Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What Poopsie Hath Wrought

The idea first occurred to me when I was looking at Poopsie. 

From his goldenrod color and distinct facial features, it is obvious that Poopsie, a Beanie Baby bear from 2001, was designed to resemble A.A. Milne's famous Winnie-the-Pooh.  I imagine the resemblance stops just short of any provable trademark or copyright infringement, but those of us who know Beanies and regularly read Milne's stories can assure you it is no accident that Poopsie and Pooh Bear could pass for twins.

Anyway, I am looking at Poopsie perched on my upstairs closet shelf with some 800 other Beanies and, just like in the comics, I envision the lightbulb over my head going on (the old incandescent kind, not the new energy-saving corkscrew type).  Wouldn't it be fun, I ask myself, if I could find Beanies in the collection to represent all of A.A. Milne's loveable characters?  Surely, the kids would have a ball acting out the various stories (and maybe making up some of their own?) equipped with a hands-on cast of Beanies.

Eeyore, the fatalistic donkey with the low, slow voice, will be played by Lefty from 1996, probably the most valuable Beanie in the ensemble.  Many people don't know this, but every election year Beanie manufacturer Ty Incorporated issues a new "Lefty," appropriately representing the Democratic party, and a new "Righty," an elephant representing the GOP.  Being plain gray rather than sporting the stars and/or stripes of some subsequent Leftys, the 1996 Lefty is far and away the best match for Eeyore.

The part of the ever-bouncing Tigger goes to Stripey the Tiger, a fairly new issue from 2005.  As for little pink Piglet, I choose from among several capable auditioners a pig named Luau from 2003.  Luckily, one of the Beanie kangaroos, named Ricochet, is a mama bearing a baby in her pouch.  The choice of Ricochet (2007) to portray Kanga and little Roo is a no-brainer.

Rounding out the cast as Owl and Rabbit are Hoot, a veteran Beanie from 1995, and Hopper from 2000.  Since there is no Christopher Robin Beanie, that part will have to be assumed by whichever child happens to feel dramatic at the time.

As I write this, my unique Beanie Baby cast is gathered around an open Milne board book atop an end table in the kids' room.  They and I patiently await the next visit of Sooby and/or Pooh (the boy, not the bear), which I predict will magically transform an otherwise normal bedroom into the Hundred Acre Wood.  There Winnie-the-Pooh will pursue his beloved honey pot, Eeyore will again lament his lost tail, and Christopher Robin will revel anew in the delightful land of childhood imagination.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

O.K.--So I'm Not Maurice Sendak

I can see that these three-hour drives home from the grandkids' house have the potential to be deadly.   Driving behind assorted behemoths of farm equipment that virtually crawl along the highway, I have learned, does not always lend itself appropriately to waxing poetic, or attempting to do so.  It has been one of those painful lessons that, at this age, I would just as soon not have to suffer through.  I would prefer to think that I have made a fool of myself sufficiently for this lifetime. and, in the event of reincarnation, several subsequent ones.

However, I am willing to swallow my shame and embarrassment in the hope that I might spare even one of my fellow googies from humiliation of the caliber I have caused myself today.  First, let me set the scene.  Confession time.  Lie back on the couch. Twist the kleenex nervously.  Take a deep, shuddering breath, and begin slowly.

My first mistake was indulging one of my major weaknesses.  Yes, on my way to Sooby and Pooh's house, I stopped at a garage sale.  Worse than that, it was a garage sale IN UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY.  A red flag should have shot up and waved me frantically away, but instead it seemed to beckon me to stop.  I should have known better.

As luck would have it, this particular garage sale featured--no, flaunted--an impressive assortment of quality children's books for a quarter apiece.  I picked up two for each kid, and dropped a buck.  They would make good bedtime material for last night, I thought, and they did not disappoint.

The star of the show was Chicken Soup With Rice by Maurice Sendak.  In it, Sendak, probably best known for his children's classic Where the Wild Things Are, writes a ten-line rhyme for each month of the year.  The verses are brilliant, fraught with the kind of alliterative, repetitive, internally rhyming magic that mesmerizes children to the point where they ask for the piece to be read again and again.  I swear the sweet sounds even made a zombie of Baby Bootsie, who is going on nine months.  In a word, Sendak's book is a masterpiece (with the most fascinating and conversation-provoking segment being "October," but that's another story).

Fast forward to my trip home, where Sendak's lyrical lines spin through my head while I am nearly blinded by loose hay blowing off the huge trailer lumbering down the road in front of me at fifteen miles per hour.  In a momentary delusion of grandeur, I think to myself, "I could have written that."  Well, to paraphrase the old saying, "Pride goeth before a miserable flop."  Read on.

           Miserable Flop

Winter, summer, spring, and fall
Make up the times of year we call
The seasons--and when each is o'er,
You'll find you've grown a little more.

Summer sizzles in the heat.
Sunshine warms your hands and feet
When you stay outside all day
To swing and slide and hide and play.

Fall is full of autumn leaves
That stop atop the roofs and eaves,
Then tumble down to grow in stacks
Where you can do your jumping jacks.

Winter's white is ice and snow;
Its blustery winds will gust and blow;
And winter's frigid arctic cold
Will make your coat worth more than gold.

Spring is when a robin red
Will sing while you are still in bed;
Dandelions leave the ground,
And breezes blow their seeds around.

Hours and minutes stretch to day
While clocks tick-tock the time away.
Days to weeks and months to year--
While seasons make the changes clear.

Oh puh-leez!  Stop me now.  I have sinned.  I have printed this drivel on the same page where I have referred to the noble and worthy Maurice Sendak.  I hang my head and vow to start a 12-step program.  I promise not to go to another garage sale until at least Thursday.  I am serious about this.

Let me critique myself and save you the trouble:  trite, forced, tired imagery, didactic.  I can't believe I composed such a travesty.  I also find it a stretch to believe I would publish it here, in full view of  many people who know me and, in many cases, used to respect me as at least a semi-poet.

However--as a footnote--let me hasten to add a word in my own defense.  Sooby and Pooh both slept with me last night.  This means I probably did not get quite as much sleep as usual, and perhaps my creative thinking capacity was in some way compromised (weak excuse).  Also, I most likely became very agitated by setting a world record for the longest time taken to travel by vehicle from Topeka to Lawrence, Kansas (now I'm whining). 

But the real problem?  The real problem is that Maurice Sendak in all his masterful genius already composed the ultimate seasonal verse for children.  Nothing else can touch it.  If you haven't experienced the poetic pleasure of his Chicken Soup With Rice, do yourself a favor and check it out.  Share it with a special little person you know.  I promise you won't be sorry.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Pa-pa's One-of-a-Kind Father's Day Card

Call me a disgruntled Father's Day card shopper.  A previous blog-poem (plog?) expresses my frustration at not being able to find an appropriate card this year for Great-Grandpa Ted.  Yesterday's effort to locate one for Pa-pa turned out fruitless as well.  The typical card, it seemed, depicted a fishing pole, said, "Happy Father's Day," and tried to get to me for at least $2.99. 

In Great-Grandpa's case, I baked him an angelfood cake and called it good.  It was what he asked for, and my only concern is that it seemed so inadequate for such an important person on such an important day.  In Pa-pa's case, however, I simply decided to write my own "card."  Now, Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie can always look back and see what Googie wrote to their Pa-pa on Father's Day 2011, when they were ages three (almost four), two, and eight months.

        Father's Day Card

The cards were expensive and trite
and none of them had just the right
message: generic words penned
by people I don't know
for people they don't know.

So this Father's Day I write my own:
I hope your day is special like you,
another one we are blessed with
in this life we chance to share;
and I am glad you've been there

with your always-ready smile,
the laughs hiding just behind your eyes,
the strong shoulders, the enormous heart
that the kids and I have come to count on
to sustain and love us through it all.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Just Horacing Around

After almost four years of watching Sooby play and pretend, I have wondered many times what she will be when she grows up.  A singer?  She loves music.  A teacher?  She loves to learn new things.  A sumo wrestler?  Well, let's just say that at this point the possibilities seem endless.

In the case of Pooh, however, there is absolutely no question.  Entertainment industry, prepare yourself.  Academy Award Committee, polish up the Oscar.  Pooh is going to be an actor.

This revelation came to me the last time he visited Googie's house.  We had just read 101 Dalmatians for the umpteenth time.  Stuffed puppies lay helter-skelter all over the toy room.  For Pooh, the stage had been set and the props were in place.  He grabbed his green John Deere cap and pulled it menacingly over his eyes.  "You be Jasper," he said to me, "and I'll be Horace."

Pooh was wanting us to assume the roles of the two bumbling dog nappers in the well-loved Disney classic.  Horace and Jasper are the accomplices of the sinister and flamboyant Cruella de Vil, dog thief extraordinaire.  Cruella, of course, dispatches her helpers to steal Dalmatian puppies for entirely selfish reasons.  Our storybook says she wants to sell them to the circus, but it doesn't take much imagination to see that she wears a fur coat and may well have an ulterior motive.  Even Sooby and Pooh can put two and two together and recognize this.

It was amazing to watch Pooh assume the character of Horace.  The second he donned the cap, he narrowed his eyes, set his jaw, and puffed out his lips.  He crossed his arms in front of him and shifted his weight to his right leg.  Then, in a voice as deep and gruff as a two-year-old can muster, he said, "Now give me those puppies--now!"

For the few minutes that followed, the Pooh that we know and love was gone.  In his place was Horace.  Horace worked efficiently, gathering up puppies and stacking them on my lap.  "There, Jasper," he said.  "Take these puppies to Co-ella."  Even Stanislavski would have been impressed.

I have heard the theory that work aptitudes can show themselves early in children while at play.  It is up to us adults, then, to watch for the signs and encourage these propensities.  If this is true,  I have no doubt what the future holds for Pooh.  He is going to be an actor.

Or, perhaps, a dog thief.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tiny Dancers

Last Sunday, my daughter Cookie experienced the power of some pretty potent cliches.  One of them is "What goes around comes around."  Another is "Paybacks are hell."

Rewind to twenty-five or so years ago during the Pre-Googie Era.  In this former life I was a harried young working mom with two little kids.  At times it seemed their sole mission in life was to embarrass me in public, to subject me to the kind of humiliation that made me want to pry up the nearest manhole cover, jump in feet first, and take up residence in the sewer with the Ninja Turtles.

One such incident occurred when, at age two, Cookie was asked to carry the crown for the Homecoming Queen at our local community college.  In all modesty, I believe I can say she looked beautiful, with her long blonde hair streaming across the shoulders of a floor-length red gown.  She carried the sparkling crown ever so carefully on a plump little pillow.  Her march into the gym, stately and elegant, was enough to make any mother pop her buttons.  However, once the lights dimmed and the queen was crowned, the coronation music apparently struck a chord that made Cookie want to dance.  And dance.  And dance some more.

All around the gym Cookie whirled and twirled and swirled and pirouetted, executing moves she continued even after the music stopped.  I ended up having to go out onto the floor, scoop Cookie up, and cart her off kicking and screaming.  The crowd roared with laughter.  So much for a regal atmosphere; the royal court had been upstaged.  At that point I was ready for someone to throw a sheet over my head and call the undertaker.

I couldn't help recalling this incident when I read Cookie's Facebook description of her experience at Sooby's first dance recital last Sunday. She begins with a disclaimer: "I want to say I am so sorry to all the ballet students, moms, dads, grandparents, and innocent old sick people who had to witness the spectacle of my three children during the recital today."  She goes on to present a play-by-play account that evoked even my sympathy.  It seems that, in her case, "what [went] around" came back around several times and then some.  Here is a chronology of the events as she relates them:
  • Sooby rips her tights in the car on the way.
  • Sooby engages in a shouting match with a fellow dancer and pulls her own tutu up to her neck before the music starts.
  • Pooh screams that he wants a popsicle.
  • Sooby decides to just spin instead of doing the practiced dance routine.
  • Across the room, Bootsie wakes up and cries, as video cameras roll.
  • Cookie rushes across the room to Bootsie, leaving Pooh screaming.
  • Sooby cries because she can't dance to the "beautiful song" the older students are now dancing to.
  • As Cookie tries to console Sooby, Pooh escapes and ends up dancing with the older students.
  • Sooby performs her tap number facing the wrong way.
  • Cookie slinks out the back door, kids in tow. 
I hate to admit it, but I believe this may trump my homecoming story.  And although I would like to smirk and quip something smart-alecky about "just desserts," I just can't.  A strong sense of empathy deprives me of the feeling of satisfaction to which I am entitled and for which I have so patiently waited all these years.

Hang in there, Cookie.  I love you.  Your three beautiful children are the light of my life.  Things can't be as bad as they seemed to you last Sunday.  But while you work through the slow process of recovery from this fresh trauma, you can perhaps find comfort in yet another cliche from my vast repertoire:  "This too shall pass."  And, you will find, it shall pass all too soon.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Art Linkletter Got It Right

Art Linkletter began his TV show "House Party" the year I was born and ended it the year I graduated from high school.  He was like a down-to-earth, fun-loving uncle who visited our living room for a half hour every afternoon, and I remember him fondly along with Miss Virginia ("Romper Room"), Whizzo the Clown, Mickey Mouse, and those other innocent, loveable staples of weekday TV in the '50s and '60s.

At the end of every episode, Art would drag his microphone over to where several spit-and-polished elementary-age school kids were sitting and "interview" them using questions that often provoked hilarious answers.  (You can see some of these on YouTube.)  This segment became wildly popular, leading to Kids Say the Darndest Things, the title of a later program Art co-hosted with Bill Cosby as well as of a book-length collection of the funny answers children had given on these shows.  Over time the name "Art Linkletter" became synonymous with his observation that, indeed, "kids say the darndest things." 

The past few days I have been thinking what a great "House Party" guest Sooby would have made at her present age of three years and eleven months.  I honestly can't imagine where she gets some of the off-the-wall things she comes up with.  Here are a few examples from just last week:

  • We are eating barbecued ribs with my parents on my birthday.  Sooby is scraping the sauce off all the ribs on the serving plate.  She announces that she really likes this "ham icing."
  • One night at bedtime, we are singing "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window."  She insists on the following substitutions:  "How much is that doggie in the office--the one with the flag in his mouth."  (At least she got the meter right.)
  • I ask her if she wants some ice cream on her strawberry shortcake.  "No," she says, "it hurts my brain."
  • She is helping me mix the batter for my birthday cake.  I let her break the eggs.  She says she is "hatching" them.
  • She hands me a piece of paper and says it is a "mysterious invitation."  Later, she uses the verb "transform."  Where did those big words come from?
Art Linkletter may have interviewed some 23,000 children during his TV career, but I will hazard a guess that he never met one quite like Sooby.  She says the darndest things.  Art died just last year, but if he and Sooby had crossed paths, I am pretty sure they would have hit it off. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A Poem Is Born

At some point during the past year or so, and for whatever reason,  I started saying to Sooby and Pooh, "I love you, love you, love you."  Gradually, I began to add qualifying descriptors, like "as tall as the mountains" and "as deep as the ocean."  The kids seemed to like these additions.  By the time I had done this enough to become aware of some kind of pattern forming, I had added "as wide as the sky," "as warm as the sun," and "as bright as the moon."

A couple days ago, when I was getting ready to leave the kids' house, I was making my way to what I thought was the end of our litany.  When I stopped, I couldn't figure out why both kids continued to look at me expectantly.  Then, barely above a whisper, Pooh prompted me:  "moon."  I had forgotten to include the line about the moon.

During the first leg of my three-hour drive home, a children's verse assumed the semi-permanent shape I give it below.  It fascinates me to think about how it evolved over days and weeks and months of my feeble efforts to make Sooby and Pooh understand how very much they are loved by this old Googie.

Like all poems, it seems to reflect a mishmash of the literary and musical experiences that somehow connect in the mysterious synapses of my brain.  Surely the ghost of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 43 prompts me here, as does the new hit single of 2011 American Idol Scotty McCreery ("I Love You This Big"--check it out on YouTube).  "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" flashes briefly through a neuron, and that part about the strawberry--could I be indebted to the New Christy Minstrels for that?

At any rate, and for whatever reason, and in spite of myself, a poem is born containing DNA from all these genetic sources.  Maybe you will find it helpful should you ever try to explain to your grandkids how you really feel. 
I Love You Times Three
I love you late;
I love you soon:
As tall as the mountains,
As bright as the moon,
As deep as the ocean,
As warm as the sun,
As twinkly as stars
When the daytime is done.

I love you now;
I love you then:
I love you like puddles
Where raindrops have been.
I love you like breezes
Caressing the nights.
I love you like fireflies
With bright orange lights.

I love you here;
I love you there:
I love you like bird songs
That hang in the air
As sweet as strawberries,
As wide as the sky--
Could I love you more?
I think not--but I'll try.