Monday, April 25, 2011

Monster With a Halo

The other day Pooh informed his mother that his guardian angel is a monster.  She took the news in stride.  "Well," she mused in her best philosophical manner, "this explains so much." 

I myself am fascinated that Pooh would say this.  It makes me wonder what is churning around in that little two-year-old brain of his.  Is he thinking "monster" like in Beauty and the Beast?  Is he thinking "monster" like Grover and the gang on Sesame Street?  Is he imagining a little invisible Shrek or Elmo  wandering around with him, keeping him out of harm's way?

If so, where was this guy when Pooh slammed his thumb in the door or dropped the toybox lid on both his hands?  You have to wonder what good a guardian monster is if he shirks on the job.

And let's consider the mother's comment.  Does this mean she thinks Pooh is somehow like a monster himself?  Let's examine the evidence.

Does Pooh look like a monster?  Hardly.  Rather, he is cherubic, with shaggy blond hair, huge blue eyes, and eyelashes that will make girls jump off bridges in the year 2025.  Does he smell like a monster?  Only once in a while.  Admittedly, the potty training suffers an occasional relapse.

Does Pooh sound like a monster?  Sometimes, I guess.  Let's just say that, as the middle child between two sisters, he has learned to assert himself.  For instance, if Sooby is building a Lego creation and Pooh thinks it is time for her to share, he will hurl himself into it while screaming like a banshee.  His mother sees this as unacceptable; I see it as a survival tactic.

Does Pooh act like a monster?  Now here is where we encounter true shades of gray.  But again, I blame any slightly inappropriate behavior on the Terrible Two's or, again, Middle Child Syndrome.  Plus, Pooh is much smaller for his age than the girls.  He is clearly outsized and outnumbered.  We are talking self-defense here.

It stands to reason, then, that Pooh is indeed influenced by a guardian monster.  It is this monster who tells him to grab a piece of chicken first or hoard numerous grapes or kernels of popcorn under his hand in his own little pile.  Dutifully and faithfully, the monster protects him from the ever-present threat of passive anonymity and helpless dysfunction.

Pooh knows this instinctively.  He understands the reality and the necessity of having a monster for a guardian angel.  It is the rest of us who have to stop and figure it all out.       

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Not So Original Sin

The next best thing
to eating an apple in the garden
is sharing an ice-cream drumstick
with your first grandchild.

You crunch the nuts and chocolate;
she licks the white part,
wearing it home on her cheeks,
dripping it like thick white raindrops
onto her new red sweater.

You finish the cone and smile,
smug that key evidence
has been destroyed,
that the prosecution's best witness
cannot yet talk.

You will get away
with the crime unscathed,
secretly label yourself
a repeat offender,
resign yourself to a lifetime
of such sweet crime.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

An Eggzact Science

I am predicting that, when the car doors open in my driveway a week from tomorrow, the kids will emerge with a single-minded mission: hunting Easter eggs.  As this will be my fourth Easter as Googie (and my first Easter as Googie of three), I have invested some thought in what types of hunters will be hopping along this year in the Bunny's tracks, retrieving those little plastic eggs crammed with goodies.  Over the past four Easters, I have noted several;  maybe some of them will sound familiar to you.

  • Aesthetes love the eggs for their bright, pretty colors.  They are surface admirers only, rarely aware that the eggs open to reveal inside treasures.  Aesthetes love to shake the egg (jelly beans make a nice rattle) and slobber on it.  For them, egg hunting, like life in general, is an exciting sensory experience.  I am expecting Baby Bootsie, going on seven months old, to be an aesthete.
  • Demolitionists (the category in which I am tentatively placing two-year-old Pooh) are into egg-cracking mechanics.  These are eggspertly adept at all the ways to open plastic eggs, including twisting, pulling, prying, biting, slamming them onto the floor, and throwing them against the wall.  These guys like action, no doubt about it, and what may be inside the egg is secondary.  Around demolitionists, only the most hale and hardy of eggs survive to see another Easter.
  •  Obsessors always come in last at organized Easter egg hunts.  So enamored are they of each individual egg and its contents, they are content to contemplate and experience to the fullest the first egg they find.  Wearing their spiffy new Easter duds, they plop down right on the grass, cast their baskets aside, and proceed to eat or play with whatever came inside this first egg--and they do this while all the other kids are running around scooping up eggs with reckless abandon.  After approximately three minutes, all the other kids have overflowing baskets of eggs, while obsessors have only one.  They leave the hunt crying at the utter unfairness of it all. 
  • Hogs are the other kids at the Easter egg hunt who are not obsessors.  Enough said.  My fervent hope is that, since a couple Easters ago, Sooby may have progressed from an obsessor to a hog.  It is what every googie wants for her grandchild, because hogs don't cry nearly as much.  For this reason, it is much more pleasant to ride home with a hog.
  • Manipulators make up the creative category of egg hunters, desiring input into the appearance of their eggs.  Often, manipulators prefer hard-boiled eggs over the plastic ones, because of the hands-on opportunities to dye them and embellish them with crayon markings or stickers.  Blessed with a practical side, manipulators have been known to recognize and appreciate the benefits of egg salad sandwiches a day or two after Easter.  It is possible that this Easter Sooby may show some rudimentary characteristics of the manipulator.  I will watch intently for these.      
Whatever category your grandkids fall into, the coming Easter promises bountiful egg hunting opportunities for all.  Perhaps, like me, you will be blessed with a variety of types.  One thing is for certain: in a week, those three little kiddos will overrun my house and my heart, and there won't be a bad egg in the bunch.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Googie on a Shoestring

There is something almost sacred about your home after the kids are grown and gone.  Over the years the little kid paraphernalia has been broken, worn out, or given away, and, if you're lucky, your offspring haven't left a whole lot of their junk behind.  It is nice to finally stick your little flag of ownership into your home turf and reclaim it for yourself.

Thus things go until you get the happy, life-changing news that you are going to be grandparents.  Then, suddenly, you may wish you hadn't set the old highchair out for curbside pickup and gotten rid of all those expensive toys.  You have only a matter of months to make your house kid-ready again, and for some reason, it is a lot more fun to think about this time around.

This is where you are saved by the humble, all-American phenomenon we call garage sales.  These little slices of heaven, I firmly believe, exist just for googies who want to indulge their grandkids at a fraction of the cost it took them to raise and humor their children.  As it turns out,  kids' clothes, toys, and equipment are a durable lot; they are much more often outgrown than worn out.  But they zap a growing family's living space with clutter, so these folks are often willing to send such goods on for little or nothing in order to make room for the collective apparati of their children's next developmental stage.

As a garage sale convert, I am about as devoted as they come.  My grandkids' room, which was my daughter's bedroom in a former life, boasts a $5 bookcase full of 25-cent books, a $20 like-new toddler bed adorned with a lovely $1 quilt, and a window-seat-storage-turned-toybox of quality, brand-name toys that have formed an impressive collection for what essentially amounts to pocket change.  For example, I bought  the Leap Frog Fridge DJ for a quarter and the Mattel See-'n-Say for only a dime.  I have resurrected a great deal of play value from a whole slew of toys that needed only a fresh set of batteries or a little soap and water.

Under the toddler bed are three wooden drawers (minus the hardware) that I got for 50 cents each.  Those drawers contain seasonal clothes for the kids in their current sizes.  I have learned it is handy to have for each one a light jacket, a pair of jammies, some underwear, and a couple spare sets of playclothes.  The kids, especially Sooby, love to pull out their drawers and see what's new, and  sometimes they would rather wear these clothes than the ones their mom has sent along.  An added benefit is that we don't worry so much about clothes getting stained, torn, and messed up when the investment is so low.

My $10 Graco Pack-and-Play has been Pooh's bed at my house for nearly two years, and a second one, obtained for only $5, is ready for Baby Bootsie.  The two older kids have made great use of my $15 Fisher-Price highchair and my $1 umbrella stroller.  With the exception of the toddler bed, I have tried to limit my purchases to things that fold up and store away easily when the kids aren't here.

I generally have a yearly garage sale of my own to recycle the kids' outgrown or unwanted toys and clothes, usually getting as much as or more out of them than I originally paid.  Doing this keeps the supply current and interesting, and prevents kid stuff from once again monopolizing my house.

Here in the Midwest, April is the month that heralds in earnest the beginning of a new garage sale season.  I consider it my mission to scout the sales most weekends, and I do so in a state of near-religious zeal.  The truth is, garage saling can be positively inspirational and a whole lot of fun to boot.       

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Cinderella and the Giraffe"

Sooby has seen enough Walt Disney movies and had enough books read to her to be dangerous.  This is especially apparent in a game we have been playing lately.  Here are the rules: Off the top of my head, I start a story about a familiar fictional character, stopping at a key place to let her finish the sentence.  I  then forge ahead with the story.  Here is an example:

Googie:  One day Cinderella woke up bright and early.  Her little bluebird friends flew into her window.  "Get up," they chirped.  "Come and look what's outside the window!"  Cinderella went to the window and looked out.  She couldn't believe her eyes when she looked down and saw a--

Sooby:  --giraffe.

Googie:  --giraffe.  He had spots and a long, long neck.  Cinderella stared in amazement.  Finally, she asked the giraffe--

Sooby:  --"What are you doing?"

Googie:  --"What are you doing, Giraffe?"  Cinderella really wanted to know.  She had never seen a giraffe before. She wondered if it had escaped from the Royal Zoo.  It wasn't a regular giraffe, though.  It looked very strange, with a--

Sooby:  --tennis shoe in its mouth.

Googie:  Yes, strange though it was, the giraffe had a tennis shoe in its mouth.  But it wasn't a regular tennis shoe.  In fact, it looked kind of like a--

Sooby:  --glass slipper.

Googie:  --a glass slipper, yes.  Now what would a giraffe be doing with a glass slipper?  Cinderella was puzzled.  Just then, her Fairy Godmother came down in a cloud of sparkles.  "Oh, dear," she said.  "I waved my wand the wrong way and made a terrible mistake.  I was trying to help this giraffe get home to Africa.  But instead, he ended up at the Royal Ball with this glass slipper.  Whatever will we do now?"  Cinderella knew just what to do, so she said to her Fairy Godmother,--

Sooby: --"Wait a minute while I get my clothes on."

Googie:  Yes.  That's exactly what she said.  Cinderella was, after all, a very proper young lady.  And when she was all dressed, she said, "Fairy Godmother, I have an idea.  I think we should--"

Sooby:  --"all eat breakfast now."

Googie: That's right.  So Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother and the giraffe all sat down to a delicious breakfast.  It had all of Cinderella's favorite things to eat, which were--

Sooby:  --peas and yogurt.

Googie:  Yum, yum.  When they were finished, the giraffe said he had to go.  But he left the glass slipper behind for Cinderella, in case she needed an extra one.  He had heard about her losing one once when she was coming down the stairs.  It was time for the Fairy Godmother to go home, too.  As she was leaving, she said one last thing to Cinderella.  "Cinderella," she said, "you must always remember to--"

Sooby: --"feed the cat."

Googie:  Cinderella said she would make sure the cat always had plenty to eat.  She gave the cat some peas and yogurt too.  This made the cat very happy.  The End.

Fun as this is, unfortunately, the game comes with a caveat.  There will come a time--in a week or maybe a couple weeks or even a month--when your grandkid will ask you to repeat one of your past creations.  From experience I can tell you that this is darn difficult, if not downright impossible, to do.

That is why it is a good idea to at least make a few notes--or, perhaps, if you have more time, to write a blog.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New

The other day Sooby and I were picking up toys when I took a moment to contemplate the Fisher-Price Chatter Phone.  "This is what phones used to look like when I was a little girl," I told her.

"You mean--they had eyes?" she asked.

"Well, no, but they had a receiver and a dial like this," I explained.

The silence and puzzled look told me that I had crossed into unfamiliar territory.  "Why should she know these words?" I asked myself.  After all, she was born into a world where phones are either portable with a digital push pad or the kind you keep in your pocket until it bleats out the theme from The Addams Family.

The telephone I grew up with in the '50s and '60s was a heavy black weapon you could easily stun a burglar with.  In my earliest memories of it, we would pick up the receiver and wait for the operator to say, "Number, please?"  For some reason, my mother dubbed this voice "Central."  When childlike curiosity (or just plain orneriness) prompted me to break house rules and mess with the phone, Mom would issue a stern warning.  "You better watch out," she said.  "Central's gonna get you."

Years later, I came to realize that Central was like the mysterious "Sarah," belle of the Mayberry switchboard.  Sarah was the one who obligingly connected Andy to Aunt Bee so he could ask her what was for supper or Barney to Gomer or Guber down at the garage.

Unwieldy as it was, our phone (and even Andy's old-fashioned desk model) was nothing compared to the one my Aunt Norma had down on the farm.  Mounted cumbersomely on the wall, it was a big brown monstrosity that required two hands to operate.  You held the earpiece in your left hand and with your right you turned a crank that caused a similar phone to ring in Cousin Bertie's house across the road.  You waited for it to ring back and then shouted into the stationary mouthpiece to ask Bertie if you could borrow a cup of sugar.

A little wistfully, I thought about all the phone designs that Sooby would see only in history books or at farm auctions.  She must imagine a party line as something with presents and cupcakes.  She has never seen a phone booth.  For her, I guess Clark Kent ducks behind an ATM to change his clothes.

Unwilling to give up this teachable moment altogether, I switched gears.  "You know, the telephone was invented by a man named Alexander Graham Bell," I told her.

"You mean--like graham cracker?" she asked.  I started to correct her, then caught myself.  "Yes," I said.  "Exactly."

Our toy pick-up complete, we headed down to the kitchen, where I set a plate of graham crackers between us and mixed up two cups of chocolate milk.  I savored the moment along with the flavors.  Sooby's world is very different from the one I grew up in, but thank goodness some staples of childhood never change.          


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Prehistory 101

My fourth-grade science book was lemon yellow with a picture of a dinosaur on the cover.  This is the closest I ever came to any kind of formal education on the subject of prehistoric times.  This is no cause for alarm, however, because any deficiency in my learning was more than compensated for by my daily exposure to Alley Oop in the newspaper and my weekly yabba-dabba-do visit to the Flintstones ("From the [pause] town of Bedrock [pause] they're a page right out of his-to-ry").

With this solid literary background, I came to learn that cave men carried clubs and cave women dressed provocatively.  Fred Flintstone tended toward Chauvinism with his loud disapproval of his wife's spending habits ("Wilmaaaaaa!") and his dedicated membership to the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes, where he aspired to the position of Grand Poobah.  Only recently, in the Geico commercials, have I become aware of the cave man's more sensitive side.

I say all this to establish the context in which I came across a short article titled "Prehistoric Parenting Lessons" in this February's issue of Woman's Day (p. 19).  Apparently, a Dr. Darcia Narvaez of the University of Notre Dame has determined that when it came to parenting skills, Wilma and Betty and their counterparts had their rocks in a row.  Narvaez doesn't say how many cave people she actually interviewed, but she nevertheless draws several conclusions for our consideration.

First, she says, cave moms held their babies more because they didn't have things like buggies and strollers and Bumbo seats.  She claims that the human touch makes kids "calmer and more sociable."  Now I have to say I have seen Bamm Bamm when he wasn't at his sociable best ("Can you say 'loud and destructive,' Bamm Bamm?  Come on, give Mommy back the club").  And although I hate to cast aspersions on someone's research, I would swear that I once saw Pebbles in a stroller.  So, at this point, let's just say I am skeptical at best.

Narvaez goes on to warn that, unlike Stone Age parents, we too often separate children by age, thus depriving them of the chance to learn from older kids.  However, she fails to quote any meaningful statistics on the survival rate of these younger children, and she does not give us due credit for all that stuff we let older kids teach our little ones on the school bus.  So far, Narvaez has not scored a point with me.

But then, she redeems herself.  She says that if parents have to "shoulder the burden of childrearing alone [this seems a bit melodramatic to me, but OK]," they will feel inappropriately stressed and the kids could feel deprived.  As I see it, this is where we grandparents must step in and do our part to save civilization as we know it.

I'm sure the Stone Age grandparents were on to this and, consequently, they were likely the first generation to be accused of being too permissive with their grandkids.  I can just hear a barefoot, fur-wrapped googie, her gray hair secured by a bone, saying "OK, go on out and play with the woolly mammoths, but just don't be too rough" or "OK, go ahead and throw rocks through the window; there's no glass there anyway."

And here is a real point to ponder.  What if none of the Stone Age googies had let the kids draw on the cave walls?  Then we might never have known anything at all about prehistoric life.

I shudder at the thought.

Monday, April 4, 2011

How To Eat Blueberries With a Toothpick

Turning a toddler and a preschooler loose with a plate or bowl and an eating utensil can be scary.  Kiss the clean outfits good-bye and charge the Dustbuster batteries.  Place a clean, damp rag at the ready.  Not only is this not going to be pretty, it is about to transform your kitchen into a Better Homes and Gardens reject.

I have also noticed that when I set said plate or bowl in front of said children, I will often do so with a demonstration accompanied by instructions like these:  "Use the spoon to scoop the mashed potatoes. Use the fork to poke your meat." 

Yesterday afternoon Sooby and Pooh decided they wanted a bowl of blueberries.  Correction:  Each one wanted his or her own bowl of blueberries.  My little ceramic porcupine with toothpicks for quills sat close by, so I handed each child a toothpick.  After a couple days with the kids, I am in the mood for eating utensils that are disposable.

In my best Food Network style, I put down the berry bowls and launched into instruction mode.  Four easy steps (or so I thought):
  1. Hold the toothpick like a pencil.
  2. Poke the middle of the blueberry.
  3. Eat the blueberry off the toothpick.
  4. Repeat Steps 1-3 until all the blueberries are gone.
It didn't take Sooby and Pooh long to revise my list of steps as follows:
  1. Hold the toothpick in your fist.
  2. Poke your brother or sister, simultaneously if possible.
  3. Eat your sibling's blueberries whenever possible.
  4. Lay the toothpick down, and squeeze the blueberries with your thumb.
  5. Run your thumb through your hair.
  6. For a change of pace, gobble the blueberries from the bowl like a doggie.
  7. When you tire of barking and panting, use your toothpicks to hit a blueberry back and forth on the table. 
  8. If (no, when) the berry falls off the table, step on it.  For maximum effect, wait until several berries have hit the floor, and then step on them all.
  9. Eat the squashed blueberries off your foot.
  10. Give Googie a blueberry kiss.  Then, she will not look so mad.
A few more episodes like this, and the kids should be ready to host their own food show.  I, on the other hand, will be upstairs filling the bathtub.