Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Sheep in the Jeep

Sooby is into rhyming.  She loves for me to give her a word and ask her to come up with another word that rhymes with it.  It comes as no surprise, then, that last night, the bedtime story of choice was Dr. Seuss's beloved The Cat in the Hat.  When it comes to rhyme that wraps itself around an imaginative story line and tickles the ear of the typical preschooler, no one does it like Dr. Seuss.

However, in that precious interval of time that stretches itself between the reading and the tucking in, we took time to contemplate various other animals that Dr. Seuss might have chosen to write about instead of the mischievous cat in the red-and-white-striped stovepipe hat.  A goat in a coat?  Nah.  A pig in a wig?  We didn't think so.  A duck in a truck?  No, none of those seemed to be likely candidates.  But a sheep in a jeep?  In that one we saw potential.  It might go something like this:

        The Sheep in the Jeep

Since Mom wouldn't be home
'Til quarter past two,
Sally and I couldn't
Think what to do.

Then from the front door
We heard, "Beep, beep, beep!"
Until, crashing right through,
Came a sheep in a jeep!

How he splintered the wood
When he tore through the door!
How the tracks of his tires
Left black lines on the floor!

The motor would groan;
The transmission would whir,
And he left the room littered
With tufts of his fur.

He zoomed through the room.
He drove right up the couch,
Hit the floor upside down;
Then, that sheep bleated, "Ouch!"

He careened down the hallway,
And bounced off the walls;
Turned the sink in the bath
To Niagara Falls!

He drove up the curtain
And smudged up the glass.
Then he belched and the scent
Of his breath smelled like grass.

I hollered, "Whoa, you!"
And Sally said, "Hey!"
And our fish drew a deep breath,
Then fainted away.

Our fish was afraid
That our mom would take fright
When she looked at the mess
The sheep made in one night.

But this sheep was a smart one.
He carried in back
Of his jeep a big box.
In the box was a sack.

In the sack was a paintbrush
And putty and paste.
He put things back together
In admirable haste.

He laundered the curtains.
He ironed the lace.
He put all the stuff
He messed up back in place.

So all appeared normal
As Mom neared the door:
No sign of the jeep
And no fleece on the floor,

Not a thing out of place,
Not an object he broke,
And just at the right time
Our fishy awoke.

When Mom asked what kind
Of a time we had had,
I winked right at Sally
And said, "Not too b-a-a-a-d."


Tho' The Cat in the Hat
Surely no one can equal--
The Sheep in the Jeep
Makes a good enough sequel!


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conversations of the Heart

With Valentine's Day just past, I am reminded once again why I get such a kick out of it in spite of its frivolous, largely commerical nature.  It is because of "Sweethearts" conversation hearts.

Who can resist these tiny, colorful morsels of sweetness?  Certainly not me.  But I love them not so much for their various fruit flavors as for the little sayings they sport in red capital letters.  I marvel at the imagination it takes to come up with new two-line messages some machine can print on tiny candies with less surface area than a half square inch.

To my delight, Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie share my affinity for these magical little specimens of verbiage.  So for a recent day trip to visit them, I took along three boxes of Sweethearts and waited until my last half hour or so with them to break them out.  In this way, I could leave any less desirable effects wrought by excess sugar to be enjoyed by their parents while I was innocently negotiating the three-hour drive home.

In order to be able to savor the experience a little longer, I made them hand me each heart before they ate it so that I could read what it said.  About mid-box, I said to Sooby, "Just think--next year you'll be in kindergarten and you will probably be able to read these yourself."  I could see her contemplating this as a sticky forefinger dove in to retrieve her next bite.  Intently, she studied an orange heart, and then announced, "This one says, "GO GO GO."  She caught me off-guard with this.  I was even more surprised to see that she was right. 

To my knowledge, this was Sooby's first time to actually read something.  Since then, her mama says she has been reading other things too.  It thrills me to see her take this rudimentary key and begin to unlock for herself the rich world of written language.  I feel blessed to have been with her at this moment of epiphany.

On the drive home I absent-mindedly put a hand in my windbreaker pocket to find that a single stray heart had ended up there.  While waiting at a stoplight, I checked it out.  "MISS YOU," it read.  It was true--I missed the kids already.  But as I drove on, I began to wonder about my next visit.  Would I still be the official bedtime story reader, or would I have help?  It will be fun to find out.  Meanwhile, I let the "MISS YOU" morsel melt on my tongue, thankful once more for these tiny conversations of the heart.   

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Alone in the Dark

When Sooby and Pooh spend the night at my house, we have a bedtime ritual.  As soon as the jammies are on and the teeth are brushed, we hop up on the daybed in their room with a stack of books.  Once we have navigated those, some more than once, we sing.  By the time the concert is over, my eyelids are usually hanging down around my knees--but I am not home free yet.  At this point, a little voice will invariably ask, "Can we play 'Alone in the Dark'"?

I can't remember exactly how or why Sooby and I started doing this some two and a half years ago.  But apparently, one night after she and I had finished our night-time rocking chair episode, she scooted down off my lap and trundled over to flip the light switch off, leaving us in pitch blackness on opposite sides of the room.  And apparently, in an attitude of playful but wistful exaggeration, I must have said something like, "Oh, I'm all alone in the dark.  I'm so lonely and scared.  I wish I could find a friend."

What happened next was the most precious thing.  From my spot in the rocker, I held my hands out in the near-silent darkness and waited as, slowly and gingerly, Sooby felt her way across the room, following the sound of my voice.  For ten seconds or so, there was only the sound of her feet brushing against the carpet and her shallow, steady breathing as she inched closer and closer.  When she finally made contact with my outstretched hands, I would scoop her up and snuggle her in, rocking gently until she fell asleep.  We did this many, many times over the next year and a half or so.  Then, about a year ago, Pooh outgrew the porta-crib in the adjoining bedroom and graduated into the toddler bed in Sooby's room.

At first, Pooh had a little trouble with the concept of "Alone in the Dark."  At the point where I would dramatically lament my loneliness and anguish, his first inclination was to run over and turn the light back on.  He did not want his googie to be sad and lonely, and he knew how to fix the problem.  Of course, this irritated Sooby to no end.

However, practice and patience persevered, and Pooh eventually caught on to the routine.  Although he sometimes turns the light on out of pure orneriness just to hear his sister holler, I usually have two little friends heading toward me when I am all alone in the dark.  This does not happen without occasional complications. While they sometimes run into one another accidentally, they have at other times tried to mow each other down in an effort to be the first one to make it over to where I am.  This, I have found, is somewhat detrimental to the game's enjoyment.  For the record, "Alone in the Dark" is a game that is most effective when there are only two players and when one of those players is me.

These days, after a round or two of "Alone in the Dark," I tuck Sooby and Pooh into their separate beds and say goodnight.  By then I am pretty well ragged and worn.  I head to my own bed where, after a full, busy day of kid patrol, being alone in the dark is not all that bad.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

All Abuzz

Last week, Buzz Lightyear looked more dejected than he did when Andy left for college.  There he lay, on a crowded shelf of used toys at a local thrift shop, just waiting for someone to switch him on and push his buttons to initiate some amazing intergalactic conversation. Take heart, Ranger.  Captain Googie to the rescue. 

It didn't require the activation of too many systems before I realized that this was no ordinary Buzz.  Push a red button on his chest and his wings pop out, complete with flashing lights, red on the starboard side and green on the port.  Push the red button on his sleeve and his laser flashes into action.  Open his helmet and you get an interplanetary tongue-lashing:  "How dare you open a spaceman's helmet in uncharted space!"  Several other buttons located here and there on his space suit provide the impetus for an unbelievable number of other Buzzisms, including the famous "To infinity--and beyond!"  He even emits "flying" sound effects when moving in a horizontal position.

With one cursory glance at the $5 price scrawled on the bottom of his boot, I knew that my mission was to buy this Buzz for Pooh.  A later check online confirmed that I had gotten a great deal, with the new version of this same toy going for over $50.  The fact that his batteries still seemed to be going strong made him even more valuable.  Pooh's response when I gave Buzz to him a couple days ago made him priceless. 

It was a day like Andy's birthday in the first Toy Story movie, a day that was all about Buzz.  At one point that afternoon, I had just wrangled 16-month-old Bootsie to the floor for a much-needed diaper change.  As I was rather immersed in this project, I heard a familiar voice from somewhere just behind me.  It was Buzz.  Apparently, Pooh had lifted his helmet, prompting him to say, quite emphatically and appropriately, "I SMELL EVIL."  Well put, Buzz old buddy.  Don't we all.

Funny as this was, however, it didn't come close to what I will refer to here, with apologies to Kmarts everywhere, as "The Blue Light Special."  Our Buzz has a blue button on his dropped-waist belt about where the buckle should be.  Somehow, Pooh got the idea that this must be--uh--how Buzz potties.  So at random times during the day, Buzz would lean over, Pooh would push the blue button, and you would hear something like, "Wheesh.  Whoosh.  Zappa-zappa-zap.  Wheeew."

I tell you, I laughed until tears streamed down my face and the kids asked me why I was crying.  I either have an oddly perverse sense of humor, or I have lived a rather sheltered life.  It's just that I'd never before seen anyone, male or female, go to the bathroom accompanied by flashing blue lights and precisely these kinds of sound effects.

If Pooh's thrift-store Buzz should suddenly stop working forever, he will still be worth the $5 I paid for him many times over.  If he never gives us more than this one full, unforgettable day of imagination and laughter, he will still be the most valuable piece of space junk I have ever encountered.

Thanks, Buzz.  You lit up our day.  Your mission is accomplished.



Monday, February 6, 2012

Googie Opens a Time Capsule

Sometimes I watch my grandkids at sleep or at play and envy the safe, insular nature of the world they know.  The world of simple, repetitious melodies and of glamorous, heroic storybook characters.  A world where the house is warm; the pillows are soft; there is always ice cream in the freezer; and some trusted, loving adult is never more than a holler away.

These are children who, unlike too many in the world at large, are blessed beyond measure, and they are too young to know it.  Too young to realize that elsewhere, even in our own country, some kids go to bed cold and hungry or struggle to survive against a backdrop of turmoil and violence.  Unbeknowst to them, my grandchildren are spoiled by the luxury of the middle-class American comfort they were born into--and that nearly sixty years ago, in 1952, I myself was born into.

When I think about these things, I can't help wondering at what point they will become aware of that larger world that spins crazily just beyond a playroom full of toys and a shelf of Disney movies.  What will be the national or global events that will worm their way into the complacency of their childhood, impress themselves upon their psyches, and shape their worldviews?

I think about what those events were for me, a child growing up in the '60s.  If I were to pick the three most likely to have left a lasting impression on me, they would be, in chronological order,
  • the Cuban Missile Crisis of October, 1962;
  • the John F. Kennedy assassination on November 22, 1963; 
  • the first appearance of the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964.
All three of these events played out on the world stage when I was what some people call today, a "tween."  I was at that time a gawky pre-pubescent girl who lived for the opportunity to outrun yet another boy on the playground after school.  Later, when I discovered I wanted boys to like me, I found that this worked against me.  But for the most part, I enjoyed a comfortable, sheltered life where I walked home from school for lunch every day to eat Campbell's soup in the company of my mom and little brother.  Life was "M-m-m good" in pretty much every way.

Then, in what seemed like overnight, the Cuban Missile Crisis came along and scared the bejesus out of me.  Everyone was talking about nuclear bombs.  Missile silos were dug into the countryside around our little town, and the ominous yellow graphic denoting a "fallout shelter" went up at the Crown Drug Store downtown.  At school we practiced getting under our desks and putting our arms over our heads as  civil defense sirens shrieked out frequent test runs.  To this day, I have never been more frightened.  I did not want to die without the chance to grow up first.

When tensions between the U.S. and Russia subsided, life resumed a near normalcy.  President Kennedy had stood up to Kruschev, and the missiles would be removed from nearby Cuba.  Then, one afternoon in the middle of sixth-grade social studies, we got the word that the President had been shot.  Minutes later came the word that he had died.  It was November 22, 1963, my mother's 39th birthday.

There is black and white TV footage from that week that is indelibly printed in my mind.  The motorcade snaking through downtown Dallas.  The waving.  The smiling white teeth.  The pillbox hat.  The shots.  The slumping.  The flag-draped casket.  The horse-drawn caisson.  That eternally beating drum.  John-John in that little coat holding that tiny flag.  The grimace of pain on Oswald's face. 

Years later, when I visited Dealey Plaza in person, I could not fathom its utter smallness.  I had expected it to be somehow huge, like the event birthed there.  But the street was narrow, the second-story window tiny, and the grassy knoll a mere bump. These things may have appeared muted in real life, but in the soul of me they had transcended all physical proportions. 

I have often wondered if other children of the '60s were affected by these events to the extent that I was.  They changed the way I looked at the world, replacing my cockeyed optimism (to borrow a phrase from South Pacific) with a new reality that seemed a lot less secure.  There were people who wanted to kill each other, and no one was safe.

Therefore, when John, Paul, George, and Ringo hit the airwaves on Ed Sullivan later that school year, they crooned their tunes to a troubled and disillusioned audience of tweens and teens hungry for their simple harmonies and love-imbued lyrics.  The fact that all the adults hated their haircuts (which seem pretty tame these days) made them even more attractive.  It was easy to get caught up in the crazed frenzy of their audiences. 

I, for one, got into Beatlemania in a serious way.  I plastered Beatles posters over every inch of my bedroom wall and saved up my allowance to buy every record they released.  When I was a freshman, the four lads from Liverpool were the subject of my first official research paper.  To this day, "Let It Be" remains one of my three favorite songs of all time.

Certainly there were other world-rocking events that must have affected children before and after me with a similar gravity.  But these were the things of a global nature that took me to new emotional depths and heights.  They were pretty momentous influences for a kid ten or eleven years old. 

And so, I wonder what the years ahead hold for my grandbabies, the three that are already here and the two on the way.  I wish I could shield them from the fear and sadness, but I know I can't.  Those are unavoidable realities of this world.

But, by golly, I know the entire Beatles repertoire by heart.  Give me a couple kids and a rocking chair, and I'll bet that in five minutes I can have them convinced that all they need is love.              



Thursday, February 2, 2012

Special Delivery: For Pooh's Third Birthday

Dear Pooh:

Well, dear little boy, we have made it through the terrible twos.  For the most part, they weren't so terrible.  Not that you can't have an occasional tantrum when you don't get your way or when your idea of what it means to "share" doesn't match everyone else's.  But now that you have to hold up three fingers to show your age and have officially ordered your Batman cake, I expect that the little fits will become fewer and farther between as you move officially from a toddler to a bonafide little boy.  Just like Pinocchio.  A real boy.  

You came into our lives three years ago today, our own little groundhog, our own little Punxutawney Pooh.  Our own little blue glowworm, since you had to sleep with that phototherapy light under your gown to break down the high levels of bilirubin that made you jaundiced.  But it wasn't long before you were a happy, healthy baby, giving Googie an actual smile up in the bedroom here before you were quite six weeks old.  You have been flashing that killer smile ever since.

The fact that you are no bigger than a minute adds to your undeniable charm.  While your sisters are at the top of the growth charts for their ages, you remain small.  This makes you especially holdable and rockable, although of late your legs have finally begun to accrue a length that makes them capable of actually dangling.  You seem to have outgrown the chronic ear infections that made last winter so miserable for you (and for us).  This and the fact that you potty-trained yourself just so that you could wear your new Batman underwear are definitely moves in the right direction.

Despite your position as the filling of what is basically a sister sandwich, you are all boy.  Although the girls can sometimes entice you to play with the Barbies, you are pretty much a Buzz Lightyear and foam dart gun kind of guy.  You are further captivated by any toy that sports a set of wheels. 

I love your penchant for drama.  You do a great imitation of Horace in 101 Dalmatians, and your role as a crazed, homicidal mouse in The Nutcracker is unequalled in the history of stage and screen.  You love the bad guys in all our Disney movies, notably the evil Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty and, of course, the infamous red-gloved, piebald-haired Cruella De Vil.  I guess someone has to sympathize with the underdog.

Your mama told me a cute story while ago.  She said you got up this morning, looked in the mirror, and burst into tears.  She was puzzled, unable to imagine what could be possibly be wrong so early on your birthday morning.  Come to find out, you were disappointed because, when you saw your reflection in the mirror, you were "still little."  I guess you thought that turning three would make a big, overnight difference in your appearance.

Dear little Pooh, please don't be sad today of all days.  You look great in your new plaid Carhartt work shirt.  Today we rejoice in the blessing you have been to us for the last three years.  You will grow up all too soon.  For now, just look forward to your Batman cake.  Follow your plan to eat Batman's face, while you generously allow Sooby a boot.  This is YOUR birthday, and that is entirely fair. 

We will also remember this as the day we all found out that, come summer, you are going to have a new brother.  But that will be another celebration, another time.  One of these days, I will have to think of a new blog name that begins with "Z."

But this day belongs to you alone.  Be happy, little guy, and, most of all, know that it's okay to be your sweet little self.