Tuesday, December 27, 2011

What's in a Name?

A nickname seems like such a simple, innocent thing.  I am no expert when it comes to the larger sociological factors in nicknaming trends, but in our family such names are most often bestowed for one of the following reasons:
  • as a term of endearment.
  • as a way of abbreviating the whole given name.
  • as a marker of individuality.
"Googie," for instance, falls into the latter category.  As you may know from previous explanations offered in this blog, I did not want to be another "Nana" or "Mimi," and "Grandma"--well, that just sounds so old.  So when Sooby was born four and a half years ago, I became "Goo Goo" (from a joke suggested by my own mother), which morphed over time into simply "Googie."  I like that nickname.  It makes me unique.  I am the only "Googie" most people have ever heard of.  People holler "Googie" across the aisles of Wal-Mart, and it makes me smile.

Recently, Sooby became distressed when she realized that she alone among her siblings had no nickname.  (I am talking about their real, given names here rather than their blog names.)  Both the other nicknames are shortened forms of the longer given names their mama, Cookie, bestowed mostly for convenience, I imagine, when yelling repeatedly at the kid.  When you have three children and the oldest is four and a half, I can see how this would be desirable, even necessary.

So when Sooby became aware that she was the only one without a nickname, her mama began offering the obvious suggestions, none of which met Sooby's standards, whatever those were.  Finally, in desperation, Cookie threw out one of those totally-off-the-wall things she is so good at:  "Well, how about 'Shalakatron'"?

Ironically, but probably not so unexpectedly to those of us who know the child, Sooby took an immediate fancy to that name.  Hence, she is Shalakatron--pronounced something like "Shuh-LOCK-uh-tron."  As you might imagine, this made for some interesting dialogue during the events of this Christmas just past.  Sooby walks in the door:  "Oh, I'm so glad to see you, Shalakatron!"  Pa-pa hands out presents:  "This one is for Shalakatron."  We eat dinner:  "Do you want some more noodles, Shalakatron?"  She requires discipline:  "Now, Shalakatron, you need to share that with your brother."  You get the idea.

Never mind that nicknames are generally used to shorten a longer name for purposes of convenience.  That concept is pretty well lost on Sooby.  It would appear that, like her googie, she has opted for individuality and uniqueness.  I love that about her.

However, given the name's relative awkwardness and the way it tends not to roll off the tongue or remain easily in the memory, I imagine it will give way to many other nicknames before Sooby is grown.  I just hope all of them will be this much fun.

Meanwhile, those people curled up in the glider rocker reading The Clown Said No or acting out scenes from The Nutcracker?  Those people singing The Twelve Days of Christmas until everyone around them wished fervently for the speedy arrival of Day 13? 

That was Googie and Shalakatron, and the two of them are one of a kind.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Our Ice Cream Fantasy

When Sooby and I set out on the three-hour drive from my house to hers, we always look forward to stopping at a Dairy Queen about two-thirds of the way there.  She looks forward to the chocolate ice cream cone, but it is the look on the face of the girl behind the counter that I live for.

This is because Sooby always marches right up, looks the girl in the eye, and demands to know, "Is the queen here?"

She is serious.  Somehow, she has it in her head that, because this is "Dairy Queen," a queen must certainly inhabit the place.  You must remember that, in the world of a four-year-old, there are queens and princesses everywhere.  So if a place is called "Dairy Queen," well, that is a no-brainer.

We have never encountered the same girl twice, so each visit is a new opportunity for me to enjoy this wonderful treat:  the blank look, the knitted eyebrows, the shrug of the shoulders, the helpless glance in my direction.  This is my cue to step in.

"Well," I say, "we know that this is Dairy Queen and that a queen lives here.  Is she back there at the moment, or is she busy doing something else right now?"

Slowly, the light bulb goes on, and the counter girl says something like, "Uh, she's not here right now."

Last time we made the trip, I added a little holiday-related dialogue to our script.  "I'll bet she is out delivering Christmas presents, isn't she?"

"Uh, yeah," the girl said.  Then she suddenly brightened and added, "There are a lot of Christmas parties that need ice cream cakes right now."  I could have kissed her for caring enough to humor a little girl's fantasy.  However, I managed to restrain myself and ordered two chocolate cones instead.

As Sooby and I execute the licking and lapping required to demolish two ice cream cones in fairly short order, we lament the fact that, once again, we have experienced incredibly bad luck and missed our elusive monarch.  But we always leave on a hopeful note.  "Maybe the queen will be here next time," we say as we go out, and we usually get confirmation of this and a big smile from behind the counter.

We get back in the van and prepare to negotiate our final hour of driving.  I know that one of these days Sooby will realize that "Dairy Queen" is just a business name and she will no longer expect to find a queen there.   I will find that a little bit sad.

But then again, maybe Sooby will walk in and once again ask for the queen.  Then, when she is sure I am occupied with counting out money or reading the menu, she will give the counter girl a knowing wink and whisper to her, "Work with me.  My googie thinks a queen lives here."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Queen for a Second

There I sat on the front pew at church last Sunday morning, waiting patiently for my cue to sashay around the Christmas tree and wend my way up the steps to play piano for the song service.  How could I have known that a cursory glance at the morning bulletin would change my self-concept forever?

Right there in front of me, in big, bold letters, was the three-line quotation from Proverbs 17:6.  To ease the shock--and to calm my still-thumpety-thumping heart, I will give them to you a line at a time.

Grandchildren . . .   I smiled without reading further.  Undoubtedly, the bulletin was about to reveal a whippy, Pollyanna comment about the blessing of grandkids.  I licked my lips and prepared to eat it up.  After all, how could any comment about grandkids be anything other than delicious, especially here at church, where the kids occasionally visit with me so that everyone can see how cute and smart they all are.  I eagerly read on.

 . . . are the crown . . .  Still smiling.  What a neat metaphor, I was thinking, the idea that grandkids bring a crown to googies like me, elevating them to nothing short of royalty.  No doubt I feel regal when the three of them sit around me and cast their eyes upward in adoration as I sing or read a story from atop my dais.  Little crowns, most certainly, everyone of them.  Let me just lean down so that a few more jewels may be put in place.  Indeed, this simple church bulletin seemed to demonstrate the impeccable insight and wisdom of the Lord Himself.  With that reverent thought, my eyes continue downward to catch the final line.

 . . . of the elderly.  Excuse me?  The ELDERLY?  Is this a misprint?  Some renegade proverb posing as the real thing when it is really an imposter?  I refuse to think of myself as "elderly."  I have not even hit 60 yet, which every women's magazine in print will hasten to tell you is the "New 40."  Elderly, indeed.  I guess King James didn't read many women's magazines.

Wait a minute.  Let me just calm down.  Let's see what the dictionary lists as the official definition of elderly.  Maybe I am overreacting, and things are not as bad as I fear.

Hmm.  It says "rather old." That is not what I was wanting to read.  Frankly, I'd rather go with the definitions of elderberry right above or El Dorado right below.  Yep, right there between a delicious edible red fruit and a place of vast riches is "rather old, " and I guess Proverbs 17:6 is suggesting that is me.  How rude.

To add insult to injury, I do not find the photograph under this troublesome caption very inspiring either.  In it, a really old lady in a whippy pastel-striped apron (with no holes or stains, I might add) holds her right hand around her granddaughter (perhaps this is an imposter too--they are both smiling; the grandma obviously wears dentures) as the child bastes a turkey under Granny's careful tutelage and obvious approval.

There are several things wrong with this picture.  The turkey is brown and obviously done, so why is any basting going on at this point?  Also, if the turkey has just been removed from the oven, as the photo implies, then the granddaughter's arm is entirely too close to the hot pan.  An inch closer and I'll bet she won't be smiling anymore as she and Granny both make a mad dash for the aloe vera.

Furthermore, the child's hair is tied back and not hanging down into the stuffing.  This is unrealistic.  The grandmother is holding the dish of melted butter, when any self-respecting granddaughter would nag appropriately until she could hold this herself.  Finally, I find it odd that neither person is wearing an oven mitt.  Nope, this picture is just not ringing true with me.

Therefore, I must extend a vigorous thumbs-down to the Lifeway Press, thoughtless publisher of this bulletin cover travesty.  If they were trying to start my day with a scripture and photo imbued with pleasantry and inspiration, well, that didn't happen.  Someone there had better bring this up at their next committee meeting.

Instead, my heart is racing, my hands are shaking, and I am unsteady on my feet.  How am I ever going to make it around this dratted tree in this condition to play something that sounds even remotely like a Christmas carol?

 Speaking of Christmas Carol, let me just end with a Dickensian take on this whole experience:  Elderly!  Bah Humbug!   

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Red Jacket

I let myself into the back door of the kids' house the other night only to have Pooh meet me in the hallway with great excitement.

"Googie!" he said.  "We got you a jacket!"  It took me just a minute to process this and to supply the missing context.

"Oh," I said.  "You mean you guys got me a jacket for Christmas?" 

"Yes!" he said.  I was catching on fast now, enough so to suspect that Pooh had let a major cat out of a major bag.  But he was looking at me with those irresistible blue eyes virtually sparkling with pleasure, and I couldn't help taking the matter further.

"Oh, that makes me so happy!" I told him.  But this was my chance to learn more, so I asked, "What color is it?"

"Red!" he answered, pleased with himself for making his Googie so happy.   Assuring him that I loved red and that it was my favorite color in the world for a jacket, I whisked him up to eye level for a much-deserved hug. 

"Thank you so much!  I can't wait to see it," I said, setting him down and making my way on into the house with a chuckle and a smirk.  A great moral debate was already taking sides in my head.  Should I tell anyone that he had let me in on the secret of my Christmas present?

Most certainly, his mama would not be happy that he had spoiled the surprise, so maybe I shouldn't rat him out.  I weighed the pros and cons for an hour or so.  Then, when Cookie and I were alone in the living room, I could resist no longer.  At the perfect moment, when I had her undivided attention, I went in for the kill.

"I am so excited about my new red jacket,"  I said very slowly and very deliberately, without ever taking my eyes off her face.  I wanted to see the reaction of every facial muscle.  I wanted to watch her eyeballs bulge and her jaw drop. Yes, it is true:  I have a sadistic streak.

There were three or four seconds of delicious confused silence as she came to a gradual grasp of the situation.  I felt a little mean for setting her up like this, but not mean enough to exclude what I have to admit was utter jubilation.  I had not experienced this much enjoyment at her expense in a long time.  Ultimately we laughed, and another funny, sweet chapter went down in our book of family Christmas stories.

Later, as I was getting ready to leave for home, Cookie gathered up a boxful of wrapped presents for me to take so that they wouldn't have quite so much to bring to my house on Christmas Day.  Shoving one particular gift at me, she said, "Here's your red jacket."  We laughed again.

And so the red jacket sits under my Christmas tree, tempting me with each new day to unstick just one end of giftwrap and steal the tiniest of peeks.  What could it hurt?  After all, I already know what it is.  What's more, today was quite brisk, and a new jacket would have felt pretty good.

But no--I think I will wait until Pooh is here to watch me unwrap it.  I want him to see me try it on for the first time.  It is our secret, after all.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lost and Found

It is bad enough that Sooby has gone home from her two-day visit and the house is unnaturally quiet and boring.  However, that sad fact is nothing compared to the devastating discovery I happen upon shortly after her departure: Baby Jesus has gone missing.

Yes, the little stable I set up for the kids to play with down by the Christmas tree is minus its star player.  The three kings stand there holding out their gifts in vain.  After all, even a sage known for his wisdom is lost at the prospect of a full jar of frankincense and no one to give it to.  Mary holds up her hands in wonder at the empty space between her and Joseph where the object of their mutual admiration so recently lay.  Only the cow and the donkey seem relatively unaffected as they occupy their spots on either side of the little creche.

I look everywhere I can think of to find the missing baby.  I carefully study the spaces between the branches of the Christmas tree lest he be lodged somewhere next to a candy cane.  I shine a flashlight underneath the living room couch and chair to discover only three Lite-Brite pegs and a handful of Hi-Ho crumbs.  I empty the plastic tub of stuffed Dalmatian puppies to find only two objects out of place among them: a Miss Piggy doll and the Golden Book story of The Nutcracker.  I am distressed to say the least.

The day wears on, however, and I more or less forget that Baby Jesus has gone AWOL.  I do some shopping and wrap a present or two.   Later, walking by my bathroom, I notice a fragment of color on the floor just behind the door.  Thinking that a washcloth has dropped from the rack above, I stoop down to retrieve it--only to find Baby Jesus himself, complete with swaddling clothes and manger, nestled there instead.  I smile as I pick him up and return him to his rightful place between Mary and Joseph.  Cancel the Amber Alert.  The baby has been found safe.  The nativity set is whole again.

I later learned that Baby Jesus' relocation to the upstairs bathroom had been aided and abetted by Sooby.  Apparently, she had carried him upstairs with her and placed him on the floor, only to become distracted and forget she had done that.

I find a lesson in this for myself and perhaps for you as well:  Should any of us misplace Baby Jesus amid the distractions of the season, He will wait patiently to be re-discovered.  Just don't be surprised if you encounter Him in some unusual place where you might never have thought to look.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Have Yourself an Interactive Little Christmas

Over the years I have tried to streamline the Christmas decorating process with a variety of themes and approaches.  During several of those time-challenged teaching-school-while-raising-kids years, I decorated the tree with only plastic apples and candy canes.  Last year, spurred on by the luxury of retirement, I went for nostalgia, getting out many of the old family ornaments we hadn't seen for a while along with the stocking used to present Baby Teebo to me on Christmas morning 1985.  (This settled the issue once and for all: storks do not bring babies; nurses do.)

After the kids were older, I mustered the courage to display tradition-rich, elegant (read: breakable) items like a glass nativity and a musical ceramic St. Nicholas.  But with Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie scheduled to arrive on Christmas Day, I will need to play down the elegance and probably the nostalgia.  One look at my house this year and you can easily figure out that my theme is "interactive."

"Interactive" means that the kids--a baby, a toddler, and a preschooler--will be able to experience my decorations up close and personal.  They can touch and rearrange however they wish.  This year, my decorations look a lot like toys.  Here are some of the things they can look forward to:
  • a homemade felt board on which they can place felt cutouts of Santa, his reindeer, his sleigh, his bag, and a number of toys.
  • a "stable" (garage sale--25 cents) that is just the right size for positioning plastic figures of Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the three wise men, a donkey and a cow.  This particular stable has two levels, so if Baby Jesus gets cold, he can be moved upstairs (heat rises?).  Or, if the donkey and cow need to come in and warm up, they can claim a spot by intimidating the three wise men.
  • two Beanie Kid dolls (Chip and Boomer) dressed as Santa Claus and an elf.  These elaborate costumes (garage sale--$1 each) include hats, a beard for Santa, full suit, shoes or boots, and a bag of toys that attaches to Santa's wrist with a rubber band.  Chip and Boomer can practice a little role reversal here while the kids hone their fine motor skills by dressing and undressing them numerous times.  And what fun it might be to mix up the costumes?  Santa wearing elf shoes!  An elf with a beard!  The combinations are endless.
  • a set of red and green painted wooden blocks with letters much like the ones we all played with as kids ourselves.  Except, this set consists of seven blocks, with which you can spell "Noel" or "Joy."  I am seeing the potential for a spelling explosion here, as we mix up these blocks to make words like loon, loo (maybe not), and lyeOne, on, and no.  I imagine I will use that last word a lot.
Besides these, there are musical ornaments (Sooby has done much dancing to "Up on the Housetop" in past years.); shelves of Christmas storybooks; and the usual holiday movies starring the likes of Charlie Brown, Garfield, and the Muppets.  However, I am really looking forward to those less usual hands-on activities made possible by my new decorating scheme. 

Christmas calls for a more or less immersion in the symbols, stories, and traditions of this most wonderful time of the year.  This year, I am expecting the kids to revel in it up to their elbows, and, if these ideas run their course--well--there are always all those possibilities afforded by a good batch of homemade sugar cookie dough, a bowl of icing, and a shaker of sprinkles.  Capitalizing as it does on all five senses, that is about as interactive as you can get.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Googie Goes Skyperactive

When it comes to being Googie, there are a thousand good things to every one that may not be so good.  Of those, the worst for me have to be those rare occasions when the time between grandkid visits stretches past three and a half weeks.  Luckily, in the nearly four and a half years since Sooby was born and made me Googie, this has happened only twice.

However, this last seemingly interminable span, relieved only by the long-awaited Thanksgiving visit, nearly did me in.  That is when I threw my arms into the air and, tearing my hair and rending my garments in ultimate desperation, invoked the mercy of the technology gods.  In other words, I bought a web cam and downloaded Skype.

Nothing rivals the joy I felt when I executed the download successfully.  There they were--Sooby, Pooh, Bootsie, and their mother--looking back at me from my computer screen as though they were perched right there atop my desk.  Their little voices were as clear as bells, and I think they were almost as excited as I was to be a part of this technological miracle.

Their first inclination was to entertain me.  "Watch this, Googie," Sooby said, waving her arms frantically as I oohed and aahed appropriately.  "Watch this, Googie," Pooh chimed in as his little fingers stretched his mouth as far sideways as it would go.  Then, Sooby had to try the same thing, varying the effect sightly by sticking out her tongue.  Bootsie just watched, amazed by it all.

Next, Pooh wanted to show me his Dalmatian suit.  So I looked on patiently as he stripped down to his diaper and stepped into a furry white get-up with black spots.  "Well, hello there, Pongo," I said, "but let's just talk to each other for a while, want to?"

"OK," said Sooby, but she didn't quite catch my drift.  "Can you read I Love You, Stinky Face?"

First let me say that I love You, Stinky Face is a children's book wonderfully written by Lisa McCourt and exquisitely illustrated by Cyd Moore.  It is about a little boy who wonders if his mother would still love him in the event he were a dinosaur whose sharp claws shredded the bed sheets; an ugly one-eyed Cyclops; or, as the title suggests, a smelly skunk.

As only a mother can, she assures him that she would love him no matter what and would make any accommodation within her power to be near him and take care of him at any cost.  For example, at one point in the story, the child asks, "But, Mama, but, Mama, what if I were an alligator with big, sharp teeth that could bite your head off?"

"Then I would buy you a bigger toothbrush for your big teeth and make sure that you brushed them every night so they'd stay healthy and strong," the mother replies.  "And if you had a sore throat, I would stick my head right inside your enormous jaws to make sure you were okay, and I would say, 'I love you, my ferocious alligator.'" 

The kids love this story and its imaginative drawings, so sharing it with them on Skype involves a back-and-forth process of reading a page and then trying to maneuver its picture so that the web cam can focus on it and relay it to the kids waiting on the other side of this marvelous process.  It takes a little practice on my part and a little patience on theirs, but the result is wholly satisfactory, as I experience the joy of reading a book to my grandchildren from some 180 miles away.

"Can you watch them for about four hours?" Cookie jokes.  "You can just call me if something goes wrong."  I chuckle at this possibility before we say our goodbyes for this session.

They ring off and I smile to myself.  I can see that it will be easy for me to develop a skyperactivity disorder of the most serious kind.  I will have trouble focusing on housework until we skype.  I will have trouble sitting still.  I will leave the salt out of the meatloaf.  My mind will wander who knows where.  For instance, it might conjure a conversation such as this:

"But, Googie, but, Googie, what if we grow computers for hands and light up so bright at night that you can't sleep?"

"Then I will get a new pair of sunglasses so your shining lights won't hurt my eyes, and I will knit you some huge mittens so your computer hands won't get cold in the winter."

Our conversation would end much as McCourt's book itself does:

"We love you, Googie."

"And I love you, my wonderful children."

Yep, I am officially skyperactive.  I prefer to think of it as my own personal Stinky Face miracle.