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Two Day Gift

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 8.03.09 AMNot all gifts are wrapped in shiny red paper. Not stuffed inside a gift bag. In September, I called Son and offered that he and Daughter 2 (some say daughter-in-law) take a mini-vacation while Husband and I stayed at his house. An offer of two nights away from home, from their three children, ages six, four, and two, and their dog, Baxter. A time to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

So in November on a Saturday afternoon, Son and Daughter 2 kissed and hugged Dean, Neil, and Ann and said, “Bye and be good. Do what Pop and Gran tell you and we’ll see you Monday.”

As Son and Daughter 2 drove out of their driveway, two-year-old Ann wailed for thirty seconds and said repeatedly, “Bye, bye, Mommy.” Husband, Dean, and Neil were having a snowball fight, throwing baseball size white balls of yarn at each other. I hugged Ann. She wiped her arm across her wet nose, and then said, “Let’s play, Gran!”

These three Grands were all ours. Time to play and read and take walks and build wooden cars. To giggle and sing silly songs and tell Purple Cow bedtime stories. To wrap small clean, wet bodies in towels and help wiggle into pajamas. To rub backs at bedtime and cuddle in bed early mornings. To bend the house rules a bit and bribe with Skittles.

Dean, a first grader, repeated my plan to his younger siblings. “Gran said she’d put Skittles in a jar when we did what we’re ‘posed to and we can eat ‘em after supper. I’ll count ‘em and give ‘em out.”

Co-commander Dean asked, “So how many Skittles is that?” after all 60 of the yarn snowballs had been picked up. And he followed me to the kitchen to be sure I put five in the jar.

The Skittle jar sat beside the list of suggestions and advice Son and Daughter 2 had written. Schedules. Neighbors’ phone numbers. Bedtimes. Meal menus. Favorite play activities. TV cable channels. Baxter’s feeding directions. How to cook a hot dog so Dean would eat it. Snacks Ann likes, but Neil hates. What to pack in Dean’s school lunch bag.

Every moment with our Grands wasn’t perfect. When Ann and Neil had breakdowns, Husband and I fumbled for reassuring words, but we knew hugs smooth toddlers. And we struggled through Monday morning to get Neil to preschool and Dean to the school bus stop.

After her brothers had left for school, Ann held a play phone to her ear and said, “Hi Mommy. Uh, huh. Yes. Yes. No. Pop and Gran. Yes. Bye, Mommy.” She ran to me, threw her arms around my neck, and said, “Love you Gran.”

I cherish the time that Husband and I had with Dean, Neil, and Ann. That’s the gift. Our Grands’ parents gave us their children for two days and nights. They trusted us. And they left another gift: detailed lists so we didn’t have to call them, not even once.

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Her Other Name is Gran

Elaine and I splashed in the sea, not the ocean, the sea, according to my six-year-old Grand. We held hands, jumped waves, watched tiny fish swim, buried our toes in the sandy sea floor and marveled that we could see our feet through the clear water of the gulf beach.

When a girl, about ten years old, joined us, Elaine welcomed her by talking about the fish. “What’s your name?” I asked. She said her name was Chelsea. I said, “I’m Susan.”

My Grand picked up the social cue. “I’m Elaine and her other name is Gran,” she said as she splashed water with both hands toward me. And in that moment, I realized I’m no longer Susan, Daughter, Mother. I’m Gran.

Yes, I’ve been a grandparent for more than twelve years, but somehow until Elaine’s announcement, I didn’t think of myself first as a grandparent. My immediate thought was I’m glad I chose Gran, a name I like.

As I reflect on a recent beach trip with Husband and Grands and their parents, I chuckle to myself that it was my coming-out-grandparent week. I embraced the grandmother role. While the Grands and their parents took a lunch break from the beach, Husband and I sat under an umbrella and relished the relative quiet and calm. We watched a family of four with a toddler and arm-holding baby at the water’s edge. The mother held baby and tried to dig into the sand with her toddler. Giving up, she laid baby on a beach chair under an umbrella, and my grandmother instincts kicked in.

“I’ll be glad to hold your baby if you want to play in the water. I’m sitting beside your umbrella,” I said.

The mother smiled and told me she thought her baby was sleepy. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” she asked. Mind?

“How about I hold him for a few minutes and see how it goes,” I said. So I settled in a beach chair and the mother explained that 7-month old Jonathan liked to watch people. His back against my chest so he could see his mother and my arms wrapped around him, Jonathan was asleep in five minutes. For an hour, I had the perfect excuse not to move.

Then there was the day that my Grands paddled an ocean kayak. “Gran, do you want to go for a ride?” my twelve-year-old Grand asked. David had proved himself capable, first with his dad, then with younger sisters. An ocean kayak ride would be a first for me. “All you have to do is sit in the front. I’ll paddle,” David said.

So I settled on the seat, propped my feet in the footholds, and we sailed away. “How far out do you want to go?” David asked. I shrugged. “Okay, just remember to sit still. Don’t lean to one side quickly.”

This is the last of four September columns to celebrate and honor grandparents. How appropriate that Elaine nailed my identity as Gran for the finale.

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You Let Them Do What?

Who serves ice cream for breakfast? Who lets children jump on furniture? Who watches the same movie fifteen times? Who pays children for jobs that don’t even need doing?

We grandparents plead guilty. Not all grandparents to all charges, but some.

I asked Facebook friends what do grandparents let grandchildren do that they as children weren’t allowed to do. And friends responded.

So many breakfast choices. Caroline’s grandfather served ice cream topped with Fruit Loops and told her mother that they ate cereal.   Nell’s grandchildren eat fudge for dessert after breakfast and her own children never heard of breakfast dessert. Karen’s mother made chocolate pie and chocolate pudding for her grandchildren’s breakfasts. Grandparents offer sugar-coated cereal to grandchildren and parents say it wasn’t even in the house when they were young.

Milkshakes with sprinkles are a meal and one grandmother even serves ice cream to her grandchildren for any meal – not as dessert, as the meal. Sara’s mother keeps mini ice cream sandwiches and brown cow ice cream bars, just for the grandchildren. And if grandchildren don’t like what is served for supper, they can refuse and choose something else.

Laura’s parents give her middle-school age children chocolate candy every afternoon when they pick them up after school. Laura said, “They create nothing jobs and overpay the kids for the made-up jobs.” Looking back, Laura should’ve known what to expect. When her firstborn was two, he colored on her parents’ white bookshelf and television screen, and her parents said, “It’s okay. If it doesn’t come off, we’ll buy new ones.”

Grandchildren jump on beds and if they jump onto a CD player, it’s okay.   One grandmother admits that she protected an antique coffee table and her daughters weren’t allowed to put their feet on it. But her grandchildren sit in small chairs and eat at that table, with placemats, of course.

Brenda admitted that her grandson eats what he wants, when he wants, goes to bed when he wants, chooses television programs and movies, and has her undivided attention. And grandparents are shoppers. When they shopped, Deloris’s grandmother always bought her a new outfit and any toy she wanted. Grandparents take gifts to grandchildren every time they visit.

To go one generation further, one great-grandmother didn’t allow her children in the fancy living room. And when grandchildren opened their Christmas gifts in that room, no food or drinks were allowed. But that room is the great-grandchildren’s gymnastics room where they turn somersaults and pretend to be airplanes. And it’s okay to eat cookies and drink juice in the living room.

So what do parents think of grandparents relaxing the rules? Here are my two favorite comments: I didn’t get to eat ice cream for breakfast, but I’m happy Mom lets my kids! Let it be said, I fully intend to do the same when my tribe grows up and brings me some grandbabies!

All parents may not agree, but I hope my Grands’ parents do.

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Memories Sealed in My Heart

Grandparents Day, celebrated September 10, should stretch to a week, maybe a month. We grandparents have so many stories and pictures. Recently, an acquaintance showed me a picture of her granddaughter and began telling about things they do together. She took a breath and I had to laugh at what my close friend said: “Hold up. You know Susan has eight Grands. We might be here a while.”

            Some of my best times with Grands are one-on-one and I don’t always take pictures. While visiting Son’s family that lives an airplane ride away, Daughter-in-law suggested that her two boys go with her to take their boxer to the vet. Neil said, “No. I’m staying home. Just me and Gran and we’ll play!” He grabbed my hand.

Neil is four years old. Middle child with an older brother, younger sister. Brother went with his mother. Sister took a nap.

“Neil, what’ll we play?” I asked.

“Cars and the guessing game,” my Grand said. “Cars, first!” Neil and Brother have a huge basket full of Matchbox cars and he dumped them at my feet.

“Choose five, Gran!” Neil said. He chose 25, or maybe 40. Together we propped a plastic, narrow car track on a big pillow to make a steep decline from the pillow to the floor. We noted which car went farthest. Which one fell off the track every time – although it took many tries to determine that it fell every time.

Neil and I grouped cars by color, by shape, by design.  We counted seconds to determine which car went down the track fastest. How long can anyone push little cars down a track and think it’s fun? After almost an hour, Neil said it was time play the guessing game, where players take turns acting like an animal and the other guesses what it is.

Neil slithered like a snake and he immediately guessed elephant when I held my arms in front of my face. Then Neil got on all fours and jumped high. “A rabbit,” I said. He nodded.

“Now watch this,” Neil said and he did the exact same thing. I guessed rabbit; he shook his head. Kangaroo? No. Frog? No. “It’s a bunny!” my Grand said. “Guess this!”

Again Neil jumped high from all fours. It wasn’t a rabbit or bunny or anything I guessed. I gave up. “A bunny rabbit!” Neil said. I never knew a rabbit, bunny, and bunny rabbit were different, until Neil explained, “They are in the guessing game.”

A few days later, while Neil’s family visited Husband and me, I sat alone in a rocking chair on our front porch after supper. Enjoying a few moments of quiet and calm. Neil came to the porch and said, “Gran, I just wanna’ sit with you.” And he climbed beside me and sat quietly. I wrapped my arms around my Grand.

I don’t have pictures of Neil as a bunny rabbit or snuggled beside me. Those memories are the kind we grandparents seal in our hearts.

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You Might Be a Grandparent if…..

Screen Shot 2017-09-07 at 8.21.03 AMSunday, September 10, is National Grandparent’s Day. A day that the United States Congress proclaimed in 1978 to honor all us grandparents. We are easy to identify, even if we don’t open our mouths and tell stories about the cutest kids in the world.

To borrow a Jeff Foxworthy’s phrase, you might be a grandparent if you are past child-bearing age and have child restraint seats in your car. Although you drive a mini-van that seats seven adults, you rarely offer a ride to more than one friend. Taking out two toddler seats secured in the second row isn’t an easy chore. Moving a booster seat from the passenger front seat is simple.

You might be a grandparent if you keep toy dump trucks and plastic buckets and shovels in your garage. If you have an endless supply of glue and scotch tape and drawing paper. If you own two dozen washable magic markers. If you kept two old plastic trays specifically for craft projects.

You might be a grandparent if there are popsicles in your freezer. And when banana is the only choice, you buy more.   If ten bottles of sprinkles are stored right beside flour in your kitchen cabinet. If you buy yogurt in plastic tubes and applesauce in pouches.

You might be a grandparent if a high chair sits at your kitchen table and a booster seat is close by to slide into another chair. If you have sippy cups and toddler-size forks and spoons. If your placemats are printed with maps and clocks and multiplication tables and pictures of United States presidents and Sesame Street characters.

You might be a grandparent if you have a step stool beside your bathroom sink. If there’s a small vinyl potty seat stored next to the commode. If you have tear-free shampoo, bathtub crayons, and infant washcloths. If a rubber duck and a wind-up water toy sits on the edge of your bathtub.

You might be a grandparent if games like Race Penguin and NinJump are on your iphone and iPad and your screensaver is a toddler with a chocolate-covered face. If the deck of playing cards you use to play Rummy and War is sticky and two cards are missing.

You might be a grandparent if your refrigerator is decorated with stick figure drawings and construction paper collages. If your windows boast little handprints. If your weekly schedule includes pick up at school on Wednesdays and Saturday morning soccer games.

You might be a grandparent if a bookshelf holds a nursery rhyme book, Curious George, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? If you have memorized Good Night Moon. If there are candy wrappers and a plastic bowl covered with mold under a bed. If Legos are scattered under your living room couch.

You might be a grandparent if you smile all over when a Grand asks, “Can I spend the night with you?” And if the sweetest words you’ve ever heard are “Gran, I love you.”

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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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