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Not a Typical Quiet Morning

My early morning routine was disrupted last week. Most mornings I awake early, drink a cup of coffee alone, and gather thoughts of inspiration. An hour that’s all mine. And I need it.

But Tuesday morning at 6:05 a.m. as I shuffled from my bedroom to the kitchen past the upstairs stairwell, I hear a soft voice say, “Hi, Gran.” Two Grands, who live an airplane ride away, held hands and stood halfway down the steps. Neil, age 5, wore his Super Hero pajamas and grinned from ear to ear. Three-year-old Ann sucked hard on her pacey (big girl pacifier) and rubbed her eyes. Their big brother and parents were still asleep.

“Good morning, Neil. Good morning, Ann. Come on down,” I whispered.

Neil let go of his sister’s hand and said, “Ann, be careful. Hold the rail.”

My Grands walked slowly. I held my arms wide and they nuzzled their heads on my shoulders. Those few moments froze in my mind, my heart. I hugged until my Grands wiggled from my arms. “Go potty and then we’ll sit on the front porch and drink juice,” I said. Both raced toward the bathroom and it amused me that being first is important.
“I’ll go first Ann. I’m bigger,” Neil said just before he closed bathroom door.

These two Grands didn’t know about my pass-through kitchen window that I wrote a column about a few weeks ago. “Come to the kitchen. I have something to show you,” I said. Two small plastic glasses, 1970s vintage Snoopy and Strawberry Shortcake, and my coffee cup were on a tray.

“Can we take juice outside?” Neil asked looking out the window at the table on the front porch.

I raised the window that didn’t have a screen. “How about we set the tray on the porch stool and not carry anything outside?” My Grands clapped their hands.

Ann started toward the front door. Neil grabbed her arm. “Wait. How about we climb out the window?” he asked and looked up at me with his eyes open wide. I nodded and Neil ducked his head under the window. “Watch me, Ann. You’re next.”

Sitting together on the front porch, Ann, Neil, and I talked about sounds. Trucks on a big highway. Birds chirping. We saw dog shapes and circles in white fluffy clouds. Neil told about the big ugly monster that was in his bad dream. Ann said she just slept.

Son joined us at the table. “Daddy, guess what? Me and Ann didn’t walk out here,” Neil said.

“We climbed!” Ann said. And, my Grands raced into the house, their daddy followed to raise the window, and Ann and Neil climbed out again.

So upon rising that day, I immediately kicked into second gear to pour juice and enjoy two young Grands. Later, I hit high gear and stirred pancake batter. I’d trade my normal quiet morning of solitude for a morning with Grands anytime. Any day.

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Too Old for a Swim Day?

Screen Shot 2018-08-02 at 2.12.39 PMTowels. Sunscreen. Water bottles. Lunch. Dry clothes. Daughter’s van was loaded for a day at the pool. We had packed as if she and I were taking her five children across country, not an hour’s drive to a pool with slides, fountains, diving boards, and picnic tables.

Riding shotgun while Daughter drove, I thought of my grandmothers. Would they have worn bathing suits and set out on a day’s swimming adventure at my age?

“What’s so funny?” Daughter asked. I didn’t realize I’d chuckled.

“I’m imagining my grandmothers wearing bathing suits. I don’t think I ever saw their legs and they would never have spent a day at a public pool.”

“What about Grannie? Would she?” Daughter referred to my mother.

“Maybe. But she was younger than me when you were the age of your children.” Am I too old for our planned swim day, I wondered?

At the pool, we claimed two lounge chairs to park our belongings. Sunscreen was lathered on bodies, Daughter gave instructions, and my five Grands took off in different directions.

Lou and David, ages 11 and 13, headed to the deeper water beyond the rope that marked “where you can touch bottom and where you can’t.” Elaine and Ruth, ages 7 and 9, climbed steps to a tunnel slide. Four-year-old Jesse ran into shallow water and jumped, splashing water over his head.

Could Daughter and I keep up with them? She heard my unspoken thought. “Mom, they’re good swimmers and Jesse is wearing a life jacket. Lifeguards are all around. One of us will stay close to Jesse. I will now,” she said.

I walked into the water standing where I could see the other four Grands. They separated. Lou swam laps. David on the diving board. Elaine in line to go down the open curved slide. Ruth under a fountain. I glanced at the pool clock. Only 10:30. Then none of my Grands were where I’d last seen them.

Many kids and adults played close to me, closer than I wished. Suddenly, water splashed on my back and head. I turned and saw David. “Gotcha, Gran!” he said and swam away quickly when I splashed him.

Ruth swam to me. “Gran, did you see me go down the slide? Watch. I’m going again!”   Elaine swam close and turned flips for thirty minutes. I counted how many flips she did without stopping and watched as she flipped forward, backwards, sideways. Then my Grand asked, “Will you take me to the deep water?”

Lou swam underwater and brushed my legs, came up smiling, and said, “You never knew I was there.” I scanned the crowd to spot my Grands and was glad they occasionally came near. I marched in place and did straight arm circles, remembering moves from water aerobics classes.

Jesse waved and shouted, “Gran, come play with me.”

At the end of the day, my nerves were frazzled. My body tired. My thoughts happy. Thankful that grandmothers of my generation wear bathing suits and play.

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Pass-through Window

IMG_5255Husband restated my request. “You want the screen taken off the front window by the kitchen table? You mean left off?”

“Yes. Left off. Without a screen, it’ll be a pass-through from the kitchen to the front porch table,” I explained. “And I wish we had a small table or storage something right under the window on the porch. Something to set things on from the kitchen. The kids and I will love it.”

I appreciate Husband. He’s a do-it, get-it-done person. Within days, he’d taken the screen off and ordered the perfect flip-top, storage stool. White to match the front porch wicker chairs and table. So most mornings, I raise the kitchen window, set my breakfast tray on the stool, put the window down, pick up my morning quiet time books and writing notebook, and walk out the front door. The pass-through saves me about 100 steps, because I don’t make two trips from the kitchen to the porch. But I’m really not lazy, it’s the convenience I like, and the fewer steps I take carrying coffee the less chance I have of spilling it.

One day last summer, when I raised the pass-through window to set Dean’s and my afternoon snacks on the stool, my six-year-old Grand’s eyes opened wide. “I’m setting our snacks on the porch. We can go out the front door and they’ll be there,” I said.

“Or we could go out the window,” said Dean. He stood by the open window with his head outside. “Can I, Gran?”

My Grand climbed out the pass-through, back into the house, and out again. With a grin of someone who had done something he thought he wouldn’t be allowed to do, he said, “That’s cool, Gran.” He hurriedly ate his snack so he could climb back inside the house.

Another day, while Lou, Ruth, and I put vanilla wafers and lemonade on a tray for afternoon ‘tea,’ Lou asked, “Can we eat on the front porch, Gran?”

“I’ll go outside, Lou, and you hand me stuff,” eight-year-old Ruth told Lou, age 6.

“And then I’ll climb out,” said Lou.

“Don’t hand me everything,” said Ruth. “I’ll come back in and hand something to you.” Ruth ran to the front porch and took a glass of lemonade from Lou. Lou climbed out the pass- through. Ruth ran inside through the front door, through the dining room, to the kitchen and handed one thing to Lou and then she climbed out. They took turns inside and outside until the cookies, drinks, and napkins were all on the front porch table.

After we finished eating, Lou said, “Can we climb back in the window?” The girls decided climbing in wasn’t as much fun as climbing out.

The novelty of climbing out and in the pass-through window has worn off and now, a year later, my Grands rarely climb out, but they still think it’s cool to set things outside and not have to carry them through the house and out the door. So do I.

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Touch the Whole Elephant

Screen Shot 2018-06-07 at 7.57.44 AMSix years ago, while five-year-old Elsie and I ate breakfast, I flipped the pages of my new poetry book, Great Poems for Grandchildren. I read a few nursery rhymes aloud and then happened upon The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe. Little did I know this poem would become one of all my Grands’ favorites and little do they know that it was written in the 1800s.

Last week, Elsie’s sister Lucy, age 7, asked, “Gran, will you read poems?” It’s become a tradition: breakfast and poetry. Lucy looked thru a stack of books close to the kitchen table. “Where’s the book with the blind men and elephant?”

“It was six men of Hindostan to learning much inclined,

Who went to see the elephant (Though all of them were blind);

That each by observation might satisfy his mind.

“Gran, stop,” Lucy said. “What does that satis word mean?”

“Satisfy?” I asked. Lucy nodded. “Well, when you eat pancakes you satisfy your stomach and aren’t hungry. They wanted to learn about an elephant and satisfy their minds. They were learning.”

Lucy nodded and said, “Keep going.”  She leaned toward me and waited for the last word on the next stanza.

“The first approached the elephant and happening to fall

Against his broad and study side, at once began to bawl,

‘Bless me, it seems the elephant is very like a ….”

“WALL!” Lucy shouted and laughed. She knew the last word of the next five stanzas.

The second blind man felt the elephant’s tusk and declared the wonder of an elephant is very like a SPEAR.

The third happened to take the squirming trunk and said the elephant very like a SNAKE.

The fourth’s hand felt the knee and said the mighty beast is very like a TREE.

The fifth chanced to touch the ear and marveled that an elephant is very like a FAN.

The sixth groped the swinging tail that fell within his scope and said the elephant is very like a ROPE.

“And so these men of Hindostan disputed loud and long

Each of his own opinion exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!”

Lucy shook her head. “Why didn’t they touch the whole elephant?” Lucy has heard this poem many times, but until now she hasn’t ask questions. “I don’t know,” I said.

“Well, if they had or just talked to each other, they’d know what an elephant looks like,” my young Grand said, the same conclusion that her sister and two other older Grands have made.

Saxe’s last stanza isn’t included in my poetry book for children.

“So, oft in theologic wars, the disputants, I ween, tread on in utter ignorance

Of what each other mean, and prate about the elephant, not one of them has seen!”

My Grands and I have laughed about this poem. Those silly blind men. An elephant with a snake trunk. A rope tail. And each has asked the question: “Why didn’t they touch the whole elephant?” Yes, why?

What’s in Your Wallet?

Elaine, age 6, watched as I searched inside my clutch wallet for money. I finally found $2.13 in bills and coins to pay the clerk. As we walked out of the store, Elaine asked, “What’s all that stuff in your wallet?”

I chuckled and said, “Stuff I need.” And my Grand asked, “For what?” For what, indeed.

Later I thought of Elaine’s questions and two other wallets came to mind. My mom’s and a college girlfriend’s. I stuck Mom’s billfold in my purse when she was admitted to the hospital April 1991. After her death a few days later, I kept it, just as she’d used it. Inside were the necessary things you find in everyone’s billfold: driver’s license, insurance cards, cash. And a few other things: her social security card, emergency contacts, and high school graduation pictures of my brother and me, although both photos had been made more than three decades earlier, and a picture of Mom and Dad. I cried sentimental tears that Mom had kept these pictures.

About ten years ago while travelling with a college girlfriend, I convinced her that her billfold was too big. No wonder she couldn’t find anything and her purse was so heavy. She didn’t need to carry every store discount card and notes from past shopping trips. Together we shopped for a smaller wallet and cleaned out her oversized one. Now, I laugh that my billfold looks like my friend’s did. Full of too much stuff.

So first, my apologies to you dear friend. What’s in my big 8” x 4” clutch organizer with its twelve card slots, zipper compartment, and three divided sections? The card slots are full. An expired museum membership card and insurance card dated 10/16 thru 10/17 to trash. Other cards that are used once a year go in a small zipper pouch in my car. Only two credit cards must stay.

Coins fill the zipper compartment. Pennies multiply. How I wish they’d transform into dollar bills. Just as sure as I clean out all the change, I will need a dime and three pennies to avoid getting back 87 cents in change.

One divided section for bills, one for receipts, and one for other important stuff. Important stuff like a dentist appointment card from 2016, expired restaurant coupons, and a scribbled grocery list – now trashed. And stuff I need: a band-aid, two postage stamps, emergency contact list, a copy of my passport (held over from when I marked the wrong box on my driver’s license renewal form and my driver’s license didn’t have a photo), a card listing a few passwords that regularly escape my mind. And a small plastic cardholder with three photos: one of Husband and two of our children when they were high school students, twenty plus years ago.

So Elaine the stuff in my wallet is important. It’s stuff to for identification, to buy more stuff, emergency stuff, and some sentimental stuff. Just like the stuff in most people’s wallets.

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A Young Grand’s Love

“GRAN!” Jesse screams as he jumps down the backdoor steps at his house. I spread my arms wide and my 3 year-old Grand runs to me. He jumps. I lift him and he wraps his legs around my waist and buries his head in my shoulder.

“Oh, Jesse, I’m so happy to hug you!” I say. Just as happy as I was the day before when he ran to me.

These are the times grandparents must never forget. Must cherish. Almost every time Husband or I see Jesse he asks, “Go to Pop and Gran’s house today?” And he accepts our frequent answer, “Not today, Jesse. Would you like to come another day?” He smiles and screams, “Yes!” Another day can be tomorrow or a day next week.

Jesse has a routine when he visits Husband’s and my house by himself. He climbs the steps to the upstairs playroom. “Come on!” he says. He sets the 1970s Fisher Price plastic garage on a low table and dumps the matchbox cars out of a basket. He parks each car in a blue or red space and counts them. “1, 2, 3, 4,” he says. Then he counts again, “1, 7, 5, 2.”

“Let’s read books now,” my Grand says as he runs to the kids’ bookshelf.   He chooses the same books every time: Look Out for Mater and Tales from the Track, both about the red car Lightening McQueen and his car friends. He throws the books onto the couch. “Sit here, Gran!” he says and slaps beside the books. I sit and he crawls onto my lap.

My Grand laughs aloud when Mater, a brown tow truck travels down a curvy road backwards. And whispers “Shhh” when Big Bull, a monster-sized bulldozer, sleeps. Before I finish reading the second book, Husband comes into the playroom. “Poppy!” Jesse shouts and crawls out of my lap, holds the book, and runs to Husband. Poppy, Jesse’s love name for Husband. Seven other Grands call him Pop, but Jesse coined Poppy, and now it’s his turn to read aloud.

No matter the time of day or how long the visit, Jesse wants a snack. “I’m hungry,” he says. He carries a booster seat to a kitchen chair and fastens its safety belt around his waist. He peels a tangerine, and like most toddlers, stuffs his mouth full and then talks. “Cookies! Can I have cookies?” he says. His snacks are always the same: a tangerine, cookies, and water. Water in a blue plastic cup and a blue straw.

When it’s time for me to take my Grand home, he runs to Husband. “Bye, Poppy,” and holds his arms up to be lifted. If Husband simply hugs, Jesse reminds him to kiss-hug and wiggles to the floor after each kisses the other’s cheek.

Jesse’s greetings and kiss-hugs won’t last much longer. Soon he’ll do as his older siblings who casually say, “Hi, Gran” or wave half-heartedly. But I remember, they too, ran to me when they were toddlers.

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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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