This Is Just Unfair


I mean, seriously.

Seriously?

How am I supposed to get anything done when I spend all day with this person:

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Really?

I’m supposed to put her down and give her toys, then go do the freakin’ laundry?  I don’t think so.

This child is 8 months old.  By rights, she should basically still just be a little blob of babiness.   But, no.

She is a full on DIVA.

What am I supposed to do?

Every time I tell her, “Play by yourself for a bit. I’ll be right back,” she makes a face like this one:

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Where are you GOING?

How can I walk away?

This is completely unfair.

I mean,  yes, sure. I agreed to watch the baby this year.  I did NOT agree to sit in a love soaked stupor 4o hours a week, looking like an idiot.

I did NOT agree to melt into a puddle every time this child smiled at me.  I didn’t think I would be giving up the basics, like going to the bathroom, or reading the news, or doing the dishes.

This is just NOT fair.

Look at that face.

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Wait, watch this!!!!

You know you wouldn’t be able to walk away either.  Admit it.

So. Not. Fair.

 

Ah, Miss Ellie……


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Rockin’ her Daddy’s hat.

Way, way back, in the dawn of my history, when Paul and I were very young, we used to think about the upcoming weeks and tell ourselves, “I’m glad there is something to look forward to!”

Which means, of course, that there were times when we’d look at each other and think, “Ugh,  there is nothing to look forward to!”

I look back now, at my 22 year old self, and I think, “Are you kidding me? You’re twenty something, and you don’t think you have something to look forward to? You only have your ENTIRE LIFE, you idiot!”

But at 22, I wasn’t thinking that way. I was thinking, “What wonderful adventure is out there for me in the next week?”  I was young. I was foolish.  I didn’t really get it.

And then, at the wise old age of 29, I gave birth to my first child.  My wonderful, beautiful daughter Kate.  And everything changed in an instant.

Suddenly, I knew that I had “something to look forward to” for at least 20 years.  Every morning with my baby was a new beginning.  Every bath time was a treasure. Every meal an adventure.  I was enraptured, enamored, in love, entranced, enthralled.

Life was very, very good.

And then it went on.  Kate’s brothers were born, and the rhythm of my life was set.  I was a happy, busy Momma, and every passing week meant something new to look forward to. There were milestones and holidays and vacations and camping trips.  Birthdays and new schools and sports and plays and music.  Life was one big streak of “something to look forward to”.

And then they all grew up. And they moved away and started their own lives.

There suddenly wasn’t quite so much to look forward to, you know? Life was still happy and full, but the magical moments were gone.

And now, here I am, the full time day care provider for my little Ellie.  Now I am back to the days of making pancakes for someone who will light up with joy at the new taste. I am back to singing brand new songs, and reading exciting new books.

Tonight, when supper was over, I put our leftover coconut rice into a bowl.  I added an egg and some cream and cinnamon. I baked it for 20 minutes.  It smells fantastic.

I will go to bed tonight with something to look forward to.  I will give my beautiful Ellie a bowl of rice pudding for her breakfast tomorrow.

Life is a very beautiful thing.

Beautiful Day


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It’s gray outside. Small pellets of sleet are falling on the frozen mud in the yard. A very cold wind is blowing.

The news is dominated by war, murder, anger, ugliness and fear.

It is a Beautiful Day!

My right hand is typing this, while my left cradles the warm, sweet blanket wrapped bundle of my sleeping Granddaughter.

In the past few days I have received news of a new baby girl and two brand new beautiful baby boys born to people I love.  I have heard news of another little one on the way.

And I am reminded that winter always ends. Political races always conclude. Wars wind down and borders shift. Old fights are ended and reconciliation is always a possibility.

Life continues. Every birth is hope renewed. Welcome, beautiful children! We love you and need you so much!

 

Passing Judgment


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Most of the time I try not to be judgmental.  Please note the word “try”.  I don’t always succeed.

Still, for the most part, I don’t judge how people dress or what they drive or eat or drink or buy.

And most of all, having been a working Mom with three kids in daycare, I try very hard not to judge other people’s parenting choices.

But sometimes, once in a while, well.  Sometimes I just have to judge.

This story is true. It really took place, pretty much as I describe it, in my local grocery story on the evening before Valentine’s Day. I ran into two different families, neither of which I know, and I observed two dramatically different conversations.

The first one went like this.

Boy (about age 8): Dad!?  When is Easter?

Dad: March or April, depends on the year (not looking at the child).

Boy: What?!

Dad: (turns to the child, puts hands on his hips, speaks slowly and very loudly.)  I said March or April!!! Depends on the year!

Boy: Then why are they selling all this Easter stuff already?

Dad: Cuz next week is March, genius! (Man looks at me, shakes his head.)

My shame is that I didn’t speak up.  I didn’t say with a smile, “Oh, I bet you remember being a kid, right? Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day! Remember how every holiday seems like it took forever to arrive?”

I didn’t take the opportunity to smile at the little boy, either.  I should have. I should have told him with that smile that I was on his side. I should have said, “Great question! The stores always try to beat each other selling holiday stuff! They think they’ll make more money that way.”  I should have commiserated with him.  I could have just said, “I was just wondering the same thing.”

But that tall, broad shouldered, scowling man intimidated me.  I walked away.  And skipped the next two aisles, because I didn’t want to see him any more.

And that let me to conversation #2, which went like this.

Boy: (about 4 years old) “Mommy!!!! Easter Candy!”

Woman: (smiling at little boy) “I know, honey! See the pretty eggs?”

Boy: “Easter!!!!  Bunnies!!  I like these eggs!!!” (dances with joy in front of the display)

Woman: “Want to have an Easter Egg hunt this year?”

Man: (joining the two of them): “Yeah, let’s hunt for Easter Eggs in our yard!”

The conversation went on for several minutes as the little boy asked about 50 questions: When was Easter? Who would hide the eggs? Did bunnies make the eggs? Could he buy this furry stuffed bunny? Were all the eggs chocolate? Why? Why? Why?

The parents answered every question, calmly and patiently.  I pretended to be card shopping, but I was watching them out of the corner of my eye.

This time, when the conversation ended, I spoke up.  I told the young family how beautiful the child was, and how lucky they were to have him.  I told them how much joy it gave this grandmother to see people who so loved and respected their child.

I didn’t ask if I could borrow them for few minutes to teach a lesson to another parent.  I didn’t ask if they’d like to adopt an 8 year old.

But I wanted to.

It takes a lot of time to raise a child with love and respect and a sense of worth.  It only takes a minute to tear that all down.

 

A Good Kind of Surprise


Now that I have an empty nest, I am used to having nearly complete control over my environment.

I mean, other than the mountains of dog hair and Paul’s habitual pile o’ stuff on my kitchen counters, I have a lot of control of my space.

I now wash, dry and carefully fold the towels so that they are placed neatly on the closet shelves.  The beds are made.  The shoes are either in the closet or neatly lined up by the door. The dishes and cups are clean and dry and waiting in their respective cabinets.

There is very little unexpected and unwelcome mess in my house.

I very very rarely come across a dirty dish on a windowsill.  I am no longer surprised by a pile of muddy clothes in the bathtub.

My life is predictable.

When I open the hall closet, I know which coats and jackets I will see.

Except when I am surprised.

Delightfully, happily, joyfully surprised.

Like today.

I opened the closet to grab my down jacket, planning to step outside to shovel some snow.

And there it was.

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Surprise!

A tiny purple jacket, decorated with pink and blue hearts and circles.  A puffy, warm, cozy little jacket, just right for keeping a baby girl warm.

I must have hung it up there not long ago, when I was sorting through a big bag of hand-me-down clothes. I probably put it on the hanger and nestled it into the pile of coats. Somewhere between my old bulky white coat and Paul’s blue winter jacket, it must have settled in and gotten comfy.

And I must have forgotten all about it.

Until today.

When I pulled open the door and pushed aside the hangers.  And there it was.  Reminding me that my neat, orderly, predictable house is no longer entirely under my control. Telling me that it will soon be overtaken once again by toys and blankets and cast off cups and dirt and leaves and twigs and bandaids and juice boxes.

Thank God!

That pretty little jacket, hanging so sweetly in my closet, reassures me that life continues to go on here.

My nest is not quite so empty anymore.

 

 

Turned Upside Down


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How I spend my days

Life is such a funny old thing, isn’t it?

I remember way back when I was in my twenties. There were definitely times when I stayed up more than half the night and then slept through half the day.  That’s just what we did back then, you know?  Friends would be getting together to see a band in Boston at 11 pm, so we’d head out at 10:30 and get back home at dawn.

I remember those days. I do!  Lots of Scotch, lots of dancing, maybe a stop at an all night diner for waffles before the sun came up.

Then we grew up.  Got jobs.  Got married.

We gave up the all nighters in favor of early to bed and early to rise.  We became responsible.

When Paul and I had our babies, the day/night thing got sort of all mixed up again for a bit.  I remember those middle of the night nursing times, watching really really bad TV (this was before the 500 cable channels) and trying to stay awake long enough to change a diaper.  I remember stumbling through my shower and getting through a full work day when my brain really wanted to be completely unconscious.

Once I was co-leading a social language group with our school counselor.  I had been awake every two hours all night to administer a nebulizer treatment to my son.  We were all sitting on the floor of her office in a circle. I had a cup of coffee on the rug in front of me.

I woke myself with a loud snore.  Ten learning disabled kids were staring at me.  The counselor calmly stated, “Karen had a bad night’s sleep.”

Then my kids grew out of those difficult nights, and life settled into a pretty normal cycle. We are awake and productive by day, we sleep by night.  I understood this concept.  It fit quite well into my daily life as a teacher.  All was well.

But now I am retired.  I have no pressing need to be articulate, alert or entertaining during daylight hours.

Now I spend my days as Nonni, and life has settled back into that old familiar upside down pattern.

Now I wake up early, shower and have my coffee.  I am alert, happy, awake and ready to go.  My sweet Ellie comes to spend her day with me, and we have a wonderful two hours of cuddles and books and toys.  Then there is a bottle.  Then there is a blanket, and a yawn, and that warm sweet bundle of baby relaxation settled herself on my chest.  The recliner goes back, my cheek rests on her head, and the snore fest begins.  I sleep the deepest and calmest sleep of my life while my hands cradle that round little diaper wrapped bottom.

And after a couple of hours we wake up, and there are diaper changes and snacks and books and some toys.  There is tummy time and sitting time and music and another bottle.

And the cycle repeats itself.

Yup.

I pretty much sleep my way through half of my daylight hours.  With that beautiful child held tight in my arms, I am so happy and at peace that my dreams are filled with rainbows and ponies and fairies and glittering stars.

Its the BEST.

But all that daytime sleep means, of course, that I am usually awake in the darkest deepest part of the night. I get up, I make tea, I read a bit, I stroke the dogs.

And I don’t mind at all.

My life is turned upside down once again, putting me back in touch with my youthful, carefree self.  Reminding me of my young mommy self.  I can watch the moon set. I can sit alone on my couch and think about life.

I know that tomorrow Ellie will come.  And we’ll play and laugh and eat, and then we’ll cuddle up and sleep our peaceful sleep together.

Life is such a funny old circular rhythm, isn’t it?

 

The Pioneer Child


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Yummy Veggies, Nonni!!!!

Well.   It was certainly an interesting day in the life of this Mamma Nonni.

My Ellie and I were invited to a baby shower in honor of one of my young former teaching colleagues, and I was beyond excited to be going.

In the first place, I think we have established the fact that I am somewhat baby crazy.  I mean, what could be more hopeful, inspiring or uplifting than the promise of a new life?

But in the second place, this would be the first school-wide event that I would be attending since my sudden retirement last June.

I desperately wanted to be there!  I really admire and love the teacher who is about to become a first time Mom. She will be such a lovely and loving mother, and I am so happy to be able to help set her on that path.

But I also wanted to be there because I really miss being part of the wonderful community of professionals that I left behind last June.

And my sudden departure from the school in the spring had left me feeling very shaky about my place in that community. Would I still be welcome? Did I still have a place in their hearts and memories?  I wasn’t entirely sure.

When I was invited to this shower, I knew that I had to attend.   I wanted to be there for the baby and the Mom, but I also wanted to be there for ME.  To remind myself that I had done good work for many years at that school, and that I really could always come back for a visit.

So this morning Ellie and I got ready for a big day back at my old school. Her Momma had dressed her in a cute little onesie that was both gender neutral and adorable.  We had a morning bottle and a morning diaper change. We had our AM nap and some floor time sitting up and stacking blocks.

All was well.

I started to get us ready for departure a full 30 minutes before our deadline.  I packed the diaper bag with extra clothes, a clean burp cloth, a rattle and three bottles of milk. I made sure that Mavis Hamwater, Ellie’s favorite rag doll, was close at hand. I put on my good clothes, brushed my teeth, slid in some earrings.

And scooped Ellie out of her swing.  I leaned in to kiss her neck.

Ewwwwww.  Cheese.  Really old cheese.

My baby smelled like spoiled milk.

Quickly, fully aware that I wanted to arrive at school before bus dismissal time, I stripped her down, washed her up and popped her into an adorable pink onesie and cute purple socks.  I buckled her into the car seat and sped on down the highway to the place where I had spent so many hours, days, weeks, months, years.

As we got closer to school, my heart began to race.  Would I still be welcome? Would anyone notice or care that I was here?

I pulled into the parking lot, smoothed back my hair, and got out of the car. I double checked the diaper bag, and then lifted my sweet Ellie out of her car seat.

And I felt the slimy warmth of the bright yellow ooze that was leaking out of her back side. What on earth……?

Ellie has begun to eat solid food.  Her poop has gone from benign deposit to toxic sludge, all in the space of a week.

Holy Poop, Batman!

My sweet baby girl had produced enough toxic waste to coat herself all the way up to her hairline. In fact, as I looked closely in horror, I could see that there was poop actually IN her hair.  And up to her neckline.  And down to her knees.  And there was poop dripping from her backside, down her legs and onto the pavement of the parking lot.

There was poop on my sleeve and on my hands and even under my fingernails.

What the hell was I supposed to do?

I couldn’t gather her up and carry her into the school building: I would have been covered in sticky yellow goo and I did NOT bring any clean clothes for myself.

No. I would have to change the poor kid in the parking lot!

So I opened the back door of the car, and laid the baby down on the seat.  It was very cold out, and a pretty hefty snow squall had hit us just as we’d arrived at school.   I knew that I had to strip off all of poor Ellie’s clothing, but I didn’t want her to freeze!

So I draped her crocheted blanket over my shoulders as I leaned in the backdoor of the car.  As fast as I could manage it, I pulled off her clothes (smearing more poop in her hair) and then wiped her down from head to toe with wet wipes. In spite of the fact that the car was running and the heat was on, the poor little baby was shivering in the cold by the time I got her all cleaned up.

I put on a new diaper, and a clean onesie and a new jacket.

I wrapped her in a poop free blanket, and gathered her into my arms.

And as I walked back into school, I started to think about those brave Pioneers that I used to teach the kids about, back when I was a fifth grade teacher.  I remembered the stories of strong, unshakable mothers who raised their children on the open plains.  I pictured myself as just such an explorer, courageously facing the unknown.  I straightened my spine, lifted my head, and held Ellie close to my heart as I walked back into the school that I hadn’t seen in more than half a year.

I felt like a Pioneer Grandmother with her Pioneer Child.  Entering the wilderness, heart in her throat.

Until I was greeted by so many familiar, beloved faces, greeting me, welcoming my Ellie, celebrating my return.  “We miss you!”, they said.  Mothers of students, teachers of students, and most importantly, the students themselves.  “Come back to us!” “We wish you were here!”

I held my little Ellie, so happy to have her in my arms and in my life.  I embraced my friends and my students.  I was so happy to be back.

Suddenly, I saw myself not so much as a Pioneer, but more as a settler, secure in her place on the village green.

Happy Baby, dear Laura!  Thank you, thank you to my friends and colleagues and to the wonderful kids who greeted me today! I miss you all!

 

Touching the Future


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“I touch the future. I teach.”

It was thirty years ago today.

My firstborn child was a tender 17 days old.

I was in love with her.  Enthralled by her every breath, every tiny frown. Enchanted by the shape of her cheek, the satiny shine of her skin.

That bitter cold January morning we were at home alone.  My husband had gone off to work. Baby Katie and I were in our little apartment in one of Boston’s poorer neighborhoods. Our two cats were sleeping on the sunny windowsills, leaning against the plastic that we’d put up to keep out the winter chill.

I remember clearly that I was wearing a big bulky shirt. One that buttoned up the front to allow me to nurse my baby and to keep the pressure off of my C-section scar.  I remember that I had bathed my Katie and that she was wrapped up snugly in a little onesie.  I held her in a pink blanket, in my arms, walking from the nursery to the tiny living room of our apartment.

The shape of the room was almost rounded, with three windows that faced the busy street. We were in one of those old two family houses that were built in the 1930’s and 40’s. The old wood floors had been sanded and polished by the young couple who owned the house.  They gleamed in the sunshine that came through the windows.

We had a big old boxy TV, sitting in a heavy wooden frame; back then, the television was a piece of furniture rather than a wall hanging.  I remember that I had a potted ivy plant sitting on top of the big TV box.

I stood with Katie, watching the TV coverage of the Shuttle Challenger as it got ready for takeoff.  I wasn’t one of those people who was fixated on space. I wasn’t even sure that I believed it appropriate for the government to spend so much money on space exploration when there were so many needs here at home.

But I was watching this time.

I’m not even sure why!  Maybe it was just because I was at home and able to see it.  Maybe it was because this time one of the travelers to outer space was a teacher, a woman only a few years older than myself.  A young mother who wanted to inspire her children at home and at school. I had seen Christa McCauliffe interviewed on the news, and I’d been struck by her familiar, charming New England accent and by her effervescent smile.  I remember thinking in a casual way how cool it was that she was going to have such an adventure.

So I stood there in my sunny living room, holding my beautiful daughter in my arms.  I talked to her about the Shuttle, and about Christa the teacher.  I was happy at that moment.

I listened to the countdown.  I probably counted down the seconds myself, the way we always did.  I don’t remember.

But I know that I was standing, in the middle of the room.  I know that I held my baby in my arms.  I know that I was watching the screen and feeling warm and safe and happy.

And the Challenger lifted off, into the blue blue sky.  And the camera was on the faces of Christa’s family.  Everyone was smiling.

Until that terrible moment when the plume of rising smoke split in two, and no one was sure of what we were seeing.

I don’t remember what I thought.  I know that I was confused.

And then the camera caught Christa’s mother’s face, frozen and unmoving.  Looking up, toward the spot where her baby girl had disappeared.

And I understood.  We all did.

I looked down at my Katie, gazing up at me with so much trust.  And I began to sob.

 

I Hate to Brag. Wait, no I don’t…..


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So ahed of the curve, this family

I have been following, with great interest, the recent study out of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.

You know, the study that says that we need students who are more concerned about how they can help others than with how they can help themselves.

The study that is entitled “Turning the Tide”.

I am intrigued by this study because I so completely embrace and welcome its message.  I admit that after having fought through so many years of watching public education turn into a race for top scores, I find it somewhat frustrating to see that those ideas that I have always believed are suddenly being embraced by the pinnacle of educational wisdom.

I am trying to stay positive about this shift, and not to be bitter about it.  And you know why?

Because I have somehow managed to raise three young adults who encourage and inspire me to remain positive and who seem to always understand varying points of view.

Let me put this another way:

Paul and I have raised three children who were way, way ahead of the educational curve. All three of them grew up understanding that test scores did not equal personal worth. All three grew up understanding that the greatest sense of happiness and fulfillment would come from what they could give back to their communities.

One of my children is a teacher. One is a teacher aide in a school for severely emotionally challenged adolescents.  One is a success coach for people in a struggling community who have been given jobs in community services.

None of my kids went to the Ivy Leagues.  None has a three figure income.

But here is what they have: jobs that make them proud.  Jobs that give back.  Jobs that take care of others.

And here is what they have that I could not have predicted: Communities of other young, inspired, altruistic people who work hard every day to fill their communities with learning and art and music and kindness.

My sons are surrounded by other “Millennials” who make sandwiches for the homeless and put on shows with local artists and who support small farmers and local businesses.

These young people are the anti-80’s generation.

They knew, even without Harvard telling them, that life is not about making money.  Life is about making friends, giving back, enjoying life, giving love and getting it back.

My children are way ahead of the curve.  They are my inspiration and my teachers.

My kids and their incredible community of caring friends are the reason I have so much hope for the future.

I hate to brag, but either Paul and I did an amazing job, or we managed to not screw up the natural tendencies of our kids. Either way, all I have to say is, “Gee, Harvard, took you long enough to catch up!”

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