Loving A Grandchild


(Baby Ellie as a newborn)

He is only 18 months old, this youngest member of our family. He is barely tall enough to peek out the front window when a car goes by.

He was born with twisted feet, and needed a lot of support to get up and walking. He wears the boots and bar at night, after a full year of wearing them day and night for months after his scary mid-pandemic birth.

But he is strong. He climbs on every available surface, moving chairs across the room so he can turn on lights and ceiling fans. He jumps, he rides his little train, he hops on and off the couch.

He is sweetly unaware that he had a difficult start on his journey toward mobility.

He doesn’t talk yet, but he points and gestures and makes the most intensely purposeful funny faces. Everyone knows exactly what it is that he is saying, even without a real word being uttered.

My grandson. My youngest grandchild.

There were moments before his birth where I honestly asked myself, “How can I possibly love this third child as deeply and intensely as I love his older siblings?” It didn’t seem possible to me; it truly didn’t. I had fallen so deeply in love with his older sister, even before she was born. She was our first grandchild, and I was still reeling from the sadness of my emptied nest.

She came into our lives; I retired from teaching to become her daily nurturing caregiver and I was filled with purpose and joy and a depth of love that shocked me to my core.

When her brother was born less than two years later, I was once again swept up in love and excitement. This little guy was added to my daily life and nothing could have made me happier. I was the delighted Nonni of two perfect little charges.

I hoped and trusted that I’d love this third one just as much; but before I met him, I wasn’t sure that would be possible.

But you know what? Even as I thought those traitorous thoughts, I remembered how I’d wondered the very same thing as I carried my own third child within my body. As a fertility patient, a struggling momma wanna-be, I had been intensely invested in the gestations of my first two children. There had been medications, injections, high-tech interventions….but we’d finally had our first two children. A girl and a boy. What could be more perfect?

So when at last I found myself pregnant with my deeply wanted but easily conceived third child, I wondered if I’d be able to love him with the same depth of emotion that I’d felt for his siblings. Without that sense of desperation, would he mean as much to me?

Then he was born. Easily, happily, more gently born that my older two, this one came to us with a smile and a sense of humor.

I adore all three of my kids, but my third was far easier to love than I’d feared.

He was my boy. My baby. My funny, silly, goofy, gentle loving son.

So when our little Max, our third grandchild, was born, I reminded myself to think of my own third child. I reminded myself that love has a way of working into our hearts when we can’t fully predict it.

And of course, of course, I was right.

Tonight we hosted a dinner for our kids. Our third child, our funny young Tim, came for dinner with his brand-new wife, a woman we’ve loved for years. I pulled my boy into my arms and was filled with the awareness of just how much I still love this wonderful kind young man. He was still my easy boy, my gift, my son.

I stepped back, and let him go to hug his Dad.

And my legs were suddenly encircled by two little arms. I looked down toward my knees. And grinning up at me, with eyes full of love, was our little Max. His dimples echoed those of his Uncle. His grin was just as delightful and just as full of joy.

I looked into his eyes, much darker than his Uncle’s, but matching those of his Mom and Dad. I reached down and lifted him into my arms. He leaned his cheek against mine, chuckled, and murmured, “yeah, ah, yeah.”

And I had to ask myself: why on earth would I have ever questioned just how much love I’d have for any little one who comes into my life?

I don’t know.

All I know is this: I may be foolish, but I am far beyond blessed.

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.

Spring is For Children


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

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

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

Spring. Yay. Whatevs.

But today. Today was a completely different experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Do It For the Joy


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

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

I know.

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

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

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

But why does that matter?

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

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

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

I watch my grandkids because I want to.

I just plain want to be with them.

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

Whatever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?