Thursday, March 29, 2012

On "Wonderment"

Let me begin with a little poem inspired by Beenie's arrival last week on the first day of spring.  And then, if you are so inclined, permit me to talk about it a little bit.  Forgive me, but I am in the mood to trip on that wonderful creative process that takes place when a writer gives birth to a poem such as this one.  I hope you will enjoy coming along.


Sunlight slants strangely
against the north fence
today as faint scents
of lilac ride the air;

and that woodpecker
hammering vibrations
down the furnace pipe--
how long has he been there?

Have tulip petals always felt
of velvet?  Have they always smelt
of rain, and daffodils of earth?
Are strawberries sweeter this year?

Have I changed somehow?
Does some new miracle
surge within me now
that you are here?

That's it.  Four four-line stanzas that move from a basic observation to a series of questions that lead the poet to contemplate changes perceived both in the natural world and internally in response to the coming and influence of someone special.  But I totter on the verge of growing too technical here, so let me regroup. 

What I tried to achieve here is a simple love lyric that avoids the pitfall of triteness.  Athough it is specifically about the birth of my grandson, it wouldn't have to be.  For others, it could work just as easily in reference to any significant person who enters their life and changes their outlook for the better.  Hopefully, this gives the piece universality; that is, meaning for a variety of people in a variety of circumstances.  Depending on the situation, the "you" of Line 16 could be, among other things, a lover, a friend, or a long-lost relative just as easily as a new child or grandchild.

I have tried to avoid a sing-song texture by varying linear meter and making the rhyme irregular, subtle, and unobtrusive.  For example, if you look at the end words of the lines, you will find ten of the sixteen lines rhyming with another, but only randomly.  This, plus the other sound devices of alliteration (repeated initial consonant sounds in neighboring words) and assonance (repeated vowel sounds), should enhance the fluidity and the auditory interest of the piece when read aloud.

Finally, just a brief comment on imagery--the use of words that evoke the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.  You should find references to all of these in the poems's first three stanzas, with Stanza 3 being the richest.  The concreteness afforded by this imagery sets the stage for the more abstract inner change ending the poem in Stanza 4.  Because imagery is based on sensory experiences shared and thus understood by human beings, poets depend on it to recreate feelings that readers can identify with.  In this piece, because of its timing and occasion, all the imagery is spring-related.

Enough.  If you have made it to this point, thanks for sticking with me.  I hope the short analysis helps you better understand and appreciate "Wonderment." 

When I was thinking about starting a blog a year ago, one of the topics I considered was poetry because I love it so much.  But in the end, I decided to base it on the grandkids because I love them more.  But upon occasion, a piece like this allows me to indulge my love for both.  That, my friends, is about as good as it gets.   


Monday, March 26, 2012

Sooby in Shin Guards

Sooby met her first day of soccer practice with considerable apprehension.  "I will never be able to kick the ball that high," she lamented.  "It's just too far."  Turns out, she was imagining a field with basketball goals at each end.  She knew it was against the rules to use her hands, and she just couldn't imagine booting a ball high enough to make a basket.

Soccer is a game we know well in this family.  Son Teebo began playing when he was seven and pretty much dribbled his way through his childhood years and into four years of high school and traveling ball.  Generally his job was to sweep the backfield, the final line of defense before the goalie.  It was a position he relished for its crashes and clashes and overall general mayhem.  Hopefully, Sooby and her four-to-six-year-old teammates won't display this level of competitive killer instinct.

Taught judiciously in the early years, the game of soccer, it would seem, offers some important life lessons.  Here are the ones I hope Sooby learns, at least for now:
  1. Run through the grass every chance you get.
  2. If you get tired, sit on the bench for a while.
  3. Keep your hands where they're supposed to be.
  4. Keep the ball under control.
  5. If you get in a bind, pass the ball off to a teammate.
  6. If your teammate gets in trouble, help her out.
  7. Watch for loose balls: these are opportunities.
  8. Keep an eye on the goal ahead; try not to get sidetracked.
  9. If you miss your goal, try again.  It is hard to hit for a reason.
  10. Adapt your strategy when others try to keep you from making your goal.
  11. Remember to use your head.
  12. Try not to trip anyone.
  13. If you fall down, get back up.
  14. If you get dirty, don't worry; mud washes off.
  15. Stop when you hear a whistle.
  16. Yellow and red cards may be pretty, but try to pass them up.
  17. Don't kick anyone on purpose, especially people dressed like zebras.
These are lessons that, with only slight modifications, should serve little soccer players well as they begin their school years.  I am looking forward to watching Sooby run carefree down the field in her little red shin guards.  If she happens to do that with a ball in the immediate vicinity, then all the better.  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Transformative Years

We hear a lot from the field of psychology about the "formative years"--that magical period of early childhood when, supposedly, kids are molded in ways that create permanent effects on their psyches and their personalities.  This notion touts each new mind as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, to be shaped or "written on" with only the utmost care by those of us who aspire to be parents and teachers. 

Since a brand-spanking new Big Chief tablet imposes more responsibility than most of us feel capable of taking on anyway, I wish to propose an alternative to this long-held philosophy.  I submit that, rather than formative, early childhood consists of transformative years, and it is the kids rather than the adults around them who put the writing on the wall.

The idea of transformation is certainly no newbie to most of the kids I know and love.  Sooby, for instance, is an expert on the subject.  She earned that credential at the ripe old age of two, when she began to study The Document of Cinderella and The Treatise of the Wizard.  Many times now, Sooby has watched as the bicycle-pumping Miss Gulch turns into the Wicked Witch of the West amid a cloud of swirling debris just outside Dorothy's window.  She knows what a fairy godmother can do with a few friendly mice and a pumpkin patch when Cinderella really, really wants to go to the ball.

Pooh, too, understands transformation, whether it involves Clark Kent emerging from the phone booth as Superman or Bruce Wayne assuming his crime-fighting persona as Batman.  He loves to play-act, and often transforms himself into Horace the dog thief in 101 Dalmatians or the wicked Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty.  It is nothing for a plastic tote to morph into a boat or a bulging pillowcase to become Santa's bag of toys.   

However, in spite of the transformational prowess of my two older grandkids, I would have to give the prize of the moment, hands down, to little Beenie.  In just two days, he has sucessfully transformed every room of the house where he lives.  It no longer looks like the house where two young professionals, married two years come July, set up housekeeping in their starter home about a year ago.  Oh, the nice new furniture is still there, and nothing it missing.  But it is what has been added of late that constitutes transformation in its truest sense.

No room is unaffected by the fact that Beenie has arrived and set up shop.  A pack 'n' play occupies former dead space in the family room, and a high chair snuggles up to the kitchen table.  Most dramatically, a small third bedroom has been transformed into a nursery.  Elsewhere around the house, a bottle sits here, and a burp rag sprawls there.  Here lie some blankets; there is a binky.  The decor of the house cries out in joy that a baby lives there.  In one skillful swoop, Beenie has taken over his house and commandeered our hearts.

The formative years, I have concluded, are an illusion and a joke.  The slates to be written on are ours.  Sooby, Pooh, Bootsie, and now Beenie grasp the implements of writing in their tight little fists.  Write away, kids.  The stories you will pen are precious.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Trifecta

As I begin to write this, it is 11:50 p.m. on March 20, 2012.  I wanted it to post on that date, but I realize I am most likely going to miss it by minutes.  That is OK, because March 20 has been a trifecta.  For me, there has never been and likely never will be a day quite like this one.  Therefore, I will savor these last few minutes even as the clock ticks its way past midnight and I type away.

I like that word--trifecta.  I see that it means "a run of three . . . grand events."  That is the perfect way to describe the day that is just now passing out of my reach.  Here's why.

As you know, it is the first day of spring.  Although it has been a rainy day here in my neck of the woods, there is always something about the coming of spring that suggests newness, freshness, and promise.  Everyone's grass is taking on that vibrant spring hue. The air is warm, and the landscape bursts with redbuds.  The whole outdoors sings with expectation.

It was thirty-one years ago today that Pa-pa and I got married on this first day of spring.  I realize that it may not be every young couple's dream to get married on their lunch hour, but we did just that.  He pulled his best man away from his potato planting, and I surprised my matron of honor with a phone call just as she was settling into an otherwise routine workday at J.C. Penney's.  "Do you have plans for lunch?" we asked them both.  Instead of what they had planned to do that day, they watched the two of us step out in the hope of a bright future together.  The rest is a rich history that came to include two children and three grandchildren.

Until tonight, that is.  Tonight we welcomed Beenie into our world.  After giving his mama a good night's work, our fourth grandchild came a week early to celebrate our anniversary with us.  He weighed 8 pounds and 4 ounces, and was 20 1/2 inches long.  He arrived at 10:18 p.m., which is why I am officially a day behind with his birth announcement.  I just got home from the hospital and I am falling-down exhausted, but this is a story that has to be told now.

Beenie is a healthy, beautiful little boy.  I can't wait to hold him tomorrow, or, I guess I should say, later today.  I am anxious to rub the soft, dark hair and touch those tiny, slim fingers.  I want to breathe in the sweet scent of him and tell him I love him.  He has to know that he has a Googie, and she has plans for him.

If you know me personally or if you have followed this blog long, you know that we lost my dad to lung cancer last September.  The winter has been long.  But with the day just past, spring has arrived.  We celebrate our marriage, and we welcome another grandchild.  What a day this has been!  It has reinforced for me how, in the midst of the turmoil and unrest that make up this world and the pain that so often accompanies this life, there is, after all, hope. 

Life renews itself in spite of it all.  It always has.  Sometimes it takes a trifecta to remind this old Googie of that, and I rejoice.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Back to Saginaw

Traditionally, the car trip from the ski slopes of Colorado back to mid-Missouri doesn't involve a side trip through Saginaw, Michigan.  But the route Pa-pa and I took a couple weeks ago did just that--if not literally, then figuratively--by way of the 1964 country hit of that name by the late, great Lefty Frizzell.

When the gentle familiarity of the ballad washed back over me verse by verse, I was surprised to realize that I could sing every single word along with the radio.  Although I had not even thought about "Saginaw, Michigan" in years, Lefty and his guitar gently coaxed the song's long-forgotten-about lyrics from the deep recesses of the mysteriously amazing receptacle of treasure that is the human brain.

I did not miss a lick, and it was a good key for me if I do say so myself.  For those three minutes or so, it was just me and Lefty, bemoaning the misfortune of a poor fisherman's son and his unrequited love for the daughter of a rich man who vowed to keep them apart.  (If you have heard the song, you know that young love triumphs when the young man fakes a successful strike during the Alaskan gold rush,  then sells the old curmudgeon his worthless claim.)

"Saginaw, Michigan" was Frizzell's last Number 1 hit, topping the country charts in 1964, the year I was twelve.  Back then, my music collection consisted of stacks of 45-rpm records recycled from the juke box at Chuck's Cafe, a small neighborhood grill and coffee shop located just around the corner from my dad's mechanic shop.

Back then, I lived for the three or four days every year when Chuck updated his juke box.  That meant Dad would come home for lunch with a special parcel for me.  Joyfully, I would shuffle through a whole repertoire of new records to place one at a time onto my little suitcase-style turntable and watch, mesmerized, as the needle bobbed its way across the grooves.  By the time the records got to me, some of them were warped and scratchy, and some of them occasionally skipped or stuck--but to me, in that time and place, the music that spun out of them was no less sweet.

I could not have revisited Saginaw, Michigan, at a better time.  Lately, I have been worrying that I have sung the kids all the songs I know.  I was afraid that I had pretty well exhausted the store of tunes that could be whipped out at a moment's notice to shorten a long car ride or build a magical ladder toward sleep. 

But, thanks to Lefty, the old neurons are charging, and I am remembering a whole genre of country classics from the Chuck's Era.  Many of them, like "Saginaw, Michigan," are the kind of stories-in-song that the kids love.  Even now, I am anticipating the inevitable questions:  "What does klondike mean?"  "How do people find gold?"  "Where is Alaska?"

Just think what I can do with "The Battle of New Orleans" by the inimitable Johnny Horton. Now, there is a lesson in American history and geography for you.  Not to mention Kitty Wells, Jim Reeves, Burl Ives . . . the potential seems endless.

I am glad we were able to take the Saginaw detour on our trip home from the slopes.  It didn't seem out of the way at all.  Instead, it was like being home a little sooner than we had planned.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Switched at Birth

Several mornings ago I was wide awake at 1 a.m.  Following a simple surgical procedure, I was spending the night at my hometown hospital, where the conditions in my room were far from conducive to sleep.

First, my IV machine was emitting an obnoxious series of squawks protesting a little unauthorized air in the line.  Then, in their noble but relentless effort to prevent blood clots, the cuffs velcroed around my legs imitated boa constrictors attached to an air compressor.  If the squeezing sensation wasn't enough to keep me awake, the noise alone could have accomplished the job.  So I was wide awake when I heard the charge nurse take a call from labor and delivery, located just around the corner.  It didn't take much imagination to launch my mind into a fascinating series of what ifs.

Beenie was due to be delivered at this hospital in exactly two weeks.  What if he were to make his appearance a little early and arrive tonight?  The nurse came to rid my line of its excess air and make needed adjustments to all the other tubing.  I closed my eyes to settle back to sleep, but my mind still wanted to play "What if?"

Somewhere in that nebulous state between sleep and total wakefulness, I imagined Beenie's mama and me sitting in wheelchairs just outside my door.  Our ID bracelets showed the same last name, of course, and Beenie was imminent.  Suddenly a young nurse grabbed the handles of my chair, and just like that I was being whisked off to labor and delivery.  The conversation that ensued went something like this:

Googie:  Wait! You've got the wrong person!
Nurse:  No, your bracelet has the right name.  Just try to stay calm.  Take deep breaths.
Googie:  No, look!  I'm not pregnant!  I have boa constrictors on my legs, for heaven's sake!
Nurse:  Now, dear, you're hallucinating.  That's not unusual with a first birth.  Don't worry now.
Googie:  No, really!  You need my daughter-in-law.  She's right back there--

(The wheelchair slams through swinging doors into delivery.  The nurse summons help, and in one fell swoop I am flat on the delivery table.  They begin to strap down my arms.)

Googie:  You guys are making a big mistake here.  I tell you, you have the wrong person!  Look at me! I'm 59 years old!
Nurse: (to other nurses, knowingly)  She's in denial.  We'd better call in a psychologist. (looking down in disbelief at my [somewhat] flat tummy) Ma'am, where is your baby?  What have you done with your baby?  Ma'am, are you aware that you may be charged with a felony?
Googie:  Check Room 112!  You left Beenie there, I swear!
Nurse:  (puzzled)  Beenie?
Googie:  It's a long story--

My eyes flutter open and drift toward the bulletin board identifying this as Room 112.  I am here alone amid the gentle rhythm of the inflating and deflating boas.  The IV machine is behaving itself.  I will be going home tonight, thank goodness.

I am anxious for Beenie to get here--I won't deny that.  But maybe it would be better if he waits until I get out of here first.  Some of those "switched at birth" stories are true, and I don't want to take any chances.     


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Celebrating Chocolate

Last October, when Bootsie celebrated her first birthday, her mama stripped her down to her diaper and put a big hunk of chocolate cake on her high chair tray.  She couldn't believe her eyes.  She looked back and forth among us as if to ask, "I get to eat this?  All by myself?  Right now?  Really?" 

A tentative little finger swept through the icing, and she looked at us again to see if we had changed our minds.  We hadn't.  We had already lit the candle, sung "Happy Birthday," and dipped the ice cream.  It was now time to watch the much-anticipated premier of Baby Meets Chocolate.  A little over five months later, we still smile at the photos and videos that preserve that event for posterity.

This week, I feel a little bit like Bootsie must have felt back then.  On the day before yesterday, "Googie's Attic" turned one year old, and, in my mind at least, there has been a party going on.

Truth is, I am loving every opportunity I have to sit in front of this computer and let the words spill onto the screen.  A project that began a year ago as a lark and an experiment has become a way of life.  For many years I poured myself into what I hope was constructive criticism for students who often struggled to match their words with their ideas.  Now I get to revel for myself in the power of language to touch readers and to create a verbal legacy for my grandkids. 

Of all the blogging emphases I could have chosen, I am so glad I opted to focus on the kids.  There is so much about the awesome experience of being "Googie" to digest, share and preserve.  Better yet, my subject matter continuously renews itself, and I like to think that because I blog about the kids, I am paying more attention to those wonderful little moments that make up our time together.  Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie have provided me no shortage of material--and now we have Beenie and Zoomba on the way.  It is exciting to think that things can continue to get better from here as two more little boys arrive to join our party.

Happy first birthday, "Googie's Attic."  I wish you many more.  As I sit here, words cover my face like chocolate cake, and they taste wonderful.



Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Simplest of Things

I used to think my grandkids were excited to see me when I walked through their back door for one of my daytrip visits.  It is with great humility that I acknowledge the real reason they welcome my arrival: they want to finish my Coke.

Since it is a three-hour drive to their house, I have gotten into the habit of stopping at a McDonald's about an hour from my destination and picking up a large Coke to provide company and solace the rest of the way. I should have been suspicious last time when, strangely and inexplicably, my straw took on the flavor of the chicken nuggets the kids had eaten for lunch.  "Who's been drinking my Coke?" I asked in my best Mama Bear style.  That time, Sooby looked especially guilty.

What followed was a ritual I have come to think of as The Dispensing of the Ice.  This involves removing the lid from the cup, digging out cubes of ice one at a time, putting them on the upside-down lid, and letting the kids take turns picking them off and eating them.  Yesterday, even Bootsie got in the action.  "Bite!" she demanded over and over, and, well, who could resist that? 

When the ritual is properly elongated, it consumes about the first ten minutes of my visit.  Of course, by the time we are through, there are ice cubes melting on the floor and between the cushions of the sofa.  All I can say is, thank goodness you can depend on water to evaporate.

Yesterday, The Dispensing of the Ice was the opening act for Dinosaur Day.  I had taken along a couple dinosaur stories, a dinosaur pinball game, and a box of dominoes that, instead of the usual numbered dots, feature various species of the terrible lizard family.  In no time the kids' vocabulary had expanded to include the likes of stegosaurus, triceratops, and tyrannosaurus rex.  Then, while Pooh and I were engrossed in an especially competitive round of dinosaur pinball (he had just scored an elasmosaurus for 100 points), Sooby disappeared.

She came back with her arms and face covered in white strips that looked like tape.  Upon closer inspection, they proved to be rectangular white adhesive labels from among her mama's school supplies.  Yes, Sooby had transformed herself into a set of dinosaur bones.  She curled up her lips to bare her teeth (which we learned might be as much as six inches long), and there was no question that time had moved backward and a T-rex had landed in our midst.

A cup of ice.  A sheet of labels.  These are the simplest of things.  And yet, somehow, they are the stuff that forges bonds and cements relationships.

The ice melts and the adhesive finally wears off.  But the world of a child's imagination is vast, and the cold, sticky sweetness of a day like this lasts forever.   

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Once Upon a Mountain

You visit the ski slopes of Colorado in early March, and you expect certain pleasures.  You expect the breath-taking scenery of the high country, its firs lined up like soldiers marching up a snowy mountainside.  You anticipate the afternoon sun slanting down on you, delivering its welcome warmth from an azure sky.  You look forward to the back-and-forth schussing of skis through powder as you slice through the brisk air toward the end of your run. 

All that is in the contract when you sign on for a winter ski vacation, and I was not disappointed again this past week.  What I hadn't counted on was the pleasant surprise of riding up the lift with a five-year-old boy named Reid.

When I first saw Reid, he was wearing a ski helmet adorned all over with protruding green felt padded spikes.  He was standing to the side of the lift line with his ski school instructor, watching for a pair of skiers who would have extra space in their chair on the ride up.  Somewhere there underneath our stocking hats and goggles, the instructor must have detected our affinity for small children and our willingness to take on a passenger.  "Can this one go up with you?" he asked us.  "He can get on and off by himself."

As soon as we were airborne, Pa-pa and I were treated to a barrage of questions, information, and advice.  Why weren't we wearing helmets?  Didn't we know those were safer?  Could we lower the foot-rest bar from overhead?  Wouldn't that make sure we didn't fall off?

In the course of the 7.5-minute ride I learned that Reid was looking forward to kindergarten next year and that he had skied about "400,000 times" at "hundreds of different places."  When I told him I had once taught preschool, he wanted to know everything about my classroom.  He wanted to know if I played with the kids, and I told him, "Absolutely."  I told him about Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie, and he told me about his little sister who was three like Pooh.  All too soon we were at the top ready to exit the lift, a maneuver he executed with the style and finesse of a pro despite his short little legs.

Later that afternoon, I came upon a ski school class making its way down the mountain in the usual serpentine fashion.  Near the head of the line, right behind the instructor, I recognized that unmistakeable green spiked helmet.  Reid was controlling his speed in a perfect snowplow.

"Hi, Reid," I called as I went by.  He recognized me and said, "Oh, hi!"

"Hey, Reid, you've got a fan," his instructor commented.

I imagine that charming little boy will grow up to have lots of fans, perhaps among them a couple of pa-pas and whatever it might be that he calls his grandmothers.  Because of him, I couldn't help imagining Sooby and Pooh on skis.

Maybe that will actually happen somewhere down the road.  For now, I will be content to check kids' ski apparel clearance racks.  Those green spikes definitely have a way of winning friends and influencing people.

Monday, March 5, 2012

For Love of the Bear

The three bears aren't about chairs, and beds, and porridge anymore.  The three bears my grandkids know best gather up a rope, a stick, and a flashlight and set out to explore a gigantic, hollow tree just down the winding path from their home.  In this episodic tale employing the simplest of words and the richest of illustrations, these loveable bear siblings couple their meager safety devices with their huge sense of adventure to create a suspense-filled story Sooby and Pooh have loved ever since we first read it together around Halloween.

The name of the book is The Berenstain Bears and The Spooky Old Tree, and I pay this tribute to it on the occasion of the recent death of co-author/illustrator Jan Berenstain at age 88 from complications of a stroke.  Before the death of her husband Stan in 2005, the Berenstains took their teamwork to the drawing table, creating a 50-year-long legacy of their gentle, humorous bear stories for generations of children who cut their literary teeth on their unforgettable characters, words, and pictures.

In this story the bear children find their imaginative tools of defense ineffective as, one by one, they are destroyed or made inaccesible by the forces of danger they encounter within the tree--a ravenous, snapping alligator who clenches the rope away in his sharp, pointed teeth; a battle-axe-bearing suit of armor who expertly splits the stick in half; and the ominous "Great Sleeping Bear," who, very unhappy at the prospect of being disturbed, knocks the flashlight away from the last little bear.  His act of aggression renders the trio defenseless in the dark as they are left with no choice but to scamper for the safety of home.  

An aside: For the record, in our enactments of this story, the role of Great Sleeping Bear (whom Pooh calls "Sleeping Old Bear") has often fallen to me, whereupon I lie in a heap on the floor and pretend to awaken in a rage as the kids crawl over me.  This can hurt.  After we have played the scene several times, I sometimes assume the grouchy, aggressive character of Sleeping Old Bear for the rest of the evening.

You have to admire Stan and Jan Berenstein, who met in art school when they were barely adults themselves, married five years later, and devoted their lives to creating children's art for 60 years.  For their plots, they turned to the antics of their own children; for their themes they chose to reinforce universal family values (

Their formula worked. In their lifetime they saw 300 stories published in 23 languages, with sales reaching 260 million books.  Their respect for young readers shows in the way they were never didactic, never judgmental.  Their trademark style always guided children gently toward enduring truths and universal values (   Certainly, the death of Stan in 2005 and now that of Jan leaves an empty space on the bookshelf that is contemporary children's literature.

For the Berenstain bears who adventure into the spooky old tree, home is a haven where they can return for safety and security, personified by Mother Bear in her white-polka-dotted blue housedress.  The kids get this subtle message:  It is OK to explore beyond the familiar so long as you never lose your sense of home. 


Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Month of Beenie

Today is March 1, and you know what that means, don't you? 

Spring? No, that is still several weeks away, although we have enjoyed the mildest winter in recent memory here in the Midwest.  The fateful Ides of March?  No, Julius.  It is still safe to go to the forum and enjoy maybe one last toga party with Cassius and Brutus.  Easter?  Not that either.  The bunny is not set to hop until April this year.

In our family at least, when we change the calendar page today, we herald the arrival of The Month of Beenie.  Before we turn over another one, our fourth grandchild (and first child of son Teebo and his wife) should be kicking around in a less confined space and exercising his brand new lungs.  The red letter day is March 27.

So, Teebo, you best brace yourself.  If Beenie is anything like you, you should buy stock in a sporting goods business.  If this boy gets the ballgame gene, the toy box needs to contain an ample variety of spherical objects that can be thrown, hit, caught, shot, bounced, dribbled, kicked, and otherwise moved from Point A to Point B.  You should update your tackle box too.  He descends from a long line of fishermen, this boy of yours, not the least of whom was his Great-Grandma Florence.

Now, a word of advice to Beenie's mama:  sleep now.  This may be your last chance to do so for a long, long time.  Take these last few weeks to enjoy an uninterrupted meal with mashed potatoes that are still hot.  And down the road, make a note to yourself to watch what he takes with him to school.  His father had his first-grade picture taken with Alf.  I was the laughingstock of the Christmas card network that year, and I have never really been the same since.

To both of you: your lives are about to change immeasurably.  Your relationship will deepen in a way you could never have imagined.  You will never know a more awesome responsibility that to take this little boy and help him carve out a place for himself in this world.  You won't be able to save him from disappointment and heartache, but you can teach him about the comfort of unconditional love.

This is a most difficult job, but Pa-pa and I are here to help you.  We've been here before.  We have turned over many calendar pages.  We are delighted to see that The Month of Beenie is here.