Grateful in the Strangest Way


Back in 2011, all three of my children moved out of our house within about a six week period.

Our oldest was already a college graduate, while her brothers were still in the process of getting their educations.

As a “MammaBear”, that year just about broke my heart.

I know, I know: it is a sign of having succeeded when your children reach adulthood and move out into this wide and wonderful world.

Still, for me the transition was the most painful thing I’d ever encountered.

I remember, so very clearly, one cold winter night after they’d all moved out. I couldn’t sleep. I tossed, and I turned, and I tried to visualize every beach I’d ever seen. At 2AM, my heart was knocking in my chest, and I got up.

I made my way through my silent house to the living room. I stood for a moment in the window, gazing out into the snowy, frozen night.

I knew that I was a very lucky woman; my husband of more than 30 years slept down the hall. Our dogs were snoozing on the couch.

Still. My heart hurt.

I sat down in the rocking chair where I’d so often held my children. I pulled a blanket around myself, and stared out into the starlit, frozen night.

And I wondered.

When was the last time that I’d sat here in the night, rocking a feverish little child? When had I last held one of my children to my heart and murmured words of comfort into their ear?

I didn’t know, and that realization had me curling forward, over my knees, sobbing into the winter night.

I wanted to go back! I wanted to recognize my last ever night of holding a sick baby in my arms. I wanted a do-over.

When do we sweep our children into our arms for the very last time? When do we hold them as they shiver with the chills, not knowing that this moment will never come again?

I was so filled with grief, even as I recognized how lucky I was to have brought three babies into a healthy adulthood.

I grieved.

I wanted, just for one more night, to hold a hot little body against my heart, to soothe and to comfort and to rock. I wanted the chance to feel so deeply needed, so wanted, so important.

In my sheltered and unimpressive life, those were my best, most competent, most meaningful moments.

And the years, as they do, went by.

My children made their way into their adult lives. They are happy, productive, loving and whole. My job should be done.

But I’m not ready to let go.

Last night our beautiful little granddaughter spent the night here. Her parents were committed to an event at the school where her Momma is a teacher. Her little brother went with them.

But Ellie had been running a fever for a few days. She couldn’t go to the game. We decided that it made sense for her to spend the night here with her Papa and I.

Because I take care of Ellie and Johnny every day, our house is all set up for them to sleep here. I had pajamas in the drawer. The “Nappie bed” was ready. Ellie’s Dad dropped off her favorite stuffies for the night.

All was well, more or less, as Ellie settled into her bed for the night. I was planning to turn on the monitor but let her sleep by herself just the way she does at home.

But at bedtime, her fever began to rise, and she became a little weepy. “Nonni, will you sleep with me?” she asked. My old momma heart rose in my chest, and I assured her that I’d be delighted.

The two of us snuggled into the nappy bed, where a nightlight, two strings of Christmas lights and a glowstick kept away both her fears and my ability to sleep.

By ten pm, Ellie was asleep, and Nonni was tossing and moving the blankets on and off.

By eleven, Ellie was panting, her eyes were glowing with fever, and she was sobbing about how much she wanted to go home.

I pulled out the thermometer for a check. When it read 105, my heart dropped. “This isn’t right,” I told myself, and checked once again. 104.8 was the reading this time around.

I jumped out of the bed, and poured a dose of ibuprofen. I went into the bathroom for a cool, wet facecloth and began to wipe down Ellie’s face and neck. I pulled back the covers, and whispered that I’d make it OK.

The poor little kid curled herself into my chest, and sobbed.

I suddenly remembered how much I’d missed rocking a hot little body in the night, and guilt flooded me. Had I somehow brought on her illness by wishing to be the one to comfort her?

In something of a panic, I texted Ellie’s Dad, telling him that she was crying to come home at midnight. He answered immediately that he’d be right there.

But common sense and a mother’s wisdom prevailed; as the medicine kicked in and her temperature dropped, Ellie’s Mom decided that it made no sense to take a sick toddler out into the icy cold of a Massachusetts’ December night. Better to wait until morning.

I agreed.

Of course, I did.

Because after that call, I found myself once again wrapped in a blanket, in my living room rocking chair, comforting a sick little child.

We rocked, she dozed, we rocked some more.

My arms went tightly around her, and I felt the familiar blessing of a tiny, hot hand, resting on my cheek in the darkest part of the night.

“I’m so happy that you’re here with me, Nonni,” Ellie whispered. “I’m having fun on our sleepover.”

I pulled her to me, as close as we could get. I kissed the sweaty hair on her brow, and handed her a cup of cool water.

“I am so lucky,” I said into her shoulder. “I am so lucky. Here you are. In my arms.”

It was three AM, and I was still holding her. Her breath was hot and panting on my cheek.

I was so sorry that she was sick. I prayed that I could pull the virus out of her and into myself. I was more than a little freaked out about her very high temperature.

I laid my cool cheek against her feverish one.

“I’m here,” I said.

“I know,” she whispered back.

That fever raged the whole night long. We rocked, we sang, we took medicine every few hours. Ellie panted, and dreamed and cried for home. But she also wound her arms around my neck and pulled me close.

My love for her is a deep and enduring echo of the love I held, and still hold, for her mother and her uncles. I remember every long, feverish night of their childhoods. I remember thinking, “Dear God, let this end!” and I remember my firm belief that I wouldn’t survive another all night rocking-the-sick-kid marathon.

But now I know that one long night is nothing.

I know that it is everything.

In the blink of an eye, these little children won’t need my loving care anymore.

And that is just as it should be.

But for now?

For now I am so happy to have had a chance to feel that too-hot hand resting on my cheek, and to feel those too-hot lips pressed to my neck with love and gratitude.

For now, I am so tired, and so worn down, and so very very very grateful to have had a chance to be the one taking care of a sick toddler in the darkest part of the night.

I hope she’s all better tomorrow. I hope that tonight she sleeps deeply and without a fever.

But I’ll be forever grateful for last night.

Exhaustion is a very small price to pay for being the one who magically makes things all better.

Toddlerhood Ain’t For Sissies


I know that most people think childhood is just one big party. You get to sleep a lot, watch cartoons, be carried around whenever you get tired. There are all those toys, crayons, dress up clothes.

Sounds sweet, right?

Most people I talk to think that the hardest thing about toddlers is having to take are of them.

And as an aging woman who takes of 2 or 3 toddlers every day, I understand.

But here’s what I have been thinking about lately.

It is no picnic to be a kid between the ages of 1 and 5. I get to see, up close and personal, how much stress there is on those little toddlers.

Think about this:

When you’re a little kid, you have almost no control over the world you inhabit. You can’t get your own food when you’re hungry. If one of the grownups in your life finally agrees that you can have a snack, they might hand you a string cheese when you are desperately craving a bowl of cereal.

If you aren’t yet toilet trained, you have to spend a certain amount of time every single day sitting in your own pee and poop. You can’t go outside when you want some air. You can’t have ten minutes to yourself, because the adults are afraid you’ll eat a toy or fall down the stairs. You get to lie down and get some rest only when one of those grownups decides that it’s time.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. “Why not just ask for what you want?,” you sniff.

But toddlers can’t do that. In the first place, they most often don’t have the language to express the subtleties. My little grandson, at the tender age of 2, can tell me, “Me hungry.” But he can’t say, “I’m feeling a little run down. Maybe I need some protein.” He can’t say, “I’m not actually physically hungry, but I need a little taste boost. How bout some popcorn?”

Nope. He can’t yet get past, “Me hungry. Have a cereal bar?” I might say yes, but more often I’ll say “no” because his Mom and I are trying to be careful about sugar consumption. I might offer him a cracker or an apple.

At this point, he is likely to have a bit of a meltdown. Remember, he is hungry, and has physical feelings that he can’t recognize or understand. And even if he did, he can’t articulate it.

And even if he COULD tell me, “I am craving something sweet and filling,” he doesn’t have the power to make that happen. He has to depend on me to understand him and to grant his request.

Yeesh. That never happens to adults.

So language is one huge obstacle that toddlers face every single day. But the stresses of human interactions are even harder.

If you have ever spent more than 4 minutes with a couple of toddlers, you have heard dozens of variations on “That’s not fair.”

It might happen when the kids decide to play with a bunch of trolls. “But I WANT the one with the pink hair!” will be met with “But I got the pink hair troll FIRST!!!!” As the adult in charge, you are very very likely to respond with something like, “But there are 64 trolls in the basket.” or “You need to learn to share the pink haired troll.”

I’m pretty sure that what the toddlers hear is this: “You can’t have what you want. You have to give up your dream.” The toddler, at the tender age of three, does not think “big picture”. He does not think, “I can always get the pink hair later.”

Nope.

If your entire life is only 30 months long, you don’t have the same sense of time perspective that all those frowny grownups have. What happens right now is all that exists for these little guys.

It’s an incredibly frustrating thing for adult caregivers to mediate. I get it. Here’s an example of a real life experience in my house this week, when three toddlers were having a snack.

“Can I have popcorn?”

“I want popcorn, too!”

“Can I have cereal? No want popcorn.”

Nonni dishes out the snacks.

“No, I wanted the yellow bowl!”

“But I want the yellow bowl! That’s my favorite color!”

“No, it’s MY favorite color!”

“Me don’t want cereal. Want popcorn. Inna yellow bowl.”

Naturally, Nonni tried to mediate this situation, pointing out that the popcorn would taste the same no matter what color the bowl happened to be.

The kids, because they are kind and well meaning, went along with it. But once again, I think the world must have felt just a bit out of their control.

If you spend time with children in this age group, you will know that nearly every conversation includes some kind of negotiation. Every interaction includes a decision about what to play (“Want to play Elsa and Anna?} as well as who will play which role (“I am Elsa.” “No, I want to be Elsa! You are Anna!”) . Every interaction includes some sharing of materials. (“I’m using this playdoh shape!” “But I NEED that shape!”}

And you know that every ten minutes or so (if you are a very lucky caregiver), someone has to scream out loud that someone else is hitting/grabbing/yelling/ignoring/refusing/arguing/wrecking everything.

As an adult, this feels ridiculous, stupid, pointless and endlessly repetitive.

But you know what?

As a small, powerless, tender little being who spends all day trying to learn the rules, find the words, gain some control and still be loved, these interactions are the biggest thing in life.

I have one example to share with you from my day today.

My grandson, only two years and 5 months old, played all morning with a four year old friend. They argued, screamed, played, laughed, fought, argued and yelled.

The friend went off to preschool, and my four year old granddaughter came home. Now my little guy was put in the position of negotiating with a whole new big kid. A big kid with different ideas, different needs and different words than the one who had been here all morning.

At one point, my grandson argued with his sister and ended up scratching her. She shrieked. I approached. I told him that he couldn’t hurt anyone, and I told him to go to the “time out” chair.

Now, this wasn’t his first trip to the chair, and he usually sits quietly for one minute and expresses his remorse.

This time, though, little Johnny burst into tears and collapsed onto the floor. He was sobbing, so I went to him. He leaned his forehead against mine, and put his arms around my neck. Through his tears, he whispered, “How bout if you just rock me instead, Nonni? Me so so tired.”

So I did.

And it made me think about the long, stressful day that this sweet little boy had put in up to that point.

All I could think was that toddlerhood is a pretty tough row to hoe.

It ain’t for sissies, that’s for sure.

Halloween Heartache


When the kids were little, I loved Halloween. I loved decorating the house with scary witch cut-outs and pretend ghosts. I loved the excitement, the weeks of costume planning, the favorite candy discussions.

I loved….I really loved, carving pumpkins. And cooking the seeds.

I loved making Halloween treats like marshmallow witches and “ghosts in the graveyard” cake. The look of joy, excitement, and even slight fear in the eyes of all of the kids was a reminder to me, every year, that magic is real. Magic does happen.

When a shy six year old puts on a big hat and his Dad’s old shirt, he feels as if he has been magically transported into a world where everything is possible. When serious, strict teachers show up in the classroom dressed as light-up jellyfish, when tired parents put on silly wigs and clown makeup, that is magic. Children see that magic. They breathe it. They embrace it as only children can.

I’ve always loved the magic of Halloween.

As a child, I loved the planning and scheming that started in late winter and carried us all the way to October. I loved walking through the suddenly-spooky streets of my neighborhood. I loved the candy, but mostly I loved the idea of becoming someone else on that special night.

As a mother, I loved watching my three children filled with the tingling sensations that came with walking our safe streets at dusk. I loved seeing their faces light up at the sight of a neighbor’s jack-o-lantern in the window. I loved watching them feel powerful or beautiful or magical, just because of a bit of makeup or a piece of clothing.

As a teacher, I adored Halloween. The week before was filled with animated conversations about costumes. We’d spend most “morning meetings” planning our classroom party, choosing a song list, planning our games. We’d read about the history of Halloween traditions. Everything felt slightly more relevant and more intense than our regular history lessons.

Math facts and spelling rules faded into the background, where most of us felt they belonged.

And the day itself, the day of Halloween, was pure magic.

I have such clear memories of teaching a science lesson while wearing a tall black witch hat; few memories make me smile more than the image of myself nodding my head for emphasis and realizing that my witch hat was tapping me on the nose. The kids and I must have belly laughed for a full two minutes.

I miss that.

I miss the magic. I miss the transformation that comes so easily to children who put on a disguise. I miss watching how easily those children moved from shy, insecure little ones to all powerful super heroes just by putting on a cape.

I miss standing in the doorway of my house, handing out candy and expressing my delight at every adorable ghost and every terrifying 7 year old monster.

Today is Halloween.

It is a rainy, windy, strangely warm day here in Massachusetts. I spent the day with my two toddler grandchildren, eating healthy foods and watching Halloween videos. We made silly paper ghosts, played with playdoh, pretended to be various super heroes. Every hour or so, my little two year old grandson would shake and clasp his hands together:

“I so excited to go out Halloweening!”

His four year old sister kept asking how long it would be until they could go out to get the candy.

We had a sweet day.

But as it ended, and my daughter and son-in-law came to get the kids, the magic faded for me.

My husband and I have gone with our grandkids to Trick-or-Treat for the past three years. Every year, they join their friends, young parents we’ve known for all of their lives, and everyone has a wonderful time going to door to door in our small town, where every face is familiar.

The first year after our granddaughter was born, joining them was automatic: Of COURSE we’d want to be part of it all! The second year was the same. On the third Halloween, our sweet little grandson had been added to the family, and we wanted to be with him.

But at last reality has hit us.

We are no longer the Trick or Treat generation. We are the people who stand at the door to hand out the treats. We are too tired to try to find yet another costume. We are too tired to walk the streets at the end of a long day. Our doctors have cautioned us about eating all that sugar. Our back are too sore to carry tired kids home at the end of the night. The end of the night bath is so far beyond our energy level that we can’t even think about it.

It’s all good. It’s all correct. It’s all exactly as it should be.

I’m very happy that I can stay in my dry living room tonight. I’m delighted that I can put some ice on my sore back and pour a glass of wine and stay here with a good book.

But at the very same time, at the very same moment, my heart is breaking. I can still remember how much I loved washing the makeup off of the faces of the kids I loved so very much.

Life goes on.

And it leaves some heartache behind.

“Company” is Coming


Quick! Dust that shelf!

When I was a young adult, I felt completely comfortable coming home to my parent’s place. It was the house where I’d grown up. One bedroom was “mine”. I knew where the dishes were kept, where the good Scotch waited, where the extra towels were kept.

Coming in the door was coming home. Just like I’d done about a million times before. Key in lock, door pushed open, “Hi, Ma!” as I came up the stairs into the kitchen.

Home.

But gradually, as the years went by, “home” became the apartment where Paul and I lived. It became the house we rented when our first child was born. Then the house we bought to raise all three of our children.

Visits to my parents house became visits.

I realized that my parents would plan special meals for our visits. They’d put on a tablecloth. I started to ask permission to have a glass of wine or a bowl of ice cream.

I was a guest, in my own home.

Weird, but cool. I felt like a real adult.

I never wondered how that felt to my folks, though.

Then my kids grew up. They moved away. They all have lives. My daughter lives only a half a mile away and brings her kids here every day for me to care for while she and her husband are working. So she still feels pretty comfortable here, and has no worries about opening the fridge for a snack.

But my sons live two hours away, and we only see each other every couple of months.

When they come home, I notice that they are happy to grab themselves a beer, or toss a load of laundry into the machine. They seem to feel like this is still more or less “home”.

But something bizarre has happened to me, the momma.

It’s scary and it’s weird. Me no likies.

Yesterday our son Matt and his fiancee were planning to come for dinner. We haven’t seen them for a bit, and I was looking forward to catching up. I did what any self respecting Italian Momma would do. I shopped, I baked, I roasted, I sauteed.

But I also cleaned the kitchen. I threw the trash and washed the can. I cleaned the bathroom and put out new soap. I adjusted the sofa pillows and swept the floor. I vacuumed the steps.

As I was washing the doggie nose prints off the living room window, I suddenly stopped, vinegar soaked rag in hand. “What the hell am I doing?” I asked myself. “Did I seriously just clean the toilet for the kid who I potty trained in this very room?”

I shook my head at my foolishness, gave myself a little smack, and went back to cleaning the windows.

Then I straightened up the pinecones on my shelf and changed the batteries in all the Halloween lights.

My kids are “company”.

Holy crap. Time must be flying.

How We Talk to Our Kids


I’ve spent a lot of my adult life with little kids. I was blessed with three kids of my own, and now I am the daycare provider for my two grandchildren.

In between those lucky adventures, I’ve also been a teacher, a speech pathologist and a babysitter for a few extra kids.

I’ve been to dozens of professional development classes, countless meetings about child development and a ton of visits with friends and their kids.

In all that time, I’ve learned a lot.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the way we talk to our kids. I’ve been paying attention to what we adults say to our children in everyday interactions.

I’m not impressed, truthfully.

Let me put it this way. Let’s pretend that the words we say to our kids every day were said to us instead.

Pretend that you are about to head off for a day at work. You’ve showered, dressed, eaten breakfast, grabbed your work bag. You embrace your spouse for a kiss goodbye, and hear them say, “Now you be a good person today.”

Huh?

Wouldn’t you think, “Wait a minute! Do you think that I’m NOT a good person?”

What if you were about to head off to a meeting, and you heard your boss say, “Be a good listener. Don’t give the presenter any trouble!”

You would be furious, I have no doubt. But you’d also probably feel pretty damn insecure. You’d ask yourself, “Why does my boss think I’m going to be a bad listener and a troublemaker?”

We do this to our kids all the time.

All. The. Time.

As parents drop kids off at daycare, school, music classes, swim class, they most often kiss the little one and then give a warning. “Be a good boy today!” or “You listen to your teacher!”

When they pick those children up after a day of playing with friends, most parents ask, “Were you a good girl today?”

We do this because we feel like it’s required. We feel like this is the right way to help our children become responsible adults.

But it isn’t.

Instead of giving our children the idea that we suspect them of bad behavior every day, why don’t we give them the message that we trust them and believe in them?

I think of my son-in-law, who brings his two toddlers to me every day. He never tells them to be good. Instead, he kisses them, tells them that he loves them, and says, “Have fun today!”

The message to those kids is this: I know that you’re a wonderful person. I know that you will be as kind and as thoughtful as any toddler. My wish for you is a day of fun and happiness.

It isn’t about obedience. It isn’t asking children to behave well in all settings.

It gives kids a happy, hopeful, self-affirming message.

So how about this, just as a suggestion.

As we drop our little ones off at daycare/preschool/kindergarten, why don’t we say something like this:

“Have a fun day, honey! I’m so proud of what a great listener you are! I can’t wait to hear about how you shared with your friends today!”

The way that we talk to our children shapes their views of themselves. It shapes their belief in our expectations. Our words truly do shape the people that our children will become.

I am reminded of my very last school field trip. I was one of three fifth grade teachers taking our students to Olde Sturbridge Village. As the bus pulled up to the entrance, I stood in the aisle at the front of the bus.

“Boys and girls,” I said, “I hope that you all have a wonderful time today. I wanted to tell you that I am so proud to be your teacher. You are a great group of kids, so kind and so respectful. I’m so lucky to have a class that I know will impress all of the adults here. Go and have fun!”

One of the Mom’s on the trip turned to me with wide eyes, and said, “Wow. Even I want to be good just to make you proud! That was genius!”

But it wasn’t.

It was common sense.

We all want to hear good things about ourselves. We want our spouse to tell us, “Have a great day, honey!” We want our boss to say, “I’m glad you’re the one going to this meeting.”

We believe what people tell us about ourselves, especially when we are only babies, taking our first tentative steps out into the wide world.

Let’s stop warning our kids and telling them that we don’t trust them. Let’s tell them that we trust them to be the wonderful people we know they can be.

Roaring His Terrible Roar


Image by Andrea Jara S

When I started this blog, back in 2011, it was on the advice of my therapist. She was helping me to come to terms with my newly empty nest, and the loss of my mothering days.

My three kids had grown up, and had all moved out within two months of each other. I was a wreck. I mourned every day. I missed cooking for them. I fell apart in the grocery store just watching other mothers with their little ones.

The sight of a children’s book reduced me to sobs. In fact, I once had to run out of Toys R Us while trying to shop for a baby shower gift; I was in the book section and I stumbled upon “Love You Forever.”

I couldn’t hear certain songs without tears. I couldn’t make certain meals without tears.

It was ridiculous. But I couldn’t help it.

Gradually, I pulled myself together. I learned to enjoy the relative peace of the house and the time to reconnect with my husband. It got better. My kids grew into their lives but still touched base with us often.

And my daughter had babies.

That helped a whole big, fat boatload.

I became Nonni. I retired from teaching and began to spend my days, once again, rocking little ones, serving alphabet noodles, singing lullabies.

My equilibrium returned and all was well.

But, guess what?

Kids keep on growing. They keep on getting bigger and more independent. They change. They pull on her heartstrings at the most surprising times.

Last week I was putting little Johnny in for his nap. He loves books, and asked me to “read three books!” We were snuggled under the blanket, and my little two year old sweetie was following every word of each book.

We got to one of my favorites, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak.

As I read each page, John’s head was resting on my shoulder. I could feel his breath on my cheek, his hair against my neck.

He was focused on the pictures as I read to him about how Max sailed across night and day and came to the land of the Wild Things.

“And when he came to the place where the wild things are
they roared their terrible roars….”

As I read those words, my sweet boy said, “Rawr!!!!” and my eyes instantly flooded with tears.

He sounded exactly like his Momma had sounded thirty years ago. For a second, it was her breath on my cheek, her soft brown hair on my neck, her shining dark eyes on the page.

Time turned back, in an instant. And I missed my little girl so deeply that I could barely breathe.

But then I heard Johnny tapping his teeth together near my ear. I took a breath, and kept on reading,

“…..and gnashed their terrible teeth
and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.”

Isn’t love a funny thing?

Screen Time Warning


When I was a young Mom, way back in the old days of the mid 1980s, we were warned that we needed to limit our kids exposure to TV. Given the fact that we didn’t have cable yet, and there were only a few channels, we were pretty comfortable with limiting TV.

It wasn’t that hard, cuz, you know, not that much was on.

Then the years went by, and suddenly we all found ourselves surrounded by tablets and desktops and laptops and “smartphones” and “smartTVs”. Suddenly the world became an endless series of googles and posts and updates.

As a grandmother, in charge of the tender care of my little grandchildren, I am acutely aware of every warning.

“Screen time will give your child rickets!,” or something along those lines, appears every day on my Twitter feed. “Don’t let the kids watch TV/YouTube/Netflix!!!! They will become serial killers!” Facebook tells me.

Or something like that.

I tend to ignore this stuff, to be honest.

I mean, you can’t actually convince me that we were better off watching Howdy Doody than our kids are watching Sesame Street and Dr. McStuffins.

At least these new shows have a semblance of educational value.

I do believe, in my deepest Nonni heart, that kids are better off playing outside, using playdoh, painting, or looking at books, than they are when they’re watching TV. So I make sure that our day includes lots of the former, but not that much of the latter.

Yay, me.

BUT:

Here’s the real point of this post.

SCREEN TIME IS DANGEROUS!!!!!

Not so much for the kids, if you ask me, but holy crap. Screen time for them is REAL danger for us!

Let me give you a couple of examples, so that you can draw your own conclusions.

There was the day this week when I totally slept through my alarm. Although the alarm has been set for 6:45 since September, I found myself rolling over at 8 and wondering why the sun was up so high. Luckily for me, my husband has an internal clock, so he was already up and ready for the kids. Unluckily for me, someone who shall remain nameless (Ellie or Johnny) had pushed the “total silence” button on my phone. I was enjoying my total silence. Yikes! I barely had my clothes on when I had to start serving waffles.

Then there was the time I called my phone company to complain that I was absolutely unable to get a text, even though I’d been getting them for months. I blamed the phone, the provider, the Russians, whatever. I was pissed off.

The not-quite-smirking young man on the other end of the phone walked me through a few troubleshooting steps. “Check on your ‘airplane mode’.” he told me. I pshawed. I haven’t been on a plane in MONTHS. “It’s not on.” I snarked. “Did you check?” he asked. So I did.

Yeah.

“Airplane mode: on”.

Gah.

I wonder who did that?

Then there was the status update on my niece’s Facebook page. She put up a lovely post about going to the beach on a sunny weekend day. My response to her was this: ]0\0k\000000k00kk0k0

Yup.

She replied with “WHAT??????”

My first thought was that I’d had one too many glasses of wine, but it was a weeknight. No, I didn’t! Then I remember that I’d left my laptop open while I went into the kitchen to get Ellie a snack.

Johnny was standing there right before my computer.

I think we all know what he did.

So there you go.

At the age of a year and a half, any kid can access your Facebook, change your settings, order a yacht online or send for a Russian bride.

This is NOT good.

Ergo: I now warn you about screen time. I don’t care if the kids are watching too much PBS. I care about protecting you from that doorbell ring where the guy on the steps asks, “Hi! Are you the one who ordered 7,000 red worms?”

Sure we look innocent! We have your phone and your iPad under our chairs!

Loops of Time


Sometimes it just comes back around and smacks me right in the head. Sometimes I think I’m perfectly balanced and no longer feeling the pangs of the old empty nest.

Then it just jumps up, grabs me by the throat and shakes me like a wolf taking down a limp old rabbit.

I still miss my kids. I still miss my Mommy days.

The other day we were down in our basement playroom. There are a bunch of old toys down there. Old games, old books, some aging camping equipment. And a few old photos.

My Ellie reached out to one of those photos and asked, “Who is that boy? Is he my cousin?”

“Who is that boy?”

My heart stopped, took a deep breath, started itself back up again.

“That’s your Uncle Matt.” I told my granddaughter. “That’s what he looked like when he was…..(your age? My little one? My sweet tiny boy?)….when he was about 4.”

And I held that frame in my hand.

I could hear his laugh. I could feel the warm sun on my shoulders. I could feel, as if it was right there under my palms, the smooth soft texture of his back. His golden silky hair.

He was my boy. My baby.

My eyes filled with tears.

I know. I know that my boy is not gone, although in the ways that matter to my Mommy heart, he is.

My beautiful golden haired boy is still here. Still a huge part of my life. Still in my heart and my thoughts every day. He is happy, grown, in love, loving and fulfilled.

I couldn’t have wished for anything more.

Except that in that tiny moment, when Ellie asked me about the smiling boy in the photo, I wanted THAT little boy back. Just for a minute. Just for a heartbeat.

That little boy who loved me so and who smiled with just joy as he played with a ball on a hot summer day.

We all move forward, every single day. We look to the future with love and hope. We grow, we learn, we continue to become the people we hope will be our best selves.

But every once in a while, time simply loops itself back and we are face to face with the moments that have passed us by.

I love my current life. I love the idea of my future.

But oh, how I’d love another chance to cuddle that sweet boy.

Happy Birthday to Me


Today is my birthday.

Sixty three very short years ago, my wiggly little self made her way into this joyful world.

Today is my birthday.

For the first time in 33 years, I am not spending the day with my children. I think that’s a big step, and a sign of growth on my part.

As always, my kids reached out and asked, “Are we having a party or something for Mom this year?”

And I said, “Nah.”

Instead, do you know what I did to make the momentous occasion of my birth?

I went to see my Mom.

I mean, really now folks, what is more appropriate for celebrating your life than going to visit the woman who carried you around for nine months of life sucking, back aching, sleep stealing pregnancy? What’s more important than thanking the woman who spent hours of pain, more pain, wicked bad pain in order to push you out into the bright lights of your new world?

My Mom is 88 years old now. Her memory is not what we all wish it would be. She is frail in ways that shock me every week when I see her.

But she’s still Mom. She’s the woman who gave me her DNA, her time, her love of reading, her sense of humor, her temper, her recipe for red sauce and meatballs.

Mom was surprised when I arrived today with a bouquet of tulips. She’d forgotten that today was my birthday. But when I showed her the green/blue cake that her great grandchildren had made for me yesterday, she laughed. It only took a little bit of prompting to get her to retell the story of my birth, which she remembered in every detail.

She was embarrassed that she didn’t have a card for me. I hugged her, gently, and told her “You gave me life, Momma. You’re off the hook for a card!”

I don’t know if she really understands or accepts the fact that I don’t need a card of little gift from her. I hope that she does. I hope that she understand and realizes that with every trip around the sun, I am eternally grateful for the fact of her.

“Without you,” I said today, “I wouldn’t have a birthday, now would I?”

She looked at me and smiled, her familiar mischievous smile. “Dad and I did a really good job with you, didn’t we? You turned out OK.”

Happy Birthday to me.

Thanks, Mom.

Mom with her first great grandchild, my sweet Ellie.

Jeez, winter, yer killin’ me


Ya know what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Want to bake some cookies?” I chirped.

“Nooooooo.”

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

“No. No. No.”

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

What could I do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey, Nonni!”

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

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

Before I go on, let me explain.

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

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

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

So I did something stupid and inexplicable.

I said, “Sure!”

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

Yeah.

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

Woohooo.

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

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

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

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

It was actually worth it.

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

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

So I guess it was a win.

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