Monday, July 30, 2012

Remembering Puff

Honah Lee.  Or Honalee, depending on the source you go to for the lyrics to "Puff, the Magic Dragon," a folk rock classic that churned repeatedly through my eight-track tape player some forty years ago.  Peter, Paul, and Mary released that song in 1962, when, according to, it also rose to #2 on the Billboard charts.

However you want to spell it, Honah Lee refers to the imaginary land where a little boy named Jackie Paper "frolicked in the autumn mist" with a big green dragon named "Puff."  If you check it out on YouTube you will learn or be reminded that "Puff" is about the carefree but transient nature of childhood itself.

This week I have revisited the likes of Honah Lee with my grandson Pooh.  On one particular imagination-imbued day in the pool I (quite capably, if I may be so bold) played the role of a crocodile in scaly, sharp-toothed pursuit of Pooh and Pa-pa.  Pooh assumed the role of Sid, the bad kid from Toy Story, and Pa-pa was Sid's pet shark (of course Sid would have a pet SHARK), aptly named "Sharky" (which Pooh, at age three, pronounces like "Shawky").

Doing this must have dredged up from the deep, dark depths of my subconscious, some inkling of the old, familiar song, because that night it found its way into our bedtime repertoire.  Somehow, I remembered every word, stumbling only momentarily over "painted wings and giant rings."  Sometimes I think an old eight-track tape must play continuously in my head, and once in a while something said or happening turns up the volume enough for me to once again catch the lyrics to those old songs I learned many years ago by heart.  This was the case with "Puff."

Pooh fell asleep on my lap right about the time Puff "sadly slipped into his cave."  How ironic, I thought, looking down at Pooh's legs, finally growing long enough to dangle floorward off my knees.  This was likely to be one of the last times I would get to rock him to sleep.  He is quickly outgrowing my lap.  "One gray night," not too long from now, he will be too big for me to rock.

Not that my lap is about to be empty.  After all, Pooh has an almost-two-year-old sister, a five-week old brother and a four-month-old cousin who are lining up to keep the spot occupied for the next several years.  I'm not worried about empty lap syndrome just yet.

But I will dearly miss this particular little boy.  As Peter, Paul, and Mary tell us, "A dragon lives forever but not so little boys."  Like little Jackie Paper, Pooh will move on to "other toys" that don't involve Googie's lap and this precious bedtime ritual of ours.

When that happens, a few "green scales [may fall] like rain" once again.  But wait a minute--I'm not a dragon; I am a crocodile.  There are some glorious late summer days left.  Sid and Sharky had better just keep their guard up.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Playing It Straight

If you have preschoolers, I'm sure you will recall that stage of play where you are part of the play scenario, but do not get to participate as yourself.  Instead, you are expected to adopt the persona of a toy or a storybook character as a rather one-sided dialogue plays out.

I say "one-sided" because I don't get to say what I want. Instead, I am expected to know what the child wants me to say, and if I don't comply, then I am coached, at times rather impatiently.

Here is a case in point from a weekend past.  Sooby is playing with Weenie, the Beanie Baby dachshund, when our conversation goes something like this:

Sooby: What is the little puppy saying?
Googie: He is saying he is so glad a little girl found him and wants to be his friend.
Sooby: No, say it like the puppy talking.
Googie: OK.  Oh, little girl.  I'm so glad you found me.  I was so lonesome.  Now I have a friend to play with.  That makes me so happy.
Sooby: No, say it in a puppy voice.
Googie: (remembering Shari Lewis and trying to muster my best Hush Puppy voice) Oh, little girl.  Arf.  Thank you for finding me and being my friend.  Arf-arf.
Sooby:  No, not like that.  Don't say arf.  Say," What are you going to do, little girl?"
Googie/Weenie:  What are you going to do, little girl?"
Sooby:  Say, "Was I cold and you're making me warm?"
Googie/Weenie:  Was I cold and you're making me warm?
Sooby: (to the puppy)  Why, yes, little puppy.  Are you hungry?
Googie/Weenie: Yes, little girl.  I am famished.
Sooby: Say, "I want you to cook me some food."
Googie/Weenie: OK.  I want you to cook me some food.  How about some broccoli?
Sooby:  Not broccoli.  Dogs eat dog food.
Googie:  Can I be the little girl now?
Sooby: No, you're too old.

[Pooh arrives on the scene.  He is playing with a Batman action figure.] 

Pooh:  Say, "What are you doing, Batman?"
Googie:  What are you doing, Batman.
Pooh:  Flying. (Now, honestly, I probably could have come up with this on my own.)
Googie:  Oh.  Would you like to meet Weenie?  He's such a nice little dog.
Pooh:  I have to fly some more.  Say, "Where are you flying, Batman?"
Googie:  Where are you flying, Batman?
Pooh:  In the air.
Googie:  Oh, of course.  Why didn't I think of that?

You get the idea.  And if you have had the pleasure of playing one-on-one with kids, you have, at some time or another, had the privilege of playing the puppet part.  You may not be a furry little critter head or a humanoid of the stringed variety, but you are a puppet all the same. 

You say what you are told, when you are told, and how you are told.  You become the ultimate straight man, and you develop a real empathy for guys like Ed McMahon.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Peanut Pincher

If you pour peanuts in a bowl
Or in a teacup just for show,
Watch beside you, watch behind--
The Peanut Pincher's sure to find
Your chewy treasures round and rare
As you sit, munching, in your chair.

Just when you look the other way
Or your attention starts to stray,
That's the Peanut Pincher's cue
To try to filch a nut from you.
(And there is no way to make him keep
Away from peanuts in a heap.)

The Peanut Pincher then will come
Shaped like the forefinger and thumb
Of someone on whose lap you sit
And one you don't suspect a bit.
( I know of this from evenings past--
And know these P.P.'s can be fast.)

Remember just the other day
When you and I were tired of play
And wanted just a little snack?
There, in the cupboard, from a sack
We scooped the nuts that we would eat
And nonchalantly took our seat.

Before you knew it--10, 9, 8--
They disappeared from off our plate,
And, then there went--Oh Lands Alive!--
Our numbers 7, 6, and 5.
Four, 3, 2, and 1--they just
Kept going till they bit the dust.

With nothing left to crunch or munch,
We opted just to get some lunch.
We got out cheese and bread and meat,
And mustard made our stack complete.
You held your sandwich tight, and cheese
Oozed out the edges when you'd squeeze.

I knew what you had on your mind:
You were afraid of who might find
Your dinner there and snatch a bite,
And that would surely start a fight
'Cause you had stood for quite enough
Of Peanut Pincher's sneaky stuff.

I said, "Relax, I think he's gone.
He's probably out there on the lawn.
I doubt that he will soon be back
To swipe a kiddo's lunch or snack."

I looked at you, then looked away
And smiled at what I'd done that day.
I licked my lips; I tasted salt--

That was the Peanut Pincher's fault.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Stake-Out

It was not the question I was expecting to hear over a glazed donut on a Sunday morning.  "Googie," Sooby asked recently, "what's a stake-out?"

A stake-out?  Between finger-licks of sweet, sticky goo, I struggled to imagine what, in the deep, dark recesses of a mind newly five years old, had spawned this question.  And I struggled equally hard to figure out how to give the term a context and a set of words it could grasp.

"Well," I said, pausing to borrow the time I needed to formulate a coherent thought.  "If a bad guy has done something wrong, and the good guys want to catch him, they all get together and wait for their chance to do that." 

Not bad, I thought, watching Sooby contemplate this impromptu explanation.  "You mean, like a trap?" she asked.

"Exactly," I said.  "It's like setting a trap to catch a bad guy." (This is the typical answer of someone who has watched entirely too many episodes of Law and Order).  I asked her why she was thinking about stake-outs, and where she had heard about them.

"Well," she said.  "Like in Tod and Copper."  She was thinking about The Fox and the Hound.  In that story, more recently a Disney movie, a hunter named Amos Slade encourages his dog Copper to trap a young red fox named Tod, a lost cause since the two had become bosom buddies during their youthful critterdom.

"Yeah, like that," I said, thinking that a good enough analogy, although, technically, Tod didn't really qualify as a bona fide "bad guy."  Amos Slade and his fellow hunters had surely "staked out" Tod and other foxy prey.  It made sense to me, and, for the time being, we moved past the donuts and any further mention of stake-outs.

Later that day, I overheard an excerpt from a video the kids were watching involving Clifford, the Big Red Dog.  Titled "Doggie Detectives," this particular cartoon pitted Clifford and his canine comrades against a mysterious thief they thought had stolen the merry-go-round from the playground. 

As a devoted reader of books about a character named "Detective Mike," one of the crew, a three-legged beagle named K.C., knew just what they should do.  You guessed it--they needed  a "stake-out."

One of the dogs asked K.C. what a stake-out was, and that's when I heard K.C. explain the concept better than I had.  "You hide near the scene of a mystery," he said, "and wait to see who shows up."

After duly "investigating" and "tailing" their suspect in the modus operandi of Detective Mike, it turns out that K.C.'s owner, Bruno, had taken the merry-go-round from the playground to give it a new coat of paint in his shop.  Mystery solved.  Stake-out successful.  Merry-go-round returned the following day.  Case closed.

All, that is, except Sooby's association of the concept of a "stake-out" to The Fox and the Hound.  I looked back at that story, and there was no mention of the term there.  All on her own, she had taken the idea of entrapment from the Clifford cartoon and related it to the story of Tod and Copper.  For me, it was another fascinating example of the way little minds learn by association and begin to generalize concepts.

This is the kind of stake-out I love.  You hide among the nuances of your grandkids' lives and watch what shows up.  If you are lucky, you get to do this often, and you will never fail to be amazed. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Naked Man

Look!  Up in the sky!  It's a bird . . . it's a plane . . . it's . . . Naked Man?  Since when did this pint-sized hero join the super lineup?

Actually, Naked Man is a super anti-hero.  Pooh calls him a "bad guy."  Naked Man is a persona that Pooh invented himself, and it is Pooh who plays the role to perfection.

You will be relieved to know that Naked Man is not totally naked.  He started out that way, but then his mama laid down the law:  He had to wear at least his jockey undershorts, she decreed.  Luckily for drop-in company and in the unlikely event of a surprise visit by the Division of Family Services, Naked Man agreed to these terms, and added a few other components to the costume as well.

One is the long foam sword with which Naked Man terrorizes anyone in close proximity, most frequently his sisters.  Baby Bootsie is most often the victim, and, were the sword constucted of anything but foam--casusing it to bend into a right angle at the point of impact--she would have needed several sets of stitches by now.  When not in use, the sword rests vertically at the ready tucked in its "underwear holster" (another Poohism--could you guess that?). 

It is also a requirement that Naked Man wear boots.  These may be any combination of  Pooh's recycled winter galoshes--all black, but one pair gray-soled and the other red.  Naked Man may or may not wear a matched set, but whichever ones he wears are rarely on the right feet, thereby giving the super-villain an even more ominous appearance.

Optional to the get-up is a red Superman cape that virtually floats on the air behind Naked Man as he scurries to supplant good with evil.  Not optional in the least, however, is the scowl, a word we ran onto in a storybook and have practiced at great length since.  It completes the visage of Naked Man to a T.

Due to the event of a new baby in the household, I had cause to spend most of last week in the threatening presence of Naked Man.  He was a fearsome foe indeed, and I was fortunate to escape alive.   


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fireworks for Zoomba

Baby Zoomba's due date was yesterday, but he is not the one who is overdue.  Rather, I am the late one, just getting around to writing about him on this, his tenth day in the world. 

It is dusk, and fireworks are going off all around my neighborhood on this Independence Day.  As I write, I will think of them partly as a celebration of this great country and partly as a belated celebration in honor of Grandkid #5.  There goes a Roman candle boom-booming for you, Zoomie, and now some Saturn missiles whistling through the night air.  This is your official welcome, sweet baby boy, and every fuse lit between now and the time I finish this piece sparks and sizzles just for you. 

Zoomba surprised us by arriving eight days early, at 12:18 p.m. on June 25.  Before we got out of bed a week ago Monday morning, Pa-pa and I got the call that daughter Cookie was enroute to the hospital.  This was my cue to throw a bag together and head west with the hammer down toward my destination three hours away. 

My mission was to care for Sooby, Pooh, and Bootsie during their mother's absence.  That was in itself a joy, but it didn't hold a candle--Roman or otherwise--to the pleasure of watching each one of the kids as they met their new brother in the hospital the day after he was born.

Sooby, just four days away from her fifth birthday, displayed an attitude best described as loving and maternal.  Immediately she wanted to hold him, so Cookie wrapped her well-used boppy pillow around Sooby's waist and laid the baby there for her to cradle and inspect.  Never known for being speechless, Sooby this time almost was.  Never known for being quiet, she just gazed down at the baby and said, in the softest little voice I have ever heard her use, "I knew I would love him."

Pooh, almost three and a half, seemed most impressed by the baby's sheer smallness.  "He's so tiny," he remarked.  I imagine he was thinking that it would be a while before Zoomie could don a mask as Robin and make any effort at all to help Batman fight the criminal forces run amok in Gotham City.

I think that Bootsie, not quite twenty months, may have the hardest adjustment.  Seeing Zoomie in the flesh rather than as a bump under her mama's shirt, she seemed to sense that this meant the end of her reign as the baby of the family.  It will be hardest for her to use the gentle touch necessary during these early days and to understand why, for a couple weeks, Mama won't be able to pick her up for the usual nap and bedtime routine.

As for Zoomba himself, he weighed exactly seven pounds and, right now anyway, looks remarkably like his Pa-pa.  He seems to sleep and eat well, although sometimes I think that is sheer terror reflected in his eyes as he surveys the inevitable chaos wrought by his three older siblings. 

It is no wonder.  At any given moment the amplified voice of Sooby resounds through the house as she recites the story of Snow White verbatim through her new Princess microphone. Meanwhile, Pooh, as Superman or Batman or Spiderman dashes through the room with cape flying and foam sword duly brandished.  Not to be left out,  Bootsie removes her diaper and runs naked along behind him in that herky-jerky fashion of the not-quite-two-year old, declaring herself "Bat Baby" and, everywhere she goes, dropping a trail of gummy fruit snacks from her sticky little fist.

A googie has to love being witness to a scene like this.  Welcome to our world, Baby Zoomba.  In no time at all, you will find your place in all this craziness.  For the time being, though, I will enjoy watching you try to take it all in.  Just let me hold you and snuggle you and, somehow, we will make it through these fireworks together.  


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Nap

I had been looking forward to keeping Beenie this afternoon while his mama ran some errands, so I got up early to get my work done before he was to arrive at 1:30.  Before the morning was over, I had canned fourteen quarts of green beans and made the dreaded trip to Wal-Mart, something I should know better than to do on the day before a holiday.

I set up the playpen and picked out five little board books for us to read, most notably, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?"  I figured it was time for Beenie and me to do a lesson on animals and colors, and for these concepts there is no better teacher than "Brown Bear."  Also at the ready was the basket of shaky, rattly toys just right for Beenie to grab up in his little three-month-old fist.

He arrived bright-eyed and well-fed, and I was excited to see our much-anticipated afternoon commence.  After three times through "Brown Bear," I thought it might be nice to just snuggle in the recliner for fifteen or twenty minutes.  So we headed down to the family room, switched on Law and Order, raised the footrest, plugged in the binky, and snuggled in. 

Beenie tucked his little head into my shoulder perfectly, and the blanket was so cozy.  I determined right then and there to relish every precious minute of our time together on this lazy summer afternoon.  It was a hundred degrees outside, but the two of us were cool and comfy.  What a great day this was going to be!

Suddenly, I became aware that something was very wrong.  The entire cast of Law and Order had changed.  Next thing I knew, Pa-pa was saying something about it being 3:30, which I knew simply could not be true since Beenie and I had just sat down.  Next came his announcement that Beenie's mama was already back to pick him up.  Already?  Hadn't she just left?

Well, duh, Googie.  Slowly it sinks in that Beenie and I have just slept away the entire afternoon.  One minute I am lost somewhere in an unfinished episode of Law and Order, and the next I am saying "hi" again to Beenie's mama.  Sheepishly, I lower the footrest, Beenie wakes up wet and famished, his mama scurries to mix up a bottle, and I find myself in dire danger of flunking Babysitting 101.

It was not the afternoon I was expecting.  We never used the playpen, read any of the books besides "Brown Bear," or touched the toys in the basket.  Until Beenie's mama came back, I never even opened the diaper bag.  Everyone had a good laugh at my expense, and I deserved it.  I had been entrusted with the care of this sweet baby boy for only a couple hours, and I had failed miserably.

Or had I?  Bone-tired from spending a week away from home and a hurry-scurry morning, I have to admit I found this unexpected afternoon nap nothing short of delicious.  And you know, as I was gazing down at Beenie--at that precise second just before his eyelids drooped shut--I am almost sure I saw him smack his lips.      



Monday, July 2, 2012

Let There Be Lightning

When it comes to grandkid experiences, two of my favorite words are serendipity and spontaneity.  Amid a lifestyle where so many activities for children (and adults, for that matter) are planned and structured, sometimes the things you don't plan are the ones that turn out to be the most fun.

This happened when I was staying overnight at the kids' house a couple weeks ago.  The kids had been put to bed, and daughter Cookie and I were anticipating an actual conversation, something we have not really had since Sooby was born.  We should have known that was not going to happen--but first some background.

In the process of shifting some bedrooms around on the lower level of the house, "my" bedroom had been moved upstairs onto the ground level in what used to be the kids' toy room.  It was my first night in my new digs, where the windows, occupying two walls of the room, remained uncurtained.  This was no problem, since both sets of windows looked out into thick wooded areas.

So, around 11 p.m. Cookie and I were propped up on my bed against my pillows, trying to remember how to talk to each other, when a sudden summer thunderstorm blew up.  Also blowing up from her downstairs bedroom was Sooby, not so much aware of the storm as she was afraid that her mama and I might have a conversation she would miss.  She crawled up on the bed with us, and, for some reason, we let her stay instead of sending her back to bed.

Momentarily a second set of little feet padded our way, and they belonged to Pooh.  "I heard a noise up here," he announced, "so I came up here to investigate."  Where does a three-year-old get a word like investigate?  Cookie and I laughed at this, and then there were four of us on the bed.

That is when the thunderstorm became too spectacular for words.  Lightning flashed into those bare windows in a show that would put any Fourth of July firework display to shame.  On the heels of each brilliant flash, thunder rumbled close and loud, vibrating the whole house, shaking the bed.

For a good twenty minutes the four of us watched and listened to the power and force of Mother Nature unleashed in Kansas.  We looked in amazement from one wall of windows to the next, like  we were experiencing a movie in Sensurround.  The lightning, profoundly bright, took us in a split second from pitch blackness outside to splashes of green as it spotlighted the tree leaves.  "It looks green out there," Sooby commented.  And indeed it did: bright green illuminating the dead of night.

Clearly, the kids had never witnessed a night thunderstorm in exactly this way, and  I can't say that I myself have done that very many times.  Maybe it was the time of night.  Maybe it was the bare windows.  Maybe it was the fact that the kids were supposed to be in bed. 

Maybe it was the fact that, instead of chiding them for coming upstairs, Cookie and I once again postponed our conversation and watched and listened to this amazing storm, a true carpe diem moment, in childlike wonder ourselves. 

Whatever else it was, I know it was serendipity.  I know it was spontaneity.  And, more than anything, I know that it was special.