“Let’s Pretend”


One of the very best parts of spending all day with children is being reminded of the magic that surrounds them. As a past middle aged woman, as a grandmother, I am far removed now from the wondrous days of make believe.

But when I watch the children playing in my house, I am pulled right back into that magical pretend world, whether I’m ready to be there or not.

Today was the perfect example of how children move effortlessly between reality and play.

Today I had my two grandchildren here. Ellie is about three and half, and her brother John in halfway between one and two. They play pretty well together when the game is purely pretend. Ellie will be sitting there for a moment, then she’ll suddenly turn to me and say, “I’m Elsa! You’re Anna.” And off we go into the land of “Frozen.” Johnny will happy jump around and follow us through the house in his relatively undefined role of “Olaf.”

But two days a week our little drama club is pushed up a notch when our friend Ella is here. Ella is a wise, mature four year old. She understands all of the subtle nuances of pretend play.

When Ellie announces that she is “Elsa”, her friend doesn’t even bat an eye. “I’m a kitty”, she will announce. “Elsa has a new kitty.”

Because they are little ones, and because their magic has no need for reality, Ellie might respond by saying, “I’m the kitty’s Mamma!” Elsa will be instantly forgotten, and the magic will simply shift.

It’s so gloriously empowering to watch them at play. As they move from scene to scene, I can almost see the world that they are creating.

“The Momma kitty is sick!” one will wail, “She is at the kitty hospital!” And as the Momma kitty collapses in a dramatic heap, I swear that I can see the pristine white walls of the kitty hospital around her. I feel the anguish as her “baby kitty” runs into the hospital room with a desperate “Miaow!!!!”

I imagine the world around the kids as a series of beautiful chalk drawings, forming miraculously from the words that the girls share. “We are running on the beach!” means that the world around them is filled with the colors of the sand and the sea. “The baby kitty is sleeping in her bed.” makes that world melt and shift and turn itself into a quiet cozy room.

As the children see those magical worlds, they let me see them, too.

I am so grateful to the little ones who share my days. I am so thankful that at the not-so-tender age of 62, I am still able to feel and see the magic.

“I’m a magic butterfly……”

Through the Eyes of a Child


One of the reasons why I’ve always loved being with children is that they are so honest. They don’t play emotional games. They tell you what they think.

I loved that in my classroom, because I learned pretty quickly that if I just listened, I could let them guide me toward a happier, more cooperative classroom.

As a Mom, I wasn’t always successful, but I tried to listen to what my kids were telling me. I tried to listen when they used words, expressions and actions to tell me “Mom, I love when you make up silly songs!” I tried to listen, and look, and understand, when a terrible tantrum showed me that my child was thinking “Get me out of here! I am confused! I don’t understand!!! It’s too loud, too bright, too happy, too sad…..”

I have always loved the honesty of children.

I remember how happy I was when one of my own kids, after a big argument between us, told me, “What you said wasn’t fair. I’m really mad at you.” It was so incredibly freeing, because I was able to tell him he was right, move past the fight and get to the root of our differences (whatever on earth they were.)

And I remember when I once told my class to let me know if I upset them, and the one little boy who told me, “You’re way to happy all the time.”

I remember the children who told me, “Your eyes make me happy.” and “I love the way you walk.” I love the honesty of children. I trust it.

So of course, I have a story to share about this Christmas with my grandkids.

I am used to the fact that when the big family gathers around, both Ellie and Johnny try to keep their distance from me. I’m the every day caretaker. Not as necessary as Mom and Dad, yet more familiar than those exciting Aunts, Uncles and grandparents from further away.

If I try to play with Johnny, he smiles his sweet smile, but makes sure to point toward his parents. “Mamma”, he says firmly. “Daddy.” I get it. He’s telling me its OK for me to hang around, but I better understand that he’s safe at home with his parents right now, and doesn’t intend to move.

When I reach for Ellie as I come in, she often smiles, waves and moves back out of my grasp. “I’m talking to Aunt Cynthia right now,” she’ll tell me.

I’ve learned to keep my distance and to embrace the adult conversations at these gatherings without the pressure of childcare. Watching Ellie play with the extended family is so sweet. Seeing Johnny in the arms of my siblings or his other grandparents melts my heart completely.

I think the kids associate me with long days away from Mommy and Daddy. I know they love me, but still….I’m like the comfy sofa. Always there, but not particularly exciting.

But this Christmas Eve, I got a much clearer idea of why Ellie has mixed feelings when I arrive at family gatherings. She barely spoke to me during the many hours of eating, drinking, gift giving, laughing, hugging and family revelry.

She danced by me once or twice, but we didn’t really connect.

Finally, though, when everyone had headed home except for a few of us, she threw herself into my arms and kissed me with joy. I was ecstatic to finally have her to myself, and kissed her cheeks and hair.

Leaning back into the curve of my arms, Ellie grinned up at me. “Oh, Nonni! Thank you for having this big party with us! The whole whole world was here at our party!!!!”

I squeezed her tight, telling her how much fun it was for me to be there with her.

Then my sweet girl put one hand on each of my cheeks and smiled right into my eyes.

“Nonni,” she told me earnestly. “You were so good here tonight! You were so so good!”

“I was?” I asked, wondering what she meant.

“Yes! You were so quiet!!! You didn’t talk at all! You were so so good!” She kissed me again in gratitude for my silence.

Really? All she wanted was for me to shut the hell up?

“Uh,” I began, “I did talk to my family….”

“I know!” She crowed joyfully. “But you didn’t talk to me!”

*********************************************************************

And so.

I can either laugh at Ellie, laugh at myself, or think about the message she was sending.

I decided to think about the message.

I have realized that because of my background as a speech pathologist and teacher, I have a tendency to talk my way through every day. I think of it as language modeling, and of staying engaged.

But my Ellie, in her honesty, has told me that sometimes she needs a chance to think. A chance to just be, without all the words swirling around her.

Once again, a child is teaching me how to regulate myself. How to pay attention to the effect I am having. A child is showing me how to be a little bit better at my job.

That ability to learn and grow is a huge part of what I miss about teaching.

On the other hand, I haven’t missed that feeling of being a jerk!!

“Good girl, Nonni. You hardly said a word!!!”

This Will Be the Death of Me


Before you try to guess what I am moaning about, let me tell you that it isn’t what you think. Oh, sure, you’ve read my pitiful complaints before. You think you know me.

“I’m getting old,” you’ve heard me say. “My back hurts! Boohoo!” Sure. Pain is definitely a pain, but that isn’t what’s going to finally break my noble spirit.

“I lift hundreds of pounds of little kid, every single day,” I’ve written. You think that I’ll just curl up one fine day and die of pure fatigue. But that’s not it, either. I still have weekends and school vacations to rest and recover. I will not succumb to toddler-hefting syndrome.

“The current madness in this country is too much for me!” OK, I admit it. That one really does seem dire. The President is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad man. He is mean, nasty, dishonest, evil and probably has dementia on top of his malignant narcissism. Worse still, his entire political party is pretending to be blind, deaf and ignorant as far as he’s concerned. We are probably headed for the collapse of the world economy, the American Republic, democracy and perhaps human life.

But even that is not what has me perched on the brink of utter despair.

No, my friends. 

Tonight I am facing a more demoralizing and devastating reality. Tonight I am contemplating another week of having to cope with the two most diabolical inventions of humankind.

Glitter and string cheese.

Glitter is my worst nightmare. It is insidious. You try your hardest, as a good modern progressive Nonni, not to use it or have it in the house. You do NOT buy jars of glitter just for fun. Even when the adorable little girl with the world’s most beautiful brown eyes gazes at you and whimpers with desire for such a thing.

You hold firm. But it gets to you anyway. It arrives the sparkly nail polish that an aunt bought. It attacks you from the blue gauze of the multiple tutus and Elsa dresses that have found their way into your home. It sneaks up in Christmas wrapping paper and inexpensive headbands.

And it hits your floor, sticks to your feet, finds its way into your eyeballs and nostrils. No vacuum can defeat it. No duster can erase it. 

It. Will. Wear. You. Down.

And then there is the string cheese issue.

Now don’t get me wrong; string cheese is the perfect toddler snack and dog training treat. It is not messy. It doesn’t stick to things. It is healthy. It is super easy to carry in a purse or diaper bag. It’s inexpensive.

But.

When you need it most, it will be impossible to open. 

Im. Possible.

This is especially true if you have a barefoot toddler who just broke a glass and two puppies running around the house. If this happens, you will think quickly and grab a string cheese so that you can lure the pups outside and settle the toddler in the playpen while you clean up the mess.

You will be in a huge rush to open the cheese and get everyone out of danger. You will grasp the cheesy little niblet in one hand and try to pry apart the opening with the other. 

You. Will. Not. Find. The. Opening.

You will give orders, “Stay!” “Down!” and “Sit down on the couch!” You will scrabble for the two tiny pieces of see-through plastic that keep sticking together when you’re supposed to pull them appart. And you’ll scrabble some more.

You’ll curse. You’ll tear at the plastic. You’ll scrabble even harder. You’ll try to use your teeth, but the sturdy freakin’ plastic will defeat your strongest molars.

Time will go by. The pups will dance around and the baby will chortle. All of them will be thinking, “Cheeseycheeseycheese!”

After about ten minutes, you’ll be soaked in sweat and will have cramps in all ten fingers. You’ll finally grab a pair of scissors and cut right through the words “easy open”.

You’ll give out the cheese and clean up the mess.

Then you’ll say, right out loud, “I will pay two million dollars to the person who can make string cheese in actually, truly “easy open” packaging!!”

One or the other of these will finally be the end of me.

Desperately Seeking Solace


Oh.

Oh, my.

Ohmygod.

Dear young Moms, please help me! I need you!

Dear Grandmother’s, please please tell me it will all be OK!

What. A. Day.

First thought: I love my grandchildren more than I love my own heartbeat.

But.

After 25 or so years as a momma, you kinda forget how hard it can be. Today I had my reminder.

I picked up my little grandchildren, the same way I do it every day. “HI, Ellie!” I chirped to my 2 1/2 year old best beloved. “I need milkies.” she answered. “OK!”, I said, “When we get home!” We pulled into my driveway some 12 minutes later, and I got her out of her carseat. Luckily for me, her grandfather, her adored “Papa”, was there to help. I put her down on the driveway and filled my hands with all of the stuff she’d need for the day. The bag with the extra clothes for her and her baby brother. The bag with some toys that might (hopefully) keep said baby brother occupied for two minutes. The milk for him. The boots for her.

Papa grabbed baby brother and went into the house. Ellie, who normally walks casually into the house, ran down the driveway screaming, “I need my zipper!  I need my zipper!”

I was unable to convince her that she didn’t need to zip her jacket because we were walking into the warm house. I had to resort to grabbing her around the waist, hoisting the multiple bags of stuff, and dragging her into the house.

She howled. Like a freakin’ wolf, she absolutely howled.

Now. This ain’t my first rodeo, so I ignored her. Eventually, she came upstairs and joined us in the living room. All was well.

Sorta.

We sat down to breakfast, a nice big oatmeal breakfast. I served Ellie a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries. I put a pile of oatmeal and blueberries onto ten month old Johnny’s tray. I sipped my coffee.

Ten minutes later, Ellie was finished. She carefully wiped her face and hands, put her dish in the kitchen, and went to play. “Yay, me”, I thought. “I know how to handle cranky toddlers!”

Then I looked at baby John. There was oatmeal on his face. On his chest. In his hair. Packed into both nostrils. And on the wall beside him.

Johnny oatmeal

“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh”, I said. I grabbed him out of the booster seat, and carried the tray and his dishes into the kitchen. I had to clean him up, obviously. It didn’t seem like the best idea to just toss him into the tub fully dressed, so I placed him, very carefully, on the couch. I knew that the back of his pajamas were clean. I thought I could scrape the crud off of the front while leaving the nice clean back against the couch.

Sure.

That was when he went into the “alligator death roll” to quote of his Mom’s best friends. He flopped, he flailed, he twisted himself into a pretzel. After roughly 20 minutes, he was dressed in clean clothes, but I was faced with the awesome task of removing globs of blueberry filled oatmeal from my leather couch, my rug and the curtains behind the couch.

I scraped it up as fast as I could, letting Johnny crawl around the living room. Meanwhile Ellie kept demanding “I want MILK!!!” and “I NEED to color!!! NOW!!!”

So. By 10 AM, my teeth were gritted, my jaw was tight, my heart was skipping some very important beats.

I got Ellie her milk. I got Johnny dressed. I went into the kitchen to deal with the pile of dishes, bibs, dirty clothes, and oatmeal smeared walls. All was well. I soaped and scrubbed and started to relax. I forced myself to be calm and patient. “I am Nonni,” I intoned, drawing on my inner loving self.

Then I heard a sound. “Clank!”

I turned around.

I saw my little Johnny, holding the dog’s water bowl in both hands. It was on his head like a jaunty little hat. Water was pouring down his face and over his body.  He was soaked. The floor was soaked. He was, dare I say it? He was chortling.

A shriek came out of my throat before I could stop it.

Fast forward 15 minutes. I had now dealt with a soaked floor, a soaked baby, another round of alligator death roll, a thirsty dog barking at us all and a two year old tyrant demanding “I WANT TO WEAR A SKIRT!!! NO!!!! NOT THAT SKIRT!!!!”

I was ready for a martini and it wasn’t even 11AM.

I needed a moment.

Johnny was plopped into the playpen. Ellie was settled on the couch with a video. I went down the hall and into my bathroom. I washed my face. I brushed my teeth. I looked in the mirror at my haggard old self. “You can DO this,” I told me. “You are NOT going to crack. They’re just being kids. It’s OK.”

I grinned at me.

I looked like everyone’s image of the scary hag who comes to haunt them in the night. I brushed my hair and straightened my shoulders.  I forced myself to be calm and confident as I walked back into the living room.

Ellie looked up at me.

“I just peed in my pants.” she told me with a grin.

Ellie yelling

“I’m two! And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

You Can’t Fire Me!


You know, when my kids were little, I got myself all revved up for the famous “terrible twos.” I got ready for the tantrums and the irrational demands. But they never materialized.

Until the morning of each third birthday.

No kidding. All three of my own children were fine from 2 to 3, but as soon as that third birthday rolled around, they turned into tiny tyrants.

Which is why I’m proud-ish to say that my beloved granddaughter, Ellie, is far more advanced than my own kids. She is only 2 1/2, but she has mastered the fine points of despotic rule in a way that could only make third world leaders jealous.

Tonight is the first night of Christmas break. Yeehah! This means that my daughter the teacher is off for a week, which means that old Nonni here is off for a week, too.

Which means, in the world of neurotic old Italian ladies, that Ellie and I have spent the week making cookies, creating gifts, watching Christmas movies and generally getting ready to be apart for a week. I tell her I’ll miss her. She tells me she’ll miss me. We hug. We kiss. We sigh.

We have also been battling a wicked respiratory virus, ear infections, coughs, nosebleeds and a little constipation. It’s been a loooooooonnnnnnngggggg week.

And today we hit the wall.

Both of us.

My beloved, adored, sweet, smiling, loving…..you get it, right?…..my darlingest little girl arrived at my house this morning wearing her Crazy Dictator Personality.

And she started right in.

“NOOOOOOOO!!!!! Daddy carry me to the car!!!!!!!”   “No, honey, your baby brother in his carseat is too heavy for me. Daddy will get Johnny, I will get you.”

“I NEED MILKIES!!! MILKIES!! MILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIES!!”  “Honey, you need to stop screaming at me. Ask me nicely.” MILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIESMILKIES!!” 

“Go away!!! Nonnie, you go away! I want to be ALONE IN THIS ROOM!!!” “Well, dear sweet child, this is the bathroom, and I was in it first. So you need to go……”  “NOOOOOOO!! I am NOT talking to you!!!!”

And the day went on.

Me, with my sinuses throbbing and my last nerve on edge. “Ellie, I am making you a waffle.”     “NOOOOOOOOOO!!! No waffle!!!! NOOOOOOOO!!! I won’t!!!!!!”

Me again, with the same nerves and throbs. “Do you want some oatmeal?” “NOOOOOOOOO!!! Give me a waffle!!! I NEED a waffle!!!!!”

Most of it was fairly typical Toddler Tyrant behavior, but some was enough to make me pull out my old gray hairs. Like this little demand, while I was in the middle of changing yet another giant yellow poopie from baby Johnny. “I NEED YOU!!! HELP ME!!!! ARGGGHHHGHGHGHGHGHGHGHG!!!”   Wrap baby in closest blanket, place him on the floor and rush into the bedroom. “Ellie! What’s wrong?!”  “I need you to make my lion sit up.”

Grrrrrrr.

I’ll be honest. I must confess. I started to count the minutes until the end of the babysitting day.

“I NEED a cookie!!!!!!”  Me: Roughly 94 minutes….

Other hysterical, tyrannical demands were just plain hilarious.

For example, the poor kid has had this respiratory bug for more than two weeks. Her nose hurts. She keep reaching into her right nostril with a pointed finger to try to take out the offending mucous. “Look! I finded a big boogie!” When I reminded her for the tenth time time an hour that she needed to keep her fingers OUT of her nose, she announced with a completely straight face, “Go away, Nonni. No talking to me. No looking at me. I don’t have to look at you!” And she went right on digging.

Or this perfect example of what today was like for Nonni and Ellie.

My little girl didn’t want to take off her red reindeer pajamas today. I generally insist on getting dressed, washing faces, doing hair. But today snow was falling and we were all worn down. I let her stay in her jammies.

Until the moment when Ellie asked me to help her put on undies. I unsnapped her jammies, pulled down the zipper, and took off her Pullup. Got her clean, took the pajamas off and handed her the nice clean underwear.

Which she immediately placed on her head.

Ellie pants head

And she immediately started to cry. “Put this on my head! Put this on!!!!”  “Ok, what? On your head? Um……” 

“I can’t!!!!!!!! I need my undies on my chest! On my chest! On my CHEST!!!!!”

At this point, Nonni gave up. Nonni has a cold. Nonni is tired, OK?  Nonni said, “STOP IT!!!!!! Your undies don’t go on your CHEST!!!”  I did not address the issue of whether or not said undies belonged on her head…..

It was a tough day.

By naptime, we were both pretty wrung out. As I pulled the blankets up over her shoulders, my tiny tyrant looked up at me with her huge brown eyes and said, “You’re gonna miss me. You will be sad.”

“You’re gonna miss ME.” I countered. She smiled, rolled onto her side to go to sleep, and murmured, “Night, Nonni. I love you so muck.” (she can’t make the ‘ch’ sound.)

I melted, kissed her cheek, tenderly smoothed back her hair, and went into the living room.

“46 minutes,” I said out loud.

 

When You’re Two, Everything Is Fun


IMG_20170516_094931

Ah, life with a toddler.

It’s glorious, wonderful, enlightening, hilarious, joyful.

It’s also something better suited to young parents than it is to aging Nonni types. Which isn’t to say that I’m complaining, OK?

I’m just….sharing. That’s all.

Today I picked Ellie up a little later than usual. I knew that her Mommy had gone to work early, and that she’d spent the morning with Dad.

What I didn’t know was that she’d only been awake for a few minutes when I got her. I was struck by the fact that her hair looked like a cross between a bowl of rotini and a bird nest, and that she wasn’t wearing shoes.

At my request, her Dad ran back inside and grabbed her sandals, and off we went. I wanted to grocery shop before we went home, because the weather was forecast to be in the mid 90’s. We needed to get home and fill her little pool before the worst of the heat hit us.

So. I stopped inside the grocery store and brushed out the curls and tangles, placing a little pony tail on one side of her head to keep her eyes visible. Her hair is a miracle of beauty and stubbornness, and I’m obsessed with it.

Then we shopped, and as we did, my tiny girl ate slices of turkey, ham and cheese, pea pods and string cheese. I bought some new toddler cups and a bottle of water, and she sucked down some liquid to counteract her salt.

And home we went, where I raced around my steamy house trying to put away groceries. My tiny girl ate some blueberries and yogurt. Her face and hair showed them both beautifully.

At last, we were ready to head out into the beautiful summery day. First, though, we had to sunscreen from head to toe, spray on safe organic bug spray, put on the sunhat and tighten it under the chin, grab the toys, (no, no, One Eyed Elmo can’t swim), put the dogs inside the fence, and get some water.

I blew up the pool, and filled it with water from the hose. The hose that is attached to the sprinkler. Attached so tight that Nonni almost burst a blood vessel trying to get it off.

Its on there that tightly because Papa really loves his strawberry patch and he wants it watered.

Baby pool, be damned.

So by the time the tiny blow up pool was filled with ice cold water, Nonni was soaked to the skin from the wonderful, back and forth sprinkler.

For one glorious hour, we splashed, we jumped in the pool, we shivered, we ran around on the grass. Finally it was lunch time, and Nonni pulled out one of her patented grandmother tricks.

“Ellie! Let’s go inside for an ice cream cone!”

Come on. I figured that at 22 pounds, she’d already consumed enough healthy calories for the day. So in we went, and I stripped off her wet clothes, leaving her in her bug sprayed, sunscreened, sweat soaked skin. I put her in her highchair and filled a cone with two big scoops of peanut butter cup ice cream. (Protein. I swear.)

After I had cleaned myself up and done a couple of quick chores, I joined Ellie at the table. I had a leftover cheeseburger in front of me.

“Mmmm!” My baby girl said, reaching out. “mmmm, beef!” So we shared. And her hair, slicked back with oily sunscreen and dead bugs, now got a lovely coating of ketchup.

At last she was full, and I scooped her up and dropped her into a warm, bubble filled tub. She had a nice, thorough shampoo, and lots of lather to make sure no ticks were hiding in any dark places.

We settled into the living room, in front of the fans, with her golden skin so clean and shining, and her glorious curls smooth and completely pristine.

“Ahhhhhh,” Nonni thought, “I do such a good job of taking care of this girl. ”

I checked my email while Ellie watched an episode of “Elmo’s World”. Elmo was learning about potty training, so I felt particularly smart and accomplished as a day care provider.

But if you’ve ever seen Elmo, you’ll know that he has a goofy sidekick named, “Mr. Noodle.” This hapless guy appeared on my TV, and Ellie’s eyes lit up.

And you guessed it.

“Noodles?” She asked, her bright dark eyes alive with hunger. “Noodles? Ellie? Eat?”

So.

I did what any self-respecting Nonni would do. I made her a bowl of noodles. Wagon wheels, in fact. I put in some peas and a big blob of butter. And back in the high chair she went, smooth skin, diaper on, clean, clean hair.

Until I went into the kitchen to wash dishes.

And came back two minutes later to see Ellie, eyes closed in apparent ecstasy. Saying, “mmmmmmmm” as she rubbed her two hands through her glorious curly hair. Hands filled with noodles, peas and butter.

She gave herself a pasta and butter shampoo.

I think a squeak of despair may have come out of my mouth. Or maybe a little, tiny, whispered curse.

Or something.

Anyway.

I picked her up, washed her with a face cloth, and dragged a brush through the excessively buttered hair.

“I’m giving you back to Mommy soon,” I said, as I laid a towel under her head before naptime.

Really. I’m having fun and all, but this is definitely a job for a younger woman.