Jeez, winter, yer killin’ me


Ya know what?

I do NOT want to hear about what a mild winter this has been. Don’t want to hear about how little snow there’s been, or how easy we’ve had it here in New England.

From where I sit, any winter is a rough winter. Any winter is way the hell too long.

Today, a mere two weeks before the vernal equinox, I found myself getting desperate.

First of all, we have more snow on the ground right now than we’ve had all winter. That snow is dry, brittle, and piled on top of a boatload of ice. Second, it was 18 degrees at noon.

Finally, the kids and I have been sick for three weeks. Colds, coughs, fevers, strep, drooling, gooping, snots…….you get it. And the kids are on antibiotics, which means lots of diarrhea and not much appetite.

When the kids asked to watch yet another episode of “My Little Pony” this morning, I realized that I was on my very last nerve.

I had to make it stop. I had to shut off the infernal idiot machine (its amazing how seductive Netflix can be when everyone is sick and its snowing outside.). I had to find a way to distract the kids.

“Want to bake some cookies?” I chirped.

“Nooooooo.”

“Want to make some pretty egg carton flowers? We can paint and use glitter glue and……”

“No. No. No.”

I was desperate. I looked out the window, watching the wind blow drifts of freezing snow across the yard. No shoving kids into snowsuits, wresting mittens onto hands, zipping jackets and then playing outside for twelve seconds before everyone freezes.

What could I do?

At the time, the thought that went through my head seemed like pure genius. Pure. Freakin’. Nonni. Gold.

“Hey!” I called to the two kids. It took a couple of shouts to get their attention, since they were busy trying to push each other off the mini-tramp in the living room.

“Since we can’t go outside, how about if I bring in some snow?”

Four big brown eyes lit up with pleasure. Two little bodies hopped up and raced to the window.

“I’ll go outside,” I told them, “And I’ll bring in a big pan of nice clean snow!!!”

“Bring in two pans,” said Ellie, more astute than her grandmother. “Then Johnny won’t have to try to share.”

So out I went. I easily scooped a big pile of clean white snow into a pan and brought it inside. I divided it into two smaller pans, handed out spoons, bowls and paper towels.

“Genius!” I thought to myself. Look up “self-satisfied old lady” in the dictionary, and you’ll see a picture of me.

I made myself a cup of coffee while the kids played at the dining room table.

“Hey, Nonni!”

I lifted my head, smiling at Ellie’s excited voice.

“Let’s use our food coloring on the snow!!!!!”

Before I go on, let me explain.

I’m tired. My back hurts. I think I gritted my teeth too much last night, because my jaw is really aching.

I’m old. My tummy hurts from my anti-biotic. And from the 10 pounds of incredibly delicious German chocolate that my friends from Berlin sent me for my birthday.

And Ellie has been wicked, wicked cranky for the past few days.

So I did something stupid and inexplicable.

I said, “Sure!”

Then I handed out an entire brand new package of food coloring to two toddlers with a pile of snow on my dining room table.

Yeah.

Let me just say that the kids had a lot of fun. They loved watching the colors mix into the ice crystals. We even had some high quality science conversation. Ellie figured out that both warmth and “pressing” can cause snow to melt into water.

Woohooo.

Johnny seems to have learned the colors blue, green and red. Way ahead of schedule. Brilliant boy!

Of course, by the time all was said and done, my dining room table, my floor, two chairs, two toddler shirts and pairs of pants, five sponges and my entire kitchen sink were all dyed a glorious shade of….blackish purply greenish gray.

“Green, Red, Blue and Yellow make…..black!”

I spent a LOT of time and way too many paper towels getting it all cleaned up, but you know what?

It was actually worth it.

The kids learned a lot. They shared and talked and learned some new and exciting concepts.

Way more importantly, though, Nonni had an entire cup of hot coffee and two pieces of toast without a single interruption or shared bite.

So I guess it was a win.

But if spring doesn’t get here soon, I have no idea how I’m going to beat today’s adventure.

“Oh, What is to Become of Me?”


I’m a mess.

I’m an old, cranky, Nonni of a mess.

I don’t seem to know what in the world I want anymore. Nothing satisfies me. Nothing much makes me say, “Hooray”.

OK. Except maybe the incredible blood orange cosmo that my dear friend Patty brought me on Friday. That made me say lots of happy words.

But the older I get, the more I seem to be turning into a toddler.

Let me explain it this way.

You know when a toddler demands that you give them a waffle with butter and syrup. So you make said waffle, put on said butter, smoosh on said syrup and present it. The toddler immediately screams, throws themself to the floor and yells “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

Well. Yeah. That’s how I feel.

I had a very busy week with my best beloveds. They were both sick and I spent a lot of time making soup, urging them to eat soup, cleaning up the mess of the soup. We watched more episodes of “My Little Pony” than anyone should have to endure. I rocked, I soothed, I brought them to the doctor.

The house smelled of Vicks. I smelled of snot and drool.

I got to the weekend feeling pretty tired.

And it was a busy couple of days, too. Taxes were due, groceries were needed, laundry was piling up.

This meant, of course, than I spent most of Sunday chanting the international call of the teacher, “Snowdaysnowdaysnowdaysnowday.” I checked the “snowday calculator” every 15 minutes. I prayed for snow, even though I really hate snow.

I pictured myself spending a lovely, quiet Monday. At home with just the dogs. Reading. Eating a healthy salad while listening to classical music….

And the snow day was granted by the universe! I was elated!

From 9 to 11, I was just delighted.

Then I realized that I was eating chips out of the bag while sprawled in the recliner in my flannel pants. I was watching “PitBulls and Parolees”. I got up in disgust and made myself vacuum and dust. I went into the attic to put away the Valentine’s tchotchkes and take out the ceramic bunnies and eggs. I semi-decorated. I paid the bills.

It was noon.

I shoveled some snow. I checked Facebook and Twitter. I ate M&Ms.

More “PitBulls and Parolees”. I felt bloated. Bored. Stupid.

Now it’s almost dinner time.

I’m making a cheater’s pizza. You know, where you slice a loaf of garlic bread in half and slop on some toppings.

I tell ya.

There’s just no pleasing this old toddler of a granny.

I can’t wait for the kids to get here in the morning so I can make pancakes that no one will eat, get fingerpaint all over the walls, blow toddler noses 342 times, and then complain about how tired I am.

Do you feel bad for me yet?

“You know you missed us. Ellie will be a pitbull, and I’ll be a parolee.”

“She Who Sleeps With Dogs…..”


It took a long time for my husband and I to get a dog. When we first married, we had cats.

After that, we had kids.

Really, really allergic kids.

So a bunch of years went by with no furry little pals.

But then the kids got older, were able to manage their own inhalers and nose sprays, and we finally broke down and got a big old dog. We loved him with our whole hearts……but we never let him on the bed.

Sure, you let me on the couch, but what about the bed?

After a while, we got another dog. Still no bed snuggles.

And all was well.

Until both of our beloved old pups moved across that famous rainbow bridge and all three kids had the audacity to grow up.

At that point, the only one who begged to hug us at bedtime was our puppy, Lennie. Paul tried to be strong, and to hold onto his “no dogs on the bed” rule, but I was weak.

I mean, picture this. It’s a cold winter night, and you’re in your jammies, snuggled under your warm, soft blankies. You pick up your book, but you are suddenly distracted by a soft whine. You look to your left, and you are met with the big brown begging eyes of your puppy. He holds your gaze for a second, then he shivers dramatically, from the tip of his wet black nose to the end of his whippy golden tail.

Can you really say no to this face???

Come. On.

You have no choice.

No. Choice.

You pull back the blanket and make the international “come-here-doggy” kissy noise. Your sweet pup jumps up on the bed, licks your cheek and gives a deep, heart felt sigh. He falls asleep against your ribs, reminding you of your babies in ways that make you melt.

And there you are.

Suddenly you find yourself a co-sleeper with a mutt. Even though you are a happily married woman.

Cognitively, you know that this is ridiculous. There could be dirt. Fur. Ticks and deadly diseases.

But he’s so soft.

Time goes by, and that pup stays put every damn night. In fact, he starts to feel like he’s in control of who gets to use the pillow.

But it’s OK.

Mostly.

And then, for reasons that escape you now, reasons that seem to be tied to “save the poor little abandoned baby” and “wouldn’t your little Lennie love to have a playmate?”, you find yourself the happy Mommy of a whole new puppy.

A floppy, squishy, slinky black oil slick of a basset hound/lab mix. A happy bundle of love who instinctively understands that he is supposed to sleep right under your arm, with his long nose resting on your face.

Sigh.

Months go by. Months in which you question your sanity. Months in which sleep eludes you because there’s a dog butt on your left ankle and a dog head on your throat.

At last, though, the universe shows you that your current sleep situation has an important use after all.

You go to Florida with your sister and in spite of your best efforts, you burn to a crisp. You come home peeling like a banana. Molting like a snake. You leave shreds of crispy epidermis behind you wherever you go.

And. You. Itch.

No matter how much Aveeno, Cocoa Butter, Gold Bond, Vaseline you smooth onto your skin, you itch all night long.

And that’s when you finally discover the gift that you’ve been given by sleeping with two big dogs.

It happened to me last night. We’d been out for most of the day and well into the night. We finally got home after midnight, and the dogs were filled with the need to cuddle right up against us.

So I fell asleep with my big soft basset boy curled into my back. And I woke up thirty minutes later with every millimeter of my back itching. I started to reach back to scratch what I could reach, but then I realized that Bentley’s long sharp claws were resting against my back.

“Thank you, God,” I whispered. Then I proceeded to wiggle, wriggle and slither along those claws, finding the relief that has escaped me for the past week.

An hour later, I woke up again, itching all over my back. And again, Bentley’s perfect scratching post claws were right there. I wiggled and wriggled some more, while Bentley simply snored.

This went on all night.

I itched, I wriggled, he scratched. It was the most heavenly relief.

So you see?

She who lies down with dogs might wake up with fleas, but at least she’ll get some relief from the desire to peel off all of her own skin.

I knew I was doing the right thing when I invited Lennie under the covers!

The Gullible Consumer


This post is a PSA.

Dear Nonni/Grammy/Momma/Grampa/Daddy/Special Friend:

Do NOT fall into the trap that has ensnared this reckless Nonni. Do NOT believe the crap that you read on line about the latest cool toys.

Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT fall prey to the late night TV spots with the glow in the dark cars and awesome flexible tracks.

Be strong, oh dear caregivers of young children. Be vigilant. Be wary. Be resolute.

Cuz I sure as hell wasn’t.

Let me share with you the sad and mournful tale of Nonni’s Kinetic Sand.

This stuff looks like magic when you view it online. Especially if you view it on a weekend when the kids aren’t here and the wine may or may not have been flowing.

Kinetic sand is “the original squeezable sand that you can’t put down!” It can be sparkly. It can glow in the dark. It is easy to use, easy to shape. It oozes. It flows through fingers. It keeps its shape. It leaves hands “completely dry!”

Wahoo!!!

What a wonderful discovery! With this one purchase, Nonni could help the kids explore a variety of textures, shapes and movement! She could be an aging STEM expert!

Why NOT order a bag of this wonderful stuff?

So, of course, you are not at all surprised. Nonni ordered a big ol’ bag of said kinetic sand.

Oh, hahahahaha! Nonni, you gullible old fool!

Today found Nonni in the cranky presence of three toddlers. Two were dealing with colds and low grade fevers. One was wondering how in hell she ended up here with the cranksters.

Nothing was pleasing anyone.

So Nonni, bless her delusional old heart, decided to pull out the big plastic box of kinetic sand.

The three toddlers we delighted. They sat around the table, tiny toy animals in hand, little spoons at the ready. The sand was divided up among the three of them, into three matching trays.

“This is so messy!!!”

This ain’t Nonni’s first rodeo.

Everyone got the exact same seashell. And the exact same tiny plastic asand molds.

The three of them were encouraged to share the water bottle.

All was well.

In fact, all was kind of dangerously, suspiciously quiet. I kept peeking in at them, but nothing obvious jumped out at me.

I sat down and paid my bills.

I was an idiot.

When I came back into the dining room, the kids were wrapping up their play. Good little ones that they are, they were putting the tiny pterodactyls into the box. They were hopping off of their chairs and heading into the bathroom.

“Good job!” Nonni called out cheerfully, thinking of how responsible the kids were being.

We have sand in places we can’t even name!

Off they toddled to the bathroom.

I went to clean up the sand.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

And holy fuck.

How could one bag of kinetic sand get all over the table and every single chair like that? How could it have spread itself into each tiny crevasse in the coffee table?

Was that….was that KINETIC SAND spread on the wall?

Gulp.

I started to sweep, wipe and vacuum. But then the kids called for help. So into the bathroom I went, tucking my sandy dishcloth into my apron pocket.

“Nonni, my hands are kind of dirty,” said beloved child number one. “And I have something in my eye,” said beloved child number two. “Dubdadubda” said the baby.

And holy sacred sands of eternity. There was kinetic sand stuck to Ellie’s sleeves. I pulled her sweater off. This of course dislodged clumps of kinetic sand into her curly “do not dream of combing me” hair.

I turned to Ella, our calm and sweet model child. “There’s something in my eye.” she said with her usual serene demeanor. And I looked. Yep. Kinetic sand stuck in her eyelashes, clumped into her lower lids.

And kinetic sand in Johnny’s sleeves, and somehow or other in both ears.

I was horrified. I was aghast. I was awash in guilt.

Who was the idiot who actually bought this crap??????

Yep. That would be me.

So.

I spent an hour combing hair, washing out eyeballs, sweeping sand off of legs, arms, feet, hands. I swept the floor, vacuumed the chairs and stairs, washed the toys the trays the cups and spoons.

I swept. I rinsed. I scrubbed.

And all the while, under my breath, I muttered this solemn incantation:

“Whoever invented kinetic sand should be buried alive in seventeen tons of it. With a plastic pterodactyl for company.”

“Patience Is a Virtue….”


It’s a virtue that in some ways I possess in spades. I mean, (cough, cough), I spend all day with toddlers and I almost never yell or lose my cool. Truly.

But sometimes I do NOT want to wait. Sometimes I am all about the instant gratification. Sometimes I am not at all patient.

Let me give you an example.

A couple of years ago my sister-in-law gave me a gorgeous orchid. I had never had one before, and I was head over heels in love with its tender beauty. I read the little card that came with my plant. It said to give the plant 1/4 of a cup of water every week.

I was a little bit perplexed, because that seemed like a pretty meager amount of water for a tropical plant. I asked my sister-in-law how to grow it, and she gave me the advice that I later found online. Add an ice cube once a week and the plant will flourish.

Really? Once again, that didn’t seem like much water for a jungle plant. Plus, it was really really really cold water. Wouldn’t jungle rain be warmer?

Still, I did what I was advised to do. Because I hate being cold, I skipped the ice and went with the 1/4 cup of cold water once a week.

My flowers stayed in bloom.

They stayed in bloom so long in fact, that when I went to visit my 87 year old Mom, and saw her orchid starting to wilt, I offered to take it home and save it.

Yay me!

I put both orchids in a sunny spot and watered them every 7-10 days with a little splash.

They both dropped their petals, lost some leaves and keeled over.

I was heartbroken.

I mean, I don’t have a lot of skills to brag about, but I thought I could at least keep a houseplant alive! One of the orchids turned totally brown and began to look more like a tumbleweed than a jungle creature. I sadly tossed her onto my compost pile and turned to her barely alive sister.

“Please tell me how to bring you back,” I whispered sadly to my spindly friend. “Look on Youtube,” she whispered back, her voice so weak that I could barely hear the faint hope it held out. “Google orchids….google….care for orchids…..”

I wiped the tears from eyes and followed her sage advice.

And there I learned that (AHEM) I was right all along. Orchids are tropical plants. Ergo, they will thrive in environments that mimic the tropics. As in: lots and lots of tepid water dumped on them all at once, then long periods of heat, then you repeat the process.

So I did as advised. I moved my weakened limp leafed friend away from the direct light of the window (forest canopy, anyone????) I let her roots rise up from the pot and hang outside like spindly spider legs (orchids grow outside of the soil) and I watered the crap out of her every time the wood chips and bark beneath her felt dry.

Lo and freakin’ behold. One fine day, a lovely, bright green shoot arose from her stem. Up, up, up it crept. It took a full month for me to be sure that it wasn’t just another root.

But at last, this courageous and intrepid plant, sentenced to life in a completely non-tropical New England home, sent up a gorgeous stem filled with buds.

I rejoiced! There was prosecco. (OK, fine, there’s always prosecco here, but still. I was very happy). There was music and dancing and as the formerly limp green leaves of the orchid rose up again in good health, there was much cheering of fabulous gardening Nonni.

Every day the buds grew larger. Every day, the purple and green stem arched it’s way toward the sunlight.

Every day Nonni waited to rejoice at the fact that she had brought this nearly dead exotic plant back to life. Nonni waited with gleeful anticipation for the first glorious flower.

She kept the orchid close to the sunlight, but not bathed in it. She turned it a couple of times a day. She watered it thoroughly with room temperature water every few days when the winter heat dried it out.

Nonni eventually started to sing to her lovely tropical guest. “Oh, beautiful plant, so full of life!!!!” she trilled, hoping to nudge it into bloom. “Where the heck are you, anyway?”

Each day the buds got bigger. And fuller. And more alive with promise.

But. The winter days passed. And nothing happened.

As in. No. Thing.

Nonni was losing her grip.

And Hannaford’s had pretty little orchid plants in full bloom for only a few bucks. Nonni bought one.

Isn’t she so pretty? No ice cubes for this girl!

OK. So maybe it wasn’t entirely fair to bring home a sweet young thing, but I was getting a little bit short of patience. I won’t say that I was hoping to shame my recovering orchid into bloom. But I did think a little competition might be helpful.

Alas.

Here I sit, in front of my not-cold-not-dry-not-too-sunny orchid. I am still singing to her lovely full buds.

But I’m almost out of patience. I mean, come on already!

Give me all the toddlers in the world. I am not sure I have the patience to deal with shy orchid blossoms.

Git out here already, before I replace you with some early daffodils!

Ready. To. Burst. Open.

Oh, What a Funny Idea!!!


I really liked being a teacher. I mean, I really, really liked it. As in, I loved the hell out of being in charge of a group of ten year olds.

I loved helping them to grow and learn in the most important ways.

If you’ve been reading this blog for any time at all, you know that I was pushed out of teaching by a cranky old guy who resented my ideas. You know that I miss teaching every single day.

I loved those kids. I really, truly did.

Even when they were making me CRAZY because they couldn’t manage to find a way to compromise with their classmates.

Oh, holy headache. I remember long, long, long, long classroom meetings where I repeatedly told two groups of kids, “Yes, you can find a way to compromise.”

I worked so hard to show them that if Team A gave up the idea of football at every recess, Team B might respond by saying they would accept football every day for those who wanted to play.

There were days when I felt like all I did was repeat the idea that ‘If you get one thing that you want, the other guys can get one thing that they want.”

I remember sitting at my deks, waiting for the two groups to come to some compromise.

I remember telling the kids, “If you can compromise, we can go outside to play. If you keep arguing we will miss our recess.”

We did miss a couple of recess breaks. We did. I clearly remember the absolute shock of both sides of the classroom argument as they realized that EVERYONE LOSES when nobody can compromise and come to agreement.

I thought it was wonderful when my ten year old charges understood that compromise was the only way to have the whole community move forward. I was so so proud of those children when they came to that incredibly powerful realization.

So you can see why I wish that Congress and the Executive could be brought under the control of a really good fifth grade teacher.

Until then? I am completely disgusted with every single person in Congress and the Executive Branch who draws a paycheck out of my tax payments.

I would be absolutely delighted if a fifth grade class could address the government shutdown in its morning meeting.

We could find a way to compromise!!! Why can’t you guys?

Old Dog, New Tricks, Holy Smokes.


Before I begin this post, let me assure you that marijuana is legal in Massachusetts. Entirely legal. Got it? Nonni here ain’t heading for the slammer. Not anytime soon, anyway.

So here’s the story.

It all started a couple of years ago. My adult sons were home for Christmas. I had been telling them (as in, complaining and moaning non-stop) about my various aches and pains and terrible insomnia. “I haven’t slept in weeks,” I groaned. The kids knew I had tried everything from SleepyTime Tea to Ambien in search of decent sleep.

Because they love me, and because they no doubt wanted to shut me up, the boys made a suggestion. “Mom,” they said, “Come smoke a bowl of weed with us.”

I knew that my kids smoked marijuana, but I had been adamant that it not be done in the house. I didn’t like it, even when it stopped being a crime. It just made me uncomfortable.

I mean, I had tried a joint or two back in the day, but it just made me giggly and stupid. I preferred a couple of glasses of wine. And the stuff available now was nothing like what we used to have. It had none of the alluring Indian incense smell that I remembered from the 70s. This stuff was more reminiscent of an angry skunk. I wanted to no part of it in my house.

But I was desperate, I tell ya, just desperate. After hosting various holiday crowds, I found myself in the middle of a fibromyalgia flare and every inch of me hurt except my hair.

So I gave it a try. Two puffs on the boy’s magic peace pipe, and off I went to bed. I remember reading under the covers and thinking “This stuff is useless. I don’t feel a thing.” I closed my book and turned on my side.

The next thing I knew, the sun was in my eyes.

It was like a freakin’ miracle.

I had become a convert.

For a while I smoked marijuana to help me sleep, but I didn’t like the taste or the burning in my throat. Sometimes it gave me asthma. I moved on to using a vape device, but didn’t love that, either.

Finally, through the incredible generosity of some friends, I found the delight of cannabis butter. Mmm-mmm good!

Weed butter. This miracle cure is a simple concoction of marijuana and real butter. Every night now, I put a tiny bit into hot water, mix in a little turmeric and cinnamon, sip it and drift off to peaceful sleep. The aches and pains subside. I wake up feeling rested.

This old dog has learned a whole new trick!!!

Here’s where it gets dicey, though.

Nonni doesn’t exactly have a lot of contacts in the world of weed. I don’t want to depend on the generosity of friends who are too kind to charge me for my medicine.

(Plus, those friends are away for the winter, so…….)

I asked my boys to get me some weed for Christmas. They did! In fact, they gave me enough to last me probably two years (people their age go through it quite a bit faster than I do….). I took a little bit and made my fist batch of butter.

Oh, boy! I was excited! I carefully followed the recipe that I found on-line, after reading all about the process. I even took notes.

Everything was fine as the butter and weed simmered on the stove. The house smelled more like a bakery than a skunk den, so I figure it was fine.

Until the unmistakeable smell of burning popcorn seeped into my consciousness and I jumped out of my chair. I rushed to the stove, where I saw that my mixture had faded from creamy yellow to a dull brown. The butter had begun to burn, which accounted for the popcorn smell. I quickly pulled it off the stove, and hoped it wasn’t ruined.

I strained it and cooled it until bedtime.

Then I took a tiny bit in my usual cup of hot water. I sat down to watch a movie with my husband.

An hour later I felt like I’d been slammed with a dose of morphine mixed with vodka. Holy headspins!!!

I managed to brush my teeth and fall into bed, but I couldn’t read because my eyeballs were rolling around in my head like marbles. My mouth was so dry I thought I’d choke on my tongue.

My night went like this: Roll to the side, sip water, roll back, experience the thrill of riding a giant rollercoaster. Stay still, taste the entire Sahara in my mouth, roll over for water, take a sip. Now experience the delights of riding out a hurricane in a rowboat.

So.

I learned a few more things last night.

One: all marijuana is NOT the same.

Two: it’s really really hard to get the right dose.

Three: Even riding a roller coaster in a hurricane is better than staying awake all night.

Now if only I could get the marbles to stop rolling….

This is what happens when old dogs try to self medicate.

Through the Eyes of a Child


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

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

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

I have always loved the honesty of children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so.

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

I decided to think about the message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit!!!!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We decathected.

So.

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

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

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

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

It was a VERY. LONG. DAY.

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

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

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

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

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

We were decathecting.

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

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

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

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

“My Mommy makes better ice cream cones.”

This Will Be the Death of Me


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

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

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

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

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

No, my friends. 

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

Glitter and string cheese.

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

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

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

It. Will. Wear. You. Down.

And then there is the string cheese issue.

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

But.

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

Im. Possible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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