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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?

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Big Rubber Ducky

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 6.29.02 AM Lou, age 8, spent the night with Husband and me, and the next morning she and I sat at the kitchen table eating breakfast. We had talked about her plans for the day, and then she asked, “What are you going to do today, Gran?”

“Write the first draft of next week’s column, but I’m not sure what I’ll write about. I hate that. I have some ideas, but none that I’m excited to write,” I said.

Lou immediately held her hands wide apart and said, “Write about the big rubber ducky!” I laughed. My older Grands, ages 6, 8, and 10, have teased me about a rubber duck I bought for all my Grands to play with when they take a bath at my house.

“Oh, Lou, I don’t think there’s enough about the rubber ducky for a column. What would I write?” And then my Gran began talking and told me to get paper and write it down. So here’s the big rubber ducky story from Lou’s point of view.

“Well, Gran,” Lou said, “You came to our house and said that you just bought two rubber duckies. One big. One small. And you held your hands two feet apart.” She held her hands far apart. “And I said, ‘That’s one big duck!’ And you nodded your head.”

“Then a couple of days later Ruth (her six-year-old sister) and I came to spend the night and it was time to take a bath and I asked, ‘Where’s the B I G rubber ducky?’ and you got that little old ducky out from under the sink.” My Grand giggled, and I held my hand up for her to stop talking so I could write.

Lou looked out the kitchen window and said, “Gran, does all of this have to be true?” I tried to explain poetic license.

After a silent minute, Lou continued, “Okay, so Ruth said, ‘You call that big! That’s the smallest duck ever.’ And I said, ‘To my calculations that isn’t anything close to two feet long!’ Write it just like that Gran.”

Lou held her hands far apart and then slowly moved them together until they almost touched. As her hands moved her eyes widened. I asked, “Lou, are you sure you said that?”

“Well, probably. Cause it’s true.” My Grand grinned, ducked her head, and giggled. “Gran, will you write it like that? You told us it was two feet long and it’s just a normal old rubber ducky.”

Let me explain. I think I held my hands about a body width apart when I said that I’d bought two rubber ducks. My Grands assumed I was showing them the big ducky’s size when I was simply gesturing as if giving a gift. The big rubber duck is only six inches long. The little one, four inches.

After Lou’s and Ruth’s visit when they first saw the ducks, they told their family the actual sizes. So the next time David, age 10, visited, he went straight to the bathroom. “I want to see that rubber duck that’s so big it barely fits in the bathtub,” my Grand said. He held it in his hands. “Gran, you really think this is two feet long?” He shook his head and grinned.

My Grands are having fun teasing me. I just hope they never find a two-foot rubber ducky for sale. It wont’ fit under my bathroom sink.

And thank you, Lou, for writing this column.

###

 

Fingers and Noses

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 8.11.19 AMWhat is it about a kid’s finger and his nose? Evidently, an invisible magnet on the end of a child’s pointer finger attracts metal hidden deep inside that child’s nose. If this vision is repulsive, stop reading now. I understand. I don’t like it either. But not so long ago, Husband and I and two of our Grands laughed hard about fingers in noses, and then I thought of all the nose-pickers I’ve known.

My Grand looked downright cute wearing Husband’s TTU baseball cap. The cap bill slung low to one side and my Grand cocked his head. A perfectly innocent pose to capture on my camera phone. Click. I held the phone in front of Husband, “Look at this cute guy. I’m sending it to his mom.”

“With his finger up his nose?” Husband said and burst out laughing. My Grand’s finger was really close to – not up – his nose. But Husband’s comment gave my Grand and his younger sister, who stood beside him, an idea.

“Take another one!” my Grand said and he stuck his pointer finger second-knuckle deep inside his nose. “Me, too!” his sister said. She matched his pose. Their heads bumped against each other as they laughed. Husband’s laugh was a snort.

My two cute Grands. Wide open eyes. Mouths open. Laughing. With their fingers up their noses. I laughed so hard I could barely steady my phone for a picture. And yes, I sent it to their mother. Thankfully, she saw the humor in her children’s exaggerated poses.

As an elementary school teacher, I had at least one student in most every class who was a nose-picker, and I was always sure I could teach that child to stop. And it wasn’t just boys. Princess-like little girls dig for nasal treasures, too. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve told a kid to take his finger out of his nose.

At the beginning of the school year, I’d whisper in the child’s ear, “Take your finger out of your nose, please.” He (again, he could be a she) would duck his head and scrunch his exploring finger with his other fingers into a fist. By December, I’d stand in front of my entire class and say silly things such as, “So let’s review the steps of division, finger–nose. Divide, multiply, subtract, finger-nose, bring down.” The nose digger would slide his nose-picking finger over his lips, down his chin, along his neck, across his shirt, and rest it on his math paper.

By springtime, I’d give the culprit a wide-eyed stare and point my finger high in the air as I continued reading aloud about the adventures of Charlotte the spider trying to save Wilbur the pig. By then, nose digger simply rested his finger on his neck for a few seconds and then the metal inside his nose claimed the magnet on his finger.

Thinking back over my decades of teaching, I didn’t convince a single child to keep his finger out of his nose. I should’ve announced on the first day of each school year, “Give me a nickel every day you want to put your finger up your nose, and I won’t try to make you stop.”

I could’ve retired years earlier. And laughed all the way to the bank.

###

Speaking Their Language

search “Gran, do you know where my Michelangelo is?” my Grand asked thirty minutes after I arrive for a week’s visit at his family’s home.

“No, but I’ll help you look,” I answered. “Tell me what it looks like,” I said. I was impressed that Dean who was almost 4 years old had a Michelangelo. Was I looking for a painting? A sculpture?

“He’s green. He’s got an orange mask,” Dean said. I nodded my head and frowned. “He’s got nunchuks,” my Grand explained. Nunchuks? Weapons?

“How big is Michelangelo?” I asked.

“Wait,” Dean said and held up his hand as if he were stopping traffic. He ran to his and his brother’s toy box and searched and then ran back to me holding an action figure that I’d seen Dean’s younger brother carrying. “It’s like this. This is Neil’s.”

“Oh! He’s a Teenage Mutant Turtle!” I said, feeling a bit silly that I didn’t realize that right away. I know the ‘turtles’ have been around for a long time. I don’t always remember their names.

“He’s a Ninja!” Dean said. A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle to be exact. Dean and I searched his house. On the floor. In the toy box. And getting into the spirit of the hunt, I called, “Michangelo, where are you?”

“Gran, you can call him Mikey!” Dean said as he threw sofa pillows onto the floor. “I found him!” Dean held him with both hands and shoved him toward me. A six-inch tall plastic action figure with a broad smile showing a mouthful of big white teeth and wearing an orange shield and mask. And it had nothing to do with the Renaissance artist who sculpted David.

Dean sat in my lap and showed me how the tiny nunchuks fit in Mikey’s hand. “Aren’t there other Ninjas?” I asked. My Grand rattled off the names. “Leonardo and Raphael and Donatello.” He only had Michelangelo and there are lots of Ninjas, but these four are the most important. I mentioned that all these are famous artists and began to tell about Michelangelo. “I know. Mom told me,” my Grand said.

“I’ve got a Bumblebee,” he said and ran to his room. I didn’t expect a yellow and black flying insect and Bumblebee wasn’t. Dean put a good-looking sports car in my hand. “Bumblebee, that’s a good name for a yellow and black car,” I said.

“Look,” Dean said and he grabbed Bumblebee. He pulled and twisted movable parts and transformed the car into a fierce looking warrior robot. My Grand likes to play with balls and cars and play dough and blow bubbles and run outside, but he’s really into action figures and his and his brother’s birthdays were only a few days away.

I shopped for Leonardo, the hard-working, honest, fearless leader, and found a huge display of Ninjas. Leonardo hung front and center. Easy and fast shopping, except I needed identical Ninjas, one for Dean and one for Neil. Ffter searching through dozens of packages that kept falling off long metal display rods, I finally found and bought two Leonardos.

Dean jerked Leonardo out of his birthday gift bag and held it high above his head. “Look! He’s like Michelangelo! And you got Neil one, too! Gran, do you know where my Michelangelo is?”

I knew what I was looking for. Not a painting or sculpture. I’d become Ninja literate.

 

 

 

 

 

After a Rain

IMG_3042  On a warm sunny day after several rainy days, five-year-old Ruth squats low to the ground under a maple tree in her backyard. I walk near her and see that she’s stirring a small puddle of muddy water with a stick.

“What’re you doing, Ruth?” I ask. She looks up. There are mud streaks on her cheeks and she hands me a plastic glass filled with brown liquid with bubbles on top.

“I made chocolate milk with soap and mud. Do you want to taste it?” my Grand says.  I shake my head. “I did and it’s disgusting!” Ruth says. She turns her back to me, picks up a handful of mud, molds it into a ball, and flattens it. “Now I’m making a pancake.” She places the mud pancake on a flat rock, scoops muddy water out of the mud puddle, and splashes it on top of the pancake.

She holds the rock toward me. “Try it, Gran. It has chocolate sauce on top and it’s delicious!” I pretend to take a bite and agree that it is delicious.

“As delicious as the mud pies that I made when I was a child. I put gravel in them and sold them to my dad for a nickel,” I say. Ruth asks why I used gravel. “The gravels were chocolate chips.” Ruth nods and turns back to the dirt. I expect that she’ll ask for a nickel for the pancake, but she doesn’t.

Using a plastic shovel and her fingers, my Grand digs in loose dirt and uncovers earthworms. She holds one in her hands and it wiggles. She puts the worm in an orange plastic sand bucket that is half full of muddy water. Then she holds another worm until it too tries to wiggle away, and she puts it into the bucket. I tell Ruth that I played with worms when I was a little girl. She puts both hands in the bucket of water and wraps a worm around her fingers and says, “They really like me, but they can’t live with me so I put them in water and they’ll be happy.” If worms can feel happy, these two certainly should.

Ruth swishes her hands in the bucket of water and wipes them over the grass and then down the side of her shorts. She leaves her mud play and climbs up the ladder of the jungle gym and slides down the five-foot long slide. She jumps on the trampoline with her older brother and sister. I stand outside on the driveway and talk with Daughter as we watch her children play.

Ruth soon returns to the mud puddle and again smashes more mud between her hands. From several feet away, I hear her talking about mud pies and pancakes and chocolate chips and chocolate sauce. She stops her mud play and picks up another earthworm and puts it in the bucket.

It’s time for me to leave Ruth’s family’s home. I tell Daughter and my Grands goodbye, get hugs and kisses, and turn on my car’s ignition. “Wait!” Daughter says and holds up one hand, “Ruth wants to tell you something else.” I roll the car window down.

My Grand yells. “Look out, Gran! There’s a worm. Don’t run over it!”

I wouldn’t dare. That worm will be happy with its friends in Ruth’s bucket of water.

###

 

 

 

Anywhere You WAnt

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 7.52.09 AMDaughter and I told my two Grands that while we were on an overnight trip to celebrate their birthdays, each could choose a place to eat. Ruth, turning 6, chose the Rainforest Café for lunch. It was convenient for our shopping at Opry Mills where the girls would later build bears. Lou, almost 8, doesn’t like the Rainforest Café. Its thunderstorms. Loud, roaring and squawking animals. Trees and bushes. The food. She’d wait outside in the mall.

As Ruth and I followed the hostess to a corner booth, I heard Daughter use her mother voice and minutes later she and Lou joined us. Ruth loves everything about this restaurant that her sister hates. “Look! There’s the elephants making their loud noises,” Ruth said. This Grand was thrilled. She ate most of the hotdog and potatoes that she ordered while Lou sampled her tomato soup and ate two packages of crackers and a crunchy yeast roll. “Remember,” Lou said, “I’m picking the supper place!”

There were many choices near the Providence Marketplace in Mt. Juliet. After an hour-long swim in our hotel’s swimming pool, both girls were eager to eat supper. “What are you hungry for?” Daughter asked Lou. We settled into our van and everyone buckled seat belts, the girls seated behind Daughter and me. Lou said, “What’s the choices?” And that’s when Daughter and I made our mistake.

“Anywhere you want to go,” I said. Daughter added, “Look around. There are lots places here. You pick.”   Then we announced a few places. Panera Bread. Chick-fil-A. Wendy’s. New York Pizza. Lou shook her head after every restaurant we named. Daughter drove slowly around the shopping center parking lot.

“Wait!” Lou said, “Is that Kroger? Let’s go to Kroger!” Daughter and I laughed. “We’re not buying food to cook,” Daughter said.

“No cooking,” Lou said with a big smile. “Let’s go to Kroger and get Lunchables!”

“Lunchables aren’t supper,” said Daughter. “It could be. Get two,” said Lou. I named more restaurants. “Kroger. Lunchables,” my Grand said.

Daughter said, “There’s no place in Kroger to eat.”

“Then we’ll take them back to our hotel room,” Lou said. I said that I wanted to put my feet under a table to eat, not while sitting on a bed. “Then we’ll take them to the swimming pool. There’s tables and chairs there.” I didn’t explain that food wasn’t allowed in the pool area. We were passed the point of being reasonable.

“How about frozen yogurt?” said Daughter. I suggested Marble Slab ice cream.

“Kroger Lunchables! Kroger Lunchables!” Lou chanted happily. Ruth joined in. My two Grands clapped to the beat of their singsong voices. “You said anywhere!” Lou interjected. Daughter and I shook our heads and smiled at each other. “And I didn’t like the Rainforest!” Lou reminded us.

Daughter and I looked carefully at the sign painted on Panera Bread’s door. It didn’t say “No Outside Food” so we stashed Lou’s and Ruth’s suppers inside our purses. We chose a back corner table. Daughter’s and my bowls of soup were delicious and my Grands ate every morsel of their Luncheables.

“Haven’t you written a column about Luncheables?” Daughter asked. I nodded. “This might rate another.”

How could a grandmother and a mother, both former elementary school teachers, not name three choices? Never ever say “Anywhere you want to go.” Never.

 

Not As It Seems

search I’m blessed with four Grands between the ages of 1½ and 5½. I love the toddler stage, and I’m always entertained by the way young children see the world. Their confusion that everything isn’t literal or as it seems.

Elaine is 3 ½ and she became very upset over something that happened to her older sister, Ruth. While on a recent vacation with Daughter and her family, Ruth and I got out of the swimming pool and sat in the hot tub. Ruth eased herself in front of one of the jets and her loose swim shirt quickly filled with air. “Look, Elaine!” she laughed and called to sister. “Look at my bathing suit!” Elaine came running toward the hot tub, saw Ruth, and then froze in place. Elaine’s eyes grew big. She put both hands over her mouth and screamed, “No! No! Get out! Get out!’ I assured Elaine that Ruth was okay. Ruth got out of the hot tub and Elaine helped her pat the bathing suit flat against her body. Elaine looked at Ruth’s chest and back under her bathing suit.  When Ruth turned to get back in the hot tub, Elaine screamed, “No! Don’t get in!” There was no way to convince Elaine that Ruth wouldn’t inflate, like a balloon.

When Dean was barely 2 ½, his mother asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. Dean looked off into space and didn’t answer. Thinking he needed some hints, his mother suggested that he might be a fireman or policeman. Dean frowned, turned his head side to side and said, “Big. Grow up big!”   He was three years old when he went grocery shopping with his mother and saw a carton of brown eggs in a clear plastic package. “Look! Chocolate eggs! Get those,” he told his mother.

David was five when he saw the sunrise at the beach. “Look! The sun came out of the water!” The same sun that stayed all night in the water; it went in the water in one place and came out another.

My Grands take me back to the time my own children were toddlers. I thought that Son, age 4 and Daughter, age 5 ½ could help me paint a play table. I gave each of them a brush and poured a small amount of blue paint into two flat-bottomed plastic bowls. We determined which half of the table each of them would paint and for a few minutes, all went well. Most of the washable blue paint was spread on the tabletop and most drips landed on the newspapers that covered the garage floor. Then Daughter complained that Son was painting a leg on her section of the table. I said, “Eric, paint your legs,” and I went into the house for one minute to get something. Eric followed my directions perfectly. He completely covered both his own legs with blue paint.

Toddlers. Trying to understand the whys and causes and directions. Aren’t we all?