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Eclipse Connects Generations

 “What’s that book about?” I asked my 10-year-old Grand who held a book in her lap as I drove her home from my house.

            “The big extraordinary event,” Lou said.

I frowned. “What big extraordinary event?”

“Gran, the one we’ve been talking about.”

“The solar eclipse?” Lou nodded. “May I read your book when you finish?” I asked.

“Sure, but there are three kids telling their stories. Think you can keep up with three different stories?” Lou asked and said that the kids end up at the same place to watch the eclipse.

While reading Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass, a fictitious novel for students in grades 5-9 and written in 2008, I met Ally, Bree, and Jack, all young teens. Ally’s parents bought Moon Shadow campground because they knew the two-mile campground would be the only patch of land in the United States that would be smack dab in the path of the Great Eclipse. Bree, who was sure she was switched at birth because the rest of her family was science nerds and she pondered ‘If I’m beautiful and no one sees me, am I still beautiful?’ After failing science in school, Jack chose an adventure at Moon Shadow camp over summer school to earn a passing grade.

Ally explained Nature’s Greatest Coincidence. So called because the moon and sun look the same exact size, but the sun is 400 times bigger and 400 times farther away from earth so they appear the same to us. When the moon covers the sun, the air is like dusk, but with an unfamiliar greenish-yellowish cast.

Baily’s Beads were described as tiny balls forming a glowing circle around the black sun like a necklace of pearls and as the last bit of sunshine passes through the deepest valley of the moon, a huge diamond ring formed. The moon’s shadow passed quickly.

In the book, Ally was amazed by the solar eclipse at totality: the pearly white corona suddenly streams out from behind the dark moon in all directions, pulsing, looping, swirling, glowing, a halo of unearthly light. Bree screamed as the moon’s shadow zoomed like a wall of ghosts, and she saw streams of light fanning out behind the darkened sun like the wings of a butterfly. Jack was shocked by the fact that a fiery circle was the only thing that proved the sun still existed, like a big eye beaming down.

“I finished your book,” I told my Grand. “I learned a lot about the eclipse we’ll see next week.”

“Really?” she said. “I never read the fact stuff. Not the introduction or author’s notes. I just read the story.”

“You don’t remember how the characters described the eclipse?”

Elise giggled before saying, “I remember how one threw up all the time! That was funny. Gran, you should read other books that Wendy woman wrote. Some of the same characters are in them.” She told me about two other books.

It’s good when books and events, like Nature’s Greatest Coincidence, connect generations.

 

Sturgeons, Butterflies, Skittles, and Potties

“Here’s Cookeville and here’s Chattanooga where the aquarium is,” I said, pointing to a map to show Elaine as she, Husband, and I travelled in our van. “Remember what we’ll see there?”

Elaine, age 6, cocked her head. “Lemur. Fish.” Together, we had looked at the Tennessee Aquarium website. “Jellyfish. Otters! And Pop will buy me candy!” My Grand opened her eyes and mouth wide. “When can I have Skittles?” Elaine asked.

“After you eat a good lunch,” Husband said.

“Ah. When’s lunch? Where’ll we eat?”

“The aquarium has two buildings. We’ll walk through one, then eat lunch at a restaurant,” I explained.

“So after lunch, Pop will buy me Skittles?” Husband nodded.

Before exploring the Ocean Journey exhibits, I suggested a bathroom stop. “Do they have flush potties?” Elaine asked. She meant automatic flush toilets, which frighten her and many young children. Upon seeing an automatic flush potty, Elaine decided to only wash her hands.

Elaine bounced through the aquarium. Lemurs crouched high on tree branches. Sea rays glided through water inside a petting tank. Elaine watched as I put my fingers under water. “Hold your fingers straight. The sea ray feels smooth and cool,” I said.

Elaine shook her head, “No thanks. Is it time for lunch?”

In the butterfly room, hundreds of butterflies live in a perfect ecosystem. Elaine slowly turned her head, seeming to study her surroundings. Seeing a butterfly land on a boy’s hand, she moved beside a bush where butterflies fluttered. She stretched her arm, holding her hand under leaves.

Still and silent, she waited until a tiger butterfly lit. “Elaine, look toward me. I’ll take your picture,” I whispered. She lifted her eyes, didn’t move or smile. The butterfly stayed on her hand several minutes while she stood statue still. It flew and she said, “What’s next?”

Elaine led us past huge tanks of ocean life. She briefly watched scuba divers feeding sharks and was mesmerized by penguins diving into water and swimming.

As we walked to the restaurant, Elaine asked two questions. “Do they have flush potties? After lunch, I get Skittles, right?”

Before eating the Skittles Husband poured into her hand, Elaine grouped them by color. Again, she refused a bathroom stop.

In the River Journey exhibits, huge sturgeons circled a petting pool. Elaine held two fingers underwater. For fifteen minutes, she stroked every sturgeon that came close.

Husband doled out Skittles all afternoon and I convinced Elaine I could hold my hand over the motion sensor on a potty. Unfortunately, the toilet flushed before she got out of the bathroom stall.

At Elaine’s home, I handed Daughter a list of twenty-one animals Elaine had dictated that she saw and she said otters were her favorite. “And Gran, where’s the rest of my Skittles?” Elaine asked. I gave them to Daughter. “And guess what, Mom? I’m not afraid of flush potties anymore.”

High fives all around for a fun aquarium trip. For otters. Sturgeons. Butterflies. Skittles. And overcoming the fear of automatic flush potties.

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The Joys of Five-Year Old Grands

downloadI don’t like that two of my Grands are having birthdays. Elaine and Dean, born one month apart, and a thousand miles from each other, are turning six. An age when some imagination and excitement wanes.

Elaine creates a family out of everything, anything. She lined up crackers on her lunch plate. “Look, Gran. It’s a daddy and mommy and three kids.” They went on an adventure in the park. They played ball and ran through a creek. The littlest kid fell and hurt his knee. “It’s okay. His mommy put a Band Aid on it,” Elaine said.

She likes to take a bath at my house to play with the yellow rubber ducks. (Those same ducks I wrote about once before.) “Do you know how a daddy duck drinks water?” my Grand asked and then she held the biggest duck’s head under water. “He gulps really big!” The mommy duck gulped just a little. “The baby can’t gulp. The mommy has to help him.” Elaine held two ducks close together, bill to bill.

Dean plays balloons. “Gran, let’s play find the balloon! I’ll go first,” he said. I closed my eyes until he shouted, “Okay, look now!” I searched his family’s living room and named places as I searched for the red balloon he had hidden. Not under the couch. Not on the table. Not in his ear. Dean laughed. I sat on the floor and pretended not to notice his jacket over the balloon beside my foot. “Gran, look!” he shouted.

“Give me a clue,” I said. He opened his eyes wide and pointed toward my foot and giggled. I lifted my foot, shook my head. Dean fell on the floor and laughed.

“Gran!” He jerked his jacket off the balloon. “I win!” he said.

Then the balloon was a ball. “Let’s count how many times we hit it,” Dean said. How many times could he and I hit it and keep it up in the air? Each time the balloon touched the floor for the next twenty minutes, my Grand said, “Let’s try again.”

Elaine and Dean are easily entertained. Read a book. They shout out words they know. Build a skyscraper with blocks or Legos or rocks. They show off their ability to count to 100. Dig in the dirt. Look for worms and bugs. Draw silly pictures with funny faces. Line up matchbox cars to race. Sort cars by color and size. Learning is fun.

And no one giggles about underwear like a 5-year-old. “Gran, don’t look. I’m taking off my underwear,” Dean said and giggled. I stood in the bathroom to supervise his bath. Another time, Elaine handed her dirty clothes to me after her bath and said, “Did you know my underwear stinks? Smell!” She snickered and ran from me.

Last week I gave Elaine her birthday present, she hugged and thanked me and then said, “Gran, did you know I’m six today?” And Dean will be in June. Shucks.

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Put Litter in Its Place

 

            If there is a six letter bad word, it’s litter. Litter. Trash in a public place. Paper, cans, and bottles that belong in a landfill or recycling bin. I hate litter anywhere and everywhere and especially along the right of way. Always have.

When I was a kid, before protecting our natural environment were social and political issues, Mom and Dad made it a family issue. Part of our weekly yard care, in addition to pushing a lawn mower and clipping grass around shrubs with hand clippers, was picking up trash along the road near our house. And Mom and Dad taught me that nothing could be thrown out car windows. We had a car trash bag.

I carried on the trash bag practice with my children and their friends knew when I was the carpool driver all trash went in the bag. Except once when a carload of kids was riding in my Ford station wagon with flip-up back seats and in the rearview mirror, I saw a child toss a candy wrapper out the back window. We were on a neighborhood street, not a major highway.

I stopped the car on the wide shoulder and everyone, the litter culprit and those innocent, got out of the car and we picked up every scrap of trash we could find. My two school-age children were embarrassed and I should’ve handled the situation without using my teacher voice, but I was angry.

Now I walk from my house to the YMCA on Raider Drive a couple of times a week and I’m shocked at the amount of litter along a heavily traveled street that leads to a public school and a place to exercise.

Recently, while my three oldest Grands, ages 11, 10, and 8, visited, I told them we were going to do a service project. We’d pick up litter along the road close to the Y. Their responses were typical. How much will we get paid? (No money. Just the satisfaction of doing something good for our environment.) Do we have to? (Yes.) I’m not touching somebody else’s trash. (We’ll wear plastic gloves.) How long do we have to do it? (Until the job is done.) Can we have a treat afterwards? (Maybe.)

Reluctantly, my Grands pulled on gloves, took the trash bags, and decided we should work in pairs. One person, to hold the bag open and the other, pick up. A chore that would’ve taken me all morning was completed in twenty-two minutes. One Grand set her stopwatch.

After we finished, I liked what I heard. That wasn’t near as bad as I thought it’d be. It was almost fun. We found at least 25 apple drink aluminum cans. Why would somebody throw out aluminum cans they can recycle? Don’t they know plastic bottles can be recycled, too? They must not have a car trash bag.

And the last question: Gran, we don’t have to do this next week, do we? I certainly hope not.

 

 

Travel. New Experiences. Family.

“So, Gran, what are ya’ going to write about this week?” Lou, age 10, asked.

“You mean for the paper?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“Hmmm. I’m not sure. Do you have any ideas?”

“Well, yeah. About our trip!” My Grand raised her eyebrows and tilted her head, emphasizing that surely this week’s topic would be her trip with Husband and me to visit Son and family. Lou’s uncle, aunt, and three young cousins, ages 5, 3, and 1, who live 1300 miles away.

“How about you write this week’s column?” I said.

“Gran, I wrote one for you. The one about the big yellow duck, remember? You do this one.”

Weeks after returning home, Lou is still reveling in the experience of flying and being the big cousin whom little cousins wanted to sit beside at the supper table. Of being the first of her family to spend the night at her uncle’s and aunt’s home. (Her dad and brother visited, but not overnight.) Watched a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Traipsed a rocky path and skipped rocks in a branch of the Poudre River and kept a smooth egg-shaped rock for a souvenir.   Spotted a herd of mule deer at Rocky Mountain National Park. Coached cousins turning backward somersaults. Read bedtime stories and kissed goodnight. Ate a bakery chocolate chip, cream-filled, cookie sandwich. Pretended to gobble one-year old cousin’s meal of plastic carrots and fried eggs.

Last week, Lou looked at me with a somber, serious expression. “Gran, thanks for taking me.” Those five heartfelt simple words brought tears to my eyes. She appreciated. She had fun. She recognized an once-in-a-lifetime gift. Never again would boarding an airplane and flying be the experience it was this first time. Never would visiting her uncle and aunt and cousins be as exciting. And, next time, the snowcapped Rocky Mountains won’t look so tall, so huge.

I’d be lying if I said that taking Lou to visit Son and family was fun just for her. I loved it. Even the ninety-nine million questions she asked before and during. Is security (at the airport) scary? What does it feel like when the plane starts? Is it loud? When will we get there? What will we do there?

When she sensed that she was reaching her question limit as we flew over Missouri, she suggested a game of hangman. (I would guess her message by naming letters to replace blank lines, much like Wheel of Fortune.) Her messages were questions. What time will I have to go to bed? What will we eat for breakfast? Will Dean (her 5 year-old cousin) have to go to school?

Lou made me laugh. She wiggled her 65-pound body into her airplane seat and declared, “I’m squished!” She sat with eyes glued to the airplane window. “Look! Those little, tiny things are cars.” “Can you see that? Another plane! Right there.” “So that’s what the top of clouds look like.”

Travel. New experiences. Family. Yes, Lou, that’s a column.

 

Freeze these Minutes

imagesWhen I give my Grand a block, he makes it a car, rolls it on the floor, and says, “Vrooooomm.” I watch Jess, two years old. He lays flat, stomach and head on the floor, and rolls the pretend car just inches from his nose.

After a few minutes, Jess throws the block onto the floor and gets two Hot Wheels cars from our toy shelf. Then back to prone position. Clutching a car in his right hand under his stomach, he rolls the other car with his left hand. Back and forth. “Vroom. Vroom. Vrooooomm,” he says.  I want to freeze these minutes when my Grand is totally engaged in a simple game.

Jess, the youngest of five, visits Husband and me and we relish that we can play with just him. And our Grand seems happy to play alone and have Pop and Gran all to himself.   When I say it’s time for a snack, he runs to the kitchen table, holding a Hot Wheels in each hand, climbs into a booster seat on a kitchen chair, and shouts, “Fruit!” His one-word sentences sometimes sound like demands. He swipes his hand across his chest, an attempt to move his hand in a circle, which signifies please in sign language.

Jess helps me peel a tangerine, remove the stringy white pith, and divide it into segments. His small fingers pick off every tiny white string before he plops a segment into his mouth. “More!” he says and swipes his chest.

Outside, Jess runs toward a rubber playground ball. He accidentally kicks it and it rolls away. He runs again. Picks up the ball and throws it and runs toward it. When I pick up the ball and suggest we roll it back and forth to each other, he grabs the ball and runs. “Mine!” he shouts. Yes, it’s all his and it’s his game until he’s tired and lays his head against my legs.

I give him a plastic spray bottle of water. He squirts the grass and then discovers water changes the color of our gray wooden fence. He giggles and then laughs out loud as water drips down the fence. Soon the bottle is empty and he runs back to me. “More. More. Now.”

Much too soon, it’s time to take Jess home. My fingers don’t manage the belt on his car seat well and my Grand sits patiently. He’s tired and I sing a silly song, “I’m fastening your seat belt, seat belt, seat belt.” Finally, he’s buckled in and Jess claps his hands, kicks his feet, and laughs.

When I tell him good-bye at his house, Jess responds, “Book. Read.” He grabs a book from his family’s children’s book basket and holds it toward me. Daughter, his mother, says, “It’s one of his favorites right now.” Jess and I settled on the couch and two of his older siblings sit close by. Jess makes the sounds to go with the pictures in the book. “Vroooooomm!”

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Gran’s New Game

search-2“Mom, Gran has a new game and it’s really fun! Bingo! Have you ever played?” My 11 year-old Grand stood beside Daughter, his mother. She raised her eyebrows and looked at me. I smiled and nodded. Daughter’s five children, ages 2 – 11, had spent a half day before Christmas with Husband and me and then I took them home. We stood around Daughter’s kitchen island.

“Well, yes. A long time ago, I played,” Daughter said.

“Did you have a metal ball and twirl a handle and little white balls came out?” Lou, age 9, asked.

“Did you get peppermint candy when you won?” Five-year-old Elaine liked the candy better than the game.

“Did you put little colored circles on the numbers on your card?” Ruth, age 7, had lined up different colored markers for each column of numbers.

“I said Bingo the loudest!” Elaine said. “And Jess (her 2 year-old-brother) screamed Bingo and got candy, but he just played with the little circles.”

“Sounds like you had lots of fun with Gran’s new game. Maybe she’ll let me play,” Daughter said.

Whew. Bingo made this first cut. I had bought it to play when everyone got together at Husband’s and my house for Christmas. Eight children, age 11 and under, and their parents: Daughter, Son, and spouses. Outside is the perfect place to give everyone space. But we’d be spending some time inside. Trying out new toys. Opening gifts and eating and visiting and playing, and eventually, all would be tired and some would be cranky. I hoped Bingo would be the perfect inside game. Everyone could play and I had a big collection of prizes.

I had prepped Daughter and Son that we were ending our day with Bingo. So when the Grands began whining and fussing about whose toy was whose, I whispered, “Shhh. Anyone who’d like to win a prize come sit quietly at the dining room table to play a game.”

The five Grands who’d help me try out my new game were the first ones to the table. “Come on, you all. It’s a really fun game!” David encouraged those who were dilly-dallying. Parents teamed up to help pre-school age Grands. Toddler Grands were given only colored circles. Cards and markers were passed out.

“I’ll call a number and if it’s on your card, cover it with a colored circle. When you have a straight line of circles, say ‘Bingo.’ Then you get a prize,” I said.

The Grands’ parents deserve Academy Awards. They smiled and laughed and wished for B7 and O64. They applauded and cheered when anyone shouted, “Bingo.” They oohed and ahhed when Husband brought out the basket filled with prizes. Slinkies, stickers, decorated kitchen towels, notepads, mechanical pencils, key rings, Matchbox cars, and such.

For now, it’s Gran’s new game. Someday, I’ll tell everyone about my granny taking me to the American Legion Hall on Saturday nights to play Bingo and the prizes were money.

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