Spring is For Children


Spring is always uplifting, always rejuvenating, always full of hope.

But after watching 64 springs come and go, I know that I can get a little jaded. I mean, of course I’m happy when the first few crocuses open and the daffodils start to push themselves up through the straw and pine needles.

The thing is, I am old enough to know that here in New England, it might snow again before it’s really time to relax and enjoy the weather. Yesterday I walked through my yard and what caught my eye was the mud, the downed branches, the many piles of deer poop all over the place. I saw the winter. I saw the work ahead of Paul and I. My back gave a twinge at the thought of raking up all those moldering oak leaves.

Spring. Yay. Whatevs.

But today. Today was a completely different experience.

That’s because today my grandchildren were here with me and we went outside to play right after breakfast. It was cloudy, there were puddles on the driveway, and every step resulted in the squishing of mud and poop and mulch under our boots.

I dragged out a lawn chair and plopped myself down as the kids began to race around the yard.

And they opened up my eyes and my heart in a way that only young children are able to do.

“Nonni!!!!” Johnny shouted it out with all the power of his almost four-year-old lungs. “Nonni! I see a beetle!!!!!!!” The nearly microscopic black beetle was crawling over a tiny rock in my flower bed. I would never have seen it in a million years, but Johnny did. His absolute delight had us both kneeling in the wet grass to watch the tiny creature make his arduous journey.

“Do you think he’s looking for food? Do you know where he’s going? I wonder if he’s a baby or a kid or a grownup bug.”

I had no idea, but I was thrilled to watch the light shining off of the back of the little beetle, seeing it reflected in John’s dark eyes.

“Oh, Nonni!” This time it was five year old Ellie shouting with glee. “Nonni, remember that sand we used to play in? It’s still here!!!”

A part of me chuckled, and thought, “Of course the sand is still here. This is my yard. It has sand.” Unfertile, annoying sand, right there over my septic field.

But the rest of me smiled, and opened my arms. Ellie ran into them, hugged me hard, and raced away to find a bucket. “Sand! And it’s WET! Sand castles!!!”

The kids are amazed and thrilled with everything this spring. The wet sand is an old friend who survived the long, long winter. The tiny beetle is a miraculous creature on his way to great adventures.

The red buds on the tips of the maples? Astonishing! How beautiful they are when we look up and see them against the blue blue sky!!!

The tiny shoots of grass that are beginning to turn green? Wow! Who could have possibly predicted that would happen?

And when the temperature rose suddenly today, and we went from 60 to 78 in a half hour, these two little ones peeled off their shirts and danced in circles around and around the pile of brush that we will need to burn soon.

Like beautiful woodland sprites, the held hands, they turned in circles, they shouted and laughed and kept calling out to me. “Nonni! Look! Do you see it? Oh, Nonni!”

Spring belongs to these young ones. Just as the future belongs to them. The purest joy in simply being alive, breathing in the warming air, celebrating the sight of a butterfly. All of these belong to the youngest among us, who are still innocent enough to be enchanted by it all.

I am so grateful that they are still willing to share that joy and amazement with me. I am so very grateful that I’m able to see the beauty through their eyes.

I Do It For the Joy


I take care of my grandchildren every day. I have done it for the past 6 years.

I know that this makes me look a bit ridiculous to some. I know that people think, “She’s giving up the best part of her retirement!” and “She’s letting herself be taken advantage of!”

I know.

I have many friends who tell me, “I am willing to babysit once in a while, but I’m not giving up my hard earned freedom!” They tell me that now is the time to focus on myself. Now is the point in my life when I should just have fun and do whatever I want.

Even after six years, I don’t know exactly how to answer them. I feel a little sheepish, honestly. I feel a little bit lame, a little bit silly.

At the not so tender age of 65, and dealing with a couple of minor health issues, it really can be a challenge to take care of one, or two or sometimes three children under the age of six. Sometimes I have all three for two days in a row, and when they go home, I am truly physically beat. Muscles in me hurt in ways I had never predicted. I’m often asleep by 8 pm.

But why does that matter?

You see, I take care of my grandchildren because every single day with them brings me moments of pure joy.

We older adults don’t often get a chance to dig in the dirt just for fun. We aren’t often asked to dance “really fast” in a circle while holding hands. After six decades of life, most of us don’t experience full on belly laughs that make tears pour down our cheeks.

I don’t know how to explain it, I guess. But I like the feeling of playdoh. I like fingerpaints. And I love walking around the yard with people who are amazed and delighted by a pile of deer poop or a pile of fungus on a log.

I watch my grandkids because I want to.

I just plain want to be with them.

Sure, it helps my daughter and son-in-law. Sure, it gives the kids a chance to leave the house in this pandemic year.

Whatever.

I don’t take care of these three beautiful, happy, loving humans because I want to be a martyr. Or because I want my daughter to feel indebted to me. I don’t do it because it helps them to save money. Or because I feel any sense of guilt or pressure.

I spend my days with these wonderful kids because the people I most enjoy on this lovely earth are people who are very young.

I really, REALLY prefer the company of kids to that of adults. I am good at this nurturing thing. I am! I am delighted to spend my time in the company of people who tell me directly, “Hey, can you be really silly right now?”

There is nothing in life I’d rather do with these wonderful years of hard earned freedom than to spend them with people who make me laugh, who tell me dozens of times a day that they love me, who grin from ear to ear when I sing a ridiculous made up song.

I do this for me. This time spent with my grandchildren is the gift I am giving myself. Nobody needs to think that I’d be better off going out to lunch or shopping or sitting at home with a book. The thought of those things makes my skin itch.

I do this because nothing else in the world would give me this level of pure joy.

Today I had all three kids, and it was busy, and stressful and fun and challenging and exhausting. At various times today, I wiped soup off the wall, wiped a poopy bottom, held a tantruming three year old, stopped a five year old from bossing her brother off of his bike and tick checked three little heads of thick hair.

I also said the word “hug” to a not quite one year old, and received a hug, a series of pats on the back and a heartfelt, “Awwww”. I was asked for snuggles three times, and watched a movie with a sweaty three year old on my lap. I got a kiss and hug from a sweet kindergartener who threw her arms around my neck and said, “Oh, Nonni! I love you so much!”

I would not trade one second of today for all the rest in the world. Not for a week on a private Caribbean island. Not for a billion dollars, or a chance to sleep in, or a month of travel in Europe.

I do what I do every day because joy is fleeting. Children grow too quickly. Life is made for love. I do this because this is what I want.

THIS is my best life. And I am so happy to be living it.

Know What? I’m Proud of Me.


Sometimes in this long life, you just need one of those days where you feel proud of yourself, you know?

I used to be a teacher. I taught fifth grade after years of providing speech and language therapy to kids with communication disorders. I was proud of myself back then. I was good at both jobs. I was good at connecting with kids, I was good at diagnostics, I was a fun teacher.

I used to get lots of positive feedback from kids, from colleagues, from the parents of my students. I mean, it wasn’t all good (I still wake up at night thinking of the kids I failed and the parents who were let down by my efforts.)

But I usually felt OK. I usually felt proud of what I accomplished in a year, or a month or a week of teaching.

Now I’m staying at home. I take care of the two people on this beautiful planet who I love the most. I laugh with them, I watch them eat the good food I’ve made for them, I help them to create art.

Watching my grandchildren is a gift.

But I don’t usually feel proud of my “work.” I mean, really? I peel multiple clementines, wash multiple hands and change multiple diapers. A monkey could do it.

I rock, I soothe, I sing lullabyes in my off key voice.

Proud is not one of my average adjectives.

But today was different. So different.

For the first time in MONTHS, I took both of the kids to the grocery store, to the florist and then to the hair salon while I had my head beautified.

My Johnny at the salon. String cheese in hand, new book on his lap. I freakin’ rock.

Oh, yeah.

This 63 year old Nonni put two toddlers into carseats not once, but THREE TIMES. During one of those carseat buckling events, the 22 month old had what can only be described as a takeover by an alien force. There was screaming, writhing, head swinging, teeth gnashing…. There was also a big old downpour of icy rain, so Nonni was not able to be her usual patient self (cough, cough). I wrassled that poor little tyke into that carseat, and all I had to say through my clenched teeth was “This is NOT my first toddler meltdown!”

Naturally, on the way home, said toddler fell sound asleep in his carseat. I got his sister into the house, safely debooted and dried, sucking on a lollipop (don’t judge! It was in a jar at the salon.) I brought seven bags of groceries into the house, let in the dogs, dried off the dogs.

Then I ran outside to check the sleeping baby.

Back inside, I unpacked seven bags of food and put them away. I also served two bowls of fresh blackberries to the 3 year old who had finished her pop. I gave her a string cheese. I got the dogs off the couch, pulled out lunch foods, and started to defrost dinner.

Then I ran outside into the rain to grab the now awake little one. I brought him inside, pulled off his boots, rocked him for 15 minutes while he tried to wake all the way up. I also sang “Frozen” songs to his sister, who was dancing in her blue sparkly dress. I wasn’t able to put down the cranky boy long enough to boot up the computer for the music, so I had to rely on my singing.

Luckily, she loves me. She isn’t a critic. She danced.

Finally, both kids were awake.

I served up a lunch of raisin bread and blackberries (STOP JUDGING! It’s what they wanted!)

Then I made a lovely dinner (for me) of octopus.

Oh, my GOD, so delicious!
Message me for the recipe.
This isn’t a food blog.
But seriously…..so so good.

OK, OK, fine.

My husband is having leftover ravioli, but I am STILL very proud of me.

What a day.

Long, fun, fulfilling, challenging and in the end I get a plate full of delicious seafood.

I. Am. So. Proud. Of. Me.

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.

Pez Hoarding


I had a great day today.  I took my sister Liz to see a live production of the Wizard of Oz. When we were kids, she absolutely loved that movie. It used to run on the weekend after Thanksgiving, back in the days of yore, when you could only watch a movie if it was shown on network TV. We waited all year for it, and my parents would let us all stay up late to sing along with the Munchkins and shrink in fear from the flying monkeys.

When we were in High School, my sister performed in a spoof of the Wiz of Oz at her Senior Talent Night. That meant that for the next few decades every birthday, Christmas and joke gift to Liz had a Wizard of Oz theme. She’s got the flying monkey signs, the Wicked Witch cups, the planters, dish towels, earrings, ruby slipper socks and Tinman toenail clippers.

She even has two complete sets of Wizard of Oz Pez dispensers.

th-2

I know this because my three year old granddaughter Ellie came with us to the show today. As usual, Auntie Lizzie was her generous and thoughtful self. After the show, when the three of us went out for dinner, Liz pulled out a beautifully wrapped gift with Ellie’s name on it.

Inside the package was a really cute t-shirt with Dorothy’s blue gingham dress printed on the front. Ellie gave it a quick glance, but then went right for the second item in the wrapping.

It was a complete set of those Pez dispensers.

You remember Pez, right? Those weirdly creepy plastic toys wearing the heads of popular figures from TV and the movies? The heads that you could flip back with just a quick flick of your thumb, nearly decapitating the character you loved? And right there under the wrenched-back head, right where the old Adam’s apple should be, you’d find a rounded rectangular piece of candy in some pastel shade. That little coffin shaped goody would poke right out of Mickey Mouse’s slit throat and you’d pop it into your happy little kid mouth.

th-1

Sort of explains a few things about the mental state of today’s adults, I guess. But I digress.

Anyway, Ellie recognized the familiar faces of the characters from the show, but she had no idea what the toys were supposed to do. We took them out of the plastic and she started to play with them. The Cowardly Lion was dancing around the table with the Wicked Witch and all was well.

But then she noticed the candy. “What are these?” she asked in pure innocence.

Now, Auntie Lizzie loves us all very much. She doesn’t have any intention of poisoning her great niece. So she pulled out one of the packages and reminded me that she’d been hanging onto the set for a while.

“These candies are OLD,” she said sternly. “Like….old.”

“Years,” I suggested.

She shook her head. “Decades.”

The people at the next table were listening in. They were about our age, so they recognized the Pez dispensers for what they were. I could tell they wanted to see us fill up all those plastic necks with pastel coffins.

Ellie sat there quietly, holding onto the packaged candy, waiting for one of the adults to make a move.

“They probably shouldn’t be eaten, ” Liz said.

I held one pack in my hand. It was wrapped tightly in cellophane. Under that was a paper wrapper that contained a foil wrapper. And of course the whole damn set had been sealed in that super thick plastic that you have to cut with a blow torch to even open.

I decided it would be safe to try one.

Besides, I wanted to see if I could still remember how to load them up.

So for the next five minutes Liz and I, the people at the next table, and one young waitress all worked on remembering how to stuff candy pellets into the Scarecrow’s esophagus. We had to do it one at a time, even though I’m pretty sure that in my youth I could slide a whole package into the plastic gullet with one move.

Anyway, at some point, I popped one of the pink candies into my mouth. It sat there for a minute, tasting like a chunk of plastic. Gradually, slowly, it softened just enough to emit a faint taste of something between chalk and sugar. It was hard as a rock and I had to use my imagination just a bit to detect anything you might call “flavor.” I tried to bite it, but feared that my jaw would break. So I tucked it into my cheek and waited.

The crowd of onlookers was spellbound.

“Well?” Liz asked.

“It tastes exactly the same as it did 40 years ago! Hasn’t changed with age!”

Everyone took a breath and we all started to chatter. We realized after a little bit that Pez were invented back in the days of “Tang“, the powdered orange juice that was supposed to be preserved well enough to travel into space. It came of age in the time of freeze dried soups and Velveeta cheese product.

In other words, those little pastel coffins will probably outlast both Liz and me, not to mention the folks at the other table.

“In fact,” I said after swallowing the last bit of candy, “If there’s ever a nuclear holocaust and we’re the only remaining survivors, we could probably live off these things!”

Can’t you just picture it?

A dark bunker, somewhere deep underground. One dim light burns. There are a few human figures huddled around. Two of them are chubby gray haired ladies wrapped in baggy sweatshirts.

One of the old ladies is clutching something in her hand. She shuffles over to her sister and the two crouch in a corner, stealthily sneaking a life saving snack into their now toothless mouths.

What is it that they hold so closely, so secretly? What is it that keeps them alive in such stark surroundings?

Why, it’s Glinda the Good Witch. With one swift move, the older sister tears back Glinda’s shiny pink head and a little yellow coffin pops out below her chin. The younger sister grabs it and tucks it between her gums.

They cackle.

“Good thing we were hoarding Pez for all these years, right, sister?”

th-3

“I’m even creepier with my head ripped off.”

 

 

Just a Ripple in Time


Girls at play

I was standing outside today, watching the kids play. It was a beautiful, cool fall day. The leaves were swirling around in the wind and the kids were running up and down the driveway. The smell of the air was musty, leafy, wet and so familiar.

I remembered walking through piles of fall leaves as a kid. I watched my grandchildren kicking the pine needles and leaves in front of themselves, and I remembered how the crumbly mix used to remind me of old cereal left in the bowl. I could feel myself back 50 years ago, walking through the neighborhood where I grew up.

As the kids raced by me, shrieking and howling and spinning with that special toddler mix of joy and unbounded energy, I realized that I was standing in Momma alert mode. You know what I mean? Johnny was running off to my right, and Ellie and Ella were off to my left. I stood with my feet apart, my hands clasped behind my back. I could survey the entire yard that way, keeping everyone safe and in my view, while still keeping my distance to let them play.

Ellie

There was, I swear, a little ripple in the air, and I suddenly realized that I had stood in that very same spot, so many times, watching different children run and play.

For a moment I almost felt dizzy. I looked hard to my right. Where were my little boys, my Matt and Tim, who used to ride bikes up and down this very same driveway? I turned to the left. Where was my baby girl, my Katie? Shouldn’t she be chasing her friend Jessica across the grass on this beautiful day?

I tilted my head back, looking through the branches of the pines at the bright, clean sky.

Of course my little ones weren’t there. They are grown now.

The shrieking, jumping, dancing little whirlwinds in front of me are Kate’s children, and Jessica’s.

The sky is the same. The grass is still my grass. My house stands right where it has stood for all these years. Some of the pines have come down, and there are newer, smaller trees. But the wind is the same, the smell is the same, the crushed brown mixture of cereal bowl leaves and needles is just the very same as it has been for all of my adult life.

I stand in the cool sun, my hands clasped behind my back. I close my eyes, just for a moment, standing perfectly still.

I hear them laughing and calling, I hear those playful voices. In this moment, I am not sure who it is I’m listening to.

 

What Gender Roles?


I love being a grandmother. I mean….jeez, I love it! I get to adore my grandchildren without worrying every minute that I’m ruining their lives. (Yup. I remember being a neurotic Mom.) I get to play, make a nice mess, then have the evening to put things back in order.

I get to feed them. A lot.

I love that.

I love watching them grow. I love watching them change, and learn new things. I love seeing which parts of them are nature and which parts are pure nurture.

Ellie, at the tender age of three, is a bit cautious and very sensitive to feelings and moods. And she’s dramatic.

She also loves to solve problems. She has a certain tenacity that lets her scream in frustration while trying to put things together, then sob in outrage, then pick up the tools and start again.

She works with her tongue in the corner of her mouth, frowning and humming as she tries to figure out which piece goes where. She does NOT quit.

When she’s done, she often looks up at me and says, “I did it!!!”

She loves to dress up, she loves to dance ballet. The more glitter, the better, as far as Ellie (“I’m Elsa and Anna right now.”) is concerned. She loves hair ties, and jewelry and plastic princess shoes with high heels.

And she loves blocks, trains, cars, fitting things together and tool kits. She loves to cook, to plant flowers and to defeat the bad guys with her magic.

She is a warrior woman. She is all things that a strong, brave, beautiful, self-confident young female should be.

Warrior Woman Child

Yes, I am using a drill while dressed as Ariel. Why do you ask?

Hooray for letting kids choose their own way. Hooray for telling young girls that they can be sparkly superheroes who defeat the bad guys with drills and high heels.

Hooray.

And while we cheer for the power of little girls, let’s embrace the power of little boys to choose their own paths, too!

Our little Johnny is only a year old. He can walk, climb, throw a ball, drive a car, play the drums and smack his Nonni in the head with a block.

He hurls himself backward into whatever is behind him, whether it’s the couch, a blanket or a pile of bricks. He kicks, he squeals, he eats with both hands.

He seems like the traditional description of “all boy.”

But.

He also looks at his Nonni from across the room. He tucks his little chin, grins and toddles across the room with both arms wide open. When I scoop him up, he rests his cheek against mine and coos, “awwwwww” as he hugs me.

He puts his toys to sleep on the sofa pillows. He feeds them and sings to them and rocks them.

Johnny sings and dances when any music comes on. He asks me to sing when I rock him to sleep, but if he doesn’t like the tune, he sits up in my arms and puts a hand on my mouth. He likes gentle, repetitive songs that have words he can imitate. “Blue bird, blue bird, at my window” is one of his favorites.

He is sweet.

When he was here with me the other day, without his big sister or his Mommy, he found a headband of Ellie’s in a drawer. “Ah”, he said, handing it to me. “Ah” . He tilted his head forward, so I’d put the band on his head.

Then he started to dance. There was no music playing, but he knew that on most days, he and Ellie would dance to the music on my computer.

He twirled, he raised his hands, he picked up one foot at a time. He was delighted to be dancing in the sunshine of my living room, all by himself. He was dancing for his own pleasure.

Then his internal ballet music must have stopped, because he bent down to pick up a toy car.

Johnny

“One pirouette and Vroom!!!”

“Vrrmmmmmm!” he announced, his headband still delightfully in place.

Kudos to the new generation of parents, who let their boys dance around in pink tutus while their girls use the drill. You all give me so much hope for a happy, more balanced future.

 

 

Desperately Seeking Solace


Oh.

Oh, my.

Ohmygod.

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

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

What. A. Day.

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

But.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorta.

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

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

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

Johnny oatmeal

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

Sure.

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

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

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

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

Then I heard a sound. “Clank!”

I turned around.

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

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

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

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

I needed a moment.

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

I grinned at me.

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

Ellie looked up at me.

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

Ellie yelling

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

Hearing That “Click”


I’ve always been enormously grateful to have married into a fun, warm, welcoming family. My husband’s extended family is full of people I really, truly love. A lot. They laugh. They kiss. They’re just plain fun.

But from the beginning of our dating life a few decades ago, I’ve also been aware that I am a little more ethnic than all those gorgeous blonde cousins and their kids. I remember times over the years, where I just felt so ridiculously Italian.

Like the time I ate dinner with Paul’s family and was so impressed with the meal. I had never had anything like it! I was both delighted and amazed. “What do you call this?” I asked innocently. Even 35 years later, I remember the awkward silence, the glances around the table, and the answer to my question.

“It’s a pot roast.”

Yup. I felt a little out of the WASP world at that moment.

But one day Paul and I went to visit his Uncle, a man I hadn’t yet met. Paul was eager for me to meet Uncle Curt and his wife, Mary. All the way to their house, my sweetie talked about how much he loved the delicious veal cutlets that Mary cooked.

Mary, it turned out, was Italian. 

When we got to their house, Mary greeted us with a big smile, a hug, and warm brown eyes. She took both my hands, we smiled at each other, and there was a magical little “click” somewhere in my heart.

I don’t remember much of the visit, but I remember that when I met Mary, I met an image of myself. I met a friend. I know that we laughed, we talked about red wine, we talked about food.

It was a wonderful day.

I’m not sure that I every saw Mary again. If I did, it was only once or twice, and only in a crowd. Still, she’s always stayed in my memory. Her lemon cutlets and her big smile.

And that “click”.

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A couple of years ago, we were away on Paul’s annual camping family reunion. It was a beautiful July night, and everyone was gathering around the “Happy Hour” table. There were a few people there that were new to the yearly experience. One young couple came with their little year old baby boy. I didn’t actually get the details about who they were, and how they were related, but I smiled and admired the baby.

I was happy to meet everyone, but I was also a little distracted. You see, my daughter was within a couple of weeks of her due date to deliver our first grandchild. My thoughts were mostly on her as we all set up our campsites.

Still, as I talked to the young woman with the beautiful curly hair, as we compared our feelings about motherhood, as I looked at her warm, smiling face, I swear to you: I heard that tiny inner “click” once again.

But I didn’t have a chance to think much about my new “click” or what it meant, because my daughter went into labor at midnight, and instead of spending the weekend hanging out with relatives, I hung out in the maternity unit, meeting my sweet Ellie.

I nearly forgot about the “click”.

Until very recently.

Over the past two years, I have started to get together once in a while with that lovely young woman. She’s now the Momma of two beautiful boys, and I’m the Nonni of two little ones. We both love the time we spend with the kids, but we also both really love spending time with another woman in the same situation.

It’s kind of hilarious. My young relative, Angela, is young enough to be my own child. But when she brings the boys here for a play date once a month, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels instead like I’m with one of my friends. Like I’m with that rare and most prized person, a woman from my tribe!

When Angela and the boys are here, we push back the furniture. We put out bowls of snacks, let the kids empty out the toy box, and just watch what happens. The kids play. They argue. They take turns on the potty. They eat, they spill, they climb on the back of the sofa.

Angela and I drink coffee, begin sentences we never finish, scoop each others’ kids up, grab the milk, make peanut butter sandwiches.

And the years, for me, melt away. I am back in the days when I was a young mom, sharing the joys and stresses with my tribe of women friends.

For me, the “click” I heard when I looked at Angela has lead me to a place where I feel less alone. I’m not the only ethnic one around. I’m not the oddity of an old lady taking care of babies.

Instead, I’m a woman in our family. I’m a caretaker. I’m a maternal figure. Like my heart’s own “clicking” friend, Angela, I’m a diaper changer, bottle giver, bandaid applier, sharing-rules-teacher.

And I am not alone.

And it took me six months to figure out that Angela is Mary’s granddaughter. Isn’t that just lovely???

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Sometimes we give in and pop in a movie.

 

 

The Day I Just Plain Sucked


Have you ever had a day where, from the moment you open your gritty eyeballs, you just can’t get anything right?

Have you ever had the kind of day where every god, goddess and bad guy in the universe is seemingly engaged in a conspiracy to prove that you are a total waste of molecular energy? The kind of day where, if you could just quiet the roaring of your overflowing toilet, you’d actually hear the sound of distant maniacal laughter?

No?

Welp. I have.

In fact, as you have probably already surmised, I had one of those days today. And, yep, you’re right. You’re going to hear about it.

Let me just set the stage first, alright?

Today was the last full day in the life of my beautiful old hound dog, Tucker the Wonder Puppy. Also known as “The Wolf King.” At the age of 12 and a half, Tucker has walked his last walk, chased his last frisbee, eaten his last beef bone. He is losing his vision, and can barely get himself up or down the stairs, even with lots of loving human support.

It’s time.

The call has been made, the appointment is set. Today is his last full day on this lovely green earth.

So of course, last night Paul and I were up at 3 AM easing him down the stairs and out the front door to poop. We were up again bright and early this morning doing the same thing. We are sad, tired, nostalgic, sick at heart.

We are not at our peppy best.

And this is the first full week of school, which means that it is Nonni’s first week of trying to juggle a three month old and a two year old, both of whom miss their Mommy all day long.

All of that would have probably been more or less OK, except that it was also pouring and pelting buckets of rain all day. And I somehow messed up the bottles so that the wrong nipple was on the wrong bottle and poor baby Johnny could barely get a drop of milk all day.

Oh, and I invited my granddaughter’s best best friend and her Momma to come over to visit today. Because…why not?

So.

There I was.

New company at my door. Rain pouring down. Old dog whining on the rug. Puppy yipping, jumping and relentlessly trying to mate with the young woman who came to visit. Baby Johnny desperately trying to get milk, to no avail. Two year old Ellie and her bestie, Hazel, trying to work out the fine points of sharing while Ellie shrieked “ELLIE’S TOYS!” at about 95 decibels.

I was trying to bake a gingerbread cake, but it was in process when our guests arrived, because I had spent an hour sobbing over my old dog and I was behind schedule. I was trying to control the puppy, but I have honestly never seen him so determined to fuse himself with a human while yelping and yipping nonstop and shedding at the same time. I was trying to help Ellie with her sharing while simultaneously trying to get her to stop screaming at the top of her tiny little lungs.

I wanted our new friends to look at me and think, “Wow! Nonni sure is on top of things! What a lovely nurturing figure she’d be in our lives!”

I failed.

I failed wicked.

Instead of looking calm, serene and loving, I looked insane, sweaty, tearful and overwhelmed.

I mean. Jesus. This is NOT my first rodeo. I swear; I really can host lunch for a mommy and her adorable, sweet little girl! I CAN!

Except that today, I couldn’t.

Get this.

I offered them lunch, saying that I had lots of cold cuts and peanut butter and jelly. “Sure!” said lovely young Mommy. “We love peanut butter and jelly!”

So I went to get it out. And I discovered that…….

…..I had no bread.

None.

So I served peanut butter and jelly on graham crackers while the baby cried and the puppy howled and the old dog moaned and the wind blew and the rain poured down.

I. Absolutely. Sucked. Today.

My only hope at this point is that lovely young mommy and sweet little best friend will give us another chance. Maybe when old dog is gone, puppy is calm, the weather is good, and I’ve remembered to shop.

Sigh.

I guess you can’t win ’em all.

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Please!!! Please can I lick your face off????!!!