Sunday, November 6, 2016

How To Hijack a Birthday Blog

A child's birthday party is a celebration on so many levels. For the child himself, of course, it involves a whirlwind of wrapping paper and a conflagration of lit candles. It features a cake that he gets to choose colors and flavors for, and earns him the privilege of wearing those on his face and clothes for the rest of the day. It is the one day of the year when the world breaks out of its normal orbit to revolve solely around him.

Our sweet baby grandson, Heero, had just such a party yesterday to observe the occurrence of his third birthday two days ago. His mama's parents, Nana and Gramps, offered their home as the party venue and helped out with the chili and trimmings. Somehow, Heero maintained patience until the end of our "Happy Birthday" song before he made his (very short) wish and blew out the candles on his mama's delicious Minion-themed cake ("chocolate with chocolate icing").

The fact that I had no real "jobs" to execute during Heero's party gave me the chance to contemplate birthday parties in general. Their focus changes, it seems, with the various life stages, beginning with this level of delicious anticipation you see here on Heero's face. As a kid, you get to claim your birthday as something belonging just to you. You can be totally self-indulgent without guilt and without even knowing what that word means.

As parents of the honoree, you get to recreate the excitement of your own childhood birthdays. You pick out presents you would have liked yourself, as well as those you think you might have liked if you had been a boy instead of a girl, or vice versa. You put a lot of energy into staging the perfect party that brings delight for your child and deja vu for you. You love seeing your child happy, and share his excitement vicariously.

I remember very well these first two levels in Googie's Hierarchy (Did Maslow ever think about birthdays, I wonder?) of birthday party celebration. They had their time and place, and they were wonderful. But after a couple hours of watching toy assembly amid a flurry of gift bags, tissue paper and bows, I am convinced that grandparents enjoy the best level of all--and I would call this the level of gratitude.

I feel so fortunate to have gotten to celebrate, over the last eight and a half years, the thirty-three birthdays of my six grandkids. Each one shines in my life like a wonderful, unique candle that never goes out. Each perfect little life is a cause for celebration, for laughter, for hope.

We may bring presents to our grandkids on their birthdays, but they are the ones who, without trying or even knowing, are givers of the best gifts--like the chance to snuggle into a blanket with The Night Before Christmas, to dust off classic folk-rock songs at bedtime ("Puff the Magic Dragon,"anyone?), to scoop the seeds out of a pumpkin with your bare hands.

To make snowmen out of old socks, to blow soap bubbles into the backyard trees, to watch ducks swimming on a pond--in other words, to experience one more round of this world's sights and sounds and textures at a life stage when you have the time and temperament to really appreciate them. Sometimes it takes a grandkid's birthday party to remind you that these simple things are the real stuff of life.

And so, little Heero, my big three-year-old, forgive me this diversion, these random thoughts that seem to be hijacking your birthday blog. In five or six years you may read this and wonder what your Googie was smoking on Nov. 6, 2016--or if, in retrospect, this seemed to be the first sign of the dementia.

But in the years that follow, you may come to understand these ramblings and even experience similar sentiments as you become a parent, and then a grandparent, yourself. Then, little guy with a new phone and new walkie-talkies and a new farm set and those new (and very loud) drums, then you will know what I tried to say here--and maybe you, too, will know a gratitude beyond what you ever imagined possible.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Scenes from a Halloween

I'll tell you this right up front--my favorite holiday is Halloween. Always has been. Always will be.

Unlike the other major holidays, Halloween asks nothing of  you. You don't have to mess with a turkey, send out a bunch of cards, or fight for your life in shopping center parking lots.

Instead, you get to play dress-up on a gorgeous autumn evening and go foraging in your neighborhood for delectable morsels that, properly rationed, will last you until Christmas. As an adult, you get to keep doing this vicariously through your children and then, if you are truly blessed, through your grandkids.

Around Googie's house we tend to make Halloween a festival. With four of the six kids living three hours away, it rarely works out for us to be together on Oct. 31. But don't think that means we haven't done our best to observe this most glorious time of year in fine fashion. Here are the pictorial highlights of that celebration.

Here, Pooh, Zoomie, and Bootsie model their costumes following a discussion of the importance of body stance and facial expression in portraying character. The kids have often been beneficiaries (or victims) of my college theatre training. However, they are hams by nature, so I don't think I have done any permanent damage.

Beenie and I spent a recent afternoon learning about all-things-Egypt, culminating in this impersonation of a mummy. Requiring the investment of one and one-half rolls of toilet paper, the costume required fifteen minutes to apply and fifteen seconds to demolish. But the process led us to speculate on some of the more thought-provoking nuances of mummification.

How did mummies go to the potty? Easy--the TP was already there. How did mummies breathe? Well . . . back then they didn't need quite as much air as we do.

Speaking of monsters, no Halloween festival is worth its weight in Laffy Taffy without making a few monsters of our own. Using a foam craft kit from a Hobby Lobby clearance sale after some other wonderful Halloween, Sooby, Bootsie, Zoomie, Pooh, and I construct our Frankensteins.

In the course of the monster-making, I told them about Mary Shelley, who wrote her short, brilliantly visionary Frankenstein novel while at a retreat with her husband and their other writer friends. Yes, kids, Frankenstein was written by a girl. Don't underestimate us.

Politely begging your indulgence here, let me preserve for posterity a selfie with Washington Irving's famous Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow fame. As a special  treat this past weekend, Pa-pa, Bootsie, and I went to see a community theatre musical of the same name.

This lesser known 2009 musical, with book and lyrics by Jim Christian and music by Tom Edward Clark, was highlighted for us due to the musical direction and piano/flute performances of Bootsie's mama, our daughter Cookie. It was thoroughly delightful, and will always be a unique aspect of Halloween 2016.

Finally, no Halloween festival is complete without the requisite cookie-making. Here you see Heero, who will turn three years old next week, capably spreading frosting on an orange-eyed ghost. With brother Beenie's help, we were able to produce this delectable platter of homemade sugar cookies (none of which have survived) to carry us through as we counted down the days to Halloween 2016.

As I type this, the big day itself has arrived. Beenie had his Halloween party at preschool this morning, and Heero is celebrating likewise at daycare. Sooby, Pooh, Bootsie, and Zoomie are getting ready for trick-or-treating Kansas-style. I am thankful to have been able, once more, to share this favorite holiday with all of them.

Next up: the Thanksgiving Wiener Roast. Stay tuned to see if this great Missouri weather holds for us.

But meanwhile, Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

"B" is for . . .

 . . . Bootsie!

And birthday. And, unfortunately, busy, which is why I am nine days late getting your birthday blog up, my sweet six-year-old. But let me be quick to make amends.

Although I didn't get to spend the actual day with you this year, we did get to have a great time together on Pa-pa's new boat on the Saturday before:

At least, I hope it was a great time--you do look a little bored here. It was also the weekend that I finally got to pay a very important debt from the summer--the bubble gum ball I owed you from our whirlwind weekend in Springfield.

Remember? I talked you out of topping off your Orange Leaf frozen yogurt with one of those, arguing that frozen desserts and gumballs just don't work together very well. Then, when Pooh proved me wrong, you were a little upset with me. But you were a good sport about the whole thing, and now, hopefully, we are even and I am back in your good graces.

The Springfield trip, when I had the privilege of hanging out (in a motel room, park, movie theatre, fast-food restaurant, swimming pool, dessert shop, etc.) with the four of you while your mama rehearsed and sang was definitely a highlight of our summer. So was Mother's Day, when I caught this cute pic of you blowing bubbles in the back yard.

However, Bootsie-girl, it has been six years since you were this baby on our first Halloween together, and I can't imagine I will ever like any picture of you much better than I like this one.

Anyway, my kindergarten cutie, I hope you know I was thinking about you last Tuesday on your sixth birthday and hoping you would like the baby-doll and Peppa Pig beach towel from Pa-pa and me. I can't even imagine that our family dynamic ever existed without you. Who would have won our all guessing games and put together all our puzzles? In six short years you have found yourself a permanent branch on our family tree, and we love you a bunch.

So today, nine days late, I hope these few words and pictures make for an acceptable acknowledgment of your birthday just past. "B" is for Be happy, my pretty girl, and Pa-pa and I will see you soon.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Chiseling Memories

The first time son Teebo asked me, I said no.

My day had already been pretty well planned before he called. And besides, what Teebo was suggesting had a long, hot, tiring--and, yes, potentially disastrous-- sound to it: take two little boys, ages 4 and 2, from the comfort of a fall Saturday afternoon at home into the noisy, crowded chaos of their first college football game.

A friend had offered Teebo four free tickets on relatively short notice, and neither the boys' mama nor their pa-pa could go. Teebo listened patiently as I rattled off all my reasons why I really should stay home. But the second we ended the phone call, my mind became a movie reel of worst-case scenarios.

I imagined Beenie letting go of his daddy's hand to check out a cardboard Tiger cutout and getting lost in the process. I shuddered at the thought of little Heero at the mercy of the tailgaters and moving vehicles in the parking lots near the stadium. I wondered how everybody could get to the potty when they needed to and how, in the process of that, any one of them could possibly enjoy the game.

So I shuffled my day's priorities, returned Teebo's call, and began to mentally reshape seeming impossibility into opportunity. Had an old-fashioned phone booth been handy, I would have ducked in and donned my tights and cape. I would emerge as Super-Googie and brave the game with my boys!

The day turned out to be a delight in every way. We had shady seats on a gorgeous fall day. Our team scored lots of touchdowns, which led to multiple cannon blasts and fireworks. By the end of the game, Beenie had the team cheer down pat. The man behind us bought the boys a box of popcorn.

But oddly, in spite of all those positives, it was a cup of ice that made the day. With a stack of the fruit-flavored, rainbow-colored stuff heaped in a styrofoam cup, accompanied by several of those plastic spoon-scoops, we turned that $3.50 into the best investment Teebo ever made. Even shared among the three of us, the miracle snow cone lasted through most of the third and fourth quarters.

Because it was so solidly frozen, it required a lot of poking and chipping to reduce it to juice that could be sipped and ice particles small enough to maneuver into their mouths and chew. This led to the introduction of a new vocabulary word, "chisel." I am here to testify that said chiseling, followed by the requisite chomping and slurping, is a great way to enjoy a college football game with two preschoolers.

I am so glad I rethought my original decision not to go on this adventure. Clearly, it was one of those experiences no Googie should ever consider herself  too busy for.

In years to come, I'm sure the boys will attend many more college football games. Perhaps one or both of them will themselves play on the team, cheer in the student section, or march in the band at halftime.

But whatever the case, only this game, the one last Saturday afternoon, can be their first one. And the best thing is, I can always say I was there to share it.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Yellow Shirt Gang

Our state fair pulled up stakes and moved out a few days ago, but not before the grandkids were able to make their mark on it. This year, the group of us painted a wide yellow swath as we traversed the grounds in matching T-shirts purchased just for the occasion.

The seed of that idea germinated when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught the rack of shirts on my way to the toothpaste aisle at Wal-Mart. Easily sidetracked, I gave a fleeting thought to how funny it would be for each of us--four adults and six children--to wear one of those on our annual visit to the fair.

Imagine my surprise when, on my way back past the clothing section, ten yellow shirts--of their own accord--jumped into my cart. When I finally regained my senses, I was in the check-out line forking over $75. Following is a little photo-saga of our day at Missouri State Fair 2016.

Our fair is, for the most part, an agricultural showcase that includes many educational features for children. Here, the kids listen to what Beenie, far right, calls "the talking corn."

Pooh, Zoomie, and Heero check out a hands-on book display in the Agriculture Building.

Sooby and Bootsie watch chicks hatch in an incubator in the FFA's newly remodeled Children's Barnyard.

Zoomie engages in a serious conversation with Otto, a talking antique Missouri State Highway Patrol cruiser.

Beenie and Heero play among barrel statues in the Highway Gardens.

Heero, Beenie, and Bootsie paint rocks in the Family Fun Center. The shirts weren't quite so yellow after that.

CORN DOGS! No trip to the fair is complete without them.

We closed out the day with the kids' favorite part--the carnival rides! With the discounted wristbands Googie buys before the fair opens, they get to ride as much as they want.

All of us agree that last Thursday was one of our best days ever at our fair. The older the kids get, the more they find to enjoy.

This year, we loved the added feature of our matching T-shirts, which may represent the best $75 I ever spent. Besides the fact that we looked adorable as a sea of yellow washing down the streets of the fairgrounds, our identical shirts made it incredibly easy to keep up with each other. They made a pretty effortless job of keeping up with six excited children exploring the nooks and nuances of a once-a-year event that, I have to say, is getting to be even more fun than Christmas.

As an unexpected added bonus, there is a pretty good chance the shirts will still fit everyone next year. If you are lucky enough to attend the Missouri State Fair sometime between August 10 and 20, 2017, be sure to watch for a yellow splash that is sure to brighten your day.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Birthday Festival

Grandkid birthdays are sprinkled through my calendar year like confetti. Those falling in February, March, October, and November transform ordinary days into parties that I revel in right along with the honoree.

But when the other two birthdays fall only five days apart during the last week of June, those call for a festival. We have barely licked up the last crumb of Zoomie's cake when a whole new one pops out of the oven for Sooby.

Turning nine years old today, Sooby celebrates a milestone. She begins the last year she will write her age with a single digit. She stands poised between the relative ease of the primary grades and the more rigorous expectations that come with fourth grade.

As the first grandchild, Sooby is something of a milestone herself. She was the first one to call me "Googie," and she started the avalanche of delight that became six grandchildren born in six years. Together, they have equipped my early retirement years with diapers, booster seats, sippy cups, extra toothbrushes, Legos, coloring books, Barbies--and the list goes on.

I won't get to see Sooby today, but I got to spend this past weekend with her, Zoomie, and their other siblings as their mama rehearsed and sang in concert with a professional choral group. Zoomie's birthday fell during our trip, calling for presents, a visit to Cici's Pizza, and a Funfetti birthday cake served in our hotel room.

While Mama rehearsed, the five of us kids did McDonald's twice, Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt once, a hands-on science center for kids, Finding Dory, and a nice park complete with ducks, geese, and fish. The weekend had all the characteristics of any self-respecting birthday festival. Because of it, I think we will always remember the year Zoomie turned four and Sooby turned nine.

Happy Birthday today, sweet girl. I hope you like the new Spirograph from Pa-pa and me. I know you won't always be as carefree as you look atop this carousel pony at the state fair last summer, but I wish you the happiest of days today, and I can't wait for the phone call that will tell me all about it.

It was great being with you the day you reached the four-year mark, little guy. I love this picture of you blowing bubbles so seriously and intently on Mother's Day. Guard that giant jar of gourmet jelly beans Mama got you for your birthday, and don't forget to share some with your brother and sisters. Maybe you will still have some left next time I come to visit.

Every birthday I get to spend with a grandkid is a treasure to cherish. I reflect on weekends like this one just past and realize once more that I am rich indeed.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Sole Survivor

Part IV of a four-part series on the grandkids' musical theatre debut in Oliver!

"[My house] caught on fire and only I escaped," Bootsie writes (with considerable help from her older sister).

She has been asked by her director to think what her past life (all five years of it?) might have been like before arriving at the workhouse that constitutes a significant part of the setting of Oliver! Hopefully, this will give her a sense of character and a sense of belonging in the overall dynamic of the show.

"[O]nly I escaped" reminds me of the opening of Herman Melville's Moby Dick. In that, the novel's first-person narrator, Ishmael, establishes himself as the sole survivor of the whaling vessel Pequod. But at that point, Bootsie parts ways with Ishmael. Here is the rest of her backstory:

"It was snowing outside. I happened to look through someone's house through their window, and so I knocked on the door, and I was quite scared when they opened the door. It was a little boy, and he said: 'Oh, not another one.' And then I walked in angrily, and I stayed there for the rest of my childhood."

In Bootsie's case, the time invested in thinking about her little ragamuffin character must have worked. Although all three kids (and their rose-selling mama) did a wonderful job in their musical theatre debut together, it was Bootsie alone who garnered actual press coverage.

"One particular child in Oliver! stood out from the group," writes hometown reporter Patrick Murtha in the St. Marys Star. "Perhaps it was the impishness of her looks and actions. Perhaps it was the hat that was many sizes too large, slipping suddenly and sporadically over her eyes."

Wow. What must it be like to be singled out, at the ripe old age of five, for notice in a newspaper review? But Murtha isn't finished yet.

"[H]er rollicking antics appeared to be no act; rather, they seemed to flow like reality, unprompted and unprepared, from her little limbs and seemed to erupt from an unrehearsed soul. She played a spirited and spontaneous child, whom anyone, if I can paraphrase an old-timer, would love to have as a grandchild."

Bingo! I can vouch for that last comment. From her animated delivery in the chorus of the show's opener ("Oliv-ah! Oliv-ah!") to her little center-stage dance feature with the character Nancy, Bootsie handled her role with outstanding stage presence. I was amazed--but then--I am supposed to be amazed. That is the role of a Googie, and I am hopelessly typecast in that delightful part.

And, yes, little Bootsie, anyone would love to have you as a grandchild, and I am one of the very few lucky ones who get to actually do that. I look forward to watching you dance and sing your way right through this summer and rollick right into kindergarten.

You are a joy--and I am so glad that you alone escaped that house fire.