Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Two seconds after I answered my cell phone, I could tell that it was Sooby and her mama on the other end.

"Go ahead," I heard Mama say.  "Tell Googie what you did."  Call me psychic, but I could already tell that, most likely, this was not going to be something good.

"Go on," Mama coaxed.  "Tell her about this."  I sat in helpless silence, unable to guess what this might refer to.  Nevertheless, I braced myself.  My hunches about these things are usually right.

"Googie?" Sooby said in her angelic little voice.

"What is it?" I prompted.  "What did you do?"

"I cut my hair mistake."  (These are her exact words.)

By now my imagination had lurched into gear.  I was picturing a near-bald little Sooby surrounded by a pile of severed blonde strands that I used to braid and put up in pigtails.  After several seconds, I found my voice.

"Well," I said, "how does it look?"

"Fine," Sooby reassured.  And off she bounded, leaving me to hear "the rest of the story" in Mama's best Paul Harvey fashion.  It seems Sooby had happened upon a pair of scissors at her cousins' house and, well, you get the idea:  snip, clip, snip some more, see the hair fall on the floor, etc.  Not all that unusual a scenario when a three-year-old and a pair of scissors intersect.  Of course, the next day involved an unscheduled visit to the styling salon for damage control.  When Sooby realized she couldn't put her long hair back, she learned something about the law of cause and effect. 

For the benefit of Mama, I thought about making a number of points in order to produce a more positive spin on the event:
  • I bet the new hairstyle really looks cute on her.  (She had already said it looked "weird.") 
  • It will be so much cooler for summer.  (I didn't think she would fall for this.)  
  • Most three-year-olds don't even know how to use scissors.  (Wrong thing to say.  My bad.) 
  • A lot of little kids do this out of curiosity.  (Shut up, Googie.  You are not helping.) 
  • Maybe she has an aptitude for cosmetology.  (At this rate, she may not live to see a career.)   
  • It will grow back.  (Trite, obvious, and basically worthless.) 
When Sooby comes for a few days later this week, I will be able to get a visual assessment of the situation.  Then, perhaps, I will better know what to say and do--and where in the hair aisle of Wal-Mart to invest a few bucks for the sake of family tranquillity.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Potty Party

I notice on that one of those familiar little black and yellow self-help manuals is titled Potty Training for Dummies.  I find this entirely appropriate.  Indeed, what other toddler rite of passage is as frustrating as this one?  What other training process necessarily involves so many setbacks?  Just when she thought it was safe to go back into the training pants, what other sharp-toothed leviathan bites a young mama right where it hurts the most?

Currently, my daughter is in the throes of potty-training Pooh.  Her primary strategy is to rely on that old stand-by we all tried--positive reinforcement (Thank you, B.F. Skinner).  Thus, on those sporadic occasions when he actually deposits the goods in the designated receptacle, she makes a celebration of it.  "Oh, Pooh," she emotes, pouring on the praise.  "You made me SO happy!"  At that point, Pooh receives a  piece of candy, and he is happy too.

I provide this background to give you a context for a recent episode in the potty-training saga.  In it, Pooh comes scuttling to his mama, pants wrapped around his ankles.  The anticipation of the joy he is about to cause dances in his big blue eyes.  His little voice is fraught with excitement.  "Mama, mama," Pooh says, "I made you so happy IN MY PANTS!"

Mama is beyond words.  She is not quite so happy as Pooh had hoped.  At this point there is nothing left for her to do except get out her credit card and log on to

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Card Shopping

I have stood here and read
every single Father's Day card
in the store and none of the messages
say what I feel this year.

Well, you know I appreciate
all you taught me,
all you sacrificed to feed and clothe
and shelter our family those years
you worked day and night and
came home smelling like grease.
The sentiment of gratitude
has spewed from every single
Father's Day card I ever bought you.

"I remember . . .":
the time I almost let the tractor slide into the creek;
the one time we all stayed overnight in a motel;
church every Sunday when you wore
those corny black shoes
with the tongue that slid up
and snapped on the outside.
You know I treasure the memories;
the other cards have made that clear.

"You've always been there for me,"
even at times I didn't especially want it
or deserve it; that is why
it is hard for me to imagine
a world where you are not;
a world devoid of the presence
that has always risen above me
like some massive rock.

The cards have all said that too,
and yet, those other years
I never agonized over choices
as I am doing now--
because I know
this may be my last chance
to pick the perfect card
and I so want to get it right.

Footnote to Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie:  Guys, this poem is about your great-grandpa Ted.  I wrote it the night before he began his sixth round of chemotherapy in his battle with lung cancer.  I hope that, when you grow up, you will be able to remember him a little bit.  He thinks you are pretty special.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hooked for Life

My name is Googie and I am an addict.

Time has blurred since I took that first fateful step down the slippery slope of psychological dependence.  My habit began innocently enough, with little or no forewarning, at a typical summer garage sale.  There, a cute, sweet-talking college girl had a whole large plastic tub of stuff to sell.  I tried at first to resist altogether, then to be selective.  But despite my best effort, I was soon caught up in the moment, totally enamored with the product she was dispensing. On that day, she kicked her habit for good, and I got hooked.  That was the day I spent $35 to buy my first 103 Beanie Babies.

Fast forward almost three years.  My collection now consists of 813 Beanies, in which I have invested an average of 86 cents apiece thanks to auctions, yard sales, and thrift stores.  The variety of styles and colors is impressive, with no two exactly alike.  Do the math, however, and you will quickly see that I have squandered a little over $700 of my fixed retirement income on this menagerie of little bean-infested critters.  To Pa-pa's dismay, they entirely consume a double-wide closet in my upstairs hallway, barely leaving space for a sad, lonely stick vacuum.  Meanwhile, the seasonal Beanies stretch across the fireplace mantel downstairs.  Pa-pa is sure we are slowly being beanied out of house and home, and his fears may not be that far-fetched.

Originally, I convinced myself that I was starting the collection for Sooby, my only grandkid at the time.  It would be fun to give her a Beanie once in awhile on holidays and other special occasions, I reasoned.  With a stash of 103 on hand, I would not have to pay the usual $5-$6 retail price for a long, long time.  However, when I spread them all out on the built-in ledge below my family room windows, they just looked so darned cute.   That is when I came kicking and screaming to the conclusion that I wanted to keep them all for myself.

I have since found that there is great play value in Beanies.  Sooby is fascinated by the fact that each one has a different name.  For example, my Beanie fish--Propeller, Bubbles, Aruba, Jester, Goldie, Lips, and Reefs--are fun to pitch into a fish bowl.  She also loves the individual four-line poems that come on their heart-shaped hang tags and is always wanting me to read her their "nursery rhymes."  Many times we have pulled the likes of Chopstix, Bliss, Bananas, Mischief, and Pops from the shelf and acted out "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed."  Other times, we use the coffee table to stage makeshift "puppet" shows.  The Beanies are soft and cuddly and perfect for small hands.  Their play potential is limited only by the imagination of a three-year-old and her Googie.

No doubt, bona fide collectors would shudder at any scenario involving Beanies in grubby little hands that are sometimes less than gentle.  They might cluck their tongues at the tiny creases we sometimes leave in the hang tags as a result of spirited, boisterous play.  They might bemoan the decreased monetary value of an itsy-bitsy spider named Hairy about the twenty-fifth time he washes down the water spout.

But here's what I think.  First and foremost, these Beanies are toys, and toys belong in the hands of children.  It would be criminal to deny a child access to these catalysts of imagination.  The fun that Sooby and I have and will continue to have with the Beanies makes the investment of a few bucks well worth it. 

Yes, my name is Googie, and I am an addict.  So if you happen to see a yard sale where I might get my next Beanie fix, please let me know.  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Saved by a Song

For the longest time, I had no trouble singing my grandkids to sleep.  It seemed that, no matter how hard they fought bedtime, I would finally stumble vocally onto that one tune that, when sung over and over, would induce the desired effect.  One time it was the ever-circular motion of "The Wheels on the Bus" that did the trick; another time they wound down as the monotonous ticking of "My Grandfather's Clock" quieted them with its haunting, hypnotic melody.

Lately, however, it has been more of a challenge to find that one magic song.  The problem is, the kids have learned most of my bedtime songs, and they insist on staying awake to sing them with me.  When you consider that this is happening at the end of the day when I am pretty well worn and ragged, you may grasp the scope and seriousness of my predicament.

I will be the first to admit that it was cute at first.  These are the children of music professionals, so there is no shortage of innate musical talent at work here, even at the tender ages of two and three.  I have learned not to take it personally that they actually sound better than I do.  I have tried not to take it personally that they have less trouble remembering all those lyrics than I do.

Night before last, I thought I was finally going to have to admit defeat.  We were at the stage where I was bone-weary and hoarse and hardly able to hold my head up.  They, on the other hand, still teemed with musical life.  I would only start a song, one I thought they might not remember, when they would take it over and go for the encore.  If I had stopped singing entirely, I seriously doubt if they'd have noticed.

What saved my life that night was a song I reached way back into the '70s for, and where the words came from, I don't know, since I have successfully managed to forget most of what I was doing in the '70s.  But there they were, pouring out of my mouth like honey, sweet and thick and sticky and absolutely irresistible.  More importantly, they were pouring out against a backdrop of complete and utter silence.  Hard to believe as it was and still is, Sooby and Pooh were entirely captivated by James Taylor's "Sweet Baby James."

I can't help wondering what they were thinking.  Did this young cowboy look like Woody from Toy Story?   Was he supposed to be thinking about women and glasses of beer?  What are dogies?  Who is this Sweet Baby James anyway?   What is a Berkshire, and why is there frosting on it?  What flavor is the frosting?

Actually, I doubt if they thought any of these things.  Rather, I think they were mesmerized by the poetry and simple, soothing melody of this gentle lullaby Taylor composed in 1969 while enroute to meet his baby nephew and namesake.  I could speculate that, even some forty years later, these children recognized, as the original Baby James must have, the perfect blending of words and music into a masterpiece that quietly celebrates the power of song and its capacity to soothe and calm the restless human spirit.  But here is what I know for sure: there was not a peep out of either child from the time I began the song, and somewhere during the third time through, they both slipped off into the deep greens and blues of their own sweet dreams.

Pulling the door to their room shut, I waited to hear the soft click of the latch.  Then, I smiled my way down the hall to my own bedroom. Good night, you moonlight babies, I thought.  You have about ten miles behind you and ten thousand more to go.    

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mother Goose Flies the Coop

As a child, I loved hearing my mother wrap her gentle, melodic voice around the diverse rhythms and rhymes of the Mother Goose verses.  They were my initiation into the wonderful world I later learned to appreciate as poetry.

As an adult, I still take great pleasure in reading, writing, and contemplating the poem in all its various manifestations, from the rough, rambling free verse of Whitman to the studied metrical perfection of Frost and from the ancient splendor of the Greek and Roman epics to the psychological and sociological masterpieces of the contemporaries.  But I am sounding too much like a lit professor here, and that hat  has been hanging on the rack for several years now.

As Googie, I have had cause to reacquaint myself with the likes of Little Boy Blue, Little Miss Muffet, and their equally imaginative counterparts in the Land of Mother Goose.  It has been like a homecoming of sorts, one of those "full-circle" experiences we are always hearing about.  But since I am not quite ready to close up the circle completely at this point, I think I will go off on a tangent and indulge my whim for parody at the expense of the good Mother  Goose, who will (hopefully) appreciate the humor and the effort and not squawk or flap too loudly.  Here goes:

Little Bo-Peep, as you know, found her sheep.
Every day they eat wholesome and hearty.
As a word to the wise, just let me advise
That you never eat dip at her party.

Old Mother Hubbard got from her cupboard
A bone for her poodle Marie.
Now wasn't it odd that this sinister broad
Would stash bones where the food ought to be?

Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle.
The cow tried to jump o'er the moon.
Oh no, just her luck!  The bovine got stuck,
And her udder stretched like a balloon.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
(How smart was that, being thin-shelled and all?)
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Had the cook scramble eggs--and old Humpty fed ten!

About that old woman who lived in a shoe--
She was only about an inch tall, maybe two.
Her kids?  Microscopic!  So what's the big deal
If they went off to bed without eating a meal?

I could go on, but I don't want to stretch the good Mother's patience too thin.  I have had my fun for today.  But in the back of my mind, I can't help wondering--just how might I mutilate The Owl and the Pussycat?



Saturday, May 7, 2011

Behind the Scenes on Old MacDonald's Farm

"Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O.
And on that farm he had a cow, E-I-E-I-O.
With a moo-moo here and a moo-moo there,
Here a moo, there a moo, everywhere a moo-moo.
Old MacDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-O."

That song sounds so innocent.  I have to wonder how many city kids think that is about all there is to a farm--a few cows grazing contentedly with occasional moo's here and there.  Perhaps a little milk would squirt into a metal bucket like it shows in all the kids' books.  (I once read my grandkids a cow story in which the cow was referred to as "he," but that's another subject altogether.)  We farmers bemoan the sad truth that many, many children grow up without ever knowing what really happens on a farm.

For this reason, Pa-pa and I will use a gorgeous spring day like today to haul Sooby and Pooh around on the John Deere Gator (City people: this is NOT a reptile; it is a four-wheeler with a bed.) and experience a herd of cows up close and personal.  By "up close," I mean parking the Gator in the middle of a Charolais mob and hearing the moo's in Surround-Sound.  By "personal," I mean that the kids sometimes go away with brownish-green stuff on their shoes.  (Sorry--farming is not for the faint of heart.  Stop reading now if you are experiencing nausea or dizziness.)

Most likely, you will not be surprised to learn that the kids love seeing the baby calves run and frolic through the tall clover.  This, after all, is the stereotypical "Awwww!" experience that you would anticipate.  As a society we have been conditioned to expect children to love baby animals, and they do not disappoint.

What you might not expect is the turn the conversation takes as the four of us sit there, contemplating the nuances of bovine life in the animals' natural surroundings.  Indeed, the conversation is dominated by frequent references to body parts and bodily functions as the kids watch and listen to the goings-on of the herd from this prime vantage point.

I will not be so blunt as to repeat all the exact words here.  Suffice it to say that, among other choice and quite accurate vocabulary, you often hear active verbs like splash, plop, squirt, and splat as the kids describe what they see.  Further, each "event" is a new cause for nearly insurmountable excitement.  If enough cows come to the party, there is sufficient entertainment to last the kids the better part of an hour.  It seems there is always some splashing or plopping going on somewhere.  Added to this is the fact that the calves have to eat, and that evokes a whole new set of words, along with some rather unflattering comparisons to the kids' mother and their baby sister.  For the purpose of family tranquillity, Pa-pa and I have made a pact: what is said in the pasture stays in the pasture.

Hopefully, today's Gator tour was only the first of many to follow as spring warms its way into summer, and summer mellows into fall.  The fact that both kids have enriched their vocabularies over the winter makes these trips all the more fun to anticipate.  Meanwhile, I will smile to myself every time we sing the cow verse of "Old MacDonald."  As for Sooby and Pooh, they will grow up knowing things many of their little friends may never learn about the secret life of cows.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Diagnosis

The doctor cupped his chin between his thumb and forefinger and peered intently at me over the top of his reading glasses.  "Now," he said, "tell me about your symptoms."

"I don't seem to hear well at times," I said, "and other times, I seem to hear things even when my surroundings are relatively quiet."  He looked puzzled as he scrawled a few notes on my open chart.

"How long has this been going on?"

"About a week."

"Go on," he prodded with a solemn nod that I interpreted as genuine concern.  "What else?"

"My back is killing me," I acknowledged, "and I have been getting a lot less sleep than usual.  The fatigue is unbelievable."

"Hmmm," he mused, exhibiting what I thought might be a faint glimmer of recognition.  "And how is your frame of mind?  Are you going through any type of identity crisis?  Low self-esteem, perhaps?"

"Well," I admitted barely above a whisper, "I keep thinking that I might be the witch in Hansel and Gretel, the stepmother in Cinderella, or the wicked queen in Snow White.  Frankly, Doctor, sometimes I don't know who I am--but I always seem to be a bad guy.  I bounce back and forth between roles so often, I can barely keep track."  Finally, I mustered the courage to ask the question I dreaded most:  "Do you think I could be schizophrenic?"

The doctor closed my chart and laid his pen aside.  I thought I saw a flicker of amusement in his eyes.  Then, he asked the definitive question: "What was happening in your life when these symptoms first presented?"

"Well, the grandkids had just arrived and--"

At this point, the doctor assumed a look of absolutely victorious superiority.  I could see that, in his mind at least, he was licking a forefinger and putting an imaginary mark on some score card hanging invisibly in the air between the two of us.

"Your hearing condition," he began, "is something we call BPTE--battery-powered toy ear.  It occurs most often in patients who have listened to a number of children's talking, singing, buzzing, ringing toys for a period of several consecutive days."

I looked at him in disbelief.  "And my back?"

"Have you been posing as a horsie?" he asked rather sternly.  "Or dispensing any piggy-back rides?" ( I hung my head in guilt at the relentless barrage of questions.)  "And as for your sleeping, have any children under four been crawling into bed with you early in the morning?"  I knew then that I was busted.  I held out my wrists for the handcuffs. 

"What is the treatment for this condition, Doctor?"

"Well," he began, drawing a deep breath and shooting me that no-nonsense look.  "In your case, I am not optimistic that a cure is possible.  You are too far gone."

"Is there any chance I will ever feel better?"

"Yes," he answered, turning to leave the exam room.  "You should experience a real improvement in your mood and energy level in about three days.  About that time, all your aches and pains should miraculously dissipate."

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Because," he said, casting a smug look in my direction.  "Isn't that when you said the kids are coming back?"