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…..

Way Too Clean


Well.

The house is very clean. We cleaned and rolled up the garish rug that used to be in our living room (we got it so that our old dog, Tucker the Wolf King, could get up and down with his arthritic back. He’s gone now. So is the rug.)

The floor is clean. The bathroom is clean. There’s a nice table cloth on the dining room table. The dust has been wiped off. The kitchen sink is clean and deodorized.

God help me. I even dusted the hutch.

The house smells good. Clean, fresh, summery.

Empty.

I haven’t had my grandkids here for, um, four days.

All the toys are in the correct places. The dress up items in the white bag. The building toys (all pieces in one place) are in the brown toy box. The stuffed animals are organized and washed and dried, and are resting quietly in the blue toybox. The play kitchen has been cleaned and organized.

If nobody stops me, I might even wash the inside and outside of my living room windows.

Please, someone help me.

Someone needs to call my daughter Kate and tell her to get those kids over here ASAP before I completely snap and start organizing my sock drawer.

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Kitchen floor picnic? Yeah, count us in!!

 

Conquering the Wolf King


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

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

Still.

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

And yet.

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

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

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

And then he heard it.

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

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

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

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

He took one step toward the long, scary hall.

“Tuck…Tucky….hhum!”

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

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

“Tucky…hum!”

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

He would not be afraid.

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

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

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

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

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

So did he.

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Mutual admiration…

This could be my baby


The world is always a sad and scary place. If we look closely enough, we can always see the tragedy, the suffering, the loss.

Sometimes, though, the reality of how horrific life can be is there before us and we can’t look away.

The image of the dead baby boy on the beach in Greece was one of those times. How could I look away from it?imgres

When those images come crashing into our lives, forcing us to face reality, we feel a sense of helplessness and rage.

I know that I am overwhelmed when I see what human being do to our own babies. I am at a loss. I am adrift.

I’m not a religious person, and this is one reason why.

Today I turned on the news and was confronted with a video of a young man, about the age of my son, weeping as he cradled a wounded baby girl in his arms. She had been buried in the rubble of her home when it was bombed by the Syrian regime. He had worked and worked to dig her out, and now he held her as doctors wiped the blood off her face.

He sobbed and he prayed. His lips quivered and tears coursed down his cheeks. He looked down at her little face, and she looked up at him.

God.

It could have been my Ellie.

An innocent, sweet, little baby girl. Bombed by her government. Left to die in the ruins of her home. Where were her parents? Was she alone in all the world?

Would she live? Where would she go?

I watched the video and I sobbed.

I hate this feeling of helplessness. I HATE that this happens and I can’t fix it or stop it or even understand it.

That could have been our Ellie, bleeding and trembling in a stranger’s arms.

I went on line to try to help. I sent money to Medicins Sans Frontiers.

I still feel completely useless and completely helpless.

Please watch this video. Please click on one of the links below and do what you can to help.

Save the Children

UNICEF

Doctors Without Borders

These organizations are less well known, but are doing good work.

 

Ah, Miss Ellie……


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Rockin’ her Daddy’s hat.

Way, way back, in the dawn of my history, when Paul and I were very young, we used to think about the upcoming weeks and tell ourselves, “I’m glad there is something to look forward to!”

Which means, of course, that there were times when we’d look at each other and think, “Ugh,  there is nothing to look forward to!”

I look back now, at my 22 year old self, and I think, “Are you kidding me? You’re twenty something, and you don’t think you have something to look forward to? You only have your ENTIRE LIFE, you idiot!”

But at 22, I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking, “What wonderful adventure is out there for me in the next week?”  I was young. I was foolish.  I didn’t really get it.

And then, at the wise old age of 29, I gave birth to my first child.  My wonderful, beautiful daughter Kate.  And everything changed in an instant.

Suddenly, I knew that I had “something to look forward to” for at least 20 years.  Every morning with my baby was a new beginning.  Every bath time was a treasure. Every meal an adventure.  I was enraptured, enamored, in love, entranced, enthralled.

Life was very, very good.

And then it went on.  Kate’s brothers were born, and the rhythm of my life was set.  I was a happy, busy Momma, and every passing week meant something new to look forward to. There were milestones and holidays and vacations and camping trips.  Birthdays and new schools and sports and plays and music.  Life was one big streak of “something to look forward to”.

And then they all grew up. And they moved away and started their own lives.

There suddenly wasn’t quite so much to look forward to, you know? Life was still happy and full, but the magical moments were gone.

And now, here I am, the full time day care provider for my little Ellie.  Now I am back to the days of making pancakes for someone who will light up with joy at the new taste. I am back to singing brand new songs, and reading exciting new books.

Tonight, when supper was over, I put our leftover coconut rice into a bowl.  I added an egg and some cream and cinnamon. I baked it for 20 minutes.  It smells fantastic.

I will go to bed tonight with something to look forward to.  I will give my beautiful Ellie a bowl of rice pudding for her breakfast tomorrow.

Life is a very beautiful thing.

Letting it go


OK. Let.It.Go.

OK. Let.It.Go.

I just had a birthday.

At my age, this is a big deal.

I mean, I’m not ready to pull the dirt over my head quite yet, but I’m not exactly dancing around and celebrating my “double digits” either,  if you know what I mean.

I’m getting on in years.  Getting long in the tooth.  No longer a spring chicken.

If you think about the average life span in the US, I’m past halfway to home base.  Way past halfway in fact.

So birthdays are definitely a time for reflection.

Last weekend, I reflected.

“Yay, me!”, I reflected. “I am still active and working and learning and enjoying my food and drink. I still have fun at the beach and I can still dance at weddings.  Yay, me!”

“On the other hand,” I reflected, “I can’t hula hoop any more.  I can’t eat too many beans. And I don’t know any of the songs on the radio.”

So I’m in that funny space in life. The one where everyone who sees you thinks you’re on the downhill slope, but you still feel like you’re new to the game.

And as I have reflected and thought and sipped on a few refreshing beverages, I have come to some conclusions that can only be reached by wise old owls like me.

And I’m willing to share my wisdom with you. Lucky, lucky you.

I have realized that its time to let go of some things.   I’m ready to let go of beauty.  I had some, once.  But I don’t have to worry about it any more.  The hair is silver, the jowls are jowly, the boobs are heading south.  Let it go.  I am happy to hand off the gift of beauty to my daughter and my young colleagues.  I will celebrate your glowing skin, your silky hair, your tiny waists.  I will raise a cup of hot mocha with whipped cream, and happily cede the joy of beauty to you.

I am willing to let go of fashion trends, too.  I have never actually understood the whole “spring colors” thing anyway, so what the hell.  I am willing to admit that I still buy Levis when I can get them.  I wear Dansko clogs because they stop my knees/hips/back from aching all night.  I do not understand leggings and I never will.

And I am so so happy to never again have to think about this year’s eye shadow tones!  Let it go, let it go.

I am happy to let go of the pressure to say “yes” to every request.  “No”, I am happy to respond, “I cannot volunteer at the local food coop. I’m old. I’m tired. I’m resting.”

“No,” I can now respond.  “I won’t be available to work for two weeks this summer on the newest version of a reading program.  I will be lying on my back on a beach.  I won’t be awake enough to help.”   Let it go, let it go, let it go.

But even as I am letting go of the frivolous, the superfluous, the unnecessary, I am happy to embrace a whole new world of joy.

I am ready to embrace my free time.  I’ve earned it, dammit, its mine.  I am not going to gum it up by writing elaborate lesson plans on how to add fractions.

I am ready to embrace my sick days, too. I’ve saved them up for 22 years now; when I wake up with a terrible headache or a burning sore throat, I am no longer going to make some tea, swallow some ibuprofin and hope for the best.  Nope. Now I am going to log onto the sub folder, click on “sick day” and go back to bed.  And maybe I’ll watch a marathon of “Dog Whisperer” while I eat my chicken soup.  Who cares?  I am embracing my mortality.

Time has gone on.  I had a birthday.

I will let go of my frustration over changing educational fads.  I will embrace my joy as I talk with my sweet students.  I will let go of my sadness at no longer being relevant, and will embrace the freedom that comes from being ignored and left alone.  I will let go of my “mommy” days, and will embrace my new role as the funny, happy relaxed “Nonni” who makes the awesome cookies.

Time to Let It Go.

A Dog and His Boy


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There is just something about a dog and his boy.  My dogs just love our boys.  In fact, they love pretty much any boys.

Now that our sons are grown and gone, we can get the same squeals of delight from our dogs when our nephews, cousins, neighbors or any other boys come to the house.

There’s just something about a dog and his boys.

So I’m sure that my dogs will be very happy to hear that we have a boy, an honest-to-God boy, coming to live with us for the rest of the school year.  He is a sixteen year old German exchange student.  He was in need of a home, and this nest was in need of some life.

I’m sure that Tucker and Sadie will be almost as happy as I will be to have him here.

I hear that he likes to eat.  And as you may know, I like to cook.  Perfect.

Of course, I’m pretty nervous tonight.  He arrives tomorrow.  I have baked chocolate chip bars.  There’s chicken brining for dinner.  His room is clean, his bed is made, and I have mopped the floor.

I want him to be happy here. I want him to be comfortable.  I want him to feel that he is welcome.

When I was his age, I was the student, far away from home, looking for acceptance and love in a new family.  I was lucky.  I found both.  My Tunisian family took me in, fed me delicious meals, entertained me, laughed with me, took me to see the sights. I remember the meals, the conversations, the music. I remember the smell of the summery air, and the sound of the wooden carriage wheels on the cobbled streets outside my window.

I don’t remember noticing whether or not the house was clean.

Still, tonight I am cleaning and organizing and scrubbing.  I have even brushed the dogs.

I know I’m being silly.  He won’t care if there is dust.  But another woman’s son will be coming here, to our house. Another woman, far away, will be trusting me to care for her boy.  She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that I’ll be kind.  She doesn’t know that the dogs will be here to greet him, with wagging tails and doggy smiles.

So as I wait for the bars to cool and the laundry to finish drying, I think back to my arrival in Kairouan, so long ago.  I think about how easy it was for me to settle into my Tunisian home, with my wonderful family. I want that experience for our guest!

And I look at the dogs, snoozing on the nice clean floor at my feet. I reach down to pat their soft heads, listening to the comforting sound of their snores.

“Guys”, I say, although neither of them moves, “I have great news.  Dad and I have decided to get you a boy.”

 

Time For Some Serious Smiting


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I feel the need to write a post to God tonight. Or least a post about him. And his whereabouts.

I have been listening to the news again.  And I can’t help asking about God.

Where is He? Where the hell is He?

I’m not all that religious, really.  I don’t know if the God I am looking for is the one who was born in the manger, the guy with the long dark hair and soulful eyes. I’m not sure if the God I am waiting for is the one who Mohammed talked about, or the one who Buddha revered. I’m not sure if He’s the guy that my Jewish friends are praying to, or the one that that was once thought to live in the mountains or the God who lives in the trees.

Whatever.

I don’t have a preference, actually. I just want to see or hear from God himself.  I am in need of some Godly reassurance.

I mean, every time I read anything about God, he seems to be all about peace and harmony and forgiveness and love.  He seems to be the God of a reasonable life.

So, pardon me, but where in God’s name is God?

A bunch of psychopathic lunatics decide that, in the name of God, they will attack a school and massacre as many children as they can possibly massacre.  Seriously?  Hello, God, you out there?  You couldn’t send a lightning bolt for this?

A twisted angry man in Pennsylvania decides to get back at his ex wife by murdering her and her entire family and then killing himself for good measure?  Ah, yo?  Allah, you listening?  Where ARE you?

The world is seething with war, most of it waged in Your name.  You couldn’t make even a cameo appearance for this nonsense?

I read about the horrors that are happening in Syria, about the babies dying in droves as the men with the guns duke it out over who will control the money and the military.  I read about the actions of the twisted, demented maniacs who callously behead innocents in the name of Islam and then post the videos on YouTube.   I remember the images from Newtown.

And I can’t help but ask, Where in all of this sickness and death is the God of mercy?

Dear God/Allah/Buddah/Vishnu/Jesus/tree spirit/Zeus: if you’re out there (and believe me, I’m not saying you aren’t), can you please, please, please flex your mighty hand, and drop it with a gloriously resonant thwack onto the heads of all those who murder in your name?  I beseech, thee, O Holy Person In Charge, can you please, please, please use some of your Heavenly power to smite the living crap out of those who slaughter innocent children?  Can you please reach down from your place on the throne of eternity and squash the life out of every single human who thinks that it is acceptable to commit murder just to make a point or just to even out the pain or just to express his psychopathology?

God, you seem like a very sweet and caring soul.  Don’t you think this would be a really good time for you to part the slivery clouds and send forth your thunderous voice to the mortal souls below?

You might want to say something like this, if you get a chance to reach out to those who carry out these horrors.  You might say, “Cut the shit, all ye who act in my name. I am the God of death and pestilence and if you touch the hair of one more innocent child, I will fill your bowels with the molten lava of Vesuvius.  You commit these acts of the devil just one more time in MY name, and I will smite the crap out of every single one of you.  And I am NOT fooling around.”

I’d feel SO much better if you’d do that. Just this once.

I Think I Found America


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I was walking today.  It was a beautiful New England Fall day.  It was just the kind of day that makes us all think of those hardy Pilgrims, and their brave adventure to this new world.

I am  fifth grade teacher.  My students learn all about life in  Colonial America.  I teach them that a group of intrepid adventurers dared to travel across the known world to start a new life here in North America.  They learn the basics of economic theory, too, because this is the basis of the entire settlement of the New World. I teach them about wanting to make a profit. Wanting to find a life that is better for their children.  I tell them that mothers and fathers, way back in 1615, decided that it was time to leave the country of their origin behind.  I ask them to imagine what it must have been like to pack up their favorite books and most treasured mementos.  I ask them to put themselves in the place of those seventeenth century families, trying so hard to create a better life in a place that was completely foreign to them.

Today I was walking.

I was strolling along the back roads of my small, rural New England town.  I was looking up at the golden maple leaves above my head, and swishing my feet through the russet oak leaves that lay on the rutted dirt road under my feet.

I was happy.  The sun was out, after ten straight days of driving rain.  Birds were singing and darting back and forth in the treetops. I could hear squirrels and chipmunks rushing about under the cover of those crisp leaves.  I drew in a deep, cool breath.

The road turned left under my feet.  I was walking along what used to be our town’s main farm road.  The remnants of old apple trees spread out on the hillside to my right.  An empty field, now covered by purple asters, spread beneath the old orchard.

On my left were new houses. Houses that have been built in the past ten years along this beautiful, winding rural road. I passed one home that proudly displayed a row of jack-o-lanterns on its front steps. The drifting yellow leaves that fell gently from the trees around the yard confirmed my impression of the quintessential New England homestead.

And then I walked on. The gray stone wall on my left wandered along the road, looking as if it could have been there for two hundred years.  I came upon a big yellow house on the left side of the winding road.  Its front yard swept forward in a beautiful arc, curving along with the road.  Three bright golden maples stood along the road, just behind the old stone wall.  The yard was separated from its neighbor by yet another graying stone wall, and there were two strong oaks standing just inside.

On the lawn in front of the typically New England Colonial house I saw a young man and his wife, raking diligently as a million other New Englanders have done before them. A tiny boy was jumping into the pile of leaves, shrieking in delight. His much more mature older sister, perhaps 8 years old herself, was torn between watching him frolic and helping her parents to rake up the piles. A typical New England fall image.

I stopped on the street, smiling at the scene.

The father was wearing a baseball cap and a black sweatshirt. His graying hair was tightly curled and cut short. His wife wore a beautifully colored yellow and fuschia skirt, draping to her feet.  Her black hair was wrapped in a rose colored kerchief.  Her face was serious, the glistening dark brown of her skin interrupted by the bright white of her smile. Her little boy’s face, a beautiful mahogany brown, was lifted to the golden morning light. Her slim, strong daughter wore her coffee colored skin so proudly.

I stood still for a moment, watching this happy, beautiful family enjoying the morning light.  And I heard the father call to his son, in a lilting Caribbean French.   I stood there, unseen.  And I thought about what I teach my students every year. I thought about what I know of the forced slavery that happened in the Caribbean.  I thought about what I know of those who showed such courage to bring their families so far across the ocean to start a newer, better life.

I thought about the news stories that I read every day now. I thought about our fear of strangers.  I thought about our panic in the face of legal and illegal immigrants.

I stood still, the old stones from a New England farm of long ago stretching out in front of me. I watched the beautiful young mother as she raked up the oak leaves and let her happy little boy jump into them.  I stood quietly, shaded by one of those golden maples, watching as a loving father scooped his serious little girl into his arms, and dropped her into the pile of crisp leaves on his lawn.

I drew in a breath. I brushed a few tears from my cheeks.

I think I found America today.

And I think that, at last, I feel a sense of hope for my country and for its future.