds of Elsa and Anna and then we made some ridiculously goofy and adorable paper plate turkeys. 

It was just your average day in the life of Nonni and the gang.

But suddenly, I heard something truly unexpected. 

I heard my garage door opening.

“What the absolute FUCK?” is what went through my mind, while, “Oh, my goodness” came out of my careful Nonni mouth.

Nobody was due here in the middle of the day. Not my husband, my son-in-law or my daughter. Not the guy who is going to be renovating the bathrooms, not my neighbors, nobody.

But the garage door had definitely opened. 

In the first ten seconds, I watched the reactions of the dogs. If a car that they know pulls into the driveway, they yip and dance and jump around like a couple of happy drunks. If it’s a stranger, they bark like they mean it and they both get a ridge of hackles down their normally smooth backbones.

Today, as the garage door opened? Deep barks and semi-hackles as they looked out the window into the drive. I peeked over their heads. 

And saw nothing.

No car. 

No people.

Now our garage has one of those openers with the little push button devices that sit on the cars’ visors. You can’t manually open the door. So, if there’s no car in the drive, there’s no device on a visor. Nobody should have been able to open the garage door. 

But I am not quite insane. The door had definitely opened. The dogs and I had heard it. And there was no car anywhere in sight.

Ergo: Nonni panicked. I looked to make sure that all three kids were safe in the living room. They were. I didn’t hear anyone in the garage, so my assumption was that a bad guy was standing there, listening to the sounds of Olaf chasing Anna around the ice castle.

I can’t retell the next 30 seconds with any clarity, but this is a rough estimation of what went careening through my addled old panic stricken brain:                                                                                                                           “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod…there’s a bad guy in the garage….he must have some wide band thingymadgigy that can open garage doors ….he knows we’re in here….whadooIdo? I’ll stay here with the kids and keep them safe! Whaddayamean safe? SAFE? From a crazy assed KILLER BAD GUY? I can’t keep them safe.”ˆ

By now my heart rate was approaching 200 and my head was absolutely splitting with adrenaline pain. I had a split second of complete indecision, and then for some reason, my brain said this, “I can’t hide up here with the kids…I have to go see who it is…if I hear any sound at all, I’ll just dial 911.  where’smyphonewhere’smyphonewhere’smyphone? I got it, don’t drop it, hold it tight, tell the kids to stay here, tell them to sit on the sofa, they won’t sit on the sofa! Why would they sit on the sofa? Tell them to go hide in the bedroom! No, I’ll scare them…tell them you’re doing laundry….NO! They love laundry, they’ll wanna come! Just open the frickin’ baby gate and go face the deadly threat!”

At this point my whole body was shaking. It had been roughly two minutes since we’d heard the door open. The kids were still blissfully playing, making so much noise that I knew the bad guy must have heard them. I didn’t have a real plan in my head, but it seemed to make sense that I should try to scare off the threat. I could dial for help if it got dicey. No matter that chunky old Nonni couldn’t fight off more than chipmunk at this point, it still seemed like a good idea. So I went.

Our house is a split level, so the front door opens onto a set of stairs that go down toward the basement and garage, as well as a set that go up to the living room. I crept down the upper stairs, cell phone in hand, and glanced out through the glass pane of the front door.

There was movement out there on what should have been my empty lawn!!!

I took one more slow step. I got closer to the glass. 

And there was my husband’s car, parked in the middle of the lawn. Behind it stood the man himself, pulling a bale of straw out of his trunk.

“It’s Papa!!!!” I yelled to the oblivious kids. Then I flew through the door and let the poor guy have it.

“OhSo,     The daySo

So. The day is over. Papa made it safely back to work, and I made it back into the house. All three kids made it safely back into the arms of their parents. 

After all that drama, there was no bad guy. No killer. No menacing stranger. I tried to tell myself that I had over reacted, but what else could I have thought? I couldn’t think of any other explanation for no car, no door opener but a wide open door. I started to chuckle at my foolishness, but a sudden thought stopped me:

What if I had owned a gun?

Pretending


I’m 62 years old. My back hurts pretty much every damn day. My neck is stiff. My knees are achy.

But.

I’m Nonni.

I have kids here in my house. Ergo: I must pretend.

Today my little Ellie asked to watch her favorite movie, “Frozen.” I agreed right away because I love the music in this movie. And I love the lesson that it teaches, too. “True love” isn’t necessarily found in the arms of the cute guy who makes you swoon.

True love is found when one truly loves.

Great theme. Great music. Great imagery in the movie.

So when Ellie asked to watch, I was happy to say, “Sure!”

But.

After watching roughly a quarter of the movie, Ellie announced, “I’m done with the movie, Nonni. Turn it off!”

And I did.

Which meant that Ellie came running into the room with her “Elsa dress”, asking me to zip her into the dress and give her “one big braid”, just like Elsa. I did what I was told to do and before I knew it, I found myself playing the role of little sister “Anna” to Ellie’s Queen “Elsa.”

Now, given the fact that we have little Johnny in our care, as well as two small but energetic dogs, we had pretty much the main cast of the movie right in our living room.

“You’re Anna!” Ellie told me. “You need to try to follow me, but I will run away!”

Johnny was given the role of Olaf, the snowman. Lennie was the snowmonster and silly Bentley was put in the role of “Sven” the goofy reindeer.

To be clear, we didn’t actually follow the story line of the movie. But we did spend almost an entire day running up and down the hall in our house, shouting with intense emotion.

“Elsa!” I would yell, “My dear sister!! Don’t leave me!”

“Stay back!!! Stay away!!!!” Ellie yelled back over and over again, “I love you, but I will freeze your heart!”

“ahhhhhha! Mmmmmmah!” Johnny/Olaf crowed every time the two of us ran down the hall.

“Grrffffff..mmmmmmm…..?” the dogs would whine as we ran past them through the house.

This went on for hours. The entire day was taken up with Elsa, Anna, Olaf and the meaning of “true love.”

And as I sit here tonight, my back throbbing and my neck sore, I think I understand what Princess Anna meant when she talked about true love.

I think she meant the joy that an old lady could feel when asked to pretend once again. I thinks she meant the feeling that a Nonni could feel while sitting back and watching her grandchildren completely embrace the role of magical movie characters.

When I held Ellie on my knee today, watching the end of the movie, I was overwhelmed with the magic when she turned and whispered in my ear, “Look, look! That’s me making the ice castle! Look! It’s me sending you away!”

Ellie lived completely within that movie today. She WAS Elsa, the Queen who was afraid of her own emotions. And that let me live for a while as Anna, the Princess who loved and trusted her sister.

What a gift.

What an amazing and incredible gift it is to spend time in the imaginary world of the very young.

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Yup. That’s Ellie and me. Looking amazing.

Those Long, Long Days


I remember when I was a young Mom, feeling as if some days just lasted forever.

Like. For-freakin’-ever.

I remember hot, hot summer days, the ones where I was home alone with all three kids. I can clearly picture myself looking at the clock after having cooked, served and cleaned up breakfast, broken up two fights, done a load of laundry, swept the floor and helped to make four beds.

I remember it like it was yesterday, glancing up at the kitchen clock and thinking, “Damn! The battery must have run down. No WAY it’s only 9:15 in the morning!!!!”

I remember being wrong. It was, in fact, early morning and I had many, many hours ahead of me.

At the age of 35, that was not a pleasant realization. I remember the way that those days seemed to tick by with each second taking longer than the one before it.

I just wanted to get to dinner time, to have Dad home, to get everyone into bed and to Go. To. Sleep.

But now I’m older and wiser.

I’ve made more than a few journeys around the sun on this old planet. Now those long, long days have a whole different feel to me.

I’ll give you an example.

Yesterday was one of the very few gorgeous fall days that New England has experienced this year. It was breezy, cool, bright and perfectly sunny. The sky was a deeply calming blue, with cartoonishly puffy white clouds drifting slowly by. The leaves were gently twirly and falling through the soft air.

The kids wanted to go outside, so outside we went. Coats on, mittens slipped over reluctant thumbs, sneakers firmly attached to feet, out we went. All three of us stopped on the front step, breathing in the clean, clean air.

Ellie, our three year old explosion of joy, threw out her arms, twirled on the wet grass and crowed, “I am Elsa and Anna and we are so so happy!!!!” Little 16 month old Johnny looked up at me with a drooly grin and chortled, “aha!!!!”

They ran, they jumped, they picked up leaves, they screamed at the pure pleasure of jumping into puddles.

I was happy that they were happy, but to be honest, I was also tired. Nonni here has been fighting off a strangely lingering throat infection, and sleep has been eluding me. So as we walked down the driveway and splashed in every puddle, there was a piece of me that kept thinking, “Is it time to go in? Is it time for nap?”

I wanted to lie down.

Then I remembered those long, long days of my children’s past. I remembered the yearning I felt for bedtime.

I stood there, watching the kids play. And I looked up at that sky and watched those swirling, dying leaves.

And it occurred to me that I don’t have as many days to wish away as I did all those years ago. How many more fall days do I have left out there? How many times will I stand in the glorious sunshine watching two beautiful, happy, beloved children dancing with joy in front of me?

I pulled in a breath, smelling the wood smoke of my neighbor’s chimney, the wet, earthy musk of the decaying leaves, the sharp pungency of the pine trees around us. I looked at the kids, both jumping in the mud, both grinning, sharing a moment of pure bliss with each other.

Life is short. And every year it gets shorter.

If one of my days stretches out and takes forever to pass, well, that can only be a good thing. Now I’m old enough to know that a day like this is a blessing unsought.

Let all of my life slow itself down and take its time to pass.

And may I have many more days to simply stand there, motionless, watching beautiful children at play.

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Heaven is a puddle on a sunny fall day.

Of COURSE I Wear Make Up


Of course I do!

I mean, pshhhht, I came of age in the 1960s. Frosted lipstick, black eyeliner, pink blush sticks….I remember it all!

I used makeup when I was in High School and college. I dabbed on the lip gloss, I stroked on the mascara, I even learned to use Kohl to underline my already dark eyes.

But then I grew up.

I got jobs. I started a family. I realized at some point that I could either spend 10 minutes putting paint on my face or ten minutes asleep.

The sleep won.

Time went on, and my children grew. Eventually, they all grew up and moved away and nobody was there to watch me dab on the wrinkle eraser cream. I began to realize that my students loved me for my humor and my love of them, not for any semblance of beauty. I began to realize that my family loved me for myself, and rarely even noticed if I added a dab of eye shadow to some fancy get up.

So I kind of let the whole makeup thing go.

Until my one and only daughter was about to get married. At that point, I knew that I had to step up my game and go for some actual facial improvements. There would be photographers there, right? And dozens of friends and family with those ubiquitous camera phones in hand.

So after I chose my “Mother of the Bride” dress (pale sage green), I shopped for some Mother of the Bride makeup. Kate dragged me to Sephora, where I learned that one could either buy a vacation home or buy the right make up.

I chose to pass on the cream blush, brow enhancing stick and something that was supposed to bring on a “dewy glow.” Instead I decided to head for the local Rite Aide and see if they had any greenish eye stuff.

They did!

I found a lovely matte finish foundation, a waterproof mascara, and a small palette of eye shadow that included sage, a dark umber, and two shades of pale icy green/white. I bought them. I practiced in the mirror with them. I wore them to the wedding.

I looked AWESOME.

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Aren’t I just glowing??

Then the wedding was over. The celebrations wound down. The happy couple did a honeymoon and came back. Since then, they have had two kids, bought one house and then moved to a better one, and fully embarked on their careers.

Since then, Nonni here has retired, become a stay at home childcare provider and learned to embrace the joy of spending every day in flannel pjs and a baggy sweatshirt, and enjoying life without one tiny bit of makeup.

It’s been great!

But today was Halloween. I dragged out an old wool cape and some dancing skeleton earrings. I spent all day feeling excited with the kids. I was happy to know that they wanted me to come Trick or Treating with them.

As evening came on, and we waited for Ellie and Johnny’s dad to come get them, I put on my “costume” of black pants and sweater and a beautiful old woolen cape that I bought in Tunisia some 45 years ago. I thought I looked good!

Until Ellie asked, with a deep frown on her face, “Where is your scary makeup, Nonni?” I tried to tell her that Nonni was fine as is, but she wasn’t having it. “But you need scary black eyes!!!” she cried. “You need a scary spooky face!”

I wanted to give in (you know, that’s what we Nonnis do). But I didn’t have any scary face paint around. What should I do?

Yup. You guessed it. I dug into my medicine cabinet, and found the very makeup that I had worn to Kate and Sam’s wedding, more than four years ago! It hadn’t been touched since the ceremony.

I poked it. I stirred some things around, and added a drop or two of water to the rest.

It was good!

I layered it on, trying to achieve my creepiest look. Ellie cheered, while Johnny chuckled and shook his head in the background.

Here’s the final result. I think I look as fabulous as I did at the wedding!

scary nonni

Wouldn’t you want to give me candy?

I guess makeup has its place in my life, after all!