Stay At Home Moms….


When I had my kids, many years ago, I didn’t have the chance to be a “stay at home Mom.” I had to work. I had to leave them with babysitters or day care staff. Finances and insurance needs made this true.

But back then, I often thought that I would have loved to stay at home. I imagined the art projects, the cookies baking, the stories being read by the fire. It all seemed so idyllic to me.

I was wracked with guilt about leaving my best beloved little ones in the care of other women. I will never forget the time that my little son, barely able to speak, walked through our house on a Saturday, opening closet doors and calling for his sweet day care Momma. “Nella?” He sounded so sad as he opened every door in our house, looking for the woman who cared for him every day. “Nella?”

My heart broke into a zillion pieces, and if I hadn’t known and loved his Nella, I might have strangled her.

Now, at last, after decades as a working woman, now I am that stay at home woman. I am “Nella” to my grandkids and one of their friends.

They love me.

We have fun here. It is a safe, interesting, creative place.

Wahoo.

And now, at last, after all these years, I understand why so many stay at home moms of my generation wanted nothing more than to break out and see the real world.

Staying in the same house, the same four rooms, day after day after day after day, serving the same snacks, watching the same movies, playing the same games…….

All of this is incredibly important and supportive for young children.

But it is also incredibly mind numbing for the adults involved.

OK, I know that I am lucky. As in, unbelievably, incredibly blessed to be there every day in the lives of the children I love most on this beautiful earth.

I get it. Yay, me! Yay, Nonni! Go, me!

I go on Amazon at least ten times a week, ordering movies, books, crayons, pains, dress up clothes and musical instruments. I am so happy to be with the kids every day.

Really.

But.

You know what? There are definitely days where I look at myself in the mirror and think, “No one has actually looked at me today. I could dye my hair purple, grow a beard, get myself a new nose: Nobody would notice.”

There are days when I realize that I am the giver of string cheese. The wiper of poopy butts. The finder of lost toys.

There are days when I honestly feel like I could be replaced by a nice soft robot.

And this is why I am now the strongest supporter of young parents. Moms, Dads, working or staying at home. These young adults are doing the work that is most important for the survival of our entire species. They are keeping children clean, fed, safe, entertained and engaged.

They are creating the next generations of humans who will keep our species going.

So I am happy to be a part of this most important job. I am.

But I am also acutely aware that there are days when I have not done one single thing that uses my training, my intellectual skills, my knowledge. There are days when the most important thing I have done all day is to put an “Elsa” bandage on a scraped knee.

As I look back on my life, I guess I have to say this. I’m very happy that when I was a young, untested, untried, unproven human, I was not called upon to be a stay at home mom.

Young parents: You have my utmost respect, support and love.

Go, you! Whether you work outside of the home, or stay at home with your kids, YOU are our future. You are the best of all of us.

I bow down to every single one of you.

“No!!! No kisses on me!!!”


My granddaughter, my Ellie, is the love of my life.

She is smart, sweet, beautiful, strong, feisty and affectionate. Sometimes, when I least expect it, she puts both arms around my neck and hugs me tight. “Oh, my Nonni!” she sighs. “My Nonni. You’re here!”

Sometimes she demands that I hold her, rock her, keep her warm. “Snuggle me!” she begs, after drinking a cup of the cold milk the she loves so much.

At just a bit over two years old, I am happy to indulge her. First of all, I know that a child this young truly needs to be held and loved and made to feel safe and special. But second of all, I know how fleeting this time will be. This magical time when she wants me to cuddle her and nuzzle her cheek and tell her how much I love her.

So I follow her lead. When she orders me to hug her, I do it happily.

But there is another side to this shiny coin, and it is one that Ellie’s Mom and I have talked about a lot.

That is the fact that sometimes when it’s me who asks for kisses or hugs, Ellie firmly states, “No. No kissing me.”

When I was a child, that message was most often met with, “Oh, that’s not polite! Kiss your Grandma/Aunt/Friend/Uncle/Neighbor.” Children were expected to respond with pleasure to the signs of affection from adults. Especially well known and well loved adults.

But those days are gone.

And good riddance.

Now when Ellie frowns and states, “No!” I back off as quickly as I can. “OK.” I say. “No kisses.”

It’s so hard, though! I love her SO much! I feed her, dress her, take her to the potty, rock her when she’s sad, kiss her boo-boos, tuck her in for her nap every day. I want to kiss her sweet cheek. I want to rest my lips on her brow. I want to rub my cheek on hers and nuzzle her neck.

But if she says NO, I understand that it has to be NO.

Because even more than I want to kiss her while she is still Nonni’s little girl, I want her to grow up with a sense of ownership of her own body. I want her to know the value of her affection. I want her to know, with absolute certainty, that her kisses are her gifts to give or to withhold. I want her to feel, in the deepest fibers of her heart, that if she doesn’t want to kiss someone, she doesn’t have to kiss them.

Even if that someone is her very own Nonni who made her buttered noodles today and sang her songs and washed her face ten times and didn’t fuss about the spilled juice on the rug. Even then.

If Ellie says “NO” then the answer is “NO”.

I want her to have the power to say “NO” and to mean it. Even if she says it to me.

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I only kiss Elmo.

The Munchies


Have you ever heard of Munchausen syndrome? It’s a mental illness which causes people to fabricate illness so that they can get support, approval, caring. They make themselves seem sicker than they are, just so you’ll feel bad for them.

You know what this is. It’s the person who constantly talks about his bad back/heart disease/ulcers so that everyone in your social group is constantly taking care of him. It’s the old hypochondriac pattern that we’ve all seen. Someone who is constantly suffering from a broken bone/allergic reaction/torn muscle/rare syndrome. The one who at first seems so stoic and strong, but later seems just plain determined to be suffering at all times.

If you’ve known this syndrome, you may also know about Munchausen by proxy. In this case there is a caregiver, almost always a mother, who becomes so fixated on her role as the parent of a sick child that she goes to incredible lengths to keep that child sick.

I have known some of these moms. They were all incredibly devoted, completely involved and impressively knowledgeable about the challenges faced by their young children.

I knew a Mom who used to show me a huge three ring binder of medical notes about her two year old son. She showed it to me every single week when I came to do speech/language therapy with her son. She went over it every week for over a year. She used to smile gently, and give a little shake of her head as she told me, “The gastroenterologist thinks I should have a medical degree by now!”

It took me a long time to realize that her sense of pride was incompatible with what should have been her desire to make her baby well. In fact, I came to realize over many months, she didn’t want him to be better. She wanted him to continue to be her beautiful, fragile, brave little guy. She wanted this because she wanted to hold onto her role as his brave, smart, caring, patient mother.

And you know what?

He WAS beautiful, fragile, and brave. And she absolutely WAS brave, smart, caring and patient.

I thought that it was all just crazy.

Until I started to understand her desires and motivations.

It happened to me when I had two little boys of my own with chronic severe asthma. And I became the Mom who was told by our allergist, “I hope you don’t mind, but I have two med students here for your appointment. I wanted them to meet a Mom who does everything right but still has boys with severe asthma.”

If you don’t think I swelled up with pride over that visit, you don’t understand maternal motivation. I LOVED that day.

So now I find myself a grandmother. A Nonni who takes care of her two little grandchildren every day so their parents can go to work without worrying about them. I find myself the doting Nonni who took care of not one, but two sick babies last week. Both of them had a bad cold, coughs, congestion, head aches.

I took care of them.

They were sick. And suddenly, so sweetly, my independent, self assured two year old Ellie looked up at me and said, “Nonni pick Ellie up? Nonni make Ellie feel better, please?” I scooped that beautiful little one into my arms and started to rock her in my soft red rocking chair. She put her head on my chest and sighed. “Nonni make Ellie feel better,” she said, and my heart almost swelled right out of my chest.

I was happy that she didn’t feel well. I was. She needed me. She asked for me. She told me that I was the answer to what ailed her.

Her baby brother, little three month old Johnny, caught the same cold, and the next day he could only be soothed by my arms and my rocking and my off-key singing. There was more than one point in that day when Nonni held one child in each arm, rocking and singing and kissing warm, fevery foreheads.

And that is why I understand the allure of the Munchausen by proxy set. I know what it means to feel retired, old, out to pasture, not quite anyone’s Mom. And I understand the incredible power that comes through in the moment when a soft, warm cheek is pressed to mine in search of solace.

I have never, ever, ever, in my entire life, felt more important or more valued that I have in the moments when my children or theirs have needed me to make them feel better.

I promise, I swear on everything I love, that I will never, ever do one single thing to make my little ones sick or hurt. This is why I am not a Munchausen Mommy.

But.

I will absolutely and positively revel in those few sweet moments when my little loves need me to comfort and care for them.

I guess I am just the tiniest bit “munchy”, but I don’t apologize. Rocking a feverish toddler is one of life’s great pleasures, and I don’t mind the fact that I love it.

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“Nonni, hold Ellie now?”

 

Predicting Love


Love is never predictable. When we’re young, we think we’ll fall in love with the perfect specimen of boyfriendness or girlfriendness. We think someone we have a crush on will be “the one” and life will be filled with rainbows and unicorns.

Then we meet someone kind and attractive and gentle and BAM. Not expected, not predicted, but there you have it.

Love.

I thought that after having been married to the same BAM guy for 39 years, and after loving and raising three children, that love would be exactly what I expect it to be.

I thought that love would be more predictable.

Two years ago, when my first child gave birth to her first child, I fell head over heels in love well before the baby was born. I intellectually loved her. I loved the idea of her, the fact of her existence, the philosophical meaning of her new life.

But as she grew, and became our funny, smart, loving little Ellie, I have fallen ridiculously, madly in love with her. I love her eyebrows, for God’s sake. I love her toes. I love the skin that gathers salty sweat in the folds of her neck. I love her breath and her teeth and her ankle bones.

I’m insane.  My whole world has been filled with Ellie.

Then, three weeks ago, her baby brother was born.

He is perfect and sweet and sleepy and he smells like a baby. I love the idea of him. I love the philosophical meaning of his life.

But you know what? Even when I held him on his first day, I wasn’t feeling that crazy kind of love. Even when I’ve been at his house to help change and care for him, I have only had eyes for Ellie.

I have been one very guilt-wracked Nonni, believe me. How could I not be feeling the same crazy depth of love for Johnnie that I had felt from the very first moment for his sister?

I didn’t know.  It didn’t make sense.

I knew that I would take good care of him, and would love him and play with him. But would I ever fall in love with him, the way I had with Ellie?

Today my son Tim and his sweet lady were here for dinner. My daughter and her family came, too. We sat outside on this gorgeous summer day, and Ellie played in the pool and picked strawberries with Papa.

We ate, we drank some beer, we talked and laughed and watched the Red Sox. It was loud and hectic and busy. It was fun!

But then, when dinner was over, everyone left to see a concert. Everyone except for me, Ellie and Johnnie and their mommy. Ellie went to take a nap, and her Mom went in to lie down with her.

The house was quiet, except for the whirring of the window fans. The dogs were asleep on the floor. A hummingbird was at the feeder.

Johnnie was in my arms, resting against my chest. One of my hands held his bottom, the other was curled around the back of his warm, silky head. He was murmuring and sighing, making the tiny noises of a newborn child.

I felt my heart beating against his. I breathed in his breath.

The house was quiet. I touched my lips to his cheek just as he touched his to my neck.

BAM.

There it was.

It isn’t rational, or explainable, this love for my grandchild. The words I am wrapping around it are only the faintest echo of the explosion that I felt.

My cells, my DNA, my soul were pierced by his weight in my arms.

I know. I’m crazy.

But love is unpredictable. Sometimes, like the love of a Nonni for her grandson, we know that it will strike us at some point.

It’s just that we can’t always say when.

BAM, little Johnnie. Welcome to my heart.

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