How Being Old Helps Me Get My Steps in Every Day


Photo by Kamil S on Unsplash

A few years ago I noticed that a lot of my friends were wearing big, rubber-encased watches. I saw those friends gazing at their watches as we strolled through various gardens and along a few beaches.

“This is a Fitbit!” one friend told me. “It measures my steps, keeps track of my heart rate, counts calories and reminds me to drink more water!” 

Oh.

As a confirmed non-athlete, I was unimpressed. 

Fast forward several years, however, and I found myself the slightly abashed owner of my own pink Fitbit. Covid was raging, and as a good Italian woman, I had spent several weeks trying to cook my way out of danger. I was, shall we say, getting chubby. Or to quote my adorable three-year-old grandson, I was “nice and squishy.” 

So I got a Fitbit. I vowed to slim down. I promised to count my steps.

If you are even a little bit aware of current fitness ideas, you will know that a “fit” person is supposed to take a minimum of 10,000 steps per day. With a Fitbit on one’s wrist, one can carefully plan where to walk in order to reach the magic number.

At first, the very idea of walking so much seemed out of reach. I mean, really? I live in a small house, how many steps could there be in the average day of an average old lady?

It seemed somewhat out of reach, I’ll be honest. I thought I’d have to go “hiking” in order to reach the magic number. My young, healthy sons told me about how they had to plan extra walks to make it that far. In the middle of the worst lock-down days, one of them even made a video of himself walking around and around in his own apartment, book in hand, just to get the last couple of hundred steps.

I thought that hitting 10,000 steps would be a major stretch for my aging, squishy self.

But, guess what? 

I underestimated the physical benefits of being old. I did not anticipate the wonderful impact of a wicked bad memory.

As it turns out, people my age take a whole boatload of extra steps every day. 

I’ll give you an example.

This morning, with my Fitbit on my wrist, I walked from the bedroom to the kitchen. I turned on the coffee pot, then realized that I had left my phone in my room. Back to the bedroom, where I noticed that my bed wasn’t made. Took care of that, went back to the kitchen for coffee. Remembered the phone again. Back to the bedroom. Decided to do laundry, so I grabbed the hamper and headed downstairs to the laundry room. Back to the kitchen, where I poured the coffee and sat down to sip. 

And I realized that I still didn’t have my phone. Back to the bedroom.

You get the idea, right? I took around 500 extra steps, just trying to grab my phone.

In the course of a single day, a nice mature person like myself might go into the bedroom five or six extra times. We might go all the way into the garage to take a chicken out of the freezer, then come back upstairs after leaving said chicken on top of the dryer. And down we go again.

So, see?

It is actually way easier for older people like me to hit 10,000 steps than it is for our 20 something kids to get that far. 

I might still be “squishy”, but you better believe I am getting way, way, WAY more than 10,000 steps a day just going through my day.

Grace Under Pressure?


You know, when I’m daydreaming and sort of just fantasizing about life, I picture myself as a person who would display enormous grace under pressure.

I imagine myself hearing scary news and reacting in a calm and measured way. “Well,” I imagine myself saying to my doctor, “I’m just so happy that I live in a time when there are good treatments for this disease.”

I see the looks that my dear family would share. “Isn’t she amazing?” I imagine them murmuring. “So brave.”

When I picture myself (too often these days) facing a world on fire, a world where the grid has gone down and the food supply chain is broken, I see a strong, brave woman. I see myself channeling my inner Ma Joad, bracing myself to face the danger with a sturdy back and an unflappable courage.

In my head, I am always serene but strong. I do not waver. I smile through the darkest moments. I rise above the challenges that face me, ready to take on any struggle in order to take care of those I love.

I am, of course, completely full of shit as far as this fantasy is concerned.

I know this because for the one and only time in my life (so far), I have a couple of minor medical issues facing me. I am not dying. I do not have a terminal illness. I sort of have more of an annoying few days of medical tests to make sure I don’t need some medical intervention.

Should be nothing.

But it’s something.

The reality of my life is this:

I am not a serene, calm, accepting older woman who is ready to take on any challenge. Instead, I am a scared, whiny, weepy mess of a woman who wants to curl up under my covers with a box of cookies and a glass of wine. I want my kids. I want my mommy. I want a boatload of m&ms.

I am disappointed in me, to be honest. I’m afraid that when the shit hits the proverbial fan, I won’t be the one to organize the neighbors into a rescue force. I won’t be the kind and wise lady who sets up a foraging team to feed the kids in town. I doubt that I’ll be the resilient leader who looks at the reality of the situation yet manages to stay hopeful in the face of disaster.

I suspect, to my chagrin, that if I get scary medical news in the next few weeks I’ll start whimpering and I won’t stop until I’m either all alone or no longer capable of whimpering.

I don’t want to be a horrible and wimpy aging human. I don’t.

But I’m not sure how to turn myself into the person I see in my head.

Any suggestions?

Finding Joy in Small Moments


It’s really, really hot outside. It’s so humid that going outside feels like taking a nice long walk through a bowl of soup.

A hurricane is on its way up the coast, washing away our planned boating trip off of Cape Cod.

My local hospital and doctor’s offices have been completely screwing up the first potentially serious procedure I’ve ever had to have done.

And I just finished an 8 week excruciating process to wean off of a medication that helped me with pain, sleep and anxiety.

I’m cranky, kids. I’m wicked cranky.

But you know what?

We got bunnies this year!

I’ve lived out here in semi-rural Massachusetts for over thirty years. I’m used to seeing deer out there. Don’t get me started on the ever present squirrels, chipmunks, moles, voles, mice and raccoons. We see skunks, foxes and coyotes. We’ve even had bears a few times.

But this summer is the summer of the bunny rabbit. Adorable, soft, bright-eyed little bunnies are everywhere, twitching their little bunny noses and flashing those little white puff ball tails. We have bunnies living under fallen brush, beneath the branches of our overgrown rhododendron and snuggling in the tall grass at the edge of the yard.

And they make me smile every time I see one.

Sure, having a tiny ball of fur hopping around has been known to turn my dogs into slavering, howling beasts, but even that is kind of funny.

Just now one little bunny friend, whom the kids and I have named “Lily”, was calmly working her way through a patch of clover about two feet outside of our dog fence. Bentley and Lennie were hysterically barking, racing back and forth along the fence, threatening to tear her limb from limb.

She just kept munching.

I had to laugh. The dogs were determined to get her. She knew they couldn’t.

I loved it.

For a few minutes I forgot that the Gulf of Mexico caught fire this week. I stopped worrying about the ever increasing number of clinically insane members of Congress. I even forgot to be mad at my doctor.

Just a fluffy little bunny, but her sassy attitude sure turned around my bad mood.

Now I need to go see if I can find some turkeys. Those things are freakin hilarious.

Thinking About Our Alien Visitors


Boy howdy. I haven’t been this excited about UFOs since the 1960s, when my big brother used to insist to me that aliens were hovering over our house all night.

I could hardly sleep back then, partly because I was afraid that I’d miss all the UFO excitement and never get the chance to meet the alien beings. And partly because I was convinced that a Martian was going to crawl in my window and eat my brains.

Either way, the prospect of a UFO sighting dominated a lot of backyard conversation back then.

And that excitement is back once again, thanks to an eagerly awaited Pentagon report on UFO sightings around the globe.

I can’t sleep now, either, although that might be due to age more than aliens. Still, the excitement and curiosity have my little brain all abuzz.

What if there really is some distant civilization that has somehow discovered our tiny blue planet? What if they really are hypersonically zooming around our atmosphere and observing us with their weird insectile eyes?

Wouldn’t they have made contact with us by now?

I actually have a theory about that.

See, I was thinking that if the space invaders starting watching us in the 1960s, they may have decided that this planet had a lot of evolving to do before it would be safe to visit. They would have flown over us and observed thick clouds of smoke choking humanity’s major cities. Even from space, they would have noticed the stinking rivers of sludge, the stench of burning coal, and the tar-soaked coastlines.

“Jeez”, they would have chittered to each other, “These creatures don’t even know enough not to foul their own nests.”

They would have been appalled.

Naturally, they would also have seen the fighting, slaughtering, murdering and warring going on all over the place. “Too stupid to realize they’re all the same species,” the boss alien would have sighed. “Let’s keep looking for a safer planet to visit. How bout if we give these beings a chance to work things out? We can come back in 50 or 60 years, see if there are any signs of improvement.”

Off they may have zipped, disappearing into the void in search of something better.

So what if they came back in the early 2000s? Do you think they would have decided to land here and make friends?

I can imagine the conversation as the new and improved hypersupersonic intergalactic vehicle began its approach to earth.

“Sir”, the Vice Boss Alien would have said, “Our instruments show that the pollution problems on Earth have been greatly reduced.”

“Good news, VBA, thank you!”

“Yessir. That is the good news. But that’s about all the good news I can give you. The rest of the story is pretty grim.”

Boss Alien would have sighed through little vents in his upper back.

“Full report, please.”

“Well, sir, it appears that a deadly virus has begun to circulate the earth. The humans are dropping like flies. They haven’t been able to figure out how they can keep themselves safe, even though their rudimentary science has shown them that if they put small pieces of material over their breathing holes, the virus can be kept away.”

“Vice Boss, I’m sorry. You’re not making sense. They KNOW that covering their breathing holes will protect the species, right? What do you mean they haven’t figured it out?”

“It’s very hard for advanced species like us to understand, sir… but these primitive creatures are fighting each other over facts. They seem to be quite superstitious and they definitely don’t trust each other.

Let me explain a little more, sir. You see, they have also found a preventative treatment, a vaccine, that will protect them. But these creatures are unable to cooperate with each other to share the treatments, so some of them are safe, while others are getting sicker and dying more quickly. And some of the sick ones want the treatment, but the healthy ones refuse to take it. It’s basically a mess.”

Boss Alien would have been confused, but he would have studied his instruments in search of something hopeful.

He would have been disappointed.

“H’mmmmm. I see that the slaughtering has continued. These creatures have been killing each other on the same small patches of sand since the last time we were here. They haven’t learned one damn thing, have they? There are still babies starving all over the place, the number of non-human species is dwindling, they’re running out of water…….

…..and it’s a lot hotter than it was last time we flew by.”

The Vice Boss would have looked at his report once more, and then he would have closed the cover.

“It’s definitive then?”

“I’m afraid so, VBA. It’s time to move on.

“There is clearly no intelligent life here.”

Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

The Empty Nest, Redoux


So here I am again. Trying to make myself into the supportive, happy adult who celebrates the launching of the children. Trying to be happy for them. Trying to embrace the wonderful new adventures that await them.

Trying to silence the woman inside of me who can’t even begin to understand how all of this could have unfolded so quickly. Trying to come to terms with the fact that a baby’s time is the blink of an eye, that the toddler gets to her feet before you can take in a breath, that the little girl can go from taking a bottle to reading a book in the time it takes for her grandmother to turn around.

Six years ago, almost to this very day, I realized that my time as a teacher had to come to an end. I left my classroom and said goodbye to my friends while mourning the change that confronted me. I wasn’t ready to retire, but I did. It was the right thing to do, given the political winds that were blowing.

But it was also the right thing to do because I was in desperate need of something to make me feel useful and wanted and important. It worked out perfectly for me, because my daughter was in need of a safe, secure, affordable child care option.

So Ellie, my sweet first grand child, became my saving grace, my saving responsibility, my link to my nurturing inner self. Even as I mourned the fact that I was no longer teaching a group of children to love learning, even as I missed those moments when I would laugh out loud with 24 young kids, I learned to embrace my role as the “Momma stand in”.

My days of watching little Ellie were the bridge that allowed me to move from my professional career to my retirement life. Her smiles were my pay checks. Her hugs were my lifeline. Her first words, first steps, first solid foods were my reassurance that I remained relevant in this world.

Every time I bathed Ellie, and wrapped her in a towel, I was reminded of my mothering years. I was reminded and reassured that I was actually really good at this nurturing woman thing. Ellie’s trusting gaze, her arms reaching up for me, the way that her parents trusted me to protect and care for her; all of this let me grow into this next phase of my life. It let me move past the grief and anger of my last year of teaching and find a place where I could once again embrace and accept my strengths along with my many weaknesses.

I loved being “Nonni” to my grandchild. I loved the way she looked at me, and the way she missed me when we were apart. I relied on her love and her acceptance as I settled into my retirement life.

And when her brothers were born, it was all of that time with Ellie that let me seamlessly move into my role as Nonni and daycare provider for all three of them.

Because of my time with Ellie, my house now contains more art supplies than any craft store. Due to the fact that I was totally smitten with her, we have three toy boxes, two Pack N’ Plays, a giant box of playdoh and and ten pounds of kinetic sand. We have bibs, and potty chairs and sippy cups and paint smocks.

When Ellie was born, I became the next generation of caregivers. I stepped in to support my daughter by letting her be a teacher while I changed her baby’s diapers and snuggled her girl to sleep.

So.

You can probably understand why I am feeling sad and proud and nostalgic and scared, all at once.

Ellie, my sweet next generation first baby, is about to finish kindergarten. She did this year through remote learning, so she has been here with me for a year longer than we had ever anticipated.

But this crazy, terrifying, upsetting year of Covid is finally winding down. Ellie is one short week away from finishing her kindergarten year. She has learned more than I could ever have predicted. She has gained confidence in her intellect, and is trusting her own ideas and her own voice. She has her own sense of style, and her own preferences in food, fashion, music and art.

She is ready, or more than ready, to take on her next big step in life.

She is ready to go off to first grade, to meet new friends, to learn a million new things, to grow into her own bright and spirited self.

And I am so happy for her.

And so incredibly sad for me.

My nest is beginning to empty once again. My beautiful little fledglings are getting ready to fly.

And it’s good. It is just as it should be.

And my heart hurts just as much as it did the last time I faced the sorrow of the empty nest.

Ah, life.

You really do break our hearts.

Finding Friends in Odd Places


So if you read my last post, you know that we are in the midst of having our kitchen renovated. Finally, after 20 years of planning and 10 years of yearning and 2 years of sheer desperation, we are having our kitchen renovated.

Huzzah!!!!

Naturally, being the overly dramatic Italian woman that I am, I have shed some tears over past memories. But now that the new clean, white, wide, sturdy cabinets are in, I’m feeling a whole lot better.

The process isn’t finished quite yet, as I have no counters and no sink, but it still looks a million times better than it did two weeks ago.

I’m delighted with my new space.

But the best part?

The guys who did the work are now three people we consider to be friends.

It’s funny. The crew who did this fabulous work are all blue collar, red voting, conservative GOP guys. One is a retired cop.

To get to our house, they had to turn in just past the rainbow flag. They parked their cars by the shed with the huge “BLACK LIVES MATTER” banner. They maneuvered past our cars with their “Millionaires Can’t Buy Bernie!” stickers and their “People’s Party” magnets.

The Chauvin trial was on TV while they were here, and I was watching it the whole time.

Should have been awkward to say the least, right?

But these three men were kind, thoughtful, funny and open minded. I gave them coffee, offered them lunch, laughed about getting in their way. They cleaned up every speck of dust they created, thanked me for letting them use the bathroom, and helped with more than one little issue that cropped up during the week.

We shared our opinions with honesty and respect. We laughed about our differences. At one point, I handed out cups of coffee and one of the guys said, “Jeez, who knew socialists could make such good coffee.” I kidded them that if they used the soap in my bathroom they’d turn into commies.

The man who owns the construction company brought his beautiful German Shepard with him every day. He told me that she’d be happy to stay in the truck while he worked, but I have a fenced in dog yard and two excitable young dogs. So every day for a week, that Shepard came into the yard and ran and played and chased with my dogs. The payoff, of course, was three tired and supremely happy dogs every night.

And on a few of the days, that same man brought his daughter with him to my house. At first he was hesitant, and promised that she’d only be there for a short time and that she had a backpack full of things to entertain herself. He said that she wouldn’t bother me.

Welp.

That wonderful young lady and I spent the better part of two full days together and it was the best part of my week. We went outside on a nature hunt. We painted. We sketched. She came with me to my violin lesson. We shared music, and played video games and ate lunch together. She was a shining light who brought me so much joy. I taught her how to say “I love you” in Russian and we hugged each other as we said it. She asked her Dad if she could come back to see me soon, and if I could be her babysitter once or twice.

With our arms around each other, we looked at her Dad, my contractor and simultaneously begged him “Please????”

Life if such a funny thing.

I am just about the most opinionated old lady around. I wear my heart and my thoughts on my sleeve. I regularly yell at the TV when the speaker says things that strike me as wrong.

But in my house, in my kitchen, surrounded by kind and loving humans, all of that political stuff falls away, and friendships bloom.

If only we could find a way to spread that into the wider world, huh?

Good Bye, Horrific Old Kitchen


So here’s the thing. We moved into this house 31 years ago this month. Back then, this was a reasonably nice 5 year old house with a cheaply made interior. The kitchen was basic, functional, not particularly beautiful. The countertops were laminate, the cabinets made of particleboard. There were plastic “lazy susan” shelves in both corners.

It was way better than the run down apartments we’d rented before, and more up to date than the kitchen in the one decent house we’d lived in earlier.

We had finally had our first child, and were awaiting our second. We had finally, finally, finally finished graduate school and scraped up enough money for a downpayment. We bought this house in a relatively rural small New England town.

At the time, I fell in love with all of it. I fell in love with the fact that this soil, these trees, this average American house, was all OURS.

To embrace an overused cliche, we definitely set down our roots here.

We have lived in this house long enough now to have replaced the floors, updated the paint, renovated the bathrooms and tamed the yard. We’ve turned the cellar into a cozy playroom. We’ve raised three kids here. We take care of our three grandkids here.

It’s a nice house.

Except that the kitchen has gone from basic to disgusting. The cabinets are filthy and uncleanable. One shelf is actually held up by a book. The laminate counters are cracked, peeling, burned, dirty and faded.

Don’t even get me started on the floor.

Or the 35 year old kitchen light that was cheap when it was bought way back when.

So.

At long last, after having saved for years, our kitchen is about to be totally renovated. New floors, new sink, new lights, brand new paint job. Brand new white, shiny cabinets and drawers and a specially designed spice cabinet just for my giant spice collection!

Finally, after more than four decades of marriage, I am about to have a trendy, fashionable kitchen with white tile backsplash, brushed nickel appliances and even a special slide out drawer for trash and recycling.

This is a life changer for me!

So you would imagine me dancing the happy dance all around, wouldn’t you?

Well. I am dancing. A lot.

I have danced my way through pulling apart every drawer, every shelf, every cabinet in my kitchen. I have danced through donating a dozen boxes of “what the hell is this” and I have danced through weeks of reorganizing junk drawers and plastic storage items.

But now everything is empty.

And now my inner sappy-soft-hearted-ridiculous old woman is breaking through.

Last night my long suffering husband found himself faced with a wife who was finally getting her one big wish. A brand new kitchen! And that wife was sobbing and moaning, in spite of the updates ahead.

“Oh, honey,” I sobbed to poor Paul. “There are so many memories in this old kitchen!”

“This was the corner where our baby girl sat and played ‘LightBrite’ on the day we passed papers on this house!” Our Kate was only four, and the house was cold and empty. But we signed the contracts and we came here and set her up at a little table to play as we looked through our new house. On that cold April day, that kitchen looked like the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.

“Remember when we had the little picnic table here?”, I asked as I wiped my nose. “I can see our three kids here having lunch.” One of my favorite pictures of them was taken in this spot, at that funny plastic table. I could close my eyes and picture the neighbor kids here, too. Chrissy and her brother Nick, grinning with my kids. And sweet Alex, our dear Alex, who died far too soon. This corner was where they laughed and snacked and argued and grew. And were I watched over them as they did it all.

Paul wasn’t sure what was making me so weepy, but when I turned to the cracked plastic of the spinning corner cabinet, he understood.

These two words, written in Sharpie on our old shelf, brought both of us back to the days when our kids were young.

I could remember the night when I wrote those words. The kids were just old enough to come home from school by themselves, and to spend two hours at home before I got here. One day I came home with groceries and as I went to put them away, I realized that most of what I had bought the week before to provide lunches and snacks for school had been eaten by the home-without-Mom crowd.

So after complaining and griping at the kids, I put the food into the cabinet and wrote the words on the shelf. “School food!!!!!” was strictly off limits to the crew. It became a source of argument, negotiation and many jokes for the next several years.

I had forgotten all about it until the moment when I was emptying everything out for our renovation.

And I was suddenly pulled back to all the meals, all the birthday cakes, all the brunches, all the holidays, all the batches of virus busting soups of the past three decades.

And I cried. A lot.

Tomorrow these old, busted, broken, dirty cabinets will be torn out and tossed into the dumpster. The floor will come up and the appliances will be moved. In a couple of weeks, I’ll step into the kitchen of my dreams.

I’ll be happy. I’ll be delighted!

But I will always be a little bit nostalgic for the crappy old place where I cooked a million meals for the people I love so much.

For the First Time, I Do Not Want to Be Just Like My Mom


My mother was beautiful. She was elegant and stylish. She always looked immaculately put together and ready for anything.

She was a wonderful cook, and was able to keep 6 kids and our Dad happy, well fed, and healthy on a very tight budget.

Mom was an artist, and could paint and draw in ways that left me amazed.

As the oldest daughter in a family of six children, I grew up very much in awe of my Mother. She was fiercely opinionated, always outspoken and she never backed down from a conflict. I remember her as the champion of young girls in town when one historically snowy winter had her contacting the principal of the local Junior High School to demand that her daughters be allowed to wear pants to school. “I will send my daughters in skirts when all the boys have to walk to school with bare legs, too.”

She was my hero.

By the time I was old enough to understand the concept of time, I wanted to grow up to be exactly like my Mother. I wanted to be smart. I wanted to be artistic. I yearned to know how to cook and I was determined to become a mother myself.

So much of my life has seen me happily copying my Mom. So much of it has seen me wanting to echo her strength and her resilience.

But something has changed in the past few years, and it has shown me that my mother can still teach me lessons even as I reach the age of Medicare.

Mom is 91 years old now. She has overcome cancer, pneumonia and even Covid 19. She still lives in the house where she raised all of us, where she cared for our Dad through several illnesses, and where she watched as he died.

Most of her children are still around her, still sharing meals in that same kitchen, still watching TV in that same room.

Along with my brothers and sisters, I try to take my turn visiting Mom, and doing what little I can to help take care of her. She has a lovely woman living there as her Home Health Aide. She watches TV, and naps in her favorite chair, with her sweet little kitty on her lap.

I come to visit, bringing home made soup or a pasta dish. We chat and smile and watch a bit of TV.

Then I get back into my car and head home. And I think, for the first time in all of my long life, “Please, universe, please don’t let me be just like my Mom. I don’t want to live as long as she has.” Please don’t let me follow in her footsteps as she gets to the end of her path.

I love this life. I have had a wonderful, joyful, hilarious time on this funny planet. I am in no real hurry to leave.

But please, dear Universe and gods and goddesses and fates, please don’t let me live so long that I am unable to cook my own dinner. Please don’t let me live to be a woman who can no longer sing, or swim in the ocean, or pick my own herbs, or write a blog post, or read a good story. Please don’t hang onto me so long that my children worry over who will weed my garden and who will wash my hair.

Life is a sacred gift. Each of us has our turn on center stage. Life is a fabulous blessing.

I am eternally grateful for the life I have been given.

Please let me squeeze lots more laughter out of it. But please, please, send me on to the next big adventure before I am unable to remember the pleasures that came with this one.

I Think Spring is Going to Kill Me


I love spring. I really do. I love the smell of wet earth and the sight of the first few robins. I love Easter, and stale Peeps and the first time we roll out the grill and make some burgers.

But I’m realizing that there are certain parts of the spring ritual that are not really designed for the elderly. Especially the elderly like me who have the kind of memory issues that make us forget the arthritis in our spines and the nerve issues in our necks.

Today was a beautiful day out here in North Central Massachusetts. It’s been a pretty dry and pretty warm March. My crocuses are open and the daffodils and tulips are poking their heads up through the straw that I put over them last November.

Today was the first day of this year when the leaves piled on my gardens were thawed enough to rake. It was the first day when the soil was unfrozen, so that I could scrape back the mud and find the emerging shoots.

This was the first day of the miraculous rebirth that comes around every year. Hurrah! Time to get out there, old Nonni! Grab that rake, sweep up all those mouldering old leaves! Find the thyme plant and the phlox and the yellowish tips of the sprouting tulips!

So out I went, with my grandkids in tow. Five year old Ellie grabbed her child’s rake. Three year old Johnny grabbed a trowel. Almost one year old Max sat happily in the grass, but it was obvious that he wanted to taste some sticks and dirt.

With one eye on the baby and one on the barely surviving stems of my two year old hazelnut trees, I started to rake. And I raked, baby, oh did I ever rake. I sang songs to keep Max distracted while I raked every old leaf off the newest flower bed. I gave simple directions to Ellie and Johnny, who were simultaneously raking, arguing and pretending to be superheroes.

The sun was shining, the birds were singing and it felt fabulous to work hard in the springtime air.

Until it didn’t.

One of the funny/not funny parts of getting older is the way my body can alert me at the exact moment when it has had enough. Like a tornado siren on a summer night, it suddenly shrieks out of nowhere, shocking me into the reality that these old bones are no longer thirty. Every tiny nerve ending reacts simultaneously, which means every muscle seizes up and every joint freezes.

I went from Happy Farmer to Sobbing Zombie in about three seconds.

OWWWWWW!!! My thumb was screaming. A blister! And all the skin came off!!!!

YOWWWWW!!!! My lower back was shooting lightning down both legs and I was bent over at a ninety degree angle. I wanted to drop the rake, but my right hand was cramped into a claw.

Why was my calf cramping? And who applied a vise to my achilles tendon?

I took a breath. And wheezed.

Turned my head to look at the kids. My neck cramped.

The next few minutes are a bit of a blur. Step, ouch! Bend, ouch! Lift 25 pound baby, ouch ouchie mcouchums!!!!

I convinced the “big kids” to come inside with the promise of a cookie. Do. Not. Judge.

I am very happy to report that today is a rainy day.

Huzzah.

There is no reason for Nonni to drag herself out there and scoop up the mountains of moldy leaves. Today is a day for the heating pad, the ice pack and the play pen.

Spring is a time of wonder and joy. It is flowers and baby birds and rainbows.

It’s also a time to check the mirror and look at the wrinkles before getting carried away in the garden.

Photo by Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

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.