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.

Of COURSE I Wear Make Up


Of course I do!

I mean, pshhhht, I came of age in the 1960s. Frosted lipstick, black eyeliner, pink blush sticks….I remember it all!

I used makeup when I was in High School and college. I dabbed on the lip gloss, I stroked on the mascara, I even learned to use Kohl to underline my already dark eyes.

But then I grew up.

I got jobs. I started a family. I realized at some point that I could either spend 10 minutes putting paint on my face or ten minutes asleep.

The sleep won.

Time went on, and my children grew. Eventually, they all grew up and moved away and nobody was there to watch me dab on the wrinkle eraser cream. I began to realize that my students loved me for my humor and my love of them, not for any semblance of beauty. I began to realize that my family loved me for myself, and rarely even noticed if I added a dab of eye shadow to some fancy get up.

So I kind of let the whole makeup thing go.

Until my one and only daughter was about to get married. At that point, I knew that I had to step up my game and go for some actual facial improvements. There would be photographers there, right? And dozens of friends and family with those ubiquitous camera phones in hand.

So after I chose my “Mother of the Bride” dress (pale sage green), I shopped for some Mother of the Bride makeup. Kate dragged me to Sephora, where I learned that one could either buy a vacation home or buy the right make up.

I chose to pass on the cream blush, brow enhancing stick and something that was supposed to bring on a “dewy glow.” Instead I decided to head for the local Rite Aide and see if they had any greenish eye stuff.

They did!

I found a lovely matte finish foundation, a waterproof mascara, and a small palette of eye shadow that included sage, a dark umber, and two shades of pale icy green/white. I bought them. I practiced in the mirror with them. I wore them to the wedding.

I looked AWESOME.

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Aren’t I just glowing??

Then the wedding was over. The celebrations wound down. The happy couple did a honeymoon and came back. Since then, they have had two kids, bought one house and then moved to a better one, and fully embarked on their careers.

Since then, Nonni here has retired, become a stay at home childcare provider and learned to embrace the joy of spending every day in flannel pjs and a baggy sweatshirt, and enjoying life without one tiny bit of makeup.

It’s been great!

But today was Halloween. I dragged out an old wool cape and some dancing skeleton earrings. I spent all day feeling excited with the kids. I was happy to know that they wanted me to come Trick or Treating with them.

As evening came on, and we waited for Ellie and Johnny’s dad to come get them, I put on my “costume” of black pants and sweater and a beautiful old woolen cape that I bought in Tunisia some 45 years ago. I thought I looked good!

Until Ellie asked, with a deep frown on her face, “Where is your scary makeup, Nonni?” I tried to tell her that Nonni was fine as is, but she wasn’t having it. “But you need scary black eyes!!!” she cried. “You need a scary spooky face!”

I wanted to give in (you know, that’s what we Nonnis do). But I didn’t have any scary face paint around. What should I do?

Yup. You guessed it. I dug into my medicine cabinet, and found the very makeup that I had worn to Kate and Sam’s wedding, more than four years ago! It hadn’t been touched since the ceremony.

I poked it. I stirred some things around, and added a drop or two of water to the rest.

It was good!

I layered it on, trying to achieve my creepiest look. Ellie cheered, while Johnny chuckled and shook his head in the background.

Here’s the final result. I think I look as fabulous as I did at the wedding!

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Wouldn’t you want to give me candy?

I guess makeup has its place in my life, after all!

 

Who Is At Fault?


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I used to be a teacher. For many years, I was one of those people charged with keeping our children educated, safe, confident and skilled. One of the many charges that I took so seriously during those years was the charge to prevent children from bullying each other.

I was a fifth grade teacher. My students were ten and eleven years old. I was told that if they bullied each other, part of the fault was mine.

I understood. My classroom spent time every single day talking about how to interact with civility, with kindness, with generosity. I remember talking to them about the fact that they did NOT have to be friends. They did NOT have to like each other.

“But, here’s the thing,” I would tell them, “You are all members of this very same classroom community. You must treat each other with respect and care. If you don’t, our entire community will suffer. We will not achieve our goal of learning what we are supposed to learn if you are mean to each other and if you fail to support each other.”

And I taught them that if anyone of them became a bully, they all had a moral obligation to stand up to that bully and to protect the victim. I taught them not to be bystanders. I taught them not to let the bully get away with intimidating the weaker members of our community.

Those children understood what I taught. More importantly, they carried out those lessons every single day. To quote one of my students, some five years after he had left my classroom: “We learned that we were all really friends. In Karen’s classroom, everyone stood up for each other.”

So here I am. Four years after my retirement. Wondering how it is that we expect ten year olds to understand and carry out lessons that our actual highly paid, internationally renowned leaders fail to grasp.

How is it that we ask our fifth graders to stop being bullies, to stop intimidating each other, to stop calling each other names, but we let the most powerful people in the country do exactly that? How is it that we expect our youngest children to act in ways that we don’t demand of our so called “leaders”?

When Donald Trump calls his adversaries names, when he labels them as “enemies”, when he asks his followers to attack them, he is behaving in all of the ways that we won’t allow our children to do. He is the absolute epitome of the ignorant, hateful bully on the playground.

The bully that every public school teacher is expected to stop in his tracks.

So.

Where is Congress in this current bullying situation? Where are the leaders of the GOP? Where are the people who we expect to protect us from the ignorant, hateful bully on the national stage?

Why are they acting as bystanders, those silent observers who encourage the bully by not stepping in?

If we can demand that our public school teachers stop bullies, we can damn well demand that our members of Congress do the same. We can demand that our nation’s governors stand up the bully. We can demand that our media outlets stand up to that bully, and that they label his lies as lies.

If you all can ask the average classroom teacher to do it, then you better be absolutely sure that on Nov 6 you will be voting for people who will do the very same thing in Washington.

Bullying is wrong. It’s wrong on the elementary school playground and it’s wrong when it happens on the national stage in front of hundreds of people at a political rally.

Our leaders should be held, at the very least, to the same standards as our public school employees.

 

 

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.

 

 

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?”

 

Nonni, the Wolf King, and Matching Ouchies


Oh, boy.

The poor old Wolf King is really getting creaky in his old age.

And poor old Nonni is getting pretty creaky herself.

Usually we’re able to cope with our stiffness, our sore knees, our achy backs. He takes regular anti-inflammatories. I take wine in the hot tub. We both use ice and heat. And we try our best to more or less take it easy.

Today was the third rainy, misty, cool day in a row, and the morning was pretty sleepy for me, the Wolf King and even for Puppy Lennie (aka: ‘The Devildog”). There was some reading and writing (Nonni), some repetitive chewing on a plastic bone (Devildog) and some sleeping with chin on paws (The Wolf King.)

But after lunch, I started to feel guilty about not accomplishing anything today. This is a common Nonni theme, and its actually a good trait. It has prevented me from becoming a complete blob of useless goo with roots from my butt into my couch cushions.

So the guilt struck, and I got up. I put Devildog on his leash and we took our usual walk around the block, which took about 20 minutes. Then we wandered about in the back woods for a bit, until my arm started to throb from all the pulling on the “no pull” leash.

I put Devildog back inside the fenced yard, and decided to do some gardening. I forgot that the gate that leads from our deck into the fenced backyard was open. I heard Devildog barking, calling to me, but I ignored him as I pruned and dug up some overgrown perennials.

Then his voice changed, and I heard the unmistakable woof-woofing of the old Wolf King.

Crap!

This meant that the old guy had made his way slowly down the deck steps and was attempting to drop his royal doody in the backyard. He was annoyed, to say the least, by the Devildog who was dancing around him and trying to nip his butt and his ears.

I dropped my garden tools and opened the gate into the fence area. After I fought off the ecstatic jumps and yips of the deliriously happy Devildog, I grabbed the Wolf King by the collar.

Shit. No leash.

I didn’t want to leave the two of them fighting and jumping while I took the time to walk all the way around the yard and into the front door to take down his leash and bring it all the way back.

“Well,” I thought. “He’s too old and achy to run away like he used to. I’ll just let him out the gate and into the open front yard.”

So I did. I called him. I held the gate open.

The Wolf King looked at me, and tilted his old head. I could read his thoughts as clearly as if he’d spoken.

“Are you KIDDING ME? You are opening the gate to freedom, and letting the mighty Wolf King into the wild world?” He shook his head and shoulders, I swear, like a fighter getting ready to take on his next bout.

He shuffled toward me, stopped at the open gate, and shot me a “so long, sucker!” grin. And out the gate he went.

I’m sure he thought he was running. His front legs were moving forward with some regularity, but those weak back legs sort of stumbled along as if the connection from his spine to his hips was no longer secure.

Even so, he looked like a dog determined to escape and live on the run.

He made it about 30 feet from me. He got as far as my rock garden, where he turned to look at me again.

“Isn’t this ridiculous?” was the thought I read in his cloudy eyes. He gently laid himself down on the grass and waited for me to come get him.

I took hold of his collar, more for old times sake than out of necessity, and we walked slowly toward the front door.

“You got away, you sneaky hound, you,” I said to him. “You sure outsmarted me.” He knew I was making it up, but he was smiling as we reached the front door.

The Wolf King made it up the two front steps, and into the hall. Then he took a big breath, and looked up at the six steps that would take him onto the main floor of our split level house.

I did what I’ve been doing for the past few months. I took hold of his collar, and put one hand on his backside. “One, two, three,” I said, “Up we go.”

Alas. I had forgotten that the Devildog was back inside. As the Wolf King was taking his shaky, achy steps up, the little guy was wiggling with joy that we had come home. Lennie jumped down two steps, where he met the old man on the way up.

And the Wolf King slipped.

His back end simply let go, and he fell back one step. I caught him, but he is a BIG boy, and my back gave a shriek as his full 95 pounds landed on my midsection.

Before I knew it, I had lost my footing, too. I was able to stop myself from falling, but I did a completely ungraceful slow motion descent onto my big old Nonni butt, right in the front hall.

I hit the floor, but managed to hold onto the fluffy haunches of my beloved Wolf King, who found himself in the ignominious position of sitting on his mistress. We both made some “holy crap” sounds, and we both stayed perfectly still for a minute.

While Devildog ran up and down the stairs next to us, barking something that sounded mysteriously like “This is so much FUN!! Whatarewedoing??? I love it!!!”

At last, slowly, I was able to lower the back end of the Wolf King to the floor and to ease his big front end off of the stairs and onto the floor beside him. He rested his head on my chest for a second, and we both caught our breath.

Then I stood up, achy and creaky myself, and put the Devildog outside for a minute. I slowly went back down to Tucker, kissed his puppy-soft head, and asked him, “Do you want to try again?”

Brave soul that he is, he stood up, his back legs splayed and shaking. I put a hand on his collar and a hand on his backside.

“One, two, three,” I said through tears. And up we went. Slowly and carefully.

We made it.

And now we sit, recovering. The Devildog is back to his bone. The Wolf King has some ice on his hips, and has had his painkiller.

Nonni has some ice on her back, and is sipping her own pain killer.

Getting old sucks.

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Devildog truly loves The Wolf King

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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Worth The Effort?


What is it that gives a person “worth?” I’m old enough, and self aware enough, to know that worth is not measured by money.

Hey, I was a teacher! I’m married to a therapist. Money has never been our goal.

But what is it that lets us move through our days with a sense of self-worth?

At the tender and transitional age of 61, I’m struggling with this question once again.

You see, I used to find my sense of worth from my work. I have always worked, and had a purpose.

When I was only 22, I was a Russian interpreter. I took new immigrants to the doctor. I sat in therapy sessions, helping patient and doctor to understand each other. I helped with surgery, translating what the doctor wanted the patient to do during cataract surgery and cardiac catheterization.

I even helped to interpret at a baby’s birth. I was valued. I felt my worth.

Later, I became a speech pathologist, a job I held for 20 years. I helped families learn how to communicate with their disabled children. I helped those children to find their voices.  I was valued. I knew that what I was doing was helpful and important.

And after many years I became a teacher. I taught fifth graders. I was a fun teacher. I was funny. I made learning interesting. No matter what, I will always know that I was very good at my job.

I felt so good about myself in those years. I felt worthy.

Then things changed. I lost my teaching job, and moved into retirement.

And this is where the question of worth has reappeared. When I have my granddaughter in my arms, I know that I am the most important person on earth. Ellie needs me. Ellie loves me. I am NONNI.

But it’s summer.

Ellie is home with her Mom and Dad and new baby brother. They are close by. I see them almost every day. I love them all more than I could ever express.

But.

Now I have no role. I have no job. I have no way to measure my worth in this lovely world.

So, dear blog readers, I guess I’m fishing. (Phishing?)

Now I wonder, is a gray haired lady still useful if she isn’t physically able to manage her garden by herself? Is she still worth keeping if her husband works hard every day while she stays home and cleans things?

Does it count that this house has NEVER been this clean? Or that the closets are completely organized?

What do I do with myself on these long days? How do I define myself?

Is it legal to actually have three months of vacation while everyone else is working?

I swear, in September I will be back to working hard. I’ll have both two year old Ellie and three month old Johnnie. My arms, my heart and my day will all be full.

But.

What about now? Do I earn some kind of Donna Reed points for the incredibly clean kitchen cabinets and the very fluffy towels in the bathroom? I was raised by one of the first feminists. I know that just being a “homemaker” isn’t an actual role in life.

But what else do I do while I’m waiting to go back to Nonni extraordinaire? How do I feel good about so many days where nothing is actually accomplished?

Sigh.

I have to admit. I think I’m nuts. I hate the fact that I do this to myself.

On the other hand, if anyone needs any alphabetized spices, come on over.

 

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Poor useless Nonni

Summertime, and everything is different.


For all my life, the end of the school year meant a celebration of freedom. Summer! Cook outs! Baseball and hot dogs and fireflies and s’mores. Camping and swimming and beautifully scary thunder storms.

As a young working mom, my work schedule tied to the academic year, summer meant time to reconnect with the people I loved most in all the world. It meant sleeping later, making piles of pancakes, watching cartoons together in the morning. Summer meant days at the lake, days at the ocean, days of running the hose into the sandy part of our back yard. It was all about growing tomatoes and eating them as they ripened. Snakes and bees and butterflies.

Summer, back then, meant time to hold children close and pretend that they would never, ever, grow up and away.

But now I am in my Nonni years. My world has turned upside down. Now the days of snuggling over breakfast and walking in the woods are the days of fall and spring. Now it’s the cold, wet days of winter that mean time to cuddle and read and bake cupcakes together.

Now everything is reversed.

When summer comes, in the world of this Nonni, my role as beloved and needed comes to a sudden crashing end.

Suddenly, Mommy is home. Mommy, the teacher, the woman who looks at summer with the same grateful eyes that I once had. Mommy knows that summer means a celebration of freedom. It means cookouts, baseball, fireflies and s’mores. For Mommy, summer means a time of reconnection, a time to reassure her babies and herself that she is the one who bring safety and security and love to a world that is filled with beautiful and scary thunderstorms.

Now Nonni steps back, catches her breath, and tells herself that all is just as it should be. Now is my time to rest, to reconnect with my own true self. To write and read and divide the perennials.

Now is the time for Nonni to look forward, for the first time in her increasingly long life, to the crisp days of fall. The days of cool sun, pumpkins, fresh apples. The days when Mommy will go back to work. And Nonni will once again take her place in the kitchen, teaching the little ones to bake an apple pie.

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When You’re Two, Everything Is Fun


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Ah, life with a toddler.

It’s glorious, wonderful, enlightening, hilarious, joyful.

It’s also something better suited to young parents than it is to aging Nonni types. Which isn’t to say that I’m complaining, OK?

I’m just….sharing. That’s all.

Today I picked Ellie up a little later than usual. I knew that her Mommy had gone to work early, and that she’d spent the morning with Dad.

What I didn’t know was that she’d only been awake for a few minutes when I got her. I was struck by the fact that her hair looked like a cross between a bowl of rotini and a bird nest, and that she wasn’t wearing shoes.

At my request, her Dad ran back inside and grabbed her sandals, and off we went. I wanted to grocery shop before we went home, because the weather was forecast to be in the mid 90’s. We needed to get home and fill her little pool before the worst of the heat hit us.

So. I stopped inside the grocery store and brushed out the curls and tangles, placing a little pony tail on one side of her head to keep her eyes visible. Her hair is a miracle of beauty and stubbornness, and I’m obsessed with it.

Then we shopped, and as we did, my tiny girl ate slices of turkey, ham and cheese, pea pods and string cheese. I bought some new toddler cups and a bottle of water, and she sucked down some liquid to counteract her salt.

And home we went, where I raced around my steamy house trying to put away groceries. My tiny girl ate some blueberries and yogurt. Her face and hair showed them both beautifully.

At last, we were ready to head out into the beautiful summery day. First, though, we had to sunscreen from head to toe, spray on safe organic bug spray, put on the sunhat and tighten it under the chin, grab the toys, (no, no, One Eyed Elmo can’t swim), put the dogs inside the fence, and get some water.

I blew up the pool, and filled it with water from the hose. The hose that is attached to the sprinkler. Attached so tight that Nonni almost burst a blood vessel trying to get it off.

Its on there that tightly because Papa really loves his strawberry patch and he wants it watered.

Baby pool, be damned.

So by the time the tiny blow up pool was filled with ice cold water, Nonni was soaked to the skin from the wonderful, back and forth sprinkler.

For one glorious hour, we splashed, we jumped in the pool, we shivered, we ran around on the grass. Finally it was lunch time, and Nonni pulled out one of her patented grandmother tricks.

“Ellie! Let’s go inside for an ice cream cone!”

Come on. I figured that at 22 pounds, she’d already consumed enough healthy calories for the day. So in we went, and I stripped off her wet clothes, leaving her in her bug sprayed, sunscreened, sweat soaked skin. I put her in her highchair and filled a cone with two big scoops of peanut butter cup ice cream. (Protein. I swear.)

After I had cleaned myself up and done a couple of quick chores, I joined Ellie at the table. I had a leftover cheeseburger in front of me.

“Mmmm!” My baby girl said, reaching out. “mmmm, beef!” So we shared. And her hair, slicked back with oily sunscreen and dead bugs, now got a lovely coating of ketchup.

At last she was full, and I scooped her up and dropped her into a warm, bubble filled tub. She had a nice, thorough shampoo, and lots of lather to make sure no ticks were hiding in any dark places.

We settled into the living room, in front of the fans, with her golden skin so clean and shining, and her glorious curls smooth and completely pristine.

“Ahhhhhh,” Nonni thought, “I do such a good job of taking care of this girl. ”

I checked my email while Ellie watched an episode of “Elmo’s World”. Elmo was learning about potty training, so I felt particularly smart and accomplished as a day care provider.

But if you’ve ever seen Elmo, you’ll know that he has a goofy sidekick named, “Mr. Noodle.” This hapless guy appeared on my TV, and Ellie’s eyes lit up.

And you guessed it.

“Noodles?” She asked, her bright dark eyes alive with hunger. “Noodles? Ellie? Eat?”

So.

I did what any self-respecting Nonni would do. I made her a bowl of noodles. Wagon wheels, in fact. I put in some peas and a big blob of butter. And back in the high chair she went, smooth skin, diaper on, clean, clean hair.

Until I went into the kitchen to wash dishes.

And came back two minutes later to see Ellie, eyes closed in apparent ecstasy. Saying, “mmmmmmmm” as she rubbed her two hands through her glorious curly hair. Hands filled with noodles, peas and butter.

She gave herself a pasta and butter shampoo.

I think a squeak of despair may have come out of my mouth. Or maybe a little, tiny, whispered curse.

Or something.

Anyway.

I picked her up, washed her with a face cloth, and dragged a brush through the excessively buttered hair.

“I’m giving you back to Mommy soon,” I said, as I laid a towel under her head before naptime.

Really. I’m having fun and all, but this is definitely a job for a younger woman.