“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……”

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.”

Panic in Nonni World


This is not a funny story, but if my words are chosen carefully and cleverly enough, I hope that you’ll at least chuckle a bit.

This is how it all unfolded.

I was at home this morning, as usual, with my two grandkids and our four year old friend. We had our breakfasts and cleaned up. We played a few rounds of Elsa and Anna and then we made some ridiculously goofy and adorable paper plate turkeys. 

It was just your average day in the life of Nonni and the gang.

But suddenly, I heard something truly unexpected. 

I heard my garage door opening.

“What the absolute FUCK?” is what went through my mind, while, “Oh, my goodness” came out of my careful Nonni mouth.

Nobody was due here in the middle of the day. Not my husband, my son-in-law or my daughter. Not the guy who is going to be renovating the bathrooms, not my neighbors, nobody.

But the garage door had definitely opened. 

In the first ten seconds, I watched the reactions of the dogs. If a car that they know pulls into the driveway, they yip and dance and jump around like a couple of happy drunks. If it’s a stranger, they bark like they mean it and they both get a ridge of hackles down their normally smooth backbones.

Today, as the garage door opened? Deep barks and semi-hackles as they looked out the window into the drive. I peeked over their heads. 

And saw nothing.

No car. 

No people.

Now our garage has one of those openers with the little push button devices that sit on the cars’ visors. You can’t manually open the door. So, if there’s no car in the drive, there’s no device on a visor. Nobody should have been able to open the garage door. 

But I am not quite insane. The door had definitely opened. The dogs and I had heard it. And there was no car anywhere in sight.

Ergo: Nonni panicked. I looked to make sure that all three kids were safe in the living room. They were. I didn’t hear anyone in the garage, so my assumption was that a bad guy was standing there, listening to the sounds of Olaf chasing Anna around the ice castle.

I can’t retell the next 30 seconds with any clarity, but this is a rough estimation of what went careening through my addled old panic stricken brain:                                                                                                                           “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod…there’s a bad guy in the garage….he must have some wide band thingymadgigy that can open garage doors ….he knows we’re in here….whadooIdo? I’ll stay here with the kids and keep them safe! Whaddayamean safe? SAFE? From a crazy assed KILLER BAD GUY? I can’t keep them safe.”ˆ

By now my heart rate was approaching 200 and my head was absolutely splitting with adrenaline pain. I had a split second of complete indecision, and then for some reason, my brain said this, “I can’t hide up here with the kids…I have to go see who it is…if I hear any sound at all, I’ll just dial 911.  where’smyphonewhere’smyphonewhere’smyphone? I got it, don’t drop it, hold it tight, tell the kids to stay here, tell them to sit on the sofa, they won’t sit on the sofa! Why would they sit on the sofa? Tell them to go hide in the bedroom! No, I’ll scare them…tell them you’re doing laundry….NO! They love laundry, they’ll wanna come! Just open the frickin’ baby gate and go face the deadly threat!”

At this point my whole body was shaking. It had been roughly two minutes since we’d heard the door open. The kids were still blissfully playing, making so much noise that I knew the bad guy must have heard them. I didn’t have a real plan in my head, but it seemed to make sense that I should try to scare off the threat. I could dial for help if it got dicey. No matter that chunky old Nonni couldn’t fight off more than chipmunk at this point, it still seemed like a good idea. So I went.

Our house is a split level, so the front door opens onto a set of stairs that go down toward the basement and garage, as well as a set that go up to the living room. I crept down the upper stairs, cell phone in hand, and glanced out through the glass pane of the front door.

There was movement out there on what should have been my empty lawn!!!

I took one more slow step. I got closer to the glass. 

And there was my husband’s car, parked in the middle of the lawn. Behind it stood the man himself, pulling a bale of straw out of his trunk.

“It’s Papa!!!!” I yelled to the oblivious kids. Then I flew through the door and let the poor guy have it.

“OhSo,     The daySo

So. The day is over. Papa made it safely back to work, and I made it back into the house. All three kids made it safely back into the arms of their parents. 

After all that drama, there was no bad guy. No killer. No menacing stranger. I tried to tell myself that I had over reacted, but what else could I have thought? I couldn’t think of any other explanation for no car, no door opener but a wide open door. I started to chuckle at my foolishness, but a sudden thought stopped me:

What if I had owned a gun?

Saving George


happy-spider-cartoonOh, brother.

In an effort to prevent my beloved granddaughter from sharing my ridiculous arachnophobia, I think I sort of went too far.

First of all, I hate spiders. I know, on an intellectual level, “spiders are good for the environment, they eat the bad bugs, they can’t hurt you” blah, blah, blah. Still, I wake up at least twice a month from the world’s most vivid dream that a HUGE BLACK HAIRY SPIDER IS ABOUT TO DROP FROM THE CEILING ONTO MY FACE!!!!!

I hate them.

But I am a good Nonni. I am a wise Nonni. I am an enlightened Nonni.

Yay me.

Last week, my sweet granddaughter Ellie looked up during breakfast and asked, “What is that scary scary thing on your ceiling, Nonni?”

It was a very small spider. As in, wicked small. Like the size of a sesame seed. It was black and had 8 cute and tiny legs. I decided that it was the perfect opportunity to teach about the wonders of spiders. I figured if I did it right, it might just spare Ellie 45 years of night terrors in which a giant spider lands on her face.

“Oh,” I said with a benevolent smile. “That’s our kitchen spider. His name is….um….ah….George!”

“Hi, George!” Ellie chirped, before returning with serenity to her waffles and blueberries.

As for me, I kept an eye on ol’ George. He seemed pretty calm, just moving his way long the ceiling, without ever once giving me the idea that he might intend to pounce upon my actual face.

I was cool. I was calm. The kids and I have been smiling at and chatting with George for about a week now. All eight of his tiny legs have remained the same size, and he has never once made any effort to come off the ceiling.

Nice George. Good George.

Nonni was pretty impressed with her ability to stave off severe arachnophobia. Nonni was doing the hippy environmentalist yay-me dance all week.

But. This morning, while Nonni was trying to get a pot of espresso going, she heard this little tidbit:

“Oh, good morning, George!! You got really really big last night!”

Holy heart attack.

I snuck into the dining room, where I found Ellie smiling down sweetly at a HUGE, HUGE, H-U-Fucking-GE wolf spider on the floor under the dining room table.

To my credit, I said, “Oh, my. Oh, gee.” instead of “What the HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU????? THAT IS NOT GEORGE!!!!”

We paused for a moment. Ellie had a waffle bit on the end of her fork. Johnny had a blueberry in each hand. I had a spatula the size of Minnesota in my hand.

“Nonni”, Ellie looked at me with her beautiful innocent eyes. “Please save him!”

Heart pounding. Every horror movie since the dawn of movies flashing before my eyes.

I do NOT want to scare her! I don’t!

“Sure, honey. Let me try! I sure would love to save George’s wicked big Uncle….Tony…..”

I grabbed a juice glass and popped it over the giant spider on the floor. Said giant spider immediately hurled himself upside down against said glass. Every single inch of Nonni skin crawled.

Then I took a piece of sturdy but thin paper and slid it under the glass. Uncle Tony was writhing, but he was contained.

“Oh, look, Ellie!,” I cheered “I captured him!”

Only no I didn’t.

Uncle Tony got one horrifically articulated claw under the glass and pulled himself out from on top of the paper. In less than a nanosecond, I could envision his horrible bendy legs rushing over the side of the glass and right up my sleeve.

With a soprano shriek worthy of the Metropolitan Opera, I hurled the glass, the paper and old Uncle Tony out onto the floor. Then I backed up, sat on a chair with my hand on my chest, gasped and said, “Um….no, no I didn’t.”

At this point poor Uncle Tony was desperately trying to escape by rushing across the floor toward the wall. Unfortunately for him, he was pounced upon our intrepid/stupid puppy dog, Bentley, who tried to snuff the spider up his nose.

The horror of that thought propelled me out of my chair, cloth napkin in hand. I dropped the cloth onto the spider and stomped down with so much force it probably left him as nothing more than a stain.

Gagging, I scooped up the cloth, rolled it into my hand, shoved it into a plastic grocery bag and stuffed it down into the trash. Which I then tied into a knot.

I was gasping at that point. I was soaked in sweat.

I fell into a chair and looked up to see both Ellie and Johnny staring at me with huge brown eyes.

“Nonni, did you KILL him?” asked Ellie.

Gulp. “Yes. I’m sorry honey. Sometimes we try to save our spider friends, but it doesn’t work out.”

Ellie looked at me solemnly.

“Good.” She said. “He was creepy.”

She took another bite of waffle.

 

Memories of Motherhood


This post started out to be humorous, but it just changed. Very suddenly.

Oh, life, you funny old thing.

I spent today, as I do every Monday through Friday, with my best buddy, my heart, my love, my granddaughter Ellie. I am in love with her eyes, her grin, her crazy curly hair. I am in love with the shape of her nose and her long fingers and toes. I practically swoon with pleasure when she waddles across the room to throw herself into my arms.

I get to snuggle every day with her warm little head pressed to my cheek. I get to hear her say, “Hi” when she comes in and “night, night” as she falls asleep for her nap. I have no more work stress, no more long commute. No paperwork. My only boss is my first born child, who is definitely not bossy.

Today I thought to myself, “I don’t remember motherhood being this perfect and sweet!”

Yes. I did jinx myself.

Our Ellie is a little peanut of a girl. We try to give her high calorie foods because she’s just tiny. She eats like a starved wolf, but she doesn’t seem to put on weight. She did NOT get her Nonni’s metabolism.

However, she poops more than the average baby. Or the average horse, I’d dare to say.

So this afternoon, after having fed her breakfast, played with her, put her down for a nap, changed her poops twice and given her a bath, I found myself faced with yet another poopie diaper and a little red bum. I said to her, “You stay naked for a bit, and I’ll run downstairs real quick to get the laundry.”  I figured that the air would be good for her skin.

I left her in one of those cute onesie shirts with the snaps between her legs open and the front and back flapping along in the breeze. She stood at the gate at the top of the stairs and I ran down, pulled the clothes from the dryer and raced back up.

There she stood, bent forward at the waist. Playing with both hands in a lovely puddle of pee all over my floor. She was literally splashing it.

I burst through the gate, threw the clothes onto a chair and scooped her up. Her shirt was soaked. The floor was soaked. Her hair was….well….soaked. Back into the tub. No more empty hamper. I washed the floor as I held Ellie on one hip.

Holy exhaustion, Batman. I just remembered that motherhood is not all warm snuggles and adorable shampooed curls. Motherhood- and grandmotherhood- is back aches and endless repeated chores. And puddles of pee.

Then I logged onto Facebook so I could show nice clean Ellie the pictures of her new baby cousin.

I saw a picture posted by a young relative. A beautiful young woman in our family sent a happy birthday message to her 95 year old Great Grandmother.

And I thought, what a gift! To live long enough and well enough to celebrate with a great grandchild. Wow.

So tonight, as I sink into my hot tub with a glass of wine and get ready to clean up the dozens of toys on the floor and the mess on the table, I’ll appreciate every bit of today. I’ll hold onto the kisses and the laughter. And I’ll make myself enjoy the memory of that baby girl splashing in a puddle of her own pee on my floor.

Ya gotta love it.

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