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!”




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… get it, right?… 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.”


“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.”


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.


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


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

Remember this thing?


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:

nose frida

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.


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.


Every small step counts.

“I Wish They Were Peanuts.”

Once long ago, when I was very young, I read a story about the great actress Helen Hayes. As the story goes, the young actress met her future husband at a party. Charles MacArthur was a playwright, and was as poor as she at the time. As the evening wore on, his infatuation with Helen grew, and he wanted to impress her. He poured a bag of peanuts into her lap, saying, “I wish they were emeralds.”

Many years later, well into a long and sometimes trying marriage, Charles walked up to his wife. He opened a bag and poured a pile of emeralds into her lap, saying, “I wish they were peanuts.”

At the time, all I thought was, “Oooooh, so romantic!”  I loved the simple symmetry of the gesture, although I really didn’t grasp its meaning.

Now, though? Now I understand.


This year’s Christmas tree is all set up, and it’s a beauty. Tall, full, sturdy, fresh and fragrant. We paid more for this tree than we used to spend on a week of groceries back in our early days. Every branch features a treasured ornament. The tree is covered with strings of lights, all of which are lit. There are gifts all around the base and we have enough extra ornaments and decorations to cover every surface in the house.

Aren’t we lucky?

I know that we are! Our tree proudly displays ornaments that mark every stage of our lives. Vacations, the football years and the hockey years and the cute baby years. Family jokes, family reunions, favorite foods; it’s all there to remind us just how blessed we’ve been.

But you know what?

As I was putting on the ornaments this weekend, carefully selecting the right spot for each, I found myself tenderly looking at one of the oldest items in the Christmas box. I rubbed my thumb over the plastic frame, and rested the little circular image against my cheek, just for a moment.


I found the cross stitch kit for this little ornament in a local thrift shop back in 1985. I was pregnant with my first child, and we had a little table top Christmas tree in the living room of our run-down apartment. We had shopped for ornaments, choosing a set of red satin balls and smaller white plastic balls with little sparkles. They were the least expensive items on display, and although they looked admittedly tacky in the store, on our little tree I was convinced that they were both elegant and lovely.

And although I have never been crafty, and am unable to knit or sew, I sat up at night cross stitching this ornament and one other just like it. As I slowly, carefully moved the needle in and out of the white fabric, I thought about my baby. I thought about our future, and how we’d make a family. I felt as if I was filled with light.

I stitched, and I dreamed, and I felt my baby moving inside me. I hung the little plastic ornament on our tiny tree, and looked at the sparkling lights. I lay down on our old sofa in that drafty apartment, rested my hand on my belly and smiled.

Life was perfect. We had so many dreams about to come true. Everything good lay ahead of us.

As I hung the old cross stitch on the tree the other night, I almost wished for those heady days of the cheap plastic ornaments. Almost.

‘I wish they were peanuts.’


The Universality of Motherhood


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

I was a jerk.

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

Now I know the truth.

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

I know because I see it every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What I thought was lost


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

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

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

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

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


What a lucky do-over!

Oh, Stop Pretending!

I really want my daughter and her husband to trust me with their kids.

I mean, right now, I’m all they have in the way of day care, and I know they aren’t looking to make a change, but still. I want them to look at each other every night and think, “Gosh, that Nonni is just the best thing ever! Wow! What a woman!”

I know. Gross, right?

This is the same internal dialogue that has me cooking a fresh, home cooked meal with all of the major food groups every single night. Every. Night. For 39 plus years.

I know. I am still desperately trying to be a “good girl.” I still want approval every day.

Anyway, I want my daughter to be in awe of my fabulous maternal skills.

And mostly, she is. She’s quick to praise me and to thank me, and I know they really do appreciate having me there to care for their babies every day.

Today, though? Oh, today.

Let’s just set the stage by saying that last night was Halloween. And Paul and I went out to Trick or Treat with the kids and their parents and a bunch of friends. I was dressed like a witch. I walked up and down the street, often carrying Ellie in my arms. I was freezing. I got home with a cramp in the back of my neck and an ache in both calves.

Today I was tired, achy, a little bleary eyed. I was on duty for two over-tired kids. One wanted candy, more candy and maybe “a little tiny bit more”. At the tender age of two, our Ellie has become a better negotiator than D. Trump ever was even in his best delusional dreams.

She has learned how to pull on my heart strings. For example, when her baby brother cries and needs to be held, she has learned to wail “I need you, Nonni! I need special Nonni time! NOW!” She gazes up with her dark, dark eyes and lets her lower lip tremble, just a bit.

You’d have to be made of granite not fall for it.

And she knows that if I do anything she doesn’t like (like brush her long, curly hair) she sobs as if her heart is breaking, “Oh!!! I want my Mommy! Mommy, I miss you!!!”

I wasn’t born yesterday, and this ain’t my first rodeo, but Holy Crap, that’s hard to take.

And then there is our beloved little man, Johnny Jump Up. Aka: Johnny NoTeeth, Johnny Knuckles, Johnny Tank.  The boy is five months old and wearing 12 month clothes. He’s all smiles, until he isn’t.

Today was one of those days. He was either sound asleep or screaming and arching his back. He didn’t want to be held or rocked or sitting up or lying down or on his belly or drinking a bottle or in his bouncy seat or in his swing.

Every time Ellie stopped asking for “Nonni time!”, Johnny was screaming.

By noon, I was soaked in sweat. My heart was skipping beats. All I wanted from life was five minute alone. I put Ellie in front of a movie and Johnny in his swing. I put the puppy on the deck.

Then I went into the bathroom and locked the door. I turned on the fan and the water. And I sat with my head in my hands.

But that hurt my neck, so I went back out there and tried to face it all with a smile.

Kate gets her to pick up the kids between 4 and 4:30. By 3:30, both of them were awake and both were cranky. The dog kept charging at the living room window trying to attack the squirrels on the lawn.

Nonni was getting desperate.

I finally settled Ellie down to finger paint, and tried to jostle Johnny in my arms. At one point I found myself with John on my left hip, trying to vacuum up the popcorn (from Ellie) the torn paper (from the pup) and the leaves that had blown in. Ellie was demanding that I clean up her finger paints and wash her hands.

My blood pressure was rising. Johnny was whining. Lennie the puppy was demanding to go back out so he could start tearing apart the screen and demanding to be let back in.

I faced a moment of decision.

I could just let everyone moan and wail and cry and wait till Kate got home.

But then she’d know that I was on my last nerve. She’d know that I was asking myself what the HELL I’d been thinking when I signed up for this gig.

Instead of waiting it out, I put Miss Ellie into a nice bubble bath and settled John into his bouncy seat in the bathroom doorway, with his favorite toy at hand. I joked and smiled and waited.

And waited.

No Kate yet.

Ellie looked up at me with her big dark eyes. “Oh,” she said. “I feel a poopie.”


Empty the tub, put away the toys, wrap Ellie in a towel. Quick! Plop her on the sofa, grab Johnny and put him in his swing. Ignore his immediate sobs of rage.

Dress Ellie, while repeatedly asking, “Do you need to poop? Do you want to go on the potty?” Get her dressed in record time, throw the towels into the bathroom, grab the screaming baby.

Look out the window.

See the sweet sight of Mommy’s car coming into the driveway.

Think. I should greet her with a smile, show her the finger paints and the nice clean toddler. Smile about the baby.

That’s what I thought.

Here’s what I did.

I met her at the top of the stairs, handed her the screaming baby, told her that the toddler needed to have her hair brushed. Then I growled out the one word that was really on my mind.



I felt a little bad about the fact that I was not up to my Nonni best. I hated the fact that I had added to Kate’s stress by telling her that I was ready to jump off the nearest bridge.

Know what she said when I apologized?

“Ma, it makes me feel better to see that I’m not the only one who is driven crazy by the two of them!”

I need to stop trying to always be the good girl. I need to admit that sometimes lunch is a bowl of goldfish, that a movie is sometimes all I can manage and that locking myself in the bathroom is probably keeping all of us safe.

OK. Going to bed. Tomorrow is another day.


The Gentle Aromas of Childhood


I was a lucky, lucky Mommy. All three of my children were born healthy. All of them thrived on the breast milk that I was lucky enough to produce for them. They grew, they matured, they got stronger every day.

I was SO. LUCKY!

I mean…yeah, I was lucky that they were healthy. I was very lucky that they were able to thrive on breast milk. I was lucky that they were able to latch, and that I was able to provide what they needed.

I have always known how wonderful and blessed those early days were.

But now I have an entirely different perspective.

Now I understand that I was one of God’s chosen people because none of my children….not a single one of the three….was a puker.

Of course, they would occasionally burp and give up a tiny little blop of milky goop. But it was so insignificant that we were all able to politely ignore it and just move on.

I never had one of those babies who gurbled out 3 ounces of cheesy milky slime for every 5 ounces consumed.

I mean, I knew about those kids, of course. I remember when my first nephew was born. My sister-in-law described having to turn over her rocking chair once a week to chip away at the dried crud. I have always known that super pukers exist.

It’s just that I have never before had to deal with one!

When Ellie was a baby, she was a delicate, gentle, once in a while regurgitator. The kind of baby that needed a tiny little hanky to handle her rare blurps.

But now we have Johnny.

How do I describe my sweet, happy Johnny?

I love him! I adore him! I exalt at his very existence!

And yet…..

Johnny is a BIG BOY. He weighs almost 18 pounds at four months. He eats. A lot. Some days the little guy sucks down 14 ounces of breast milk, pumped by his goddess of a mother.

Then he joyfully squeezes his eyes shut and poops out 6 ounces of yellow slime into and out of his diaper, and right up to his armpits.

And that’s OK. I can handle poop.

But after every 4 ounces of nice warm Mommy milk in a perfectly sterile bottle? The little monster  boy immediately pukes up a stream of warm, stringy, mucousy milk. All over whatever clean shirt he is wearing.

Nonni then scoops him up, washes him off, puts on new clothes and settles back into her rocking chair.

Where said adorable boy pukes up a pile of yogurt all over the two of us.

Back to the bathroom, back to the washcloth, back to the bedroom for fresh clothes for both Nonni and boy.

And into the chair we settle, very, very gently. We sigh. We snuggle.

And approximately 10 minutes later, something that smells strangely like feta cheese comes flying out of that sweet little mouth and coats the two of us.

What can I say?

I love my grandson more than I could ever explain.

But I can no longer eat goat cheese. Or feta. Or brie.

I can no longer tolerate the smell of butter or cream. (gag) Or the thought of blue cheese dressing.

Cottage cheese? Fuggetaboutit.

I plan to steam clean my living room furniture and rugs with vinegar this weekend.

I am considering the idea of a cork for next week.

Gosh, I love this little guy!!!!


Do I smell cheese curds?