I Dreamed of My Father


Some dreams are only dreams. They come to us through the mixing of our yearnings and our fears. They drift through our sleep, filled with images and sounds forged from both memory and wish.

They feel as insubstantial as clouds. They exist, but they are made of nothing we can touch.

But some dreams are more. Some of them, when we are very lucky, are truly visits from those we have lost.

Last night my father came to see me. He came to me as I slept because he’s been gone from this earth for more than ten years now.

I dreamed of my Dad.

I dreamed that I was walking in a foggy place. I couldn’t see what was around me, but I felt myself moving. And then I saw him, my Dad. Right there, right in front of me.

I felt myself begin to cry. I felt the pain in my chest, and in my throat. There were tears on my face that I felt as they moved down my cheeks. I sobbed and felt the loss of breath.

In my sleep, I reached for Dad, expecting to be aware of him only as a dream. I expected the one dimensional feel of him; an image that I could see but one that would have no substance.

Instead, as I hugged him, I felt the warmth of his breath in my hair and the feel of his arms around me. A shock of recognition and awareness jolted through me, and I said, “Oh, Dad, it’s really you!”

He laughed. His real, Dad laugh, and put his hand on my cheek. “Oh,” he said, in his own voice. “I’m here! Don’t cry!”

I held his hand in mine and looked at his fingers, his knuckles, the way the skin was pulled smooth across the back of his hand. I felt the rough texture of his palm and the pads of his fingers.

These were details that I’d forgotten about him. Awake, I would never have known them again.

But he was there. Smiling at me, laughing at the foolishness of my grief. As often happens in these vivid, “visitation” dreams, I knew what he was thinking without hearing all of his words.

“It’s OK! You’re fine.” I felt that he was amused and touched by my sadness, but I knew that it didn’t worry him.

And then the visit was over.

I don’t remember him leaving, but I remember waking up, feeling comforted, but feeling cheated, too. He had been there, for really real, but he was gone again.

I dreamed of my Father. I smelled his skin, felt the softness of his hair. I was held in his arms, against his familiar chest.

It was him. He was here.

I want to go back to sleep. I want him to come and see me once again.

Dad and I, once upon a time.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like…


I don’t understand it. I just don’t. 

Why are some women born with an innate ability to decorate the spaces they inhabit, while other women are born with the idea that plaids look great with stripes?

Now don’t get me wrong. It isn’t that I dislike home decorating. That isn’t it at all! In fact, I yearn for the day when I will live in a place where every item is artfully chosen and precisely arrange.

It’s just that when I actually try to decorate my home, I inevitably come up with something that looks like it was done by a third grader let loose in K-Mart.

I didn’t even know that I was born with this deficiency until I had lived in this house (the one and only home we have ever owned) for several years. We were contemplating a paint job in the living room, and I decided to ask one of my many decoratingly gifted relatives for help. 

“So Sue,” I asked my sister-in-law, “Do you think the living room would look good in a shade of Colonial blue?” (This was the 90’s. Don’t judge.) I mean, I was proud of myself for even knowing there was such a thing as “Colonial blue.”

Sue paused for a minute, looking around the room. “Well,” she said, “That depends on what you want to do with the kitchen and the dining room. You have to make sure that your colors flow.”

Flow??? My colors are supposed to…..um….flow???

I though she was referring to spilled paint, but it turns out that she meant that since all of the rooms connect and are visible to each other, the colors should be compatible.

Oh.

Sure.

She helped me pick out flowing colors, and the painting was done. Phew!

Over the years, with the help of both of my stylish sisters and my three “we could have our own showrooms” sisters-in-law, I have learned a few things. I sponge painted the upstairs at one point. I learned that the bath towels are supposed to match the hand towels which need to be color coordinated with the rugs, the soap dispenser and the shower curtain.

I now use table cloths when I have company, and they are (sorta kinda) color matched to my curtains, lampshades and picture frames.

I’m getting better!  Yay, me!

But now it’s Christmas. 

Now I am faced once again with the inarguable fact of my complete lack of taste. 

Christmas decorating in this house means pulling out the old, puppy chewed toys from my husband’s youth. It means dredging out the aging, beloved, lopsided popsicle stick ornaments that our kids made 20 years ago. If I have been particularly inspired, it might mean a new Christmas candle or two.

What it doesn’t mean, (because I. Can’t. Pull. It. Off. ) is a perfectly arranged side table with crystal ornaments artfully displayed alongside beeswax tapers and perfect Charles Dickens lanterns. It doesn’t mean a gorgeous arrangement of antique toys or a tiny sparkling Christmas village complete with skating Victorian era children.

Oh, sure. I can put out a glass dish of red and green m&ms, but that’s my limit. How the hell does everybody else even FIND all those perfectly shaped, matching-the-wall-colors, adorable little decorative boxes? Huh? 

How do all the other women just automatically KNOW how to set up the miniature reindeers? AND how the hell do they get miniature reindeers wearing bows that match their living room lampshades? 

If any of you out there know the code to get into the secret society of decorating genius women, will you please, please let me know? 

Meanwhile, I’ll be in the attic seeing if I can find the 40 year old plastic Santa with the chewed off mitten. He’s supposed to stand on the shelf next to floppy Frosty with the frayed scarf.

Yeah. This was our tree one year. 

Good Thing We Have Holidays


My house is generally sort of clean. Ish. I sweep the floors or vacuum pretty much every day. I have been known to wash my floors (if its muddy and the dogs have been coming in and out.)

I don’t do clutter. Unless you count the pile of papers that live on my counter, waiting to be looked at later.

So, you know. We are generally pretty clean.

But all I can say is that it’s a damn good thing that we have the occasional holiday. And it’s a damn good thing that I host them sometimes.

I say this because even thought today is a full three days before Thanksgiving, I have already cleaned two closets, dusted 25 picture frames (do you clean people do this on a regular basis?) and completely reorganized by kitchen.

I’ve located matching wineglasses and cleaned them all. I’ve counted out enough matching napkins for every guest to have one. Except me. I’ll get the mismatched napkin, but it’s all good. No doubt everyone will notice my extreme self sacrifice.

Today I found myself noticing all the dead bugs that have collected in various light fixtures. Ewwwwww and yuuuuuuuuuuuk all at once.

So there I was, standing on a chair, unscrewing light globes and shades, removing bulbs, and washing and dusting all of it. The back it all went.

What the heck.

I feel like I do a fairly, sorta, kinda good job of keeping ahead of the dust bunnies and grime. 

At least I try!!!

But after all, it’s a good thing that at least once a year I have a reason to reach down deep and really get things clean.

Excuse me now. I need to go scrub the baseboards behind the toilet.

Levels of Comfort


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I am getting older. I am a woman, as they say, “of a certain age.”

What this means is that my body parts are no longer the same as they were in 1970. Gentlemen, if there are any of you reading this, you might want to look away. For this is a story of how we older ladies seek comfort.

Let me start by remembering the years when I was a working woman. I used to have an entire wardrobe of “work clothes” to choose from. These items were crisp, professional, fitted, buttoned and up to date.

They were fine, but they weren’t relaxation clothes. Back then, I also had an entire wardrobe of flannel shirts, loose jeans and soft sweatshirts. Comfort and style were opposite goals.

Then I got older. I became a teacher in a school that valued personal choice over style. I created a closet full of “comfy but professional” skirts, pants, sweaters, vests and blouses. I wore those from Mon-Friday. On the weekends I was back to my jeans and flannels.

And time went on. I became a cranky old teacher. Then I became a retired old teacher.

Now?

Now I am Nonni-in-charge. Now I can go from Sunday to Sunday without ever actually leaving my house.

I no longer have professional, crisp, stylish clothes. Now I have skinny jeans, black jeans, leggings and a range of loose fitting t shirts and sweatshirts. Now I have comfy clothes and “I don’t give a f*” clothes.

Now, my dear ones, now it all comes down to the bra.

Yup.

The girls, as I like to call them, are no longer the perky little lasses that I used to put into sleek sweaters. Now they are a couple of droopy old broads who just want to skip over breakfast and get straight to happy hour.

So now my “formal” vs “informal” wardrobe is ALL about the bra.

I’ll explain what I mean.

If its a normal day, and I’m going to be here in the living room with Johnny and Ellie, I put on my “comfy” bra. This little item is made of cloth. It has NO elastic at any point in it’s design. It holds the girls up….sort of….but it doesn’t put any stress on anyone. It just sort of holds everybody in place. It’s sweet. It never pinches.

I love this bra.

But if I know that the mom and dad of one of my very favorite toddlers will be coming to drop her off and pick her up?…… Well, that’s a day when Nonni puts on a comfy bra with a couple of pads inside. This bra is comfy, but not as comfy as the one above. It sort of pretends that the ladies are still fine upstanding citizens. It makes the sweater look like it belongs on a wise woman, instead of a creepy old derelict homeless lady.

The comfy but padded bra is my “semi-formal” look.

But what do I do, as a stay at home Nonni, when I am going to be visited by an elegant, sophisticated, incredibly intelligent woman of the previous generation? What do I do if this woman is one of my most admired ladies, and if she is coming to see her great grand children?

Well.

I can’t exactly put on my best silk sweater: I will have goldfish crackers regurgitated on me at some point today. I can’t wear a skirt or a dress, because I will no doubt find myself on my hands and knees picking up marker caps before the puppy can eat them.

I can’t dress up like a professional.

But I CAN wear an actual bra.

Not a soft cup, comfort providing, sports bra. Oh no.

When I know that I must do my best to impress, I get out my favorite soft sweatshirt, my jeans leggings, and my best lacy cupped bra. I put that thing on, strapping the ladies in for a ride. “Girls,” I tell them, “We need to make a good impression!”

And I go through my day, perky old ladies on full display.

I feel so formal. So professional.

Tomorrow, when its just me and the kids?  Floppy ladies all the way.

 

Nothing Lasts Forever


When I was young, and newly in love, the song “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas was a big hit.I loved that song. I still love it. I love it for its harmonies, its tender thoughts, its melancholy.

I remember being a young wife, thinking, “I don’t want all of this beautiful life to simply fade into the wind! There has to be a way to make it all last!”

But you know what?  Now that I am a grandparent, I have a very different feeling about that song. I feel differently about the idea that nothing lasts forever.

Now, instead of feeling bereft at the thought, I feel comforted.

Let me try, in my limited way, to explain what I mean.

At the age of 28, I was so filled with life and new love that I thought the world must surely embrace and celebrate my feelings. I knew that I was only one tiny person in a wide world of others, but the strength and the depth of my feelings were so intense that I could not believe they would ever go away.

Then I gave birth to my first child, my perfect, most beloved, most cherished little girl. When I held her in my arms, it was impossible to me to imagine that the universe could fail to recognize the power of my love and the impossible gravity of her life. As I rocked her against my heart, I could not believe that there could exist a time in universal history when her life would not have the power to move us all.

I honestly did not believe that anyone else had ever felt this same miraculous love. I thought we were unique.

Back then, “Nothing lasts forever” was the worst thought that I could possibly hold in my head. I held myself firm against the very idea. I WOULD keep my love for my children alive! I would! I took photos, I wrote notes, I kept cards and letters and little mementos. I loved my kids so hard that I thought I had created an eternal monument of my devotion.

We were here. Our love for each other was too strong to ever fade. We mattered in the life of humanity, and I refused to believe that at some future point we might simple cease to register.

“Everything is dust in the wind….”

I hated that. Hated it.

But time has passed. Time has changed my view.

Now.

Now I have a whole different view, although it’s no less loving and embracing and proud. It is just maybe a bit more wise.

Now I understand that the love my grandparents felt for their children was every bit as intense, as strong, as deep as what I felt when I first held my own. Now I understand that the families that my grandparents created were meant to be islands of strength in a world of turmoil, but they were not ever meant to be eternal.

My maternal grandmother, my Nana, was such an important figure in my life. She was the matriarch. She was the hostess of the holidays, the provider of Sunday dinners, the center of our Italian-American existence. She was Nana. She was the center of it all, of all of the family tradition on my Mom’s side.

But when she died, I began to realize that her time in the spotlight had died, too. I mean, I still teach her recipes to my granddaughter, Ellie, but they don’t help to bring the real, true Nana into existence. Nana was the center of my Mom’s life, a huge part of my life, an important person in the lives of my children.

But Ellie doesn’t know her. Ellie and Johnny will never hear the sound of her laugh or eat a piece of apple that she sliced for them. They will never have the “Nana” experience that we have had.

Because they can’t. They shouldn’t.

Life can’t be all about the past. It can’t be a ceremony of love for those who have come before us. Life has to be about life, about this moment. It has to be about the people we hug and touch and love every day.  Life has to be about the new loves and the new families and the new memories that shape the world today.

So.

I don’t think I’ve don’t a very good job of expressing this at all, I truly don’t.

But let me end by saying that I am now happy to be “Dust in the Wind.” I know that for every day of their lives, my children will remember me and think of me with love. I know that my Ellie and Johnny will live every day of the rest of their lives knowing me and understanding my love for them.

As for their children? I hope that they grow up having heard my name and maybe a funny story or two. They don’t need to hang on to my old possessions or my faded photos.

Love goes on. Love moves from one family unit to another.

That’s just the way it should be.

Nana

Nana with her great grandson, Atticus. 

 

You Can Learn a Lot From Dogs


You really can. Dogs can be such fabulous mentors. Such great teachers.

You know, like role models.

I’ve learned a lot from my dogs over the years. For example, I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how much your aging hips hurt, you should still run through the woods when you get a chance. I’ve learned to age with grace and humor, and to keep my mind in the present moment, rather than wondering about the future or obsessing about the past.

But I’ve learned a whole bunch of new things in the past 5 days. I’ve learned these lessons by watching my new doggie, Bentley, as he integrates himself into our household.

I’ll give you the general description of the situation here, and I bet you’ll see those lessons, too.

We have to start with our boy Lennie, also fondly known as “Devil Dog.”  He is a jumper on guests, a licker of faces, a yipping, barking whirlwind of joyful dogginess. He has learned our household rules in the almost two years that we’ve had him.

He’s adorable. We love him!

Lennie and John

Two sweet baby boys in the winter of 2017.

Lennie does well with the grandchildren. He is loud and feisty, but he’s gentle, too. They get along very well, which brings us nothing but joy.

But recently we felt sad for Lennie. Our older dog has been gone for a year, and Lennie seemed to be in need of a canine buddy.

So we decided to adopt the world’s cutest, goofiest little boy, Bentley Bass. Bentley is a basset hound/lab/pointer? mix. He’s short, sassy, shiny black and so full of love that it practically oozes out of his velvety ears.

Bentley took about 3 minutes to get to know Lennie. It took him one transit of our house to learn where the goodies are.

It took him one nanosecond to recognize the grandkids as his best source of snacks/toys/hugs.

He’s so. so. so. lovable.

Ellie and Ben

“I bet she drops snacks.”

But here are my observations of how my two sweet dogs differ, and what that means for them.

I have two young dogs who want the best doggie toys. One of them barks every 2 seconds, shows his hackles and his teeth, threatens death and destruction over the blue nylabone.  The other stays quiet, sits back for a minute and waits until the barker is in full throttle.

Then he gently grabs the nylabone and brings it onto the couch to chew.

The hysterical screamer, Lennie, keeps yipping, jumping in circles and basically threatening to annihilate his little brother. Meanwhile, Bentley happily enjoys the bone.

The same is true with food. Lennie barks, yips, backs up and shakes his head when I put down the two matching bowls of kibble. You can practically hear his thoughts, “You just better keep your pointy nose in your own dish, buddy! Don’t even think about eating mine!”

And as he does, Bentley stands quietly at his own dish, eating his meal without any stress. He’s usually all finished and happily back on the couch (with the nylabone) before Loud Lennie has taken a bite.

Bentley growls and fake bites with Lennie as they play. He is brave, solid, unshakable as his bigger brother rolls him over. He grins, nips, pulls on Lennie’s ears and makes sure that everyone knows he’s just having fun.

When the kids are eating breakfast or lunch, and Lennie whines and begs for a bite, Bentley calmly and quietly inches his way forward into the room. If I tell him to leave, he does. But when I look away, he silently moseys back in and gets a few bites from Ellie and Johnny. If I reprimand him, he lowers his sleek head and gazes up at me with his gentle eyes.

“Oops. Sorry, Momma.” He says it so clearly. I can’t be mad.

When the two dogs come onto the bed to sleep, Lennie prances around, turns in circles, yips a few times and makes it generally known that he is the man in charge. He’ll take the best spot, thank you very much.

But of course, while he’s posturing, Bentley lays himself down beside me with his head on my pillow. He hasn’t said a word, but he’s taken the prize.

Oh, what a lesson there is in that!!!!

This goes on all day.  I hear Lennie yelping, arguing, barking and when I come to see what’s going on, there’s my Bentley, chewing on one dog toy while calmly lying on top of three more.

Bentley does not shoot off his mouth, although I have heard him bark twice in five days. He doesn’t posture or make a big deal of things. Bentley stays calm, stays friendly, and quietly gets himself what he needs.

Don’t you wish he could run for President??

The boys

“See, Lennie, I really am a good kid.”

 

This House


We bought our modest little house 28 years ago. We bought it from a family with three young kids. At the time, the house itself was only about 5 years old. When we went to see it, it was messy and filled with toys. There were socks on the floor, if I remember right.

We bought the house. We filled it with our three children. We filled it with two cats, several good dogs and a lot of family and friends. We filled with our lives, messes and all.

SONY DSC

Yes. There was lots of finger painting in this house.

Over the years, we haven’t done a lot to change the place. We haven’t had much extra money at any point, so our improvements have been limited to repainting the walls, adding a few new windows, putting our hot tub on the deck.

Slowly but surely, we have also changed the yard. When we moved in, the front yard was guarded by seven towering white pines and one big choke cherry. There were no flower gardens at all. Since then, we have had five of the pines taken down and have added perennial beds, rhododendron, tons of wildly growing forsythia and even a vegetable garden and a strawberry patch.

irises

Finally: a good patch of perennials!

The yard where our boys used to play baseball for hours has become a fenced in space for the dogs. The rock garden where I once planted little “hens and chicks” has turned into a thriving raspberry and blackberry patch.

Over all these years, our yard has been filled with birthday parties, baseball games, a trampoline, countless piles of leaves and several scarecrows. There was even an ice hockey rink for several winters. Our yard has sported Christmas lights and Halloween pumpkins and even a few May baskets.

But the wheel of time has turned, around and around again.

The house has guarded us as we have aged. It has seen the sadness as the dogs and cats have died off and been replaced by eager, loving puppies. It has seen the children grow from squabbling toddlers to rebellious teens.

It has stayed steadfast and ready when the children eventually moved out. Like me, I believe that the house was waiting for them to come back.

Over these many years, this little house has held in our grief and kept us safe. It has watched us celebrate births and weddings and countless holidays. This little house, set in the middle of our mostly wild yard, has rocked to the sound of music created by our sons and by their friends.

It has held in the wonderful smells of Sicilian Easter Pie and Christmas octopus. Of meatballs and Chinese dumplings and roasting chicken. It’s walls have somehow expanded when the place was filled with young people celebrating the birthdays of our grandchildren. It has always seemed to me that the house itself has loved the times when it has been well and truly filled.

Kids cooking

Cooking for Nonni’s birthday.

 

This house has seen its share of abuse, too.

It has been peed and pooped upon by humans and animals alike. It has had chocolate icing smeared on its walls and Southern Comfort regurgitated upon its floors. It once had a child’s hand go right through a pane of glass.

This house is a home.

It might not be elegant, or stylish, or worthy of a photo shoot. But it’s a house whose walls need noise and life and delicious smells and voices and laughter.

I love this middle class, not quite rural place. I love the slightly off kilter walls and the weird little nooks that the builders left in. I have grown to love the narrow closets that barely hold our towels and the spidery garage where we store so many tools.

I love my house. The only house I have ever owned and lived in.

And that’s why Paul and I have decided that when the house falls quiet, it will be time for us to move on. When the children are grown, and the parties have stopped, it will be time to pack our bags.

We love this house.

We don’t want it to fall silent, or to become sad.

When we aren’t cooking dinners here, when we aren’t hosting family and friends, when the music has mostly stopped, then we’ll tell each other that its time.

Time to cut the grass, pull the weeds and get the garden ready for another season. Time to clean out the garage, give away the extra dishes, put the photo albums into a big plastic box and call a realtor.

When the house is quiet and sad, that will be our time. Our time to move on to the next phase, the next step, maybe the last step.

And if all goes according to plan, that will be the time when we sell this funny little house to a young family with loud and messy children and maybe a shedding dog.

We owe this house at least that much.

 

 

Keeping Nonni Humble


Oh, man.

Every time I think I have really mastered this “watching and nurturing kids” thing, something happens that forces me to be totally humble.

Totally. Humble.

As in, “This is way more than I could even begin to handle in any world I have ever envisioned.”

Yeah.

Yesterday I was Nonni in charge of my three year old granddaughter, her four year old friend and our one year old grandson. It was challenging but wonderful. The two girls laughed, played, shared toys, argued, snacked and were generally the epitome of young children learning to cooperate.

It was great.

I put out snacks, I mediated a few arguments, I made lunch. Mostly, though, I was a cheerleader.

“You guys shared those toys so well! I’m so proud of you!”   

“You are so good at taking turns!!!”

I thought that the fabulous day was due to my wonderful Nonni-ness. I went to bed last night patting myself on the back for my superior child management skills.

Then today dawned. If you have a secret universe where there are rainbows, unicorns and little tiny children who cooperate without effort……..Well.

Then you are completely delusional. And you have never met an actual child.

I know this because I woke up this morning feeling relaxed. “Oh, I only have my own to grandchildren”, I thought. “It’s like a day off.”

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahhaahahaha

No.

This one short day of child care, which Nonni started with a feeling of smug confidence, turned out to be one huge exercise in keeping Nonni humble.

Holy chaos, Batman.

I won’t go into every detail, but let it be said that Nonni has had her commupance.

I thought it would be a good idea to quickly throw together a little nightstand that I had ordered online. What I didn’t know was that the maker of said little nightstand failed the “Impossible-to-follow-Ikea-test”.

I tried. And tried. And covered the entire kitchen table with said random pieces of nightstand.

I attempted to follow the “oh-so-simple” directions which are provided for free without ONE SINGLE word of explanation in any language.

Today it was roughly 900 degrees outside, so we had our AC running as well as it could. We had fans running. Skylights were closed.So it was only about 85 degrees in the dining room where I was fighting to the death with the nightstand directions. I was a big, fat, old lady sweat ball by the time I had connected the first two pieces.

By this time, I have to brag, I had already fed breakfast to both kids, cleaned the kitchen, thrown in a load of laundry, and set up a glo-in-the-dark racetrack.

But I spent my morning trying to build the world’s tiniest and most useless nightstand. I was determined to get it done.

In the meantime, I had set the timer for potty training and taken the toddler to the potty three times , made breakfast for two, served that breakfast, cleaned up said breakfast, washed two faces, pulled out a bag of toys and cleaned the kitchen.

The day went on with pretty much the same rhythm. Hammer in stupid pointless nail number 43, change a poopie diaper. Hammer in stupid pointless nail number 52, serve some goldfish snacks. Put the dog out. Let the dog in. Wash faces. Repeat.

I hammered, hugged, sweated, served, screwed in useless screws, mediated fights over crayons, changed diapers, took Ellie to the potty, let the dog out.

For a while, I thought I was OK. I thought it was working out.

Then Ellie asked for a new snack. Yet another snack. A wicked messy snack.

“Nonni,” she asked with her big innocent eyes fixed on mine.  “Can I have some yogurt?”

Shit.

I mean, really? Healthy, wholesome yogurt? Of course I said yes. I said yes even though I knew that Johnny would want to do exactly the same thing that his big sister was doing.
I gave Ellie her vanilla yogurt cup and a spoon and set her at the dining room table. I took off ALL of Johnny’s clothes, put on a big, set him up in his highchair with its big tray. I put the yogurt and a spoon in front of him.

I went back to nailing in useless nails and gluing useless connections. I let the kids eat.

Then I looked up.

“I’m all done!” chirped Miss Ellie with her nice clean yogurt cup and her clean spoon in front of her.

“MMMMMMMMMM” said Johnny, with vanilla yogurt on his cheeks, his ears, up his nose and into his hair. “MMMMMMAHHHHH!”

I dropped the useless hammer and the pointless nails, ran into the bathroom and turned on the tap in the tub. Back to Ellie and Johnny, grabbing spoons and yogurt cups and hustling both of them into the bathroom.

I thought I was pretty cool. Mostly exhausted, but still pretty much on top of things. I had (mostly) made the stupid waste of money nightstand. I had fed the kids and entertained them and kept us all mostly cool in the desperate jungle heat.

Now I dropped the yogurt covered baby into the tub, and helped his big sister climb in with him. I scrubbed, I shampooed, I scraped dairy products off of key body parts.

It was only noon, but I had already had a long day. I was silently patting myself on the back as I sat back to watch my grandchildren playing. “Nice,” I told myself, “I have helped them to share, to learn from each other, to appreciate the special relationship that only siblings can understand.”

And then.

“What’s that?” asked Ellie, pointing into the tub full of bubbles, toys and …..meatballs.

“OH.” I said. “Um. I think Johnny pooped in the tub.”

In a feat of athleticism rarely seen outside of an Olympic stadium, Ellie hurled herself out of the tub with a bloodcurdling shriek.

I was left with the fallout.

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

So. Now the kids have gone home. The tub has been cleaned, the toys are put away. The sink is filled with hot water, bath toys and white vinegar.

I have a martini in my hand.

Every time I think I have it all figured out, the kids find a way to keep me humble.

kids

Don’t get too comfy, Nonni!

 

 

 

I Feel Useful….


I love watching my grandchildren. I love it so much when their Momma drops them off at my house and leaves me in charge. I. Love. That.

I love it for all of the obvious reasons, of course. The kids are cute, sweet, fun. They hug me, they make me laugh, they snuggle up against me and tell me that they love me.

I love feeding them, and washing their sweet little faces after I do. Naturally, I am thrilled when they ask me to read to them or sing to them or snuggle with them. Being Nonni in charge is so fun!

But.

I realize that there is something else going on when I readily, happily, joyfully agree to watch the kids unexpectedly.

Here’s what I realized today, while Ellie and Johnny were dancing around in my living room.

I realized that being Nonni-on-duty makes me feel useful. It makes me feel like I matter.

On summer days when I am at home alone, with no grandchildren to watch and no students to teach and no job to rush to, I find myself feeling pointless. Oh, I have my list of chores, and they are all significant in their own way. “Stain deck,” “Wash siding,” “Call Comcast Again,”  Laundry, shopping, gardening, canning summer’s bounty, cleaning closets. They could all be called useful, I guess.

But in my heart, when I am crossing each chore off my list, I am feeling useless. I am feeling that I could so easily be replaced by a local teen or a small business or a better cook.

I can’t help it. When I am at home, with nobody here who needs me, I feel completely pointless.

But bring on those grandkids, baby, and everything changes.

Ellie needs me to pour milk! Johnny needs me to hold him! They look at me, and it is as if the sun has risen and poured its golden light over everything. When they are here, I am not the old teacher lady who was put out to pasture. I’m not the middle aged woman with fibromyalgia and arthritis and whatever else is going on that week.

Nope. When those two beautiful little people are here in my house, I am Nonni. I am the giver of hugs, the reader of books. I am the funny lady who runs up and down the darkened hall with flashlights on, screaming about monsters who chase us. When they are here, I am the one who kisses the bumps, the one who laughs at the jokes.

I am the ONE. The center of their small, protected universe.

When my grandchildren are here, I am Nonni.

I have a purpose. A job. A role to fulfill.

They convince me, with one hug, that I am important to the world around me.

kids

“Nonni, we are making dinner! Can you help us?”

What Gender Roles?


I love being a grandmother. I mean….jeez, I love it! I get to adore my grandchildren without worrying every minute that I’m ruining their lives. (Yup. I remember being a neurotic Mom.) I get to play, make a nice mess, then have the evening to put things back in order.

I get to feed them. A lot.

I love that.

I love watching them grow. I love watching them change, and learn new things. I love seeing which parts of them are nature and which parts are pure nurture.

Ellie, at the tender age of three, is a bit cautious and very sensitive to feelings and moods. And she’s dramatic.

She also loves to solve problems. She has a certain tenacity that lets her scream in frustration while trying to put things together, then sob in outrage, then pick up the tools and start again.

She works with her tongue in the corner of her mouth, frowning and humming as she tries to figure out which piece goes where. She does NOT quit.

When she’s done, she often looks up at me and says, “I did it!!!”

She loves to dress up, she loves to dance ballet. The more glitter, the better, as far as Ellie (“I’m Elsa and Anna right now.”) is concerned. She loves hair ties, and jewelry and plastic princess shoes with high heels.

And she loves blocks, trains, cars, fitting things together and tool kits. She loves to cook, to plant flowers and to defeat the bad guys with her magic.

She is a warrior woman. She is all things that a strong, brave, beautiful, self-confident young female should be.

Warrior Woman Child

Yes, I am using a drill while dressed as Ariel. Why do you ask?

Hooray for letting kids choose their own way. Hooray for telling young girls that they can be sparkly superheroes who defeat the bad guys with drills and high heels.

Hooray.

And while we cheer for the power of little girls, let’s embrace the power of little boys to choose their own paths, too!

Our little Johnny is only a year old. He can walk, climb, throw a ball, drive a car, play the drums and smack his Nonni in the head with a block.

He hurls himself backward into whatever is behind him, whether it’s the couch, a blanket or a pile of bricks. He kicks, he squeals, he eats with both hands.

He seems like the traditional description of “all boy.”

But.

He also looks at his Nonni from across the room. He tucks his little chin, grins and toddles across the room with both arms wide open. When I scoop him up, he rests his cheek against mine and coos, “awwwwww” as he hugs me.

He puts his toys to sleep on the sofa pillows. He feeds them and sings to them and rocks them.

Johnny sings and dances when any music comes on. He asks me to sing when I rock him to sleep, but if he doesn’t like the tune, he sits up in my arms and puts a hand on my mouth. He likes gentle, repetitive songs that have words he can imitate. “Blue bird, blue bird, at my window” is one of his favorites.

He is sweet.

When he was here with me the other day, without his big sister or his Mommy, he found a headband of Ellie’s in a drawer. “Ah”, he said, handing it to me. “Ah” . He tilted his head forward, so I’d put the band on his head.

Then he started to dance. There was no music playing, but he knew that on most days, he and Ellie would dance to the music on my computer.

He twirled, he raised his hands, he picked up one foot at a time. He was delighted to be dancing in the sunshine of my living room, all by himself. He was dancing for his own pleasure.

Then his internal ballet music must have stopped, because he bent down to pick up a toy car.

Johnny

“One pirouette and Vroom!!!”

“Vrrmmmmmm!” he announced, his headband still delightfully in place.

Kudos to the new generation of parents, who let their boys dance around in pink tutus while their girls use the drill. You all give me so much hope for a happy, more balanced future.