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.

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.

Total and Uncontrollable Chaos.


When I was a classroom teacher, in a public school, I was constantly reminded of the fact that our structured educational plans were often interfering with the glorious creative chaos of our children.

Now that I am a “Stay at home Nonni”, watching two or three toddlers (depending on the day), my thoughts have changed. Now I have become even more convinced that if we truly want to foster creative thinking in our kids, we adults need to shut up, back off, and be willing to clean up the mess when it’s all done.

Today was the perfect example of this educational philosophy. Today I was home with 18 month old Johnny, who is completely 100% focused on pushing buttons, opening doors and placing items into various containers.

I was doing my best to corral his curiosity and keep him engaged in socially appropriate activities. Those activities are mostly cleaning (he can use a broom and push the dirt into the dustbin and throw it into the trash) and cooking (he can crack an egg, use a garlic press and add flour to a working mixer.)

Meanwhile, three year old Ellie and four year old Ella were engaged in some kind of pretend play in the living room. This play, whatever it was, involved a great deal of shrieking, a lot of dramatic cries, and a “treasure map”(my tossed out mail) that had to be followed in order to save some vague hero from an even more vague bad guy.

While Johnny and I minced onions and stirred our pot of chili, the girls raced around the house. A bridge of pillows was built. A blanket was tossed over two chairs to create a caste. An old cardboard box became a baby’s special bed. And a bookshelf was emptied to make a hidden cave for a fairy.

I think.

To be honest, I didn’t really follow all of the action. I was busy trying to make a batch of chili while keeping Johnny from getting into the bathroom plumbing.

But when it was all over, and it was time for me to sit the three kids down for lunch, I realized a lot of learning had taken place while I was busy.

I learned that the kids had figured out that one size had to be smaller than the other if something would fit into something else. They had worked out a truly creative way to merge the stories of two royal sisters (Frozen) with the story of a magical pony (My Little Pony). They didn’t just travel on parallel tracks; they managed to mix the two stories into an entirely new adventure.

While creating all of this magic, the three and four year old girls had managed to cooperate, negotiate, take turns and share their ideas.

All on their own.

This isn’t magic, although I have to admit that seemed like it to me.

It was simply the power of the young, unfettered human mind when it is left alone to do what nature has always intended.

Kids are magic. Kids are our problem solvers.

Kids are everything that we always wish we could be.

This aging educator is learning that the less I try to teach, the more these children learn.

But don’t just believe me. Look at these videos produced by people who are far more educated than me.

The Best Kindergarten You Will Ever See.

We Are Born Creative Geniuses

Thanks to my wonderful niece, Erin Eberle, for these links, for getting me to think about this topic, and for sharing her wonderful little ones with us.

They hadn’t met before, but they figured out a way to have two Elsa’s in the same room.

Motherhood


It was so many years ago, and it all seems almost like a dream. Even so, I remember all of the sadness, the struggles, the joy. I remember it the way you remember those things that change you at the most minute level of your every cell.

More than three decades ago, when I was a young, healthy woman, Paul and I finally came to the point in our lives when we were ready and eager to start a family. We’d been to college, had our first jobs, gone off to graduate school.

The age of 30 was looming ahead of me, and I was getting anxious about putting off motherhood. After all, I was the oldest daughter in a family of six kids. I considered my own Mom, and her mother before her, to be the epitome of women who were fulfilling their life’s true purpose.

Of course I knew that times were changing, and that women of my generation were expected to have college degrees and jobs and careers. I was delighted by all of that, but I still longed for the chance to become a mother. I had fed and changed and cradled my youngest siblings, and my maternal instincts were incredibly cranked up.

So we put aside the birth control and waited for the miracle. And we waited. And waited some more. My heart became heavier with each passing month, and eventually we realized that we’d need some medical help.

My deepest and dearest wish seemed to be out of my reach.

But at last, at last, at last. Just before my dreaded thirtieth birthday, I conceived. My dream was coming true. Slowly, through those long, anxious months, I began to believe that I would finally hold my own baby.

And it happened. On January 11th, 1986, after more hours than I want to think about, my beautiful girl came into the world. I took one look at her and my heart melted into a pool of motherly smoosh.

THIS was the most gorgeous, most perfect, most lovable and loving human being that had ever been born. I immediately felt badly for every parent who had to learn how to love their inferior children.

I’m not kidding.

I was beyond in love. The smell of her cheek, the darkness of her brown eyes, the shape of those tiny lips…..all of it was completely intoxicating to both Paul and I.

At last, I was a mother. My dream had come true.

Now it is 33 years after that life-changing moment of birth. My beautiful, perfect little baby girl has become a strong, passionate, smart, funny, wonderful woman. She is a fabulous teacher, loved by her students and their parents.

She is a mother of incredible humor, grace, gentleness and love. She is a better mother than I was, and I was pretty damned good. She’s a great cook, a loyal and devoted friend, a supportive colleague. She is a political activist, a well informed and passionate progressive.

She is still a miracle to me. I am still so in love with the beauty of her smile, the shine of her gorgeous hair, the strength that I see in her interactions with her kids.

Happy, happy birthday to the incredible young woman who I still consider to be the most excellent and perfect of dreams come true.

My lovely girl with her lovely girl.

“Let’s Pretend”


One of the very best parts of spending all day with children is being reminded of the magic that surrounds them. As a past middle aged woman, as a grandmother, I am far removed now from the wondrous days of make believe.

But when I watch the children playing in my house, I am pulled right back into that magical pretend world, whether I’m ready to be there or not.

Today was the perfect example of how children move effortlessly between reality and play.

Today I had my two grandchildren here. Ellie is about three and half, and her brother John in halfway between one and two. They play pretty well together when the game is purely pretend. Ellie will be sitting there for a moment, then she’ll suddenly turn to me and say, “I’m Elsa! You’re Anna.” And off we go into the land of “Frozen.” Johnny will happy jump around and follow us through the house in his relatively undefined role of “Olaf.”

But two days a week our little drama club is pushed up a notch when our friend Ella is here. Ella is a wise, mature four year old. She understands all of the subtle nuances of pretend play.

When Ellie announces that she is “Elsa”, her friend doesn’t even bat an eye. “I’m a kitty”, she will announce. “Elsa has a new kitty.”

Because they are little ones, and because their magic has no need for reality, Ellie might respond by saying, “I’m the kitty’s Mamma!” Elsa will be instantly forgotten, and the magic will simply shift.

It’s so gloriously empowering to watch them at play. As they move from scene to scene, I can almost see the world that they are creating.

“The Momma kitty is sick!” one will wail, “She is at the kitty hospital!” And as the Momma kitty collapses in a dramatic heap, I swear that I can see the pristine white walls of the kitty hospital around her. I feel the anguish as her “baby kitty” runs into the hospital room with a desperate “Miaow!!!!”

I imagine the world around the kids as a series of beautiful chalk drawings, forming miraculously from the words that the girls share. “We are running on the beach!” means that the world around them is filled with the colors of the sand and the sea. “The baby kitty is sleeping in her bed.” makes that world melt and shift and turn itself into a quiet cozy room.

As the children see those magical worlds, they let me see them, too.

I am so grateful to the little ones who share my days. I am so thankful that at the not-so-tender age of 62, I am still able to feel and see the magic.

“I’m a magic butterfly……”

Through the Eyes of a Child


One of the reasons why I’ve always loved being with children is that they are so honest. They don’t play emotional games. They tell you what they think.

I loved that in my classroom, because I learned pretty quickly that if I just listened, I could let them guide me toward a happier, more cooperative classroom.

As a Mom, I wasn’t always successful, but I tried to listen to what my kids were telling me. I tried to listen when they used words, expressions and actions to tell me “Mom, I love when you make up silly songs!” I tried to listen, and look, and understand, when a terrible tantrum showed me that my child was thinking “Get me out of here! I am confused! I don’t understand!!! It’s too loud, too bright, too happy, too sad…..”

I have always loved the honesty of children.

I remember how happy I was when one of my own kids, after a big argument between us, told me, “What you said wasn’t fair. I’m really mad at you.” It was so incredibly freeing, because I was able to tell him he was right, move past the fight and get to the root of our differences (whatever on earth they were.)

And I remember when I once told my class to let me know if I upset them, and the one little boy who told me, “You’re way to happy all the time.”

I remember the children who told me, “Your eyes make me happy.” and “I love the way you walk.” I love the honesty of children. I trust it.

So of course, I have a story to share about this Christmas with my grandkids.

I am used to the fact that when the big family gathers around, both Ellie and Johnny try to keep their distance from me. I’m the every day caretaker. Not as necessary as Mom and Dad, yet more familiar than those exciting Aunts, Uncles and grandparents from further away.

If I try to play with Johnny, he smiles his sweet smile, but makes sure to point toward his parents. “Mamma”, he says firmly. “Daddy.” I get it. He’s telling me its OK for me to hang around, but I better understand that he’s safe at home with his parents right now, and doesn’t intend to move.

When I reach for Ellie as I come in, she often smiles, waves and moves back out of my grasp. “I’m talking to Aunt Cynthia right now,” she’ll tell me.

I’ve learned to keep my distance and to embrace the adult conversations at these gatherings without the pressure of childcare. Watching Ellie play with the extended family is so sweet. Seeing Johnny in the arms of my siblings or his other grandparents melts my heart completely.

I think the kids associate me with long days away from Mommy and Daddy. I know they love me, but still….I’m like the comfy sofa. Always there, but not particularly exciting.

But this Christmas Eve, I got a much clearer idea of why Ellie has mixed feelings when I arrive at family gatherings. She barely spoke to me during the many hours of eating, drinking, gift giving, laughing, hugging and family revelry.

She danced by me once or twice, but we didn’t really connect.

Finally, though, when everyone had headed home except for a few of us, she threw herself into my arms and kissed me with joy. I was ecstatic to finally have her to myself, and kissed her cheeks and hair.

Leaning back into the curve of my arms, Ellie grinned up at me. “Oh, Nonni! Thank you for having this big party with us! The whole whole world was here at our party!!!!”

I squeezed her tight, telling her how much fun it was for me to be there with her.

Then my sweet girl put one hand on each of my cheeks and smiled right into my eyes.

“Nonni,” she told me earnestly. “You were so good here tonight! You were so so good!”

“I was?” I asked, wondering what she meant.

“Yes! You were so quiet!!! You didn’t talk at all! You were so so good!” She kissed me again in gratitude for my silence.

Really? All she wanted was for me to shut the hell up?

“Uh,” I began, “I did talk to my family….”

“I know!” She crowed joyfully. “But you didn’t talk to me!”

*********************************************************************

And so.

I can either laugh at Ellie, laugh at myself, or think about the message she was sending.

I decided to think about the message.

I have realized that because of my background as a speech pathologist and teacher, I have a tendency to talk my way through every day. I think of it as language modeling, and of staying engaged.

But my Ellie, in her honesty, has told me that sometimes she needs a chance to think. A chance to just be, without all the words swirling around her.

Once again, a child is teaching me how to regulate myself. How to pay attention to the effect I am having. A child is showing me how to be a little bit better at my job.

That ability to learn and grow is a huge part of what I miss about teaching.

On the other hand, I haven’t missed that feeling of being a jerk!!

“Good girl, Nonni. You hardly said a word!!!”

You Can’t Fire Me, I Quit!!!!


Way back in time, when Paul and I were mere grad students, I was introduced to a very intriguing concept. It was the end of one grad school year, and one of our friends stated that she and her professor were “decathecting.”

I had no idea of what the term meant, but as a grad student in speech/language pathology, it struck me as uniquely interesting. “Does one cathect?” I wondered. If not, how could one “decathect”?

It turns out that the term made a lot of sense to my husband and his fellow doctoral student in psychology. It meant, as I came to figure out, stepping back and detaching oneself from a relationship that was coming to an end.

Like that feeling that you’d get toward the end of a semester with a great professor and a fabulously supportive group of classmates. “Decathecting” meant that you would decide that nobody in the group was all that great anyway, so you wouldn’t mind leaving them.

Sort of a fancy way of saying, “You can’t fire me! I quit!”

I learned the true meaning of this term when I was teaching. Every June, I had to learn how to say goodbye to a group of kids I had come to love with my whole heart and soul. That meant, of course, that by May 1st, I was starting to think to myself, “These kids are actually kind of annoying.” At the same time, they were thinking, “Karen’s a pretty nice teacher, but we could do better.”

It meant a few weeks of rolling our eyes at each other, barking at each other and generally finding ways to look forward to our parting at the end of the year. We all knew that we were simply trying to protect our own hearts, and that we were sad to be leaving each other. Still, the process seemed to help smooth the way toward the end of our relationship.

I saw how “decathecting” worked when my children were teenagers, too. For the month or so before each one moved out, I found myself thinking, “Go ahead! Move out on your own! I’m tired of you anyway!” And I knew that every one was thinking, “I am so so tired of having my Mom hovering over every single thing I do!”

We parted ways with tears, hugs and a big old sense of relief.

We decathected.

So.

I think today was my day for “decathecting” with my grandkids before Christmas break. I’d probably feel guilty about that except for the fact that its, you know, a real psychological term. And because I know it doesn’t mean that you stop loving the people you really, really need to get a break from.

Our Nonni/grandkids decathecting took place on the last day of school for the kids’ Mommy before Christmas break. Both of them knew that starting tomorrow they’d be able to stay at home with Mom and Dad. Both of them knew that they would be able to nap in their very own beds.

They have both been sick all week, too, so the desire to be home with their parents was even stronger than usual.

So today, both of my beloved grandchildren managed to express this thought to me: Who are you, anyway???? You’re not my Mommy! I don’t wanna nap here! I don’t wanna eat here! I refuse to eat/sleep/relax/readabook/color/drinkmilk/peeonthepotty/liedown/dance/sing/doapuzzle!!!!!! 

It was a VERY. LONG. DAY.

I was cooking for a family party tomorrow. A party at which I will NOT be in charge of toddlers. I wanted to concentrate on my calzone instead of worrying about who need more playdoh.

Johnny kept grabbing his jacket and boots and going to the baby gate at the top of our stairs. He’d grab the gate and shake it for all he was worth, shouting, “my mama! my mama!” This went on for hours.

And Ellie, my one true love, spent the day with her braid completely unbraided, growling, “Don’t do my hair! Nonni! My MOMMA will fix my hair!!” and “I am so so tired! I need to sleep!!!” And when I’d suggest that she go to lie down in the very same bed where she has napped for three years, she sobbed, “NO!!!! I am so tired of this bed!!! I need to sleep in my own bed at my own house!!!!”

You get the picture. The theme of the day for the kids was, “We need a break from Nonni! We want to be home with our Mom and Dad!!! Help! Get us out of here!”

The theme of the day for Nonni was, “Two more hours until I can hand you off to your Mom and pour myself a drink! Help! Get these kids out of here!”

We were decathecting.

And it worked for the most part. Until Kate arrived to gather up her little ones and take them home. At that point, of course, Ellie began to sob.

“I don’t want to go!!! Nonni!!!” she sobbed desperately, “Nonni! I need you!!!!” Hurling herself against my legs, she seemed to be terrified of leaving.

Luckily, I know how this works. I hugged her back, kissed her teary cheeks and said in my firmest voice. “I love you. Go HOME.”

I guess we are still cathected on some level. Even so, I am really looking forward to a few days of adult thoughts and interactions.

“My Mommy makes better ice cream cones.”