Oh, Stop Pretending!


I really want my daughter and her husband to trust me with their kids.

I mean, right now, I’m all they have in the way of day care, and I know they aren’t looking to make a change, but still. I want them to look at each other every night and think, “Gosh, that Nonni is just the best thing ever! Wow! What a woman!”

I know. Gross, right?

This is the same internal dialogue that has me cooking a fresh, home cooked meal with all of the major food groups every single night. Every. Night. For 39 plus years.

I know. I am still desperately trying to be a “good girl.” I still want approval every day.

Anyway, I want my daughter to be in awe of my fabulous maternal skills.

And mostly, she is. She’s quick to praise me and to thank me, and I know they really do appreciate having me there to care for their babies every day.

Today, though? Oh, today.

Let’s just set the stage by saying that last night was Halloween. And Paul and I went out to Trick or Treat with the kids and their parents and a bunch of friends. I was dressed like a witch. I walked up and down the street, often carrying Ellie in my arms. I was freezing. I got home with a cramp in the back of my neck and an ache in both calves.

Today I was tired, achy, a little bleary eyed. I was on duty for two over-tired kids. One wanted candy, more candy and maybe “a little tiny bit more”. At the tender age of two, our Ellie has become a better negotiator than D. Trump ever was even in his best delusional dreams.

She has learned how to pull on my heart strings. For example, when her baby brother cries and needs to be held, she has learned to wail “I need you, Nonni! I need special Nonni time! NOW!” She gazes up with her dark, dark eyes and lets her lower lip tremble, just a bit.

You’d have to be made of granite not fall for it.

And she knows that if I do anything she doesn’t like (like brush her long, curly hair) she sobs as if her heart is breaking, “Oh!!! I want my Mommy! Mommy, I miss you!!!”

I wasn’t born yesterday, and this ain’t my first rodeo, but Holy Crap, that’s hard to take.

And then there is our beloved little man, Johnny Jump Up. Aka: Johnny NoTeeth, Johnny Knuckles, Johnny Tank.  The boy is five months old and wearing 12 month clothes. He’s all smiles, until he isn’t.

Today was one of those days. He was either sound asleep or screaming and arching his back. He didn’t want to be held or rocked or sitting up or lying down or on his belly or drinking a bottle or in his bouncy seat or in his swing.

Every time Ellie stopped asking for “Nonni time!”, Johnny was screaming.

By noon, I was soaked in sweat. My heart was skipping beats. All I wanted from life was five minute alone. I put Ellie in front of a movie and Johnny in his swing. I put the puppy on the deck.

Then I went into the bathroom and locked the door. I turned on the fan and the water. And I sat with my head in my hands.

But that hurt my neck, so I went back out there and tried to face it all with a smile.

Kate gets her to pick up the kids between 4 and 4:30. By 3:30, both of them were awake and both were cranky. The dog kept charging at the living room window trying to attack the squirrels on the lawn.

Nonni was getting desperate.

I finally settled Ellie down to finger paint, and tried to jostle Johnny in my arms. At one point I found myself with John on my left hip, trying to vacuum up the popcorn (from Ellie) the torn paper (from the pup) and the leaves that had blown in. Ellie was demanding that I clean up her finger paints and wash her hands.

My blood pressure was rising. Johnny was whining. Lennie the puppy was demanding to go back out so he could start tearing apart the screen and demanding to be let back in.

I faced a moment of decision.

I could just let everyone moan and wail and cry and wait till Kate got home.

But then she’d know that I was on my last nerve. She’d know that I was asking myself what the HELL I’d been thinking when I signed up for this gig.

Instead of waiting it out, I put Miss Ellie into a nice bubble bath and settled John into his bouncy seat in the bathroom doorway, with his favorite toy at hand. I joked and smiled and waited.

And waited.

No Kate yet.

Ellie looked up at me with her big dark eyes. “Oh,” she said. “I feel a poopie.”

ANNNNND.

Empty the tub, put away the toys, wrap Ellie in a towel. Quick! Plop her on the sofa, grab Johnny and put him in his swing. Ignore his immediate sobs of rage.

Dress Ellie, while repeatedly asking, “Do you need to poop? Do you want to go on the potty?” Get her dressed in record time, throw the towels into the bathroom, grab the screaming baby.

Look out the window.

See the sweet sight of Mommy’s car coming into the driveway.

Think. I should greet her with a smile, show her the finger paints and the nice clean toddler. Smile about the baby.

That’s what I thought.

Here’s what I did.

I met her at the top of the stairs, handed her the screaming baby, told her that the toddler needed to have her hair brushed. Then I growled out the one word that was really on my mind.

“Wine?”

So.

I felt a little bad about the fact that I was not up to my Nonni best. I hated the fact that I had added to Kate’s stress by telling her that I was ready to jump off the nearest bridge.

Know what she said when I apologized?

“Ma, it makes me feel better to see that I’m not the only one who is driven crazy by the two of them!”

I need to stop trying to always be the good girl. I need to admit that sometimes lunch is a bowl of goldfish, that a movie is sometimes all I can manage and that locking myself in the bathroom is probably keeping all of us safe.

OK. Going to bed. Tomorrow is another day.

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The Pros and Cons of Being a Childcare Nonni


I am the luckiest woman in the world. Bar none. Honest to goodness, I mean it.

I have been given the huge honor and privilege of taking care of my grandchildren Monday – Friday while their parents are working. It’s been a blast, and I love it. I do!

But you know what?

Now that I am home every day with a smart, sassy, articulate, imaginative two year old and a chubby, happy, drooly 4 month old, I am realizing that there are HUGE pros and cons to this whole thing. Upsides and downsides to being the primary daytime caregiver that I never even thought about when I first told my daughter that I wanted the job.

I mean, if you have ever been a parent, you will know that there are at least a million tiny details that you never anticipated. And they hit you in the face every single day.

From the point of view of a grandmother, these details can make or break your child caring experience.

For example, here are some of the positive daily events that I could never have predicted:

  • The unexpected grins of joy that flood the babies’ faces when they see me. There is nothing on this beautiful, green earth that matches the feeling you get when your grandchild’s face lights up at the sight of you.
  • That moment when your grandchild asks for you to provide the only possible comfort. “Hold me!” “Snuggle me!” “I need you…”  Sigh…… A person could live off this feeling without ever resorting to actual food for sustenance.
  • Potty training is hilarious. Today Ellie and I had this exchange as I tried to put her into bed for her nap. “Hey, Nonni! I feel a poop in my belly. It feels like a big one! Let’s go, hurry!”  Off to the bathroom we went, and she sat herself on the pink princess potty, where she narrated the events. “Oh, I feel it! It feels like a big one! Here it comes!” Then she stood up with pride to look over her product. Alas, she was a bit let down. But it was still hysterical. “Oh, you’re just a little guy! I’ll pour you out, into the toilet.” (And she did) “Bye, bye, little guy! I’m sending you home!”  Who ever thought that poop would be so funny?

But of course there are the cons to think about, too.

  • There are moments when your grandchild looks at your much beloved face, then wrinkles his face into a mask of horror and cries like his heart is broken. This may be due to the fact that you can’t actually provide breast milk direct from the source. Or it might be just because he or she really, really, really wants Mommy, and for all your loveliness, you are. Not. Her.
  • Sometimes the exact moment when your best beloved grandchild wants you to snuggle/cuddle/warm me up/hold me happens to be the exact moment when you finally have a chance to heat up that burrito. Or worse yet, when your laxative has finally kicked in. (You are, after all, getting on in years.)
  • There are times when nobody in the entire neighborhood seems interested in a nap except for you. You will, to your great shame, find yourself gently placing the baby in the swing and turning it up to 5 while you whisper a prayer to Winken, Blinken and Nod. You will also find yourself skipping entire pages in the nap book just so you can get the toddler to lie down before the baby wakes up. If you are not careful, you will also find yourself snoring on the couch with a dirty diaper on your chest for the entire 7 minutes while both babies are napping.
  • Toilet training might be funny at times, but it is also disgusting, frustrating and filled with moments of wicked nausea. There WILL be pee on your rug, your couch, your bed, your newly washed laundry and probably your dog. There WILL be poop on the floor, the pants, the edge of the toilet and in many many of your daily conversations. Get used to it.

Child number one will no doubt move past the toilet issues just in time for child two to take them up.

But rejoice! You will still get the hugs, the songs, the angelic smiles and the sweeter-than-any-honey kisses.

And they will erase every muscle ache, every yawn, every poopie rug and every toddler tantrum.

You’ll be exhausted, but you’ll be happy.

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Eventually, they all sleep.

 

 

“Stay at home…..Nonni”


I am a child of the 60s. My stay at home, Italian, Catholic, good girl mother was the very first feminist I have ever known.

Mom got married at 20 and raised 6 of us kids before she finally went back to get her college degree and begin a career in education. She was a feminist without ever calling herself that.

She organized the paraprofessional educators in our town to form their own union. She argued with our middle school principal when the rules insisted that girls had to wear skirts to school, even when it was 5 degrees and snowing out. She told him that when the boys wore shorts, her daughters would wear skirts.

The rules changed.

I grew up expecting myself to be a liberated woman. I knew that I wanted a career, even as I recognized my desire to be a mother.

I married my sweetheart at the tender age of 22. We both went to graduate school, where I earned a Master’s Degree while he went all the way to a doctorate. We both believed in our careers and our skills and our desire to contribute to society. I became a Speech/language Specialist, working with young children. He became a Clinical Psychologist.

We loved our work. We were proud of what we did.

So when we had children, it wasn’t a hard decision for me to go back to work. We needed the money. We needed the insurance that my job offered.

And I needed a place to go where I could feel smart and valued and worthy.

Now,(as the politicians say) let me be perfectly clear: I loved my kids so much it was kind of ridiculous. I thought of them 24 hours a day, I adored them, I treasured them, I hurt when I wasn’t with them.

But the thought of staying home all day, every day, to tend to the diapers and spit ups and juice boxes of those early years would have had me running off into the night without a thought.

And that’s what I am finding so funny now.

Now I am a stay at home Nonni. I spend all day, every day, Mon-Friday, with my two-year-old granddaughter and her three-month-old brother. I change up to 12 diapers a day. My fingernails have Desitin under them. Even as I write these words, I can smell old spit up milk and peanut butter crackers on my shirt. My sweaty, wrinkled, stinky old T shirt.

I wash faces 20 times a day. I brush tiny teeth. I read the same book over. and over. and over.

I chip baby pukies off the bottoms of my chairs. I do laundry ever other day just so I can have a clean burp cloth and at least one clean facecloth.

I can name every single character in “Finding Dory” and sing all the songs from “Moana.”

Thirty years ago, this would have made me insane.

But now I love it, poopie smells and all.

And it makes me wonder how a young feminist became such an old softie. How did I go from wanting to change the world to cheering when my little girl does pee-pee in the potty?

I’m not sure.

But I’ve given it a lot of thought, mostly while rocking babies to sleep.

So here are some of my thoughts on the subject of staying at home to nurture babies:

It’s easier now. It’s so much easier not to take every tantrum and every ignored meal personally.

From the vantage point of old age, I realize that little kids are tiny humans with their own moods and temperaments. They have their likes and dislikes. They have bad days. It is not about me. I would never have understood that as a young Momma.

It’s easier to let myself be a slob now. Nobody is looking at me and thinking, “wow, she let herself go.” If the neighbors see me outside in my flannel pants and baggy sweatshirt, pushing a double stroller, they think, “Oh, good for her!” They don’t think, “She looks like hell. Where is her self-respect?” At thirty, I could never have let myself be so comfortable.

And most of all, at the happy age of 61, I no longer feel like I need to prove myself to the world. Unlike my young, eager, unproven self, I am now happy to accept the fact that I am just fine. I have earned my place in the universe. I have raised three great humans. I have had a solid and successful career. I still have interesting and thoughtful friends. I read. I write. I vote. I’m enough for me.

So if my entire morning is spent playing with Playmobile jungle animals and eating gold fish out of paper cups….who the hell cares?

I am so very grateful that when I was a young mother with a full head of steam and lots of ambition, I had a place to do good work. And I am even more grateful that now, when I am finally ready to accept myself for who I have become, I am able to spend my days making home-made playdoh and watching Elmo’s Playhouse.

I am a stay at home Nonni and I’m proud of it!

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Yes, these are our toys.

I Think I Finally Get It


For years and years, I’ve been hearing the same grandparent joke, over and over.

“The best part of being a grandparent is that you get to spoil them all day and then give ’em back at night!”

Heh. Heh. Heh.

Yeah.

I don’t get it.

I’m not in the regular grandmamma situation, though, so maybe I’m out of touch. But for me the joy and contentment of being with my grandchild is not about the moment I hand her back to her parents.

And it sure isn’t about the idea that I can “spoil” her and make her a brat and then laugh as her parents try to cope with the monster I’ve created.

No.

For me, since the moment I first touched the satiny skin of my first grandchild’s cheek, it has all been about the moments when our grandbabies are with us.

But even though I get to spend every single work day with my Ellie, I still didn’t really understand exactly what I was feeling. And even though I spent the majority of the past two years acting as Ellie’s Nonni, I still couldn’t find the words to describe the depth of my feelings for my grandchild. The firstborn daughter of my first born child.

It wasn’t just the dizzying idea that my baby had produced a baby. And it wasn’t simply the realization that I loved this tiny being with every single molecule of my self.

I couldn’t describe it as the feeling of relief that I honestly experience every day when I look back on my 24 years of raising children. It wasn’t only about the realization when looking back that there really isn’t that much we can do to screw them up completely.

I made about a trillion mistakes, but my three adult offspring are absolutely wonderful people. So, see? As a mere Nonni, I didn’t have to worry that much about my every move.

No.

None of those thoughts summed up the feeling of peace and calm and contentment that I am getting as the full time Nanny/Nonni for my very own flesh and blood grandchild.

But after I dropped Ellie off at home today, I listened to a piece on NPR. A young mother who had suddenly lost her husband was talking about how she managed to overcome her terrible grief and find joy again. She talked about forcing herself to find gratitude. She recognized that true joy, and true happiness, come in the small, happy moments of every day life.

And I thought about the tiny, normal, routine moments of every day with Ellie. The moment when she greets me. The moment when she asks for my hand. Or when our eyes meet through a car window as I fill my gas tank, and her face lights up just to see me.

I thought about watching her fall asleep. Or looking at her as she kisses my old hound dog so gently on his head. I thought about teaching her to brush her teeth. About the smell of her warm neck. The softness of the curly hair.

I thought about how incredibly lucky I am to have a new chance to wrap a wriggly little body in a warm towel and snuggle her until she is warm and dry.

Grandparenting, to me at least, is about having the time and the confidence to be grateful for every moment of every day with a baby in our arms.

I swear to you. It is SO NOT about the moment when you send them home.

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Oldies and Youngsters


Now that little Lennie has been here for a week, I have a few observations to make.

1. Puppies Are Energetic

This is how I imagine Lennie’s internal monologue.

“Oh, boy, oh, wow, foodfoodfoodfood….where can I pee? foodfoodfoodfoodfood….A BABY! gonna jump on her!….she smells great…poop! Gonna run, gotta run, think I’ll eat this book…foodfoodfoodfoodfoooooood….I’m tired. Sleep.”

Repeat every 25 seconds.

Phew.

2. A Sleeping Puppy Is As Irresistible As A Sleeping Baby

3. Old Folks Really Benefit From Having Young Folks Around

Today both of my dogs went out the doggie door. Tucker went first, the Wolf King on a stately journey into the back yard to poop. He stepped out carefully, checking his footing on the icy deck.

Lennie went out behind him, leaping through the door in one bound. He jumped down the deck stairs, onto the snowy grass. They both did their business, Tucker with his nose lifted and his eyes closed, considering the meaning of life. Lennie squatted three feet away, grinning up at his big brother, little puffs of frosty air coming from his snout. You could just hear his thoughts.

“This is so cool! Pooping with the Wolf King! Oooh, a bird! I’m done! Now what can we do?”

Usually Tucker makes his way slowly back up the stairs and into the house after depositing his daily doodie. This time, though, I started to hear both dogs barking in the yard. I was inside with Ellie, reading a book. I noticed that the barking had a rhythm to it. One deep “woof” followed by three or four excited “yips.” Over and over again.

I picked up my granddaughter and carried to my bedroom, where we stood looking out the window. And there they were.

The Little Dude was dancing around, chasing his tail, jumping in the air, one ear folded back by the wind he generated as he raced. And the old man, the Wolf King, pretending to be annoyed, but bowing his front legs down to let Lennie nip at his neck. Growling and barking in fake anger, then running, a bit carefully and very stiffly. Chasing Lennie, who shrieked and yipped and ran away while looking over his shoulder the whole time.

The deep rumbling voice of the Wolf King, “I’m coming for you, kid. I’m gonna get you…..”

And Lennie, the baby dude, giggling back, “Nooooo! Don’t catch me!!!”

And it hit me.

It was me and Ellie, played out in the dog world.

She runs, I pretend to chase.

I remember, when I play with her, what it was to jump and twirl and race without aches or pains. I remember being young.

The Wolf King is reliving his youth in the back yard with little Lennie.

I’m reliving mine in the living room with Ellie.

Good for both of us.

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Nonni In Germany: The Bike, Episode #1


I know that I’ve told you about our trip to Germany, but I want to give you a little bit of an insight into the highlights of the week. This story is about me on a bike.

Oh, yeah.

This old Nonni is one badass chick, lemme tell ya. I rode a bike!

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Here’s how it happened.

We were getting ready to make some dinner at Katja’s house in Berlin. I was in my element, chopping veggies and thinking about spices. Confident, secure, smiling as I diced the onions.

Suddenly Katja realized that we were missing a few key ingredients, and asked if I wanted to go with her to the local grocery store. Of course I did! I had gone shopping with her the evening before, and I was looking forward to another adventure in a store filled with both bargain priced booze and ten thousand versions of “wurst.” We headed outside.

It took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on, but eventually I realized that Katja- tall, thin, marathon running, 15 years younger than me Katja- was taking out two matching bicycles. Two large, scary, bikes.

She expected me to ride one of them to the store! Pedaling with my own two legs.  And, you know, balancing my big old butt on that pointy seat.

My first reaction was to run for the hills, but I was trying to be a good guest. Also, I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t ride a bike. I’m an idiot.

I told my friend that I hadn’t been on a bike in at least 20 years. I reminder her that I’m a lot older than she is. I brought up my fibromyalgia. I coughed. I squinted my eyes. I sort of hoped that she’d decide to go by car, but I sort of hoped she’d push me.

Katja just stood there, regal and gorgeous, holding her bike. “You can do this,” she said. What could I do?  I climbed onto the infernal machine and pushed off with my left foot. And kept pushing. For at least 50 feet. I couldn’t get my balance well enough to peddle. Finally that left foot found its way to the pedal and I wobbled down the street.

We made our way through the leafy streets of Katja’s Berlin neighborhood. I was feeling pretty good as I peddled my way along. I started to feel confident. I started to enjoy myself.

I imagined how athletic I must look. I let the wind sweep back my silvery hair. I could feel my butt muscles working.

Oh, yeah, I thought, I still got what it takes.

Then we came to a narrow dirt path, heading downhill, and around a sharp curve.  Katja went down without effort, swinging her bike easily to the left to head across a narrow metal bridge.

I felt my heart seize up as I tried to follow her. My front wheel wobbled to the left, then wibbled to the right. I tried to slow down, but those hand brakes kind of scared me. To my horror, I saw that a woman on a bike (thin, muscular, graceful. Bitch.) was coming up the hill toward me, passing Katja with a jaunty wave.

I was heading downhill fast now, desperately trying to control both the wibble and the wobble. I squeezed the handbrakes, hoping to control my descent without hurling myself over the handlebars. As I got to the bottom of the hill and managed to pass the other rider, I realized that there was no freaking way I was going to be able to make the sharp left turn onto the bridge.

I had a choice. I knew that I was going to crash. I could either fall to my right and risk knocking myself unconscious on the railing, or I could fall to my left and land in a thick patch of bushes.

I had just enough athletic skill to choose the bushes. I squeezed the brakes, closed my eyes and lurched off the seat. Into the weeds.

Katja rushed back to me, afraid that I was hurt. A man who happened to be riding past us stopped to help. (Have I mentioned that everyone in Germany constantly rides a bike all over the place? Have I mentioned how athletic they all are? I hate them.) My face was red with embarrassment, but I was otherwise unhurt.

I laughed easily and brushed the leaves out of my hair. “I’m fine, no problem, no worries,” I chirped in my best American cheerleader voice. I carefully climbed back onto the bike and used my left foot to push myself along for another 50 feet before wobbling on across the bridge.

All was well until we got to the store and I started to feel the welts rising  on my left arm and all over the left side of my face. I felt like I was being stung by a thousand bees all at once.

“Um, Katja?” I asked tentatively. “What were those bushes that I landed in?”

She looked a little worried, and cleared her throat. “It was Brennessel.”

I just stared.

“It is called stinging nettle in English. Don’t worry. It only lasts for a few hours.”

Sigh.

I should have just kept chopping veggies.

 

The Wolf King and the Princess


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I am the Wolf King. I fear No Human. I am strong. I am fearless.

But I shake like a leaf in a windstorm every time Woman Who Feeds Me brings the Tiny Human into our house.

The first time that it happened, I was unprepared. I am used to the usual Humans Who Visit. They are loud. They march boldly through our door and up our stairs. They rub my ears and say, “Good dog!”

They smell like sweat and digested meats and, often, of fermented fruits.   I know them.  I do not fear these humans.

But the first time that Woman Who Feeds Me came in the door with a small package in her arms, my warning alarms went off as if I had stumbled into a skunk den. I approached Woman and tried to sniff the package.

“Alert! Alert! Alert!”

The tiny package moved on its own, and made strange squeaky sounds. As I approached to smell it, I was rewarded with a lovely whiff of poop. But the humans who were holding the package made me back away and sit down.

“Good boy,” they said. So I sat.  But I was on alert. I did not know what the small poopie package was made of. I did not know if it was human, or if it was prey.

So I sat. But I had my eye on it.

Some number of days went by. I began to feel accustomed to the package. It arrived every morning, and was passed into the arms of Woman Who Feeds Me. She made strange cooing noises when she held it. She completely ignored me when it was at our house. Of course, she also ignored Man Who Walks Me, so I didn’t feel all that bad.

After a few days, I had smelled the poopie package often often enough now to know that it was human. It smelled of human sweat and human poop and human skin.

It was a human. But it was a really strange human. It did not move around the house. It did not pat me or feed me or rub my ears. It said no words that I understood. It never said “cheese” or “come” or “lie down.”

It was very strange. But for some reason that I do not understand, I found myself compelled to protect it.

I am, as you know, the Wolf King. Mighty and Proud and Strong. I bow to no man. (OK, except for Man Who Walks Me. He is so so sweet! I love him to pieces. He drops ham on the floor when he makes his lunch. Need I say more?)

Anyway, I will never forget the first time that Woman Who Feeds Me left the Tiny Poopie Human alone in a basket in our living room. She went down the hall.  She. Left. That. Tiny. Human.

I was aghast. I looked at Tiny Poopie Human. I smelled it. I walked quickly down the hall to the bedroom where Woman Who Feeds Me was doing something with a toothbrush. “Woof!” I said sternly. “Woof, woofie, woof, woof.”

Woman Who Feeds Me looked at me with a frown, as if she did not understand me when I clearly said, “Get your butt back to the living room! That tiny human needs someone to protect it and I don’t even have opposable thumbs!”

It has been a long and daunting few months.

I now know that Tiny Poopie Human is a female. It can move now. It scuttles along the floor like a sweet smelling crab and it grabs ahold of the fur on my neck. Tiny Poopie Human now pulls itself upright, holding onto my fur for balance.

I do not move. I do not protest.

I am the Wolf King.

It is my solemn duty, as the guardian of our family, to protect the Tiny Poopie Human and to keep it safe.

God knows that Woman Who Feeds Me won’t be doing that. She actually leaves us alone while she does pointless things like leaving her pee in a ceramic bowl.

Seriously.

These humans need me. Luckily, I am happy to yip and yowl every single time she leaves me alone with the crawling, fur pulling, babbling little bundle of poop and milk that spends all day with us.

I shudder to think what these humans would do without me.

 

 

Giving Her “Grit”


There is a new buzzword in the world of education, and its a real eye roller.

The word is “grit” and it means the ability to handle difficulty; to persevere, to deal with opposition. It’s actually a fabulous idea, and one that a whole lot of parents need to learn. But I guess its an eye roller because so many parents of my generation already know this stuff.

Anyway, the idea of giving a child “grit” means that as adults we step back and let the kids struggle a bit. Its the idea that unless the child has worked hard and struggled at least a little, his success won’t feel like anything much.

I agree.

I was a teacher for a long time. I raised three kids. I grew up in a family of six kids with two busy, working parents.  I know about grit.

I know that too many children are rescued by well meaning parents when their social lives run into conflict. I know that too many kids are celebrated when they haven’t actually achieved their goals. I know that stressed out families try to shield their children from any anxiety or struggle, in a misguided belief that those are dangerous emotions.

But I also know that when I was a child, I didn’t feel particularly excited to get good grades in reading or writing. Ho, hum. I could ace that stuff with my eyes closed and one hand tied behind my back.  But I was thrilled to get a C plus in chemistry, because THAT was some serious crap.

Grit.

Years ago my youngest son, Tim, was learning to play hockey. Early in his skating life, he came across a mean spirited, nasty coach. I remember that I picked my little boy up from practice one night. On the way home, I noticed that my 9 year old was in tears in the back seat. When I pressed him, he told me that his coach had called him a “baby” because his wrist shot was so weak. I was outraged, of course. My very best Mamma Bear self reared up to defend my cub. But he was much smarter than I was. When I expressed my outrage and told my boy that I planned to talk to the idiot coach, he said, “Don’t, Mommy.  Just let me think bad words about him in my head. Don’t talk to him.”

So I didn’t.

A few days later, my Tim came home from school, put on his skates and his hockey gloves and headed out to our backyard rink. I didn’t know exactly what he was doing, but I kept peeking out the window at him as the afternoon wore on.  Finally, just at dark, he came in the front door.  Throwing down his gloves, my sweet little boy looked up at me and said, “There! Now I have a damned wrist shot.”

The coach never teased him again.  Grit.

Now I am taking care of my sweet baby Ellie. She is a serene, happy little thing. Up until now, she has rarely cried.

But she has suddenly hit a point in her life when she desperately wants to MOVE! She can scoot on her butt and turn herself around. She can roll over and back again.  But she can’t quite get herself propelled forward to reach her toys. She can’t yet pull herself up.

So I sit with her on the floor every day. I watch her reach for the stacking cups, and pick them up. I watch as one rolls away and I watch her struggle to stretch herself out to pull it back.  She grimaces, she groans.  Sometimes she squeezes her eyes shut, shakes her fists and howls.

I sit beside her. I tell her “Keep going.” I smile and I nod.  I say, “Ellie, you can do it!”

Sometimes she fails.  But sometimes she manages to lean herself forward so far that she is almost on her knees, and she hooks one determined finger around that errant cup and she pulls it back and picks it up.  And then I breathe a huge sigh, and I cheer her on. “You did it, honey! You got it!”

Grit.  I hope that I am giving her a sense that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to accomplish.  I hope that I am giving her, even at this tender age, the realization that she doesn’t need Nonni to do what she wants; she can do it all by herself.

I hope that I am giving her grit.

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“I got it, Nonni!”

It’s not that I’m clumsy exactly….


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I know I’m not exactly the athletic type. I mean, sure I’m in shape.  (As long as “round” counts as a shape.)  And I am very active.  You know, cooking, chopping, stirring.

Chewing.

I admit that I am not your typical athlete.  I hate to sweat.   I am not quite coordinated enough to walk and chew gum at the same time without biting my tongue in half.

So maybe my middle name really should be “clumsy”. Still, I don’t see why I have to get hurt in such humiliating ways!

Really.  Do you know another middle aged woman who once fell off a flip-flop and broke her foot?  Yeah, me either.  Every other woman on earth can walk in flip flops all summer long.  But me? I put on a pair ONE time and walked on the wet grass with an arm full of fire wood.  Slipped, turned my foot, broke a bone.

Which I was too embarrassed to take to the doctor.  I walked on it for six weeks before I finally went for an X ray.  My doctor looked at me like I was an idiot.

And then there was the time when I choked on a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken while trying to answer the phone.  Yup.  Got a bone lodge in my throat so tight that I had to call 911, take an ambulance ride and have it removed under anesthesia.

I am not graceful.  I admit it.

I once tripped while vacuuming the stairs and dropped a giant canister vac on my face.  Got a concussion and ten stitches out of that one.

I’ve dropped firewood on my foot, stubbed my toe on a table and slammed my fingers in various doors.

I can accept ALL of those little boo-boos though.

Its the one I’m suffering from tonight that has me really red faced.

I spend every weekday taking care of my darling, beloved baby granddaughter.  The one who isn’t quite old enough to sit up one her own and therefore just loves to be held.  And I love holding her!   I love it so so much! More than anything on earth.

In fact, I love cuddling my Ellie so much that I hardly ever put her down.  Yesterday I held her in my left arm while I make a home made rustic pizza with my right arm.  And I held her in my left arm while we looked out the window at the birds in the yard.  I wanted to get a little exercise and expose Ellie to some good music at the same time, so after we finished with the pizza and the birds, I held her in my left arm while I played the soundtrack to Les Mis.  She absolutely had the time of her life as we danced around the house and I sang every word to every song! What a blast!

And I held her in my left arm while I put away dishes.  And while I vacuumed the floors.

And then I held her in my arms while she slept.

Yep.

I apparently put something called my “quadratus muscle” into a complete spasm, which caused me so much pain over night that I was up at 2 AM googling “kidney stone symptoms” and alternating ice, heat and oxycodone.

Today I held Ellie in my right arm as I slowly and carefully walked from the house to the car.

sigh.

I am not an athlete.

I’ve got the boo boos to prove it.

 

 

Dear Young Mommy Me


baby tim-1Dear Young MomShieb,

You. Are.  Amazing.

Seriously.

I didn’t appreciate your incredible feats of fabulousness while we were actually doing them, but I sure as hell appreciate them now.

I sure do.  As I sit here on my sofa with an ice pack on my back and exhaustion overwhelming me, I look back on our accomplishments as a young mother of three with nothing short of heart-stopping-awe.

How the hell did you do it, young me?   I mean, holy crow, did you have superpowers or what?

Let me explain the reason for my sudden deep appreciation of your Wonder Womanliness.

Today I took my baby granddaughter out for a couple of errands.

First I gave her a bottle and held her through a two hour nap. (OK, fine. You caught me. We both napped.)  Then I picked her up and put her in her swing so that I could get a few little things done around the house.  Within ten seconds, I heard the sound of a rapid fire machine gun and looked toward the baby to see her grinning from ear to ear.  Uh, Oh.   I picked her up and realized that she had pooped herself right up to her armpits for the second time today.

I carefully scooped her up, singing to her the whole time, and headed for the bathtub.  Jeez, Young Me! Was it always this complicated to wash a baby?  I think “yes”.  It was.  But  we did it back then, by God!  We sure did! Not so easy now, though! By the time I laid down a towel, filled the tub, set out clean clothes and clean diapers, squirted in the bath soap, washed her up, played with her, took her out to dry, put on the clean diaper, put on the clean clothes, drained the tub, hung up the towel, threw out the old diaper, put the poopie clothes in the hamper and got us both back into the recliner, I was exhausted!

And then came the doctor visit (for me), which meant putting on a jacket, filling up the diaper bag, grabbing an ice pack to keep the milk cold, stuffing the stroller in the trunk, buckling Elie into the car seat,  making sure she had her dolly to chomp on, driving to the doctor’s, taking the stroller out of the trunk, putting the diaper bag under the seat, unstrapping Ellie, hugging her and putting her into the stroller, strapping her in, handing her baby back to her, grabbing the diaper bag and my purse and walking us into the office………

Well.

I managed to pull it off. I did the doctor’s visit, helped enormously by the extreme cuteness of the baby I had brought along with me.  Everyone in the office oohed, and cooed and smiled at her.  She was her usual charming and delightful self.  I was so puffed up with pride at her beauty and sweetness that I hardly heard a word my doctor said.  I guess all is well, because I don’t remember hearing that my days are numbered.

Anyway, we did the visit, and we even managed to stop by the library for a bit.  And I got us both back home in one piece.

But as I look back on what felt like a monumental feat today, all I can do is marvel at you, Young MomShieb!  I look back on those days when you worked a full day at school, picked up your baby boys from daycare and your little girl from the neighbor’s and got back home to serve everyone a home cooked dinner.

I never appreciated you, Young Me. I never stepped back long enough to look at you and think, “You go, girl! You are a marvel!”  I was aware back then that we were taking three little kids to the grocery store, and to the park, and to the school Open Houses.  I just never took the time to realize what it took to pull all that off.

So, Young MomShieb, I am here now to tell you that you are my hero!  I don’t know how you did it.  I can’t believe you didn’t crack up and turn into a nut cake back in those crazy baby days.  But you didn’t.

My hat’s off to you.

And dear Young Mommies all over the place out there: My one wish for you is that you take a minute or two to step back from all that you are doing, and tell yourself, “Honey, you totally rock!”  Without you ladies, civilization as we know it would come crashing to the ground.

Love,  A happy, grateful, tired old Nonni