Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bootsie's Initiation

Up until now, it doesn't seem like Baby Bootsie, who is closing in on ten months, has had her fair share of the blogspace heretofore monopolized by Sooby and Pooh.  Although at times I have experienced the nagging fear of shortchanging her,  I have to be truthful and say there just hadn't been much inspiration.  She sat, she grinned, she slept, she ate, she went through diapers--that was about it.

The transition over the past month began subtly: she ate a Cheerio, she laid her head on my shoulder when I told her to, she patted a baby doll, she began to roll and pull herself around on the floor.  Then, suddenly, she was crawling up steps.  She was eating catfood.  Her social interaction quadrupled.  Bootsie was coming into her own. Hallelujah!  It was only a matter of time before she, too, would generate "story material."

I will call this Bootsie's "initiation" story--her first distinguishing act with blog potential.  It is a doozy.  She did something her brother and sister had never done, at least to anyone's knowledge.  I am so proud of her.  She has crossed that elusive line into true blogworthiness.

I will warn you that the story has a rather ominous beginning.  Several days ago, to her mother's alarm, Bootsie appeared to be choking on something--not the blue-faced, stopped-breathing kind of choking, I hasten to add.   Nevertheless, she had clearly put something in her mouth that didn't belong there and was experiencing some major discomfort as it lodged at the back of her throat.  She was unable to get the object out through the normal channels of coughing and hacking, and she wasn't very cooperative as her mom (my daughter Cookie) and dad, understandably concerned, tried to open her mouth to assess the situation.

In first telling this story to me, I believe Cookie used the phrase "freaking out" to describe the parental behavior at hand.  Finally, Cookie was able to run a forefinger across the back of Bootsie's throat and extract what looked like a twig or large piece of brown grass.  Upon said extraction, situation normal resumed in the household, accompanied, as always, by those silent vows we have all made after such perceived "close calls" to watch more vigilantly, examine the environment more thoroughly, and so forth.

As the evening wore on, the event took a backseat to those more immediate concerns of the family routine: eating dinner, cleaning the kitchen, bathing, getting ready for bed.  Bootsie was apparently suffering no ill after-effects of the earlier scare, and life had returned to the sane, mundane comfort zone of familiarity and the sense of complacency that ensues when nothing much is going on.

Indeed, it was a typical night in Bootsie's household.  Nothing new.  Same-old same-old.  That is, until, in the process of closing the house down for the night,  Cookie made a telling discovery:  a five-legged grasshopper.

Way to go, Bootsie.  You have earned your place in the annals of family lore.  Your story ranks right up there with the time Sooby put a bead in her ear and the time, much longer ago, that Cookie herself stuck a piece of cooked macaroni up her nose as I innocently mixed together a pot of goulash.

Lest I leave any loose ends here, let me just say that the doctor was able to retrieve the bead with a pair of tiny tweezers, and Cookie conveniently sneezed as I was on the phone seeking medical advice from her own doctor.

But, even as we speak, somewhere in Kansas, a confused and undoubtedly troubled grasshopper must be dizzy from hopping around in circles.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Berry Patch Wisdom

The Strawberryland  game is not supposed to be complicated.  In it, Strawberry Shortcake and her friends--Ginger Snap, Angel Cake, and Orange Blossom--march a designated number of spaces around a board, hoping to land on a round cardboard circle with the picture of a particular goodie (basket of oranges, gingerbread man, ice cream cone, etc.) on the underside.  Each player tries to be the first to match these circles to their likenesses on her card. 

Each card is different; thus, this is essentially a memory game.  You have to watch when other players land on a circle and reveal the underside, because you might need that one.  Then, you have to remember where it was, maneuver yourself around to that spot on the board, and claim it for yourself.  The idea is to find your four goodies before your opponent does.

During Sooby's recent week-long visit to Googie's, we played this game until I could close my eyes at night and see strawberries.  In my utter lack of foresight, I thought it might afford a fun opportunity to teach Sooby about rules--you know, taking turns, not peeking, not taking the cardboard circle that someone else turns over, and so forth.

As it turns out, I was wrong.  Sooby, it seems, had very different ideas about how the game should be played.  Here is her modified version:
  1. Sooby spins; she moves Strawberry Shortcake the designated number of spaces, but some spaces are skipped in the process.
  2. If Sooby doesn't land on a circle she needs, she spins again.
  3. When she finds a match, it is Googie's turn.
  4. Googie's turn is over very quickly.
  5. Sooby repeats Steps 1-3.
  6. Sooby acquires her four matches first.
  7. Sooby insists that Googie play until she also finds her matches.
  8. Sooby is delighted with the outcome of the game and wants to play it over and over.
As you can see, in Sooby's variation of the game there is no drama, no competition to speak of, no nail-biting race to the finish, no stress.  You might think this would be boring (I had even entertained that notion myself, however briefly), but that is not the case.  Sooby's excitement at each new discovery was genuine.  The fact that she was having so much fun caused me to stop and re-evaluate the place of rules in the life of a four-year-old who sees them as arbitrary and unnecessary and can have quite a good time without them, thank you.

I am reminded of all those rules Robert Fulghum supposedly learned in kindergarten.  Should you re-read that list, you will find that they basically fall under several broad categories, none of which are violated by Sooby's revised Strawberryland rules:
  1. Don't hurt yourself.
  2. Don't hurt others.
  3. Don't destroy things of value.
A fourth category could include Fulghum's suggestions to look, appreciate, and "be aware of wonder."  Those may be a little abstract for a four-year-old.  A googie, however, should be able to handle them just fine.  Especially when looking across the game board at a little girl whose eyes sparkle with excitement when she sees that Custard the pink kitty is just the match she wanted.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


The only grandmother I knew died when I was ten.  Sadly, there is not much I remember about her before that nebulous period of time she lay under a pink chenille bedspread dying of a disease I couldn't really fathom.  I can count on one hand those specific incidents I recall involving just her and me.  Usually, I ran my grandparents' yard and hay lot in a pack of some thirteen other grandchildren and occupied a spot, agewise, in about the middle.  It was a rare occasion indeed when I got my grandma or grandpa to myself.

For some reason, the event I think about most often was the time I went with Grandma to the chicken house to gather eggs.  One of her tools for this task was a gray metal bucket pockmarked with a lot of little dents and a skinny wire handle that allowed the bucket to squeak and sway when she carried it empty.  The other was her right hand, which consisted of long slim fingers with smooth, pale, slick-looking skin.  I watched, partly frightened and partly fascinated, as she slid this hand deftly beneath one setting hen after another as we crept along the row of nests occupying the chicken house's west wall.

When she gathered these eggs, as she had likely done every day for at least half a century, the hens would squawk indignantly and flap their wings with a fury that launched clouds of dust into the air around our heads.  To her this was among the most mundane of daily routines in a setting utterly comfortable and familiar; to me it was new and uncertain territory.

Despite her bidding, I rigidly refused to stick my nailbitten fingers anywhere near a hen who considered herself a robbery victim.  Although it was a couple years before Alfred Hitchcock would terrify me with The Birds, I could see that those beaks were sharp, and the looks I was getting from those wiggling, jiggling eyes did not convey what I interpreted as approval.  I was certain some of them tried to slap me with wings powered by sheer agitation. Needless to say, I was more than relieved when the egg-gathering was done, Grandma was carrying the full bucket, and we squinted our way out of that dark little outbuilding into the light of day.

Some of my friends talk of extravagant, memorable times with their grandmothers: a car trip to the Grand Canyon, a shopping spree in the City, a ball game between the Kansas City A's and the Chicago White Sox.  In stark contrast, the images I associate with my own grandmother are so precious few in number and so ordinary in nature: a dime scotch-taped inside a birthday card; a platter of fried fish; a mountain of warm, brown eggs stacked in a metal bucket.

Few?  Certainly.  Ordinary?  Definitely.  Insignificant?  Never.  They are all I have, and I will treasure them for what they are.  They are my only link to a woman I barely knew but who nevertheless raised my dad and his six siblings on a self-sufficient farm irrigated by a lazy little creek during the lean times of the Great Depression.

I think of Grandma and Grandpa sometimes when I catch myself trying to wow Sooby and Pooh.  I am always wanting to take them here or there, show them this or that, impress them with experiences that I can be sure they will recall long after I am gone.  Years from now, I want them to smile and say, "Remember when Googie did this?  Remember when Googie did that?"

But deep inside I know that what they may most likely remember are the reading of a favorite storybook, a neighborhood walk where we find a box turtle, a firefly caught and released at dusk.  These are things imbued with what I want to call "every-dayness," the simple, sweet substance of ordinary lives shared.  Such events, I have come to realize, are paradoxical in that they cause remembering without being especially memorable.   

Why else, all these years later, would I be thinking about a bucket of eggs?


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Googie Meets Tow-Mater

If you had told me a week ago that I would ever like anything even remotely associated with Larry the Cable Guy, I would have raised my eyebrows and felt your forehead.  But that was B.C.--before Cars. 

When Pooh came to stay with me a few days last week, I thought it would be fun to expose him to his first movie theater experience.  I will be the first to admit that things didn't look good starting out.  Pooh was startled by the sheer size of the screen and the loudness blaring from the speakers.  Further, he was too light to hold the fold-up theater seat open, so he was convinced it was trying to eat him.  The last straw involved previews of other shows which did not deliver on the "talking cars" I had promised him.  The room was weird and dark and unfamiliar, and Pooh let me know in no uncertain terms that he was ready to go "back to Googie's house."

I, however, had just spent $5.50 for my own ticket (two-year-olds get in free), $3.25 for popcorn, and another $3.25 for a Pepsi (outrageous--but I won't go there right now).  Since I had made what amounted to a sizable investment, I was determined to find a way to make this work.  We moved to a secluded spot three rows from the back of the theater, and I hoisted Pooh onto my lap (I have no trouble holding the seat down).  With our popcorn perched in the cup holder to our left and our Pepsi occupying an equidistant position on our right,  Pooh began to relax.  It helped that some of the previews featured Smurfs, the Toy Story gang, and Winnie-the-Pooh.  By the time Cars 2 came on, we were pretty happily settled in.

I had not seen the original Cars movie, so I was introduced to the vehicular cast right along with Pooh.  The buck-toothed tow truck that spoke with a backwoods Southern drawl quickly became his favorite.  To my surprise, it soon became obvious that "Tow-Mater" or just "Mater" for short features the vocal, uh, talents of Larry the Cable Guy. Surprisingly, it seems that Larry, in dropping the plaid shirt along with his other more obnoxious physical attributes and raunchy subject matter, becomes a bit more bearable when he is just a voice in a kids' cartoon.

I'm sure that the subplot was entirely lost on Pooh, who has no context for things like love triangles (really!), fuel wars, and international espionage.  But he dearly loved the frequent intermittent scenes involving racing and chasing, engine revving and tire screeching.  The noise and loudness were no longer issues as he cheered Mater's buddy, Lightning McQueen, to the finish line of the Grand Prix.

I won't say our movie adventure was without repercussions.  For the next couple days two toy school buses careened neck-and-neck down my upstairs hallway, one Weeble-driven and the other belting out the melody of "Skip to My Lou" on batteries that must have been on their last ounce of acid.  A bucket of micro-machines got dumped out dangerously close to the air conditioner vent.  To my surprise, a replica of the ever-lovable Mater himself even emerged from the plastic tub where our Happy Meal-type toys live. 

When I tried taking Sooby to the show at the same age, A Christmas Carol was just a little too scary with ghosts and clanking chains and all.  So we switched rooms and took in The Blind Side, featuring lots of football action that she was OK with.  But that Winnie-the-Pooh movie should be playing next week when she comes to visit for a few days, so I think we'll try again.  At four, she knows what to do with popcorn and a Pepsi, and at her size I don't think the seat will try to "eat" her. 

However, if Larry the Cable Guy turns out to be the voice of Eeyore, we may have to go down the hall and check out those Smurfs.  I can handle him as a tow truck, but a donkey may be too close to what he really is during those times he wears the plaid shirt.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Icing Years

Raising children can be kind of like mixing cake batter.  You take your basic kiddos and add things like music lessons, swimming lessons, Sunday School, and Little League baseball.  You stir in a pinch of patience, a dab of discipline, and try to hold the mixer on medium.  You throw in this ingredient and that ingredient, and hope that the cake-to-be rises to an appropriate level and smells good while it bakes.  These are The Batter Years--the time you spend raising your own children at home.

With grandkids you enter The Cake Years.  You get these occasional little servings of sweetness, kind of like the dessert following a full-course meal.  It is this occasional nature that allows you to enjoy these so much more than you enjoyed the batter stage.  Grandchildren cause you to always scrape the plate for crumbs and wish for one more bite.  The Cake Years are your reward for a batter diligently mixed and capably baked.  Thankfully, the modern human life span is such that most of us Boomers are able to get to the dessert bar and perhaps go back for seconds or thirds.  Not only can we "have our cake and eat it too," but we can do this repeatedly for as many grandchildren as we are blessed with.

A precious few of us are lucky enough to see our blessings stretch even beyond The Cake Years.   Although we do nothing to deserve it, we find ourselves and our children occupying the middle spots of a four-generation phenomenon in which our grandkids can know and interact with both of our own parents.  At this point, I will coin a phrase and call these The Icing Years.  Not all cakes get to have icing, but I can't think of anything sweeter than when they do.

As my oldest grandchild celebrates her fourth birthday this week, I celebrate for myself four wonderful Icing Years.  My husband did not get this opportunity, nor will many of my friends.  But in these years I have been privileged to watch my parents in action as great-grandparents. I watched Dad win Sooby's affections with a sticky cherry sucker before she had ever even tasted much solid food.  I have heard Mom read to Sooby the same stories out of the same books she read to me and my own children.  I have watched Dad chuckle and try to defend himself in a wild game of catch with Pooh.  Once again, I have watched Mom sway and heard her sing "Rockabye Baby" as she cradles Bootsie at rest.

I love the way the kids call Mom and Dad by their first names and the way they will head straight to their kitchen to check out the snack scene.  I love the way Mom dumps out her big laundry basket of toys and, at age 86, sits down on the living room carpet to build a wood block tower or thread a string of beads.  I appreciate every time I get to watch as some invisible bridge spans a gap of over 82 years.  When my grandchildren are with my parents, the experience is timeless.  No, it is magical.  No, it is delicious.

These are my Icing Years.  I run my finger over the plate to gather every bit of this precious, sweet stuff.  I close my eyes and run my tongue over my lips.  I never, ever want to forget what icing tastes like.       

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On the Sadly Deficient Nature of Bedtime Rituals

Whoever wrote "Rockabye,
Baby," it seems
didn't do much to nurture
that baby's sweet dreams.
After all, how secure
and how safe could it be
with a cradle precariously
perched in a tree?

How warm and how cozy
would bedtime be then
if the wind blew the blanket
that tucked the babe in?
Oh, how might the little one
sleep in his bed
with a bough breaking loudly
right there by his head?
And last but not least,
would the baby not pout
if the cradle crashed down
and it tossed him right out?

And that prayer saying
"If I should die 'fore I wake"
is enough to bring on
a severe bellyache.
The baby looks at you
as if to say, "Why
are you doing this to me?
I don't want to die!"
As for "Hush, Little Baby,
Don't Say a Word,"
who the hay wants to play
with a dang mockingbird?

So cuddle the baby
and give him a kiss,
but don't traumatize him
with garbage like this.
Tuck him in tightly
and coo to him--but
he'll have more chance to sleep
if you keep your mouth shut.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sooby Turns Four

On the night of her fourth birthday, Sooby sits at a plastic Little Tykes table preparing for tea.   Wearing a yellow nightgown printed with frogs and hearts, she tips the tiny teapot into the tiny cup that sits in front of her two-year-old brother.  Unfamiliar with the social graces a tea party demands, Pooh imagines she is serving soup, which he pretends to shovel into his mouth with the miniature silver spoon.  He  gobbles hungrily, adding an interesting auditory quality to the scenario.  At (or I should say on) the other end of the table perches Barbie, who is much quieter about the festivities.  This is because she is just one of those big Mattel heads sporting a thick mane of hair a little girl is supposed to comb and style.

Luckily, Barbie has batteries and can participate in the conversation, although in a limited and not always quite coherent fashion.  "Would you like some more tea?" Sooby asks her, just before pushing the "star" button at Barbie's throat.  "Let's give me a new look," Barbie says, making no move to sample her tea.  After all, sampling tea can be a challenge for someone without arms. 

"I want some more soup," says Pooh, for which he receives a sisterly eye-roll.  "It's TEA," she says.  "This is a TEA party."  I myself am not present at the party.  I have the pleasure of listening from my perfect vantage point just outside the door.

For me, these were among the most precious moments of a two-day visit to the kids' house to attend our first fourth-birthday celebration as grandparents, where the tea set and the Barbie head both arrived as  presents.  I like this so much better than the parties I hosted over two decades ago for my own children.  Now, I don't have to plan and execute a meal for company, design the perfect birthday cake, or figure out how to make bedtime look good to two little kids on a sugar high.

I don't have to stress out if things don't go quite as I plan, expect, or hope for.  I have passed that torch on to Cookie, the kids' mom.  So what if the big rides at the Fourth of July carnival make so much noise that Sooby rides the kiddie cars with a scowl on her beautiful little face and her hands over her ears instead of on the steering wheel?  At least Pooh is in the front seat turning the wheel like a madman, convinced that he alone is responsible for keeping their car on the track.  That mini-video will go on the thumb drive.

So what if Sooby isn't quite happy (understatement?) with the way the wings fit on her new Tinkerbell costume?  She will eventually accept the idea of attaching them some other way.  Time and patience will fix whatever problem she is imagining.  Just look how hard it sometimes is for even us grown-ups to remember that.

So what if the kids seem to forget, temporarily, that Baby Bootsie's bed is not a trampoline.  At least she wasn't in it at the time.  Give Pa-pa a set of tools.  He can make it better.

It is every mother's curse to want things to go perfectly with her children and to be easily disappointed and frustrated when they do not.  Every mommy needs the gratification of knowing that, if she knocks herself out to give her child the best she can on a monumental occasion like a birthday, the child will at least acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifice of that supreme, selfless effort.  Here is what I have learned.

She will.  Long after the teapot is empty, Barbie's batteries have corroded, and Tinkerbell's wings have flapped their last, she will.  Long after Bootsie's bed is folded up and gathering dust in a garage somewhere, she will.  That gratification a worn-out, harried mama so longs for comes at last.

It comes years later in the form of a four-year-old who crawls into bed with you at night and snuggles sweetly against your shoulder.  It comes when you overhear the disjointed conversation taking place at a quirky little tea party.  It comes when you become Googie.

Happy fourth birthday, Sooby.  Of all the gifts given and received over the past two days, the greatest has been mine.