Monday, September 30, 2013

The Hostage

Bootsie didn't quite understand why we were having cake and ice cream if it wasn't really her birthday. I tried to explain we were having this early party at Googie's house because we wouldn't be able to be with her on her actual birthday six days away.

So when Bootsie and her three siblings ended up spending the night with Pa-pa and me during the weekend before Oct. 4, it just made sense to stage our own celebration.  To properly observe this momentous third birthday, we invited her great-grandma and her cousin Beenie's family out for a Saturday pizza lunch topped off with the "white cake with chocolate icing" that Bootsie herself ordered last week on Skype.

Such events involving five children age six and under are always lively, to say the least, and this one was no exception.  It is never unusual when the transition between the lunch part and the dessert part goes less than smoothly.

On this particular day the transition seemed to take an especially long time.  Boots sat patiently, looking at her cake with its sprinkling of nonpareils in fall colors and its recycled "3" candle propped in the middle.  I was running around, lighter in my hand, for what must have seemed to her like forever.

Every time I got ready to pull the trigger, it seemed like something else demanded my attention:  hands needed wiping here, a face needed wiping there, a stray pepperoni hit the floor, the ice cream needed to be set out.  Where was the dipper?  Were we out of napkins?  Was that a whiff of dirty diaper?

Anyway at one unforgettable point in the chaos, Bootsie herself, usually a pretty quiet little girl, levered her voice above the hubbub to proclaim, "LET THE PARTY BE RELEASED!"

Released?  Really?  We all looked at her in a kind of stunned silence.   I froze in place, my mind racing to analyze that remarkable choice of word by a not-quite-yet-three-year-old.

Amid the laughter that followed, the cake was cut, the candle lit, the ice cream dipped, and the traditional "Happy Birthday" song chorused--all with an efficiency uncharacteristic of our parties. Our captain had spoken, and we took our marching orders seriously.

Happy Birthday next weekend, little Bootsie.  Have a great time at the party you will have at your house on your real birthday.  Keep everyone in line and, whatever you do, don't let anyone else make the mistake of taking a perfectly innocent party hostage.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Morning Meandering

Over the years Pa-pa and I have clocked a lot of hours on the outdoor walking track at our local community college.  It is a meandering strip of blacktop, three-quarters of a mile long, that snakes it way east and west along a state highway and then southward toward a wooded area flanked by farmland.

Until fairly recently Wells Fargo fitness stations dotted the landscape along the track.  At these, the serious fitness buff could pause from his cardio workout just long enough to stretch a hamstring, execute a sit-up, or pull himself arm over arm along an overhead ladder.

After enduring thirty-some years of weather, the wooden stations finally had to be dismantled for purposes of aesthetics and safety.  However, the idea of a walk punctuated by stopping-stations is alive and well in the way Beenie and I have been spending some glorious late-summer mornings.

Warm-up:  We grab Bunny and buckle into the stroller.  (Bunny was an Easter gift to Beenie's cousins a couple years ago.  Strangely, he still lives at Googie's house, possibly because, with the slightest push on his little paw, he begins to sway, wiggle his ears, and belt out a saxophone solo that puts Kenny G to shame.)

Beenie loves Bunny and all my animated plush creatures that sing and dance and do all kinds of loud things that other people consider obnoxious and I consider charming.  I have a baby chick that does a frenzied "Chicken Dance"; an Elmo in chef garb who sings a duet with a talking pizza; an Ernie that sings "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and snores; an angel bear whose pink wings flutter wildly to the tune of "Oh Come, All Ye Faithful"; and a hamster, dressed in full black and white prison regalia, who sings, "Jailhouse Rock."  But I digress.  Back to our walk.

Station 1: The Jack-o'-Lantern on the Porch.  We tool up the driveway of a neighbor down the street to contemplate this big orange harbinger of Halloween that sits at the bottom of her front steps.  Sometimes her cat watches us from the front porch, as does her dog from inside the front door glass.  We make doggie and kitty sounds and say "ooooh" to acknowledge how very scary Mr. Jack-o'-Lantern is.  Beenie claps his hands.  This means he likes what he sees.  But we can't tarry long, so on we go, strolling to a wonderfully cacophonous musical background provided by Bunny and the cicadas.

Station 2:  The Tree-Trimmer.  This is a skillful performer we have stopped to watch several times lately as he removes dead and broken branches at various locations along our path.  We are fascinated as he rises up, up, up from his truck in a white bucket and then stops to let his chainsaw perform its magic.  The saw is loud and momentarily drowns out Bunny.  We leave the show and move on.

Station 3:  The Swing.  Moving on around the corner, we detour off our beaten path to stop at another neighbor's backyard playground.  Here we take a break from the stroller long enough for Beenie to feel the rush of cool morning air through his hair as we take advantage of an open invitation to use the baby swing.

From the swing we head back toward Googie's, either via the street, where many other "stations" await us (like The Black Dog Who Always Barks at Us) or by way of a short cut through a couple of back yards.  Back home, we park at the foot of Googie's steps for juice and animal crackers before going into the house.

Beenie munches and I contemplate.  Our box of cookies is just about down to the crumbs.  Bunny's batteries are running down.  The summer is just about gone.

Cookies and batteries are easily replaced.  But nothing can ever replace these special mornings I am blessed to share with my grandson.  All too soon, they will pass into history.  He will outgrow the stroller.

But right now the air is crisp and the cicadas' song soothing.  Beenie claps his hands, and I join him in a celebration of this moment.   

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Witch Fingers

I really can't remember where the witch fingers came from.  My best guess is that Cookie and Teebo brought them home some twenty years ago as prizes won in little gallery games at their elementary school carnival.

The witch fingers, some fifteen or so of them, are hollowed-out plastic toys that you wear on your own fingers when you want to do your best witch impersonation.  Even Beenie, at just shy of eighteen months, knows to cackle when he wears them.  Most of our witch fingers are green with red nails, and my most fashion-conscious witches prefer a matched set, as Beenie models here:

Of all the toys at Googie's house, the witch fingers seem to have cast a spell on all five grandkids.  They love to wear them, fight over them, and chew on them, to the point where I worry some about the little ones ingesting too much paint.  But the older kids have survived, so I am cautiously optimistic that the babies will too.
I wonder why it is that children are fascinated with witches?  As a child myself, I was so enthralled with the witch in Hansel and Gretel that I imagined her living in my bedroom closet, and Oz's Wicked Witch of the West has long mesmerized Sooby.  Pooh and Bootsie both love for me to read  Little Boy Soup, a picture book about a little boy who must outsmart the Witch of the Woods in order to avoid being converted to soup stock.  (Refer to my review of this great little story in my April 25, 2012 post with the same title.)
In fact, Pooh had witches on the brain during one of our recent breakfast conversations.  He looked particularly thoughtful as he watched me stir the milk into his Fruit Loops.
"Googie?" he asked.  "Why are your fingernails so long?"  I didn't get the chance to answer before he continued with his musings, which, incidentally, indicate a pretty sophisticated thought process for a four-year-old.  See if you agree:
"You know?" he said, narrowing his eyebrows to indicate he was thinking very hard about this.  "If I didn't see you for a year . . . , and I forgot you . . . , and then I saw your fingernails again . . . . , then I might think you were a witch." 
I was trying to follow this logic, decide if I had been insulted or not, and manufacture some sort of response, when the ever-practical Sooby piped up and saved the day.  "They're perfect for scratching backs," she offered.
I smiled.  The girl does like to have her back scratched.  Earlier that morning, she had padded into my bedroom, crawled into bed beside me, wadded her nightgown up around her neck, and whispered, "My nightgown is ready."  This, of course, meant that she was ready for the back-scratching to commence.
For the past couple months, I have been having one of my "good fingernail" episodes.  That usually means (1) nothing is making me nervous enough to bite or tear them off right now and (2) they haven't started getting in my way yet.  Good fingernail episodes happen more often now than when I was teaching school and living with teenagers.  But, seriously, I am not really seeing a likeness between them and our witch fingers.  Do you?
Nevertheless, the whole thing leaves me thinking about the hypothetical situations Pooh presented at breakfast.  What if he didn't see me for a year?  Well, as long as I can help it, that ain't gonna happen.  What if he forgets me?  Perish the thought!  What if he mistakes me for a witch?  I will have to hope against hope that any remote similarity starts and ends with the occasional good fingernail episode.
Daughter Cookie may disagree, but I like to think that any evil spells she thought I cast on her as a tween and teen are long broken.  I am Googie now, and things have changed.  Now I get to scratch little backs and have my fill of Little Boy Soup.  Best of all, I get to share random morning musings over bowls of Fruit Loops.
Halloween is coming next month, and we witches will be in season.  Let us disguise our ordinary hands with witch fingers, and let the serious cackling begin!     

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Katie and Me

Katie Couric and I are living parallel lives.  This I learned from an article she wrote for the November, 2012 issue of Woman's Day.  (Yes, I am a year behind on my magazines.)

Granted, Katie makes a little more money than I do (okay--a lot more) and, I will have to admit, ranks a little higher across the country on the facial recognition scale.  (In fact, Reader's Digest [June 2013, p. 95] lists her as the 37th most trusted person in America).  But I consider these minor differences only.

Demographically, Katie and I are female Baby Boomers who write, who graduated from college in the 1970s, and who are mom to two kids.  But the subject of her Woman's Day piece, titled "Family Ties" (p. 34), makes it clear that experience connects the two of us in such a way that her words leaped right off the page, traveled to someplace deep inside my mind, and lodged somewhere close to my heart.

Katie and I both lost our dads in 2011.  In the wake of that, we find ourselves buried in what she calls "the sandwich generation," engrossed in the delicate task of looking out for our 90ish-year-old mothers.  She says she "often feel[s] like the peanut butter between two slices of bread" as she works to meet the vastly diverse needs of the generations before and after hers. 

Katie notes that her mother still lives independently in their old family home, as does my mom, and that she vociferously rejects the option of an assisted living facility.  At the suggestion, Mrs. Couric refers to it as "God's waiting room."  My mom, a little more blunt about the proposition, says simply, "I'd rather be dead."

I am thankful that Mom is able to live alone, but I worry constantly that she will fall.  This concern is not entirely unfounded, as she has taken three moderately serious tumbles in the past two years.  Fortunately, there have been no broken bones, but I have to wonder how long our luck will hold out.  Katie worries about this too, noting that she has often found her mother's life alert necklace draped over a picture frame.

Katie calls our situation "the inevitable role reversal that comes with age."  I wonder if she also misses the thing I miss most:  the chance to just relax and visit with each other in the kind of carefree manner that I took for granted for so long; the chance to stroll leisurely through yard sales or face off in a heated game of Scrabble; the chance to just sit out on the porch swing with a dish of ice cream.

We can't do these things anymore because, now, it requires every waking minute to take care of business.  The checking account needs to be balanced.  The CDs are maturing.  It requires a multitude of doctor's appointments to maintain the various systems related to a heart that has been beating for nearly ninety years.

The bathroom stool is leaking.  The front bricks need patching.  The kitchen sink is draining slowly.  The front door knob is hard to turn.  The milk jug is empty. 

Sixty-six years of paperwork and mementos need to be sorted or disposed of.  We need to clear the outbuildings, the basement, and the attic.  Everything we do these days involves taking care of some kind of business, and some urgent task seems to rear its ugly head every single day.

Katie didn't mention things like this in her effort to keep an upbeat and positive tone.  But I read between the lines of her impeccably crafted prose and know they are as much present for her as they are for others of us experiencing her "peanut butter" syndrome.  The truth is, assuming the responsibility for another adult's physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual welfare can be overwhelming.

That said, I think back to a day a little over two years ago when I sat with Mom and Dad in an exam room in the cancer center of our local hospital.  It was the day we learned that the chemo was no longer working, and Dad's cancer had spread past the original site in his lung.  We didn't know it then, but in just a few weeks he would be gone.

I knew exactly what Dad was thinking when he looked straight at me through misty eyes.  Mom's whole life had revolved unselfishly around him, and she had always depended on him for so many things.  "I'll take care of her," I told him, and I meant it.  I am doing the best I can.

I am confident that Katie knows all about this.  She may have more resources at her disposal than I do, and her fame may offer her a broader network of support services.  But at the heart of the situation is a 60-ish woman and her 90-ish mom who views her, like it or not, as some kind of lifeline.

Thank you for buoying me with your article, Katie.  As you point out, ours is a situation shared by many of our generation, and you are right--there is comfort in knowing that.