Just a Ripple in Time


Girls at play

I was standing outside today, watching the kids play. It was a beautiful, cool fall day. The leaves were swirling around in the wind and the kids were running up and down the driveway. The smell of the air was musty, leafy, wet and so familiar.

I remembered walking through piles of fall leaves as a kid. I watched my grandchildren kicking the pine needles and leaves in front of themselves, and I remembered how the crumbly mix used to remind me of old cereal left in the bowl. I could feel myself back 50 years ago, walking through the neighborhood where I grew up.

As the kids raced by me, shrieking and howling and spinning with that special toddler mix of joy and unbounded energy, I realized that I was standing in Momma alert mode. You know what I mean? Johnny was running off to my right, and Ellie and Ella were off to my left. I stood with my feet apart, my hands clasped behind my back. I could survey the entire yard that way, keeping everyone safe and in my view, while still keeping my distance to let them play.

Ellie

There was, I swear, a little ripple in the air, and I suddenly realized that I had stood in that very same spot, so many times, watching different children run and play.

For a moment I almost felt dizzy. I looked hard to my right. Where were my little boys, my Matt and Tim, who used to ride bikes up and down this very same driveway? I turned to the left. Where was my baby girl, my Katie? Shouldn’t she be chasing her friend Jessica across the grass on this beautiful day?

I tilted my head back, looking through the branches of the pines at the bright, clean sky.

Of course my little ones weren’t there. They are grown now.

The shrieking, jumping, dancing little whirlwinds in front of me are Kate’s children, and Jessica’s.

The sky is the same. The grass is still my grass. My house stands right where it has stood for all these years. Some of the pines have come down, and there are newer, smaller trees. But the wind is the same, the smell is the same, the crushed brown mixture of cereal bowl leaves and needles is just the very same as it has been for all of my adult life.

I stand in the cool sun, my hands clasped behind my back. I close my eyes, just for a moment, standing perfectly still.

I hear them laughing and calling, I hear those playful voices. In this moment, I am not sure who it is I’m listening to.

 

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Saving George


happy-spider-cartoonOh, brother.

In an effort to prevent my beloved granddaughter from sharing my ridiculous arachnophobia, I think I sort of went too far.

First of all, I hate spiders. I know, on an intellectual level, “spiders are good for the environment, they eat the bad bugs, they can’t hurt you” blah, blah, blah. Still, I wake up at least twice a month from the world’s most vivid dream that a HUGE BLACK HAIRY SPIDER IS ABOUT TO DROP FROM THE CEILING ONTO MY FACE!!!!!

I hate them.

But I am a good Nonni. I am a wise Nonni. I am an enlightened Nonni.

Yay me.

Last week, my sweet granddaughter Ellie looked up during breakfast and asked, “What is that scary scary thing on your ceiling, Nonni?”

It was a very small spider. As in, wicked small. Like the size of a sesame seed. It was black and had 8 cute and tiny legs. I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to teach about the wonders of spiders. I figured if I did it right, it might just spare Ellie 45 years of night terrors in which a giant spider lands on her face.

“Oh,” I said with a benevolent smile. “That’s our kitchen spider. His name is….um….ah….George!”

“Hi, George!” Ellie chirped, before returning with serenity to her waffles and blueberries.

As for me, I kept an eye on ol’ George. He seemed pretty calm, just moving his way long the ceiling, without ever once giving me the idea that he might intend to pounce upon my actual face.

I was cool. I was calm. The kids and I have been smiling at and chatting with George for about a week now. All eight of his tiny legs have remained the same size, and he has never once made any effort to come off the ceiling.

Nice George. Good George.

Nonni was pretty impressed with her ability to stave off sever arachnophobia. Nonni was doing the hippy environmentalist yay-me dance all week.

But. This morning, while Nonni was trying to get a pot of espresso going, she heard this little tidbit:

“Oh, good morning, George!! You got really really big last night!”

Holy heart attack.

I snuck into the dining room, where I found Ellie smiling down sweetly at a HUGE, HUGE, H-U-Fucking-GE wolf spider on the floor under the dining room table.

To my credit, I said, “Oh, my. Oh, gee.” instead of “What the HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU????? THAT IS NOT GEORGE!!!!”

We paused for a moment. Ellie had a waffle bit on the end of her fork. Johnny had a blueberry in each hand. I had a spatula the size of Minnesota in my hand.

“Nonni”, Ellie looked at me with her beautiful innocent eyes. “Please save him!”

Heart pounding. Every horror movie since the dawn of movies flashing before my eyes.

I do NOT want to scare her! I don’t!

“Sure, honey. Let me try! I sure would love to save George’s wicked big Uncle….Tony…..”

I grabbed a juice glass and popped it over the giant spider on the floor. Said giant spider immediately hurled himself upside down against said glass. Every single inch of Nonni skin crawled.

Then I took a piece of sturdy but thin paper and slid it under the glass. Uncle Tony was writhing, but he was contained.

“Oh, look, Ellie!,” I cheered “I captured him!”

Only no I didn’t.

Uncle Tony got one horrifically articulated claw under the glass and pulled himself out from on top of the paper. In less than a nanosecond, I could envision his horrible bendy legs rushing over the side of the glass and right up my sleeve.

With a soprano shriek worthy of the Metropolitan Opera, I hurled the glass, the paper and old Uncle Tony out onto the floor. Then I backed up, sat on a chair with my hand on my chest, gasped and said, “Um….no, no I didn’t.”

At this point poor Uncle Tony was desperately trying to escape by rushing across the floor toward the wall. Unfortunately for him, he was pounced upon our intrepid/stupid puppy dog, Bentley, who tried to snuff the spider up his nose.

The horror of that thought propelled me out of my chair, cloth napkin in hand. I dropped the cloth onto the spider and stomped down with so much force it probably left him as nothing more than a stain.

Gagging, I scooped up the cloth, rolled it into my hand, shoved it into a plastic grocery bag and stuffed it down into the trash. Which I then tied into a knot.

I was gasping at that point. I was soaked in sweat.

I fell into a chair and looked up to see both Ellie and Johnny staring at me with huge brown eyes.

“Nonni, did you KILL him?” asked Ellie.

Gulp. “Yes. I’m sorry honey. Sometimes we try to save our spider friends, but it doesn’t work out.”

Ellie looked at me solemnly.

“Good.” She said. “He was creepy.”

She took another bite of waffle.

 

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.”

 

Mother Guilt


I’m Italian. I was raised in the Catholic Church.

Ergo, guilt is my middle name.

When my kids were little, I learned all about “mother guilt.” I got most of my exercise by beating myself up over what I did or didn’t do for my kids. I was too strict, or I let them get away with murder. Guilty!!! I was overprotective. But I didn’t watch them closely enough. Very guilty!!!

Dinner was…gasp….frozen pizza. Take away my mothering license!

Then the kids grew up. None of them are serial killers. All three are productive members of society.

I kind of let myself relax.

But now…I am suffering from a profound attack of momma guilt.

I’ll tell you why.

Two years ago we adopted a sweet little crazy pants puppy who we named Lennie. He was good company for our old dog, Tucker the Wolf King. All was well.

A year ago, though, old Tucker crossed that rainbow bridge, and Lennie was left with no one to play with except for Papa and I, two toddlers, two “cousin” dogs, a great neighbor dog and the occasional friend met on a walk.

We felt sorry for him. Also, if truth be told, we were hoping that a second dog might run off some of his boundless energy. So we reached out to some of the wonderful rescue groups out there, and we looked at a bunch of dogs. We thought we’d open our house to another canine in need of love and attention.

This time around, though, we had at least some idea of what we were doing, so we set some parameters.

“No more puppies,” we said to ourselves. “And no more hound dogs.” We had learned the hard way that puppies chew everything from your slippers to the living room rug. We knew that hounds would run away and not come back if they caught the scent of an animal outside. We were determined to avoid the mistakes of our pasts.

A few weeks went by and we started getting messages from a dear friend about a sweet, adorable, loving little labrador/basset hound mix. He looked so cute! He really needed a home.

So.

We decided to adopt a hound puppy.  Best laid plans and all that stuff.

His name is Bentley, and we have been in touch with his foster Mom for a couple of weeks. She’s crazy about him! We’ve been so excited to meet him. Two weeks before his arrival, I bought new toys, a pretty new collar with his name and our phone number. I even talked about him to Lennie.

I thought that everything was great until last night. I went to bed thinking, “Tomorrow we get to meet our little Bentley! Hurrah!”

Then I had a dream about Tucker. My sweet, beloved Wolf King. I dreamed of him so vividly that I could smell the familiar scent of his head. I could hear his mumblepuppy voice, and feel the soft soft fur of his ears.

Tucker!

I woke up, thinking, “Oh, Tucker! We aren’t replacing you! We’ll always love you! You were our boy, our Wolf King, our best friend.”

I laid awake for at least an hour, wracked with guilt.

Finally I fell asleep again, but awoke a little bit later wondering what that sound was in my ear.

The sound was Lennie, sleeping with his head on my pillow, breathing right into my ear. I turned toward him, and he licked my cheek in his sleep.

Guilt-o-rama.

If we brought a new dog home, would Lennie feel less loved? Would he wonder why we thought we needed another dog, if we already had him? Would my sweet boy feel inadequate as a pet and need years of therapy to get over the betrayal by his Mom?

Guilt. Guilty McGuiltington. I barely slept.

This morning, early, we headed off to meet the transit van that was bringing Bentley to New England. Lennie was left at home to wonder what was up. Tucker was in my heart, looking at me with big brown accusing eyes.

There was a lump in my throat.

But there we were, committed to the new guy. He got out of the van, waddled his way over to us, greeted us with a huge doggy grin and shook his long velvety ears.

My heart turned over, I fell in love, and some of the guilt slipped away. The rest would be up to Lennie.

We made our way home, Bentley snuggled in my arms, and introduced our boys to each other.

And holy hound dog. Whaddaya know.

IMG_20180922_100228

“We’re gonna be the best of bruvvers!”

Within an hour, they had sniffed each other’s butts, bitten each other’s ears, shared the same water bowl, chased each other under various bushes, wrassled on the bed and the sofa and fallen asleep side by side.

I think it’s going rather well.

Now I look at Lennie and I feel guilty that I didn’t get him a baby brother months ago.

Sigh.

I tell ya, as a mother, you just can’t win.

 

 

Achieving Vintage Status


Boy, do I have great news!

I am NOT old!

I’m vintage!

What a relief.

I discovered this fabulous fact yesterday, when I took two young German friends into Boston for a day of sightseeing. We took a lovely boat tour of the Charles River, where the sweet young tour guide recounted Boston’s history through the eyes of someone two decades old.

She hadn’t heard of the famous song “Dirty Water,” the old Boston anthem. She didn’t know anything about the Blizzard of ’78.

I felt about 100 years old. My wrinkles were suddenly more wrinkly. My hair was whiter, my shoulders more stooped. My life wasn’t even history. It was pre-history.

Just call me Dino the dinosaur.

Then the young ‘uns and I headed into Harvard Square. I bit my tongue, hard, to stop myself from saying things like, “Back in the day, this place was really cool.”

We wandered through Harvard Yard (“I remember the time……”) and into the Coop (“We used to come here to…..”). We passed the local Starbucks (“This used to be our favorite bar.”) and the old gourmet grocery (“Our Russian tea was over here….”)

I was still Dino. With every step, I felt my teeth getting looser and my joints getting stiffer. I glanced at a store window on one point and was surprised that the reflection looking back at me wasn’t Granny Clampett.

Then it happened.

The kids told me they wanted to go into “Urban Outfitters,” a trendy store I’d heard of but never before entered. We crossed the street and went inside.

And I saw this:

albums

An entire wall full of albums. Albums!!!!

Of course, they weren’t labeled as “albums.” Instead, the sign said, “Vintage Vinyl.”

I burst out laughing, my old lady wheezy voice filled with amazement. Albums are back! ALBUMS! Remember when we were told that CD’s were going to make albums completely obsolete? Well, I do! Now they’re back. They’re hip, they’re cool, they’re freakin’ vintage and they sell for 28 bucks a pop.

Right beside the Vintage Vinyl was a display of….wait for it……

Record Players.

Like, pink and pale blue record players.In big clunky cases. Exactly, precisely, completely the same as the ones we used at our slumber parties in 1966.

record player

The mystery lyrics of “Louie, Louie” suddenly filled my head, and stood up a bit straighter.

The kids headed off to shop for clothes, wall hangings and rugs while I wandered around the place. I was the only one in view with a head of white hair, but suddenly I was feeling just a bit more spry.

I made my way past coffee cups shaped like butt cheeks, planters shaped like bald heads, a random collection of little clay baseball caps and Hello Kitty phone cases.

And I came across a table loaded with Polaroid cameras. Like the one my Dad used to pull out at our elementary school birthday parties.

I am not kidding. Polaroid cameras.

polaroid

And it comes with actual FILM. You have to buy FILM.

There were lots of people buying them, too.

‘Cuz they’re, you know, “vintage.”

I was feeling better and better. When the stylish young folks glanced my way now, I wasn’t worried that I looked like a brontosaurus. Oh, no. Now I stood up straight, highlighting my hopelessly out of date white jeans and smoothing the waves in my silver hair.

“Sheesh,” I thought to myself. “Everyone in here is so modern. Poor things. How unhip can you get.”

I smiled graciously as the youngsters moved around me to stand in line for their vintage goods.

On the way out the door, I passed a display of macrame plant hangers.

macrame

Exactly like the ones we had in college, in our dorms and on the porches of our first apartments. Can’t you just see the cigarette butts and the chipped coffee cups on the three legged coffee table standing under it?

Vintage.

Like me.

 

 

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?”

Dogs


Dogs. Dogs and more dogs.

I tell you, dogs are like Lays potato chips. No one can have just one.

In the past two years, we have found ourselves navigating the tender steps between owning two old dogs to owning one young pup.

As we let our sweet old friends cross that rainbow bridge, we pushed ourselves to welcome a new, young puppy into the house.

This was a very smart move. Even as we grieved the loss of our slow, sedate, cranky old friends, we found ourselves viewing the world through the eyes of our happy, energetic, joyful puppy.

Len

Life is good….but I’m bored.

But now we are the aging parents of one young doggie. He adores us, and its mutual. We (as in, my husband) walk him every day. He plays with our grandkids, and takes rides in the car and sometimes gets to play with our next door doggies.

He seems pretty happy.

He sleeps with us most night, resting his chin on my chest or on my husband’s hip. He follows us around with his adoring brown eyes. He kisses the grandchildren every day when they come in. He plays with us.

He seems…mostly….happy.

Until.

Until our daughter and her family go away for a few days, leaving their two dogs with us. That’s when we get to see how overjoyed our boy, Lennie, is when he has playmates of his own. Izzy is an older lady, somewhat aloof and somewhat removed from the raucousness of the kids. When things get out of hand, Izzy barks and snarls and makes the kids behave.

I consider her my ally.

Izzy

Do. Not. Cross. Me.

Nino is a funny little guy, with some significant special needs. He has dwarfism, so he can’t run as far or as long as he’d like. His head, his big old bullet pit bull head, is bigger than the rest of his body. He is awkward at best.

And he is affectionate, energetic, loving and full of beans.

He and Lennie jump on each other, bite each others’ necks and roll over each other for hours.

You can feel the happiness pouring off of both of them as they do.

Nino

Don’t you love my giant head?

It’s clear.

Lennie needs at least one more canine pal.

Kate and Sam are unlikely to turn over their two pups to us, so we need to start shopping. Lennie loves us a lot, but he obviously needs a buddy to boss around.

Just like Lays chips. You can’t get away with only one.

Anyone have a sweet youngish dog to give away??? H’mmm?