Joyful, Joyful….


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

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

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

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

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

What could I do but agree with her?

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

We stepped outside into the sunshine.

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

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

And off she went.

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

But Ellie?

Oh, my sweet, beautiful Ellie.

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

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

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

She screamed. She yelled. She howled with joy.

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

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

I sat there in awe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are joy.

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

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When I Die


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Today I attended the funeral of a man who lived for 103 years. He was the father of one of my dearest and most treasured friends. He was a man who lived through so much change, and who seemed to somehow embrace every new step.

This gentleman was a true old Cape Codder, living through the years when the Cape was an unpaved, marshy wilderness. He hunted for ducks in the marsh. He harvested clams and oysters in the shallow waters of the bays.

He served in the Navy, he married well, and he raised two daughters. He was a businessman, a fisherman, a golfer, a true New England “old salt.”

What I loved about his memorial service today was the emotion and love that his children, grandchildren and even one great grandson shared with all of us.

What they said was exactly what I hope and pray will be said about me one day.

“He lived his own life in his own way.”

“He made us laugh.”

“Papa was full of fun.”

And best of all, “He was my friend.”

A great grandson said those words. “He was my friend.”

How beautiful. How perfect. What a wonderful accolade to a life well lived. To know that the child of your child’s child could look at you and see the face of a true friend.

I am old enough now to listen carefully to the words that are shared at funerals. I listen and I hope, and I vow to bend and shape my own life more carefully.

I hope that one day, when it is my turn to step out of this life and into the next, that some young person will speak of me with love. I pray that one of my descendants will be able to stand up and say, with honesty, “She was my true friend.”

With special love to my dear friends Wendy Bearse King and to her beautiful children. A life well lived is the best aspiration that any of us can have.

 

Happy Maternal Figure Day


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The divine female. By Misa Chappell

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Let’s Pretend


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

She is amazing.

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

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

But Ellie. Ellie was in another place entirely.

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

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

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

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

I don’t know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder.

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

Childhood is magic.

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

 

Scilla Siberica


I was only 31 when my family and I moved into our first home with a garden. We had rented apartments before then, but this was our first single family home. It was only a rental for us, but it was my first experience with real gardening.

The house we rented, my husband, our baby daughter and I, was small and old. But it was kept in perfect shape by our landlord, whose parents had lived there for decades. The back yard of the little Cape held a small lawn and a lovely little shady flower garden, complete with overgrown irises, loads of day lilies, and several clumps of what I later learned were gorgeous purple spiderwort plants. There were two small birch trees and a little winding path through the flower beds.

I was completely enamored of this tiny fairy garden, and spent many hours dividing, pruning and otherwise reclaiming the flowers that grew there.

The front of the little gray house held some treasures, too. A gorgeous and absolutely huge hydrangea grew in one corner. Two beautiful white spirea bushes flanked the front windows.

And in the springtime, all three springs that I spent in that pretty little house, the front garden bed was a mass of little blue flowers. A carpet of gorgeous blue that poked up through the snow to greet the coming warmth.

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I had to do quite a bit of research to identify the little blue flowers as “Siberian Squill” or scilla siberica. Each flower grew from a tiny bulb, only the size of a pea. I learned that the scilla bulbs would spread and form a carpet of bright color every early spring. They arrived with the snowdrops and lasted until the tulips bloomed.

I loved them so much! My little girl and I would pick small bunches of them and place them in tiny shot glasses and diminutive bud vases all around our house. They were my favorite harbingers of spring, greeting me before the earliest crocuses and bringing the hope of warmth back to our frosty New England landscape.

When we moved out of that sweet little rental, and into our first ever house, I brought a small handful of those little bulbs with me. I wanted the beauty of that blue carpet outside my door every spring!

But our new house came without a garden, and with four times as much land to fill as the place we had left behind.

In that first spring in our new place, I managed to carefully and slowly craft one flower bed. I added compost, top soil and a rock wall to hold it all in place. I planted a few annuals, and one or two bushes. And I carefully planted the ten bulbs of the scilla siberica, in hopes of seeing that carpet of blue the next spring.

Well, as any gardener will tell you, the best laid plans rarely pan out.

It has been 28 years since I planted those first ten little bulbs. Every spring I have seen one or two plants, separated by feet of icy mud, poking their heads up into the cold spring air. They always come up, but they are so few and far between that any idea of a “carpet” has long since faded away.

Until this week.

Here I am now, 62 years old. I’ve been in this house for almost three decades. I have flower beds all over the yard, and even a little vegetable patch. I grow irises, and day lilies and coreopsis. There are peonies, astilbes, wild roses and clumps of thyme and oregano. I have daffodils, crocuses, tulips and grape hyacinth. We have phlox, both tall and creeping, myrtle and daisies and black-eyed susans.

Our gardens are fully established by now, and the biggest chore is dividing and eliminating the plants that are overgrown.

And for the first time, the very first time in 28 years, I now have a small “carpet” of lovely blue scilla right out in front of my house.

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I’m totally delighted to see them there, in a clump that promises to turn into a carpet. But I can’t help wondering, “Where in the world have you all been for 28 years?” Why did they suddenly make an appearance this year?

Well, I have a theory.

You seen, by the time the young mother that I was moved into our little grey Cape house and hesitantly took over the garden, the woman who had planted it all had passed on to her next adventure. But I learned from her son, and from some of her neighbors, that she had been such an avid gardener that she’d planted spring bulbs even when she was in her 70’s and bound to a wheelchair.

I had taken the bulbs from the garden of an old lady who simply loved her flowers. I had planted them in my youth and inexperience, but they had mostly stayed dormant. Dormant until this year, when I find myself realizing that I am now an old lady who simply loves my flowers. While I’m not in a wheelchair, my health is such that I can only garden for a short time each day.

I wonder, as I look at my little patch of bright Siberian blue, I wonder if they were waiting for me to reach just the right stage in my life to fully appreciate them.

I never knew the woman who planted those bulbs in front of her little gray Cape, but I feel very close to her tonight.

Scilla Siberica. You really should get yourself some!

Memories, new and old


I am in bed.

I am in a beautiful lake house in Vermont, three hours from my home. It’s raining out and it promises to rain for this entire long weekend.

I’m the only one in bed this early. I am very, VERY tired.

I am curled up on this unknown bed in this lovely AirBnB house on a cold but beautiful lake. The room is warm and cosy. I feel pampered. I feel safe.

Downstairs I can hear voices. They are the voices of some of the women I love the most in all the world. They are laughing, talking, questioning, sharing stories. I’ve known all of them for at least 45 years. Some I’ve known for longer.

This is my high school best friends weekend. We are eight women, all in our early 60’s. We’ve had lives, careers, families, loves won and loves lost. We are wise. We are, every single one of us, very very strong.

We are friends.

We accept each other and celebrate each other and hold each other up.

I am so tired.

Tomorrow we will venture out into the rain and ice and visit the city nearby. We will shop and walk and eat dinner and laugh, and then we’ll probably laugh some more.

Tonight I will turn out my light. I’ll lay on my side, in this wide and comfortable bed. I will listen to the music of my friends’ voices as they catch up on all the news of each other’s lives.

I feel hugged. I feel loved.

This is the magic that keeps us going.

 

Turn around, turn around


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there were roses. Gorgeous, glorious roses.

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

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

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

We hired a landscaping crew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But.

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

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

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

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

A pussy willow.

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

I haven’t seen one in years.

And here it was.

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

A pussy willow.

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

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Desperately Seeking Solace


Oh.

Oh, my.

Ohmygod.

Dear young Moms, please help me! I need you!

Dear Grandmother’s, please please tell me it will all be OK!

What. A. Day.

First thought: I love my grandchildren more than I love my own heartbeat.

But.

After 25 or so years as a momma, you kinda forget how hard it can be. Today I had my reminder.

I picked up my little grandchildren, the same way I do it every day. “HI, Ellie!” I chirped to my 2 1/2 year old best beloved. “I need milkies.” she answered. “OK!”, I said, “When we get home!” We pulled into my driveway some 12 minutes later, and I got her out of her carseat. Luckily for me, her grandfather, her adored “Papa”, was there to help. I put her down on the driveway and filled my hands with all of the stuff she’d need for the day. The bag with the extra clothes for her and her baby brother. The bag with some toys that might (hopefully) keep said baby brother occupied for two minutes. The milk for him. The boots for her.

Papa grabbed baby brother and went into the house. Ellie, who normally walks casually into the house, ran down the driveway screaming, “I need my zipper!  I need my zipper!”

I was unable to convince her that she didn’t need to zip her jacket because we were walking into the warm house. I had to resort to grabbing her around the waist, hoisting the multiple bags of stuff, and dragging her into the house.

She howled. Like a freakin’ wolf, she absolutely howled.

Now. This ain’t my first rodeo, so I ignored her. Eventually, she came upstairs and joined us in the living room. All was well.

Sorta.

We sat down to breakfast, a nice big oatmeal breakfast. I served Ellie a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries. I put a pile of oatmeal and blueberries onto ten month old Johnny’s tray. I sipped my coffee.

Ten minutes later, Ellie was finished. She carefully wiped her face and hands, put her dish in the kitchen, and went to play. “Yay, me”, I thought. “I know how to handle cranky toddlers!”

Then I looked at baby John. There was oatmeal on his face. On his chest. In his hair. Packed into both nostrils. And on the wall beside him.

Johnny oatmeal

“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh”, I said. I grabbed him out of the booster seat, and carried the tray and his dishes into the kitchen. I had to clean him up, obviously. It didn’t seem like the best idea to just toss him into the tub fully dressed, so I placed him, very carefully, on the couch. I knew that the back of his pajamas were clean. I thought I could scrape the crud off of the front while leaving the nice clean back against the couch.

Sure.

That was when he went into the “alligator death roll” to quote of his Mom’s best friends. He flopped, he flailed, he twisted himself into a pretzel. After roughly 20 minutes, he was dressed in clean clothes, but I was faced with the awesome task of removing globs of blueberry filled oatmeal from my leather couch, my rug and the curtains behind the couch.

I scraped it up as fast as I could, letting Johnny crawl around the living room. Meanwhile Ellie kept demanding “I want MILK!!!” and “I NEED to color!!! NOW!!!”

So. By 10 AM, my teeth were gritted, my jaw was tight, my heart was skipping some very important beats.

I got Ellie her milk. I got Johnny dressed. I went into the kitchen to deal with the pile of dishes, bibs, dirty clothes, and oatmeal smeared walls. All was well. I soaped and scrubbed and started to relax. I forced myself to be calm and patient. “I am Nonni,” I intoned, drawing on my inner loving self.

Then I heard a sound. “Clank!”

I turned around.

I saw my little Johnny, holding the dog’s water bowl in both hands. It was on his head like a jaunty little hat. Water was pouring down his face and over his body.  He was soaked. The floor was soaked. He was, dare I say it? He was chortling.

A shriek came out of my throat before I could stop it.

Fast forward 15 minutes. I had now dealt with a soaked floor, a soaked baby, another round of alligator death roll, a thirsty dog barking at us all and a two year old tyrant demanding “I WANT TO WEAR A SKIRT!!! NO!!!! NOT THAT SKIRT!!!!”

I was ready for a martini and it wasn’t even 11AM.

I needed a moment.

Johnny was plopped into the playpen. Ellie was settled on the couch with a video. I went down the hall and into my bathroom. I washed my face. I brushed my teeth. I looked in the mirror at my haggard old self. “You can DO this,” I told me. “You are NOT going to crack. They’re just being kids. It’s OK.”

I grinned at me.

I looked like everyone’s image of the scary hag who comes to haunt them in the night. I brushed my hair and straightened my shoulders.  I forced myself to be calm and confident as I walked back into the living room.

Ellie looked up at me.

“I just peed in my pants.” she told me with a grin.

Ellie yelling

“I’m two! And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

Touching Our Lives


One of the things I loved best about teaching was knowing that I touched the lives of children, that I meant something important to some of them. After teaching for such a long time, I have had the enormous joy of hearing from former students who have grown up and who still remember our time together.

What I don’t think people realize, though, is just how deeply the kids impact and change the lives of their teachers. Good teachers care about their classes. We love our students. We laugh with them, grow with them, argue with them and hug them when one of us is sad.

That love and those memories stay with us at least as much as with the kids. Maybe even more.

And I know that this is a very improper thing to say, but some kids just stay with you more than others do.

For me, the kids who will always stay in my heart are the ones who struggled. Some struggled with learning disabilities. Some with hearing loss and language disorders. Some kids fought battles with depression and anxiety that made school a constant challenge. Some worked harder than any child should work just to keep their emotions and behaviors under control.

Many of my students became my heroes. Their willingness to grab their backpacks and come back day after day to the place of their greatest struggles was a constant inspiration to me. I knew kids who felt friendless and alone. But they still showed up, every single day, to try again.

I knew kids who expected perfection from themselves. When math came to them without effort, but writing felt beyond their abilities, I watched them swallow hard, blink back tears, and finish that story.

Those kids stay in my heart. They stay in my memory. I call on their example when I feel overwhelmed and unsure of myself.

Most of those kids have grown up and gone, and I can only remember them with fondness. With the miracle of social media, though, some of them have reached out and told me about their lives today. A few are friends who I get to see once in a while.

And some of them are gone. For some, the pressures of life were too much, and they chose to step away. They are still, every one of them, my heroes.

Some have been lost to accidents or to illness. For some the lifelong health struggles have finally come to an end.

They are still my heroes.

Dear parents of kids with extra needs and concerns, dear moms and dads of spirited kids and challenging kids and kids who push the teacher hard,

Please know that your kids are the kids who kept some of us coming in every day. Your kid was the one who made us throw up our fists and shout “Yes!!!!” when they finally finished that book report. Yours is the one who made us sneak into the bathroom to cry when he asked another kid to sit with him and was accepted. Your child is the one who made us think, “If she can keep going, so can I.”

Thank you, kids. Thank you, parents who trusted me with your kids.

You will all be a part of me for the rest of my life.

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This is how I saw myself sometimes…..

Sleep Training, Nonni Style


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Remember when your babies were little? Remember those long, long, long nights when they’d wake up roughly every 42 seconds to nurse?

Yeah. Me too.

My daughter, the goddess of motherhood, is in the middle of this struggle right now. She has a beautiful, brilliant, (not kidding, she’s way smarter than I am) 2 1/2 year old daughter. And an almost ten month old son.

It’s little Johnny who is waking them up all night long.

I feel a tiny bit responsible for this difficult situation.

See, I watch the two kids every day, and I don’t always manage to get Johnny to take enough breast milk during the day. That makes him want to nurse all night long.

I mean, I try, God knows, I do! I give him oatmeal with breast milk, cheerios with breast milk, noodles in breast milk. I even have a new bottle, with little handles that he can use to feed himself that precious momma’s milk.

Except that he doesn’t. When I try to give him a bottle, I settle into our usual glider rocker and I lay him across my lap. I hold the bottle to his lips. He looks up at me with his huge brown eyes, all filled with love and joy. He takes approximately 2.2 sips. Then he grabs the handles of the bottle, jerks himself into a sitting position and proceeds to smack me in the head with the breastmilk filled bottle. He chortles. He giggles. He shakes the bottle so that milk flies through the air.

Just as I’m about to grab the bottle and the baby and wrestle both of them into submission, Johnny pops the nipple into his mouth, looks at me with the innocent eyes of a saint, and take two good gulps.

Repeat. After 30 minutes he might have taken one ounce. Two more are on my floor.

And then nap time comes.

Because we are sleep training, I have tried gently placing our sleepy little boy into the pack and play crib. The idea is for the little one to learn how to soothe himself to sleep. He should cry for a few minutes, then settle down to nap.

Of course, this doesn’t always go as smoothly as I’d like. In the first place, the crib is so low and the side are so high that in order for this old lady to get the half-asleep child into the bed, I have to lean over far enough to dislocate at least two vertebrae. And on the way down to the mattress, our beloved Johnny has learned to arch his back, turn his head, throw his arms up and generally make it clear that if I actually let go, I’ll do him irreparable harm.

Nevertheless, I get him in there every damn morning.

Then I go into the kitchen and I desperately try to wash dishes while listening to him scream as if his toenails are being removed with tweezers. I can hear his internal monologue, “MOMMA! She’s killing me!!! She hates me!!! She threw me into this pit of hell! My neck got twisted! My back hurts! WHY does she hate me???!!!!”

I leave him to cry it out. I hold on as long as I possibly can. His big sister usually looks at me with her own accusing brown eyes. Sometimes, I swear, she shakes her head in disbelief at my cruelty.

So 27 seconds after I put Johnny down, I scoop him back up again. I hold him to my chest, stroking his back.

He sobs. He hiccups, he lifts his tear stained cheeks to me and looks at me with accusing, melting chocolate eyes. He grabs my shirt with his tiny fists. He lays his head against my chest. He sighs.

I sit in the rocker, holding him to my heart. He falls asleep with his angelic face lifted to mine. His lips, so pink and perfect, make a lovely bow. His cheeks flush and his beautiful long lashes brush them gently.

I hold him. I watch him sleep, feeling his every breath against my own.

“I tried, ” I say aloud into the room. “I did. I tried.”

I cradle him a little closer. I close my own eyes, feeling a sense of relaxation and peace that so often eludes me.

Two hours later, when we both wake up from our naps, I hold him upright on my knee.

“Seriously, kid, ” I tell him. “Tomorrow we are going to let you cry it out. We ARE.”

He grins. He reaches his hand out and grabs me by my little finger. He looks me in the eye.

“Gabagoo.” He says. And I believe him.