Joyful, Joyful….


Children have so many skills that are lost to the rest of us. They have such gifts that we have somehow let fade in ourselves.

Today was a cool, sunny day.  It was nice. Not hot, not spectacular, just really nice.

Ellie and Johnny were here, and we spent the morning playing, making pancakes, eating said pancakes, and watching the sweet movie “Trolls”, which Ellie loves.

We ate lunch, and suddenly Ellie looked at me with her huge brown eyes and said, “Nonni! We forgot to play outside!”

As if that was her job. As if she had an inborn responsibility to play outside.

What could I do but agree with her?

Given the cool temperatures, I gave her a pair of shorts and T shirt, telling her it was too cool to play in her blow up pool. I put Johnny in pants and a shirt and a big old floppy sun hat, then greased them both up with citronella bug goo.

We stepped outside into the sunshine.

On my lawn sat a big blue pool. A blow up pool. A ten dollar pool. We had put about six inches of water into it yesterday and the kids had played near it. But we have a very very very deep well here, so the water was absolutely FREEZING. Yesterday Ellie had splashed a bit, but wasn’t able to get herself into the icy water.

But. The water had sat out all night (in the rain) and all morning in the bright sun. By the time we got outside today, it had warmed just enough to entice her.

And off she went.

I sat on a lawn chair, just watching. Johnny touched the water carefully, then sat back down. Up again, touch again, smile at Nonni, sit back down in the grass. That was his schedule for the next hour.

But Ellie?

Oh, my sweet, beautiful Ellie.

Once again this little girl, not yet three years old, has taught me what it means to live a good life.

Ellie raced onto the grass, danced in a circle and crowed, “This is a great day!!!!” Her invisible pals, “Elsa and Anna” were there with her right away. Ellie touched the water and shouted “It’s warm!” Then she peeled off her jeans and jumped into the pool.

For the next hour, she jumped in and out of the little pool, splashing, screaming, pouring water over her head. “Elsa and Anna are washing their hair!!! Look at Elsa’s face!” After pouring water over herself, she’d throw back her head and shriek.

She screamed. She yelled. She howled with joy.

She jumped, splashed, poured water onto the grass, onto her head, onto her feet, onto her baby brother.

And the whole time, the joy was just pouring out of her. Out of ever pore, every molecule, every tiny speck of that little girl, nothing but pure, pure joy came rushing out.

I sat there in awe.

She was the absolute epitome of happiness. She WAS joy incarnate.

She experienced that one hour outside today as one of absolute and total euphoria.

In a ten dollar pool, on a crabgrass and dandelion filled lawn, this sweet, pure soul danced and played and felt herself to be filled with the most innocent and unsoiled joy. She had no thought for how she looked, or who was listening, or what was happening outside of her circle of happiness.

I sat in awe. I watched her. I wanted to cry, because I couldn’t remember ever feeling that must pure happiness in such a simple way.

I watched her. I listened as she threw her head back and screamed, “I love this pool so much!!!!”

Ellie is joy. She is innocence. She is love.

So is every other child on the face of this beautiful, joyful earth.

In honor of Ellie and John, I need to continue speaking out on behalf of all of the joy filled children in this country, in Africa, in Syria, in Iran, in Iraq, in Russia, in Chechnya, in Puerto Rico.

They are joy.

We really need to find a way to learn from them.

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Happy Maternal Figure Day


I have to tell you, after a full day of taking care of my best beloved grandchildren, I am more than ever convinced that Mothers are all goddesses.

In fact, so are grandmothers. (ahem, yes. Like me).

But then again, so are teachers. And older sisters. And wonderful Aunts. And kind and loving neighbor ladies.

I’m sorry, men who nurture, we know you are out there, but this post is about women who raise children.

Whether or not you are a woman who has given birth, this homage is to you if you have ever:

  1. rocked a cranky baby to sleep- sure this sounds easy. Right up until your back hurts, your neck creaks, your arms ache and your inner voice begins to chant (to the tune of “lullaby and good night”) ‘Go to sleep, you little creep, or I’m going to sell you…to a creep, so go to sleep, and don’t you make a peep.’  Oh, come on. You know you’ve thought it at least once.
  2. cleaned up spilled milk/juice/yogurt/applesauce/alphabet pasta
  3. pretended to “watch me!!!!!” when all you really want to do it finish your lunch
  4. gone to a hockey game/football game/baseball game/dance recital/class play/elementary band concert/elementary chorus performance/girl scout award or boy scout award ceremony/honor society event when you just wanted to stay home in your jammies with a bowl of popcorn and a good movie
  5. taken an overtired toddler to the zoo
  6. attended one too many little kid birthday parties
  7. bought 73 Yankee candles that you didn’t want just to support the team/classroom/scout troop

This post is for you if you are one of the countless women who has been on the receiving end of a “can I talk to you?” phone call. It is yours if you have ever stayed up all night worrying that some young person is making the mistake of a lifetime. This is for you if you have ever spent hours preparing someone’s very favorite meal as you wait happily for them to appear at your table to enjoy it.

This ode to the universal mother is for every woman who has ever encouraged a child to try when they were afraid, for every woman who has ever hugged a young person and said, “I could never hate you.”  It is for every female family member who has celebrated a birth, attended a birth, encouraged a birth. For every sister, cousin, aunt, grandmother, friend, in-law, neighbor, classmate, work mate who has ever stood by the door so the new Mom could pump, or changed a diaper, or offered to walk the cranky toddler around the mall for a few minutes.

Mothers come in all shapes and sizes, in all ages and denominations. Mothers are the sacred society of feminine goddesses who gather together to give and support and encourage life.

Happy Mothers Day to all of the many goddesses who have blessed my life, the lives of my children, and the lives of my grandchildren. You are the meaning of life. You are eternal. You are the truly sacred.

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The divine female. By Misa Chappell

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Let’s Pretend


When I watch my granddaughter Ellie at play, I am reminded of just how amazing and fantastical the world can be. At the very young age of two and a half, Ellie has an imagination that takes her to incredible places and lets her be a hundred different characters in one short day.

She is amazing.

I sit back to watch, and I marvel at how effortless it is for her to create her own world and to inhabit that world with total abandon.

Today, for example, we were outside on the lawn. The kiddie pool was filled and a bunch of toys were spread around the yard. Baby Johnny, at only 11 months, was happy to splash in the pool and touch the water coming out of the hose. He chewed on grass, and kicked his feet. He pulled himself to standing on my lawn chair. He was happy to be in the moment, touching and mouthing every concrete novelty in front of him.

But Ellie. Ellie was in another place entirely.

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“Nonni!” she called, “Elsa and Anna are here today!”

“Hi, girls!” I answered as she ran toward me with her arms wide open.

I’m not sure why Ellie so often pretends to be both Anna and Elsa, but they were on my lawn today. Maybe it’s because the two stars of the movie “Frozen” are sisters, and Ellie is in need of a young companion. Maybe it’s because the two young women in the movie have adventures and face dangers and rush from one exciting moment to the next.

Maybe its the beautiful clothes that they wear, or the endearing little snowman who befriends them.

I don’t know.

All I know is that today, in the 85 degree heat, Ellie rushed all around the yard, from the pool to the bikes to the strawberry patch and back again.

“Elsa! Come with me! We need to go home!”

“I’m coming, Anna! I have to bring these puppies!”

“Oh, no! Nonni, there is a flood and Elsa and Anna have to save the puppies!”

Little was required of me, for which I was grateful. I was busy pulling sticks and bugs out of Johnny’s mouth. But I was so enthralled watching her, listening to her running dialogue.

“Anna, wait! The puppies need to have food!”

“Elsa, come with me! I have puppy food here in my frozen castle!”

I could almost see the scenes she was describing as she ran from the pool to the spot on the lawn where her “puppies” were recovering from their ordeal. She was there. She was Anna or Elsa in that moment. She believed that there were cold and hungry puppies on the grass before her, and as I watched her, so did I.

So now, as the sun has set, and the kids are at home with their parents, now I find myself thinking.

When did I lose the ability to create a whole new world with just my words? When did I stop pretending?

I wonder.

What was the last game that I ever played? Who played with me? Where did I put my own personal “Elsa and Anna” and how did I let them die without a thought?

Childhood is magic.

Watching it unfold before me every day is a gift that I will never take for granted.

 

Turn around, turn around


Years ago, when I was a very small child, my parents bought a house in a beautiful suburb. The backyard was wild. There was no lawn at that time, but there were lots of rocks.

We climbed the trees that made up the boundary between our house and the ones on the road behind us. We built forts in the forsythia bushes. We loves that place that felt like the wild wilderness to my siblings and I.

But after a decade had gone by, and some of us were teens, my parents decided to put in a backyard pool. It was fabulous. It was heaven. It was the scene of some of my very best memories; my stout Uncle Mino going down the pool slide into a tube and getting his middle stuck. My Dad laughing so hard that he couldn’t even help. One of our best friends jumping into the pool after our wedding. In his groomsman’s white tux.

And memories of my children in that pool, safe in my Dad’s arms, my Mom watching carefully from one of the little umbrella tables. “Watch me, Grandma!!!” “Look at me, Grampa!”

If I close my eyes for only a second, I can hear those joyful cries.

I remember the image of my Nana one hot July afternoon. She was sitting on the diving board in her white cotton shorts. Her soft gray curls waved in the breeze. Three or four of her great grandchildren were perched on the board in front of her, closer to the deep end of the pool. All of them were talking, trying to keep her attention. She was laughing with joy. She was in her element.

And then the years went by. The babies grew. My mother and father got older.

After my father was diagnosed with melanoma, they realized that the pool was no longer a viable play space. Dad had to stay out of the sun.

So, with some sadness and a lot of planning, my parents turned the backyard pool area into a garden. A carefully planned, gracefully and artfully organized garden.

There were a couple of dwarf trees; a lilac and a Rose of Sharon each anchored one side of the walk that meanders through the garden space. There were boxwoods, a couple of holly plants, and some creeping phlox.

And there were roses. Gorgeous, glorious roses.

At first, they were enough to keep the garden a happy space. We still had the patio blocks and the white tables and umbrellas that used to go around the pool. The little white planters that Dad had built were filled every spring with pink geraniums.

And once again, as always, the years went by. In my innocence, I introduced some plants to that garden. Primroses, and tall phlox and Fox Tails.

They took over that lovely space. And it became something of a wild place. My sister’s addition of peonies vied for space with the Japanese Iris that I added one spring. Eventually, the upkeep of the now overgrown garden became too much for all of us put together.

We hired a landscaping crew.

They have been wonderful. They prune the hydrangea just enough to allow new growth. They cut back the gorgeous roses that want to take over the town. They mulch and weed and pull out the unwanted stray oaks and maples.

But a couple of days ago, my Mom and I went out to see the garden. Mom is getting increasingly fragile, and doesn’t venture outdoors all that often. I am a gardener at heart and desperately wanted to look at what the landscapers had done.

We walked around the yard, wrapped in sweaters against the cold. I named every shoot that I saw. “A daffodil!!! Your creeping phlox are greening up! I see the primroses!”

Then we came to a sapling. It had grown up in a spot that had originally held a little water spout. I’d seen the young gray sprout two years ago. I had cut it down, tried my best to dig out the roots, cut into every major taproot I could find. But it had come back last year.

I cut it down again, annoyed at it’s perseverance. I chopped the roots. I growled my displeasure. This was my PARENTS’ garden!!! It should be orderly, sweet, organized, pretty. I did my best to wipe out this pest.

But it grew up anyway. By midsummer of last year, I had given up. I thought that a little maple was coming up in the middle of the damn garden. I was. NOT. happy.

But.

There I was, in the cold April sun, holding the arm of my 88 year old Mother. Looking into her early spring garden. We saw all of the good and well planned flowers coming up to greet us. We saw the buds on the carefully chosen dwarf trees.

And then we stood in front of the interloper who would not be denied.

“What is it?” Mom asked me. I looked up at the slender silver branches arching above us.

“Oh, my God,” I gasped. “Mom. It’s a pussy willow!”

A pussy willow.

One of my very first memories from our yard, so long ago. I remember them growing down by the shed my Dad built for his tools. I remember them in the space between our house and our neighbors.

I haven’t seen one in years.

And here it was.

A sweet, beautiful, sassy, badass, not to be denied pussy willow. Growing right in the middle of the carefully crafted garden. Growing in what used to be the deep end of the pool. Growing even though it had been cut, and pruned and smashed.

A pussy willow.

The best harbinger of spring. And a link to the childhood that I left behind so very long ago.

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Oh, Boys


I’ve been thinking about boys lately.

I am one of those progressive, feminist women who have given a LOT of thought to the biases that we show toward our female kids. A little more than two years ago, I became the daycare provider for my first grandchild, Ellie.

My daughter and I talked a lot about how we wanted to talk to her. We were very conscious of using words like “pretty” and “sweet” and “good girl”.  We wanted Ellie to see herself as strong, capable, independent.

Two and a half years into her life, it’s very clear that we have succeeded. Ellie is smart, opinionated and confident. She is loving and kind, but doesn’t worry about being “pretty’. Yay, us. We have helped to set a young woman on a positive path.

But what about her brother?

Johnny is 10 months old. He is big (only three pounds less than his sister who is 20 months older than he is.) He is active, and curious and energetic.

When I put Johnny down on the floor to play, he is immediately drawn to every outlet, every electrical cord, every electronic device. He climbs on everything. He opens every cabinet he can find and pulls out all of the contents.

Johnny goes to the top of the stairs in our living room and grabs the baby gate. He shakes it as hard as he can. When I take him away, he howls his outrage and throws himself to the floor. Sometimes he even bangs his head on the floor.

And I have found myself reacting to him as a hyperactive little wild child. I have heard myself calling him, “Butter ball” and “chunky monkey”.  I have noticed that I refer to him as “wild” and “hyper.”

But the other day I looked through a bunch of old photos. I noticed the ones where ten month old Ellie was pulling herself up on the very same baby gate. My caption read: “She is so strong!”

I found pictures of Ellie pulling things out of the very same kitchen cabinets, and I saw that I had written, “My little kitchen helper.”

I was shocked. Shocked at my so called progressive old self.

What was I doing?

Johnny is active and physical, as so many babies are. He is strong and he is sturdy. He is enormously curious.

My job is not to label him or criticize or shake my head and tell my friends, “He is exhausting!”

My job is to say, “John, you are so strong.” and “You are such a good explorer!”

My job is to let this boy know that his energy is his strength. That his curiosity is intelligence. And when he begins to react to his emotions physically rather than verbally, my job will be to show him that he can be both physical and loving.

I have noticed myself and other progressive, liberal, gender neutral adults reacting to our little boys differently than we react to our little girls.

One example: last summer I hosted a second birthday party for our Ellie. The kids were playing with bubbles and balls and sidewalk chalk. One of the bubble wands broke when a little girl was playing with it. The adults around her scooped her up to comfort her when it broke. They said things like, “Oh, honey! I’m so sorry that it broke!”

Ten minutes later, a little boy had his bubble wand break in his hand. He responded by saying, “I’m sorry. I broke it.” The adults around him, all loving and wonderful parents, said, “What did you do?”

It was just such an eye opener for me.

And I am using that memory to guide my reactions to Johnny as he pulls himself up to yank things off of my coffee table. He isn’t being “wild” or “hyper” or “bad”.  He is using his strength and his problem solving skills to figure out the world around him.

He is doing exactly what nature has set him up to do.

He is no more active than his sister was. He isn’t particularly more physical or more active than she was.

The only difference, really, is how his grandmother and the rest of the world sees his development.

Johnny is a boy. An active, sweet, loving, musical, funny, physical little boy. He is exactly what he is supposed to be.

Johnny train

My Father’s Hands


My father was a builder. He could build a shelf, a shed, a stool. He could turn an unfinished cellar into a beautiful bedroom, laundry room, rec room and bathroom. My father had hands that could turn a simple piece of wood into a cross for the local church.

My father’s hands were strong, capable, rough to the touch.

They were gentle when they cradled his children. They were strong when they were asked to move rocks in the backyard.

When my sons were small, my Dad built each of them a little wooden train. The cars connected with a simple peg and hole design. Each train had an engine, a set of following cars, and a small caboose. Each had the name of one son carved into it.

I watched my boys play with those wooden trains. They drove them down the hall, across the kitchen, over a mountain of stacked books. The little wooden wheels rolled effortlessly through our house. The engines were crashed together, driven down our front steps, and taken out into the yard on warm summer days.

My father laughed with pleasure when he saw his grandsons racing the trains, crashing them into walls and taken them apart over and over again. “They’re toys,” he said when I worried about the boys breaking them. “They’re supposed to be played with! Let them play.”

So I did. I let them play. I let my beautiful boys use those wooden trains to create new worlds and gain control of those worlds. I held my tongue when I wanted to tell them to be careful. I stopped myself from putting the little trains up on a shelf.

And my boys grew up. The wooden trains were left behind, with the hot wheels and the books and the leggos.

When I knew that they had truly grown and gone, I carefully picked up each little train car. I dusted them, cleaned them with lemon oil, gently attached each car to it’s neighbor. I placed them up on a shelf, surrounded by my favorite photos and souvenirs of long ago vacations.

And there they sat, for too many years.

But now I have my grandchildren in my house. I have a toy box, a book shelf filled with favorite stories, baskets of dress up clothes and stuffed animals.

And the wooden trains have come back out.

This morning as I watched the kids at play, I looked up to see the baby, little Johnny, holding one of those wooden train engines in his hand. And it hit me with the force of all that love and sorrow and joy.

His little hand, the hand that contains the essence of his great grandfather, was rolling the train across my floor. He was cooing and grinning and giggling with happiness. I watched my sweet baby Johnny as he lifted the wooden toy to his mouth and then held it out to me. He seemed to be saying, “Hey! Would you look at this!!! A TRAIN!”

I looked at his little hand, his dimpled knuckles and chubby wrists. And I saw my boys right there in front of my. My own sweet little ones, racing those trains across this very same floor.

And I saw the hands of my father. Those capable, gentle, strong hands, creating years and decades of pleasure for those who would come after him. I saw his hands right there over Johnny’s. I saw the hands of my boys, holding those same little trains in the very same way.

What a gift.

Today I saw my Dad, gone now for more than ten years. I saw him smiling at my little grandson, guiding him as he learned how to roll that wooden train across the floor of my living room.

What a gift.

My father’s hands, and the hands of my baby Johnny.

Johnny train

 

Holding On, But Not Too Tight


Ellie and Johnny

The grace and wisdom of grandparenting comes from knowing just how quickly these days will fly away.

One day in the not so far away future, I will be in my living room alone. I’ll have a good book, probably a laptop, and a dog or two snoozing at my feet. Life will be OK.

But what I won’t have on that future day is the sound of little voices filling the air with bubbles of joy. I won’t have the always amusing lilt of Ellie as she narrates our day together.

Last night as I was falling asleep, I kept hearing the sound of her words, complete with every mispronunciation. I thought to myself, “I hear her say my name hundreds of times every day.”  I never ever want to forget the way she says it. “Nah-nni” she calls, as she points out every event. “Nah-nni.” My heard floods with salty love at the thought of her speaking my name.

“Nonni, why is this happening? Why is this box not fitting on my head?”

“Nonni, know what I was thinking? I was thinking about cookies, Nonni, are you thinking about cookies?”

“I love my pretty goolie, Nonni! (jewelry).”

“Where are your ancestors, Nonni? Where are they now?” (We’ve been watching Moana.)

Or those moments when she is sipping from her cup of “milkies” and leans that curly head against my shoulder. She’ll sort of just murmur, her lips still clasped around the straw, “My Nonni.”

I want to save it. I want to record every word. I want to capture every question and keep it frozen in time. I want to preserve the feeling of her hair on my cheek. The feel of her breath on my closed eyelids as we fall asleep together.

I’m selfish. I want to keep these moments.

I want them all.

And then there’s Little Johnny, our beautiful boy. Every tiny new skill is a miracle. He can chomp on his own toes! He can raise his arms to ask me to pick him up! He is starting to babble, and to say “Mama”. He eats and its a hilarious festival of goofy faces and veggies up the nose.

They’re both just like every other miraculous child who has ever lived. But they’re OURS. In my Nonni heart, they’re MINE.

And I want to keep every second. I want them all to myself. I don’t want to share them, or miss them, or forget them. Ever.

Because I know this time around that before I can even catch my breath, the lilting little voices will be gone. The baby smiles will pass. The tender hugs and whispered words, “Oh, my Nonni” will have given way to the rest of their lives.

I can’t save these moments, any more than I could have saved the same tender moments with my own babies. We aren’t meant to hold onto time. I know that.

I know that time has to move. I know that. I can’t hold these days in my two hands.

But I can breathe in the emotion. I can swallow the love and plant it deep inside of me, in my very soul. I can feed it with my memories, and with all the love that I pour back into my little ones.

And one day, when I am sitting in my living room all alone, I will close my eyes. I will conjure up a picture of Ellie dancing in the living in room in her tutu and her “goolie” with a box on her head. I’ll see Johnny’s big shining eyes as he gazes up at her in adoration.

And I’ll remind myself that I have been the luckiest Momma and the luckiest Nonni who has ever lived, anywhere, anytime.

“Oh, Nonni, you are a silly lady!!! I love you, Nonni!”

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You Can’t Fire Me!


You know, when my kids were little, I got myself all revved up for the famous “terrible twos.” I got ready for the tantrums and the irrational demands. But they never materialized.

Until the morning of each third birthday.

No kidding. All three of my own children were fine from 2 to 3, but as soon as that third birthday rolled around, they turned into tiny tyrants.

Which is why I’m proud-ish to say that my beloved granddaughter, Ellie, is far more advanced than my own kids. She is only 2 1/2, but she has mastered the fine points of despotic rule in a way that could only make third world leaders jealous.

Tonight is the first night of Christmas break. Yeehah! This means that my daughter the teacher is off for a week, which means that old Nonni here is off for a week, too.

Which means, in the world of neurotic old Italian ladies, that Ellie and I have spent the week making cookies, creating gifts, watching Christmas movies and generally getting ready to be apart for a week. I tell her I’ll miss her. She tells me she’ll miss me. We hug. We kiss. We sigh.

We have also been battling a wicked respiratory virus, ear infections, coughs, nosebleeds and a little constipation. It’s been a loooooooonnnnnnngggggg week.

And today we hit the wall.

Both of us.

My beloved, adored, sweet, smiling, loving…..you get it, right?…..my darlingest little girl arrived at my house this morning wearing her Crazy Dictator Personality.

And she started right in.

“NOOOOOOOO!!!!! Daddy carry me to the car!!!!!!!”   “No, honey, your baby brother in his carseat is too heavy for me. Daddy will get Johnny, I will get you.”

“I NEED MILKIES!!! MILKIES!! MILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIES!!”  “Honey, you need to stop screaming at me. Ask me nicely.” MILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIES!!” 

“Go away!!! Nonnie, you go away! I want to be ALONE IN THIS ROOM!!!” “Well, dear sweet child, this is the bathroom, and I was in it first. So you need to go……”  “NOOOOOOO!! I am NOT talking to you!!!!”

And the day went on.

Me, with my sinuses throbbing and my last nerve on edge. “Ellie, I am making you a waffle.”     “NOOOOOOOOOO!!! No waffle!!!! NOOOOOOOO!!! I won’t!!!!!!”

Me again, with the same nerves and throbs. “Do you want some oatmeal?” “NOOOOOOOOO!!! Give me a waffle!!! I NEED a waffle!!!!!”

Most of it was fairly typical Toddler Tyrant behavior, but some was enough to make me pull out my old gray hairs. Like this little demand, while I was in the middle of changing yet another giant yellow poopie from baby Johnny. “I NEED YOU!!! HELP ME!!!! ARGGGHHHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG!!!”   Wrap baby in closest blanket, place him on the floor and rush into the bedroom. “Ellie! What’s wrong?!”  “I need you to make my lion sit up.”

Grrrrrrr.

I’ll be honest. I must confess. I started to count the minutes until the end of the babysitting day.

“I NEED a cookie!!!!!!”  Me: Roughly 94 minutes….

Other hysterical, tyrannical demands were just plain hilarious.

For example, the poor kid has had this respiratory bug for more than two weeks. Her nose hurts. She keep reaching into her right nostril with a pointed finger to try to take out the offending mucous. “Look! I finded a big boogie!” When I reminded her for the tenth time time an hour that she needed to keep her fingers OUT of her nose, she announced with a completely straight face, “Go away, Nonni. No talking to me. No looking at me. I don’t have to look at you!” And she went right on digging.

Or this perfect example of what today was like for Nonni and Ellie.

My little girl didn’t want to take off her red reindeer pajamas today. I generally insist on getting dressed, washing faces, doing hair. But today snow was falling and we were all worn down. I let her stay in her jammies.

Until the moment when Ellie asked me to help her put on undies. I unsnapped her jammies, pulled down the zipper, and took off her Pullup. Got her clean, took the pajamas off and handed her the nice clean underwear.

Which she immediately placed on her head.

Ellie pants head

And she immediately started to cry. “Put this on my head! Put this on!!!!”  “Ok, what? On your head? Um……” 

“I can’t!!!!!!!! I need my undies on my chest! On my chest! On my CHEST!!!!!”

At this point, Nonni gave up. Nonni has a cold. Nonni is tired, OK?  Nonni said, “STOP IT!!!!!! Your undies don’t go on your CHEST!!!”  I did not address the issue of whether or not said undies belonged on her head…..

It was a tough day.

By naptime, we were both pretty wrung out. As I pulled the blankets up over her shoulders, my tiny tyrant looked up at me with her huge brown eyes and said, “You’re gonna miss me. You will be sad.”

“You’re gonna miss ME.” I countered. She smiled, rolled onto her side to go to sleep, and murmured, “Night, Nonni. I love you so muck.” (she can’t make the ‘ch’ sound.)

I melted, kissed her cheek, tenderly smoothed back her hair, and went into the living room.

“46 minutes,” I said out loud.

 

The Infamous Snot Sucker


It’s a funny thing, but every generation of parents seems to think that it has invented the absolute best way to raise kids. Every generation creates new ways to do the same basic tasks of parenthood.

And every generation of grandparents rolls its collective old eyeballs and says, “Oh, brother.”

Some of what’s new is based in science, so even when it seems counterintuitive, we old timers do it. Like putting babies on their backs in cribs with no bumper pads. Pretty sure this practice has saved a lot of lives.

But some of these newfangled ideas are just plain ridiculous.

Take the diaper genie, for example. Wrapping disposable diapers in plastic bags that you stick in another plastic bag so you can throw it into your plastic trash bag? Nope. Nopie, nope, nope. Some new Moms think this thing is fabulous. It’s not.

We old ladies used to wrap up the poop and just drop it in the trash. That way, when the trash is full and the entire house smells of fresh doodies, NO ONE argues about throwing the trash. Trust me.

Likewise the latest “must have” item on most new Mom’s wish list. The famous “wipe warmers.” This is a device that keeps your box of butt wipes at body temperature so the little one doesn’t experience a chill on those most important little body parts.

Just plain stupid.

I mean, jeez. My parents thought using throw away wipes and throw away diapers was sissy stuff. My generation was NOT going to condone an electronic device to warm up the butt wipes. No freakin’ way.

Like every generation of old folks ahead of us, we grandparents are pretty sure that we know what we’re doing when it comes to raising kids. We regularly get together with our silver haired friends and say things like, “Oh, man, can you believe the car seats they have now? You could send a kid to the moon.” We fall asleep thinking, “When are they finally gonna give that kid some solid food?”

You know what I mean. We’re all puffed up thinking, “Well I raised three healthy kids even though I did use Vicks Vap-o-Rub.”

We’ve been there. We’ve done that. This ain’t our first rodeo.

Still.

There is one new device that has absolutely revolutionized baby care. It is a device that should make every grandparent sing songs of praise.

Really.

I call it, the “Infamous Snot Sucker,” although it has other names.

Remember this thing?

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Back in the day, when your baby had a really bad cold, you used this thing to get all that green goo out of their noses. It was relatively efficient, but you had to shove the pointy part halfway up to the kid’s brain to get it to work. AND you had to be really coordinated while you were trying to suck out the snot or you’d end up blowing air into those little nasal passages and just making things worse.

Not only that, but once you had a plastic bulb full of gooey green, germ infested slime, you could never be sure that you had actually cleaned it out.

I had very allergic kids. We had a LOT of upper respiratory infections. I threw out a bulb a month, I swear.

Now, though, we have the newly invented “NoseFrida” or “Infamous Snot Sucker”!!! Angels are singing, I kid you not.

Here it is, in all it’s glory:

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I don’t know who “Frida” is, but she’s a freakin’ genius.

Do you hear the angels? I do!

This device is amazing, if nauseating. See, when the little ones come down with terrible colds, and the huge green bubbles of snot are continuously bursting out of their tiny noses, this is the thing you need.

It uses a very simple scientific premise to work its magic.

It’s just a teeny, tiny vacuum. It sucks the snot right out of those minute nasal passages. And it is powered by….well….suction.

Suction from the mouth of the desperate adult who pokes the open tip of the device into the nose of the sick baby. Suction from the mouth of the exhausted, cranky adult who holds the little red mouthpiece in her aging lips and sucks.

Like, she inhales. You know. Toward her (gag) mouth.

Here’s where it gets good. (Stay with me.)

The giant globs of yellow green goop come streaming out of the tiny nose. The grandmother on the other end of the device thinks, “What the HELL? That thing is bigger than HE IS!” If said old lady can avoid the desire to shriek, drop the snot sucker and run to the bathroom, she can reach for a tissue and wipe the whole disgusting mess off the face of the sick child.

She can then switch nostrils and do the same thing on the other side.

The bad part?

Well, the first three or six or twenty times you do this, you will find yourself gagging like you haven’t gagged since that college night with the bottle of Southern Comfort.  This process is. so. disgusting.

But the good part?

This genius design prevents the actual snot clots from traveling the length of the blue tube. Which means that they never reach the tiny sponge that is placed strategically to block their passage into your mouth.

You are safe. I promise. You will not suck up the snot.

That snotsucker name? It’s, like, a euphemism.

What WILL happen is that the enormous worm of infected mucus that has been hiding in the nasal passages of your beloved baby will be pulled out by the power of your grandparenting lungs. It will slip out of the tiny nostril, where it will immediately attack the cheeks, lips, eyeballs and hair of the afflicted. It will then slither down to your hand, onto your shirt, and will try to make its escape before you grab it with the tissue of death and deposit it into the toilet.

You will be grossed out. You will probably need a very, VERY hot shower as soon as your grandbaby goes home. Also a shot of good Scotch.

But.

The little one will look at you with wide eyes, filled with joy and laughter. Not only has he managed to cover you in green snot, he has also suddenly rediscovered the joy of breathing.

So. New grandparents, new parents, new aunts who might be watching the kids, do yourselves a favor.

Invest in the “Infamous Snot Sucker” and prepare to be amazed.

Nauseated, horrified, disgusted and amazed. All at once.

 

Step By Step


One of the interesting parts of getting older, according to this aging Nonni, is gaining the ability to see the difference between reality and what people have perceived.

For example, I remember my childhood with so much warmth and love. My family was never, ever perfect (uh, we were humans, right?) but we did our best. My parents were first generation Americans with a strong Italian immigrant flavor. We grew up with pasta on Sundays, red wine in the glasses, lunches made of salami and provolone.

Our parents were dealing with all of the pressures of the 1950’s. Dad had served in the Army in WWII. Mom had grown up as the oldest child in an Italian immigrant family, and she gave up her dream of becoming an artist because that’s what women did in the 1950s. She got married. She gave birth to six of us. She raised us while my Dad worked days and studied at night.

We were unremarkable.

We were an American family in the years that followed the second great war. We were polite, we were respectful, we were good students.

We were NOT ever perfect.

The six of us learned how to push back against our parents when the Beatles hit these shores. We lobbied hard for long hair (the boys) and short skirts (the girls). We argued. We fought. We yelled at each other about the Vietnam War and the peace movement and the supposedly incomprehensible lyrics of rock songs.

But we were a unit. Six kids. Six attractive, healthy kids. Well loved by our parents, even when they drove us nuts.

And we loved each other.

I was a part of the “big kids” group. My older brother, me, my sister Liz. We were the first set of kids in the house. But we were followed, very closely, by the “little kids”. A baby brother, a sweet little sister, and another baby boy.

The “big kids” did our best to take care of the “little kids” as we all grew up in a middle class American family.

We were not perfect. We argued. We fought. We rebelled (although the big kids didn’t do it as well as the little kids). We did our best to take care of each other.

Life is never a straight line. Life is never the careful step-by-step that most of us hope we can achieve. Life is full of totally unexpected, out-of-left-field hits. All we can do is reach back into our pasts, into our lives, into our earliest selves, to make everything all right once again.

It doesn’t always work. But what else can we do?

I know that my family life has been 61 years of step-by-step. Sixty one years of trying my best to do my best. Trying to be the most loving and supportive family member I can be, while realizing that perfection is a myth.

Step by step.

We all do our best to be our best.

If we aren’t perfect, we are not to blame.

We’re only human after all.

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Every small step counts.