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What Grandparents Do

images  Grandparents do silly things. Like travel halfway across the country to hug grandchildren. Husband and I made this all day journey to visit Son and Daughter-in-Law about twice a year, until five years ago. Now, three Grands later, we make the trip more often.

Son carried Husband’s and my suitcases from his car, opened the front door of his home, and announced, “Pop and Gran are here!” Bare feet slapped the wooden floor as Dean, age 4, and little brother, Neil, ran. Husband lifted Dean who wrapped his arms and legs around his Pop in a whole body hug. Two-year-old Neil stretched his arms high and his threw his head back. I lifted my Grand into a hug and he buried his face in my shoulder. “Oh, Neil! I love you,” I said. “Uv’ you,” Neil said and swiped his open mouth across my cheek.

Baby sister Annie lay on her stomach on the floor. Dean ran to her. “Annie, look! Pop and Gran are here!” I sat on the floor beside my four month old Grand and picked her up. I hugged her close. Her brothers patted her arms, her head, her legs, and snuggled close to me. The hassle and cost of the day’s journey were worth every effort, every minute, every penny.

Grandparents laugh at the same corny riddle time and time again. Dean sat across the supper table from me. “Gran,” he said, “What did the cow do when her car wouldn’t start?” I guessed that she got her car fixed or walked or bought a new car. Dean shook his head from shoulder to shoulder. “She rode her MOO-tercycle!” my Grand said and he burst out laughing. I laughed, too. The next day and the next I still didn’t know what that cow would do and Dean and I both laughed when he shouted, “MOO-tercycle!”

Neil asked and answered his own favorite riddle. “Sad cow?” he said and immediately lowered his chin, stuck out his bottom lip, pulled down his eyebrows, and said, “MOO, hoo, hoo.” When everyone at the table laughed, he skipped the question and chanted, “MOO, hoo, hoo.” Dean’s and Neil’s riddles were part of every meal’s conversation for three days. I laughed every time.

Grandparents babble. Annie sat in her bouncy seat. I said, “Look at you. You’re as cute as a June bug. La, la, la, la, la. Look at those big beautiful brown eyes. You’re such a happy and strong girl.” My Grand kicked her left leg and made her seat rock. Her eyes sparkled. Her mouth opened wide and she stuck her fist in her mouth. I rattled on. “Oh, is your fist good? Yum. Yum. How about a song? Ole MacDonald had a farm….” Annie laughed out loud at my imitation of a horse. Even her big brothers laughed.

Grandparents like wiggles and scrunches. Recently a new grandmother said, “Before my granddaughter was born, I’d think ‘What’s the big deal?’ Yesterday a friend showed me pictures of her first grandchild and told me how her grandson wiggles his toes, scrunches his nose, and fills his diaper. You know, I get this grandparent thing. I didn’t understand why grandchildren were so special. You gotta’ be a grandparent to get it. I get it!”

Grandparents stick together. After all, we do such silly things.

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A Refreshing Walk with My Grand

imgres “Wots dat?” Neil asked and pointed toward white, feathery puffs of cotton that floated above his head.

“It’s seeds from cottonwood trees,” I said. He reached his hands high to catch the seeds, but they floated around him and onto the ground. He picked up a delicate seed and closed it inside his fist. When he spread his fingers wide, the seed seemed to have disappeared. He wrinkled his forehead, cocked his head, and picked up another seed.

Neil, my almost two-year-old Grand, seemed perplexed. He gathered several cottonseeds -one at a time- closed his hand, and when he opened it, he didn’t see the same white cotton puff. “Gone!” he announced and then began walking.

Neil and I were taking a morning walk. In his neighborhood, on the sidewalk, to a nearby park. “Wots dat?” Neil pointed to a white spot on the sidewalk. “Bird poo. Don’t touch it,” I told him and held his hand tightly. “POO!” he shouted and wiggled his hand free from mine. We had reached the park and Neil ran to and climbed upon a green metal bench. “POO!” he said and patted white spots on the bench.

A robin hopped on the grass, pecked at the ground, and raised its head. I held Neil in my lap and told him that the robin was searching for worms to eat. The robin flew low to the ground and Neil’s feet hit the ground running. Arms stretched in front of him, legs churning, Neil ran toward the bird. Mr. Robin stopped, pecked the ground again, and when Neil was only a few feet away, the bird flew. All around the open grassy field, the two played chase.

But, of course, Neil never came close to Mr. Robin. Finally, the robin perched in a pine tree. Neil ran to the tree and looked up. I pointed to the bird and suggested that he was full and ready for a rest. “Gone!” Neil announced.

Holding hands Neil and I walked along the sidewalk to the duck pond. “Wot dey doing?” Neil asked when we saw several ducks with their heads tucked along their backs. I said, “Probably sleeping.” Neil asked, “Why?” I explained that ducks get tired just like we do and, knowing that why questions never end, I veered our walk toward Neil’s home.

My Grand gathered short sticks that he gave me to hold and we talked about things we saw. Airplane contrails that crisscrossed the sky. White puffy clouds. A man who was power washing his driveway. A brown rabbit that hopped from shrub to shrub. A red pickup truck. Yellow tulips that Neil couldn’t pick.

“Wots dat?” Neil suddenly stopped walking. “It sounds like a fire truck,” I said. A fire truck that didn’t come within our sight, but kept Neil still long enough that he spotted ants, tiny brown ones, on the concrete walk. He squatted so low that his knees touched his chin and he watched the ants scurry to their anthill in the grass and then back onto the sidewalk. One ant hurried away from the others and Neil, still in a tight squat, shuffled his feet and followed it until it crawled into the grass.

“We’re home,” I told Neil. He rushed into his house and gave his older brother a treasure – one of his sticks.

There’s nothing quite so refreshing as taking a walk with a toddler. Everything is fascinating. Even seeds and ants and sticks.

 

 

Birthday Reflections

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When a burn permit is needed before the birthday candles are lit, it’s time to stop putting candles on the cake, right? My Grands didn’t think and they decorated my cake with exactly the right number of candles. Husband asked, “Did you get a burn permit?” That wasn’t one bit funny. My Grands said, “There’s so many candles, we’ll help you blow them out!” All the candles weren’t lit, but the cake still looked like an inferno. It took four Grands and me so long to blow out all those candles that the ice cream melted in the carton.

After my birthday last week, it occurred to me that I’m the age Granny was when she was old. So old that I’d pinch the skin on the back of her hand and count the seconds until her skin lay flat. So old that a hard day’s work was hoeing two rows of corn in her garden. So old that she wore long dresses and black leather lace-up shoes and stuffed a handkerchief in her bosom.

Times have changed. We grandmothers of today aren’t like my grandmother, there are some things women of Granny’s generation did that I’ve promised myself I won’t do.

  1. Hold my purse in my lap.
  2. Carry a plastic rain cap in my purse.
  3. Take a sweater everywhere I go – especially during the summer.
  4. Talk about bathroom habits.
  5. Say, “I lost ____.” (Fill in the blank with the most recently missing item.)

When I was a young thirty-something, I attended a luncheon for senior citizens and I set my purse on the floor. The two women seated across from me whispered to each other and then one said, “Your purse is on the floor.” I nodded, smiled, and agreed. They looked as if I’d just announced that there was a fire in the building. With big eyes and a stern voice, one lady said, “Honey, the floor is no place for your purse.” Then I noticed that all the older women at the table held their purses, with thin paper napkins covering them, in their laps. And I swore that I’d never, ever hold my purse in my lap.

I don’t even know if those little plastic rain caps are still available. Granny always carried two in her purse, one for herself and one for anyone who didn’t have one. Yes, sometimes rooms are overly air-conditioned and a sweater is needed – but no one needs a sweater at an outside Fourth of July celebration. About the bathroom talk – when I was a little girl, I learned that what happens in the bathroom isn’t talked about. That goes for everybody, no matter how old.

I really don’t lose things. I put things in safe places or logical places to use them another time. Recently I said to Husband, “When you see my little gray camera laying around somewhere, please tell me where it is.” And he said, “So that’s what you’ve lost today?” I didn’t say that.

Here’s my plan. As long as my Grands will put candles on my birthday cake and help me blow them out, I want birthday candles. And I won’t act old, like Granny and her friends did, and I’ll never let my Grands pinch the back of my hand.

At the Kitchen Table

images “What else did you do with your granny?” my six-year-old Grand asked.  I’d told Lou that I use to sit with Granny at her kitchen table, just as she and I were sitting at mine.  Lou wore her swimsuit, ready to play in the YMCA pool, as soon as we finished breakfast.

Granny lived alone and just down the road, a three-minute walk from my house.  And most afternoons after school, I’d checked in at home, say I’d had a good day, and slam the screen backdoor as I shouted, “I’m going to Granny’s.”  Every time Mother told me not to eat candy or anything sweet at Granny’s or I’d spoil my supper.

Granny would push her quilt blocks aside on the couch and make room for me to sit.  “Are you hungry?”  she’d  ask.  Of course I was, because that question was Granny’s offer to make chocolate candy.  Sugar, a hunk of butter, a little milk, and a scoop of cocoa – all dumped into a metal saucepan and heated.  Stirred a few times until the mixture boiled, and then stirred constantly.  Granny dripped a few drops of the hot mixture into a small glass of cold water.  If it formed a smooth ball when I rolled it with my finger, it was done.  She set the saucepan on her white metal table and poured in a few drops of vanilla flavoring.  Then she beat the gooey chocolate with a wooden spoon until it became thick or until her arm was tired and she announced that we’d made spoon candy.  She poured the warm chocolate candy on a buttered platter.  A white one with a small chip that is now in my kitchen cabinet.

It was grainy candy –sometimes firm enough to cut into sloppy squares immediately and sometimes spoon candy, my favorite.  Granny got two spoons out of a drawer, wiped them on her apron tied around her waist, and then she and I ate straight from the platter.  She started at one end of the platter, I at the other.  As we ate, the syrupy candy would spread out and Granny declared that we’d hardly eaten any.  The candy still covered most of the platter.  And then Granny insisted I drink a big glass of water.  “Wash your mouth out,” she’d said.  No doubt, she didn’t want her daughter-in-law, my mother, to see all the chocolate on my teeth.

As much as I liked the candy, the happiest memory is sitting beside Granny at her kitchen table and talking.  She’d tell me about the day’s soap operas and I’ll tell her about Marvin jumping off the top of the slide on the school playground and getting in trouble.  I liked sitting beside Granny, just as I like my Grand sitting beside me at my kitchen table.

“You know, I had a granny and your mother had a granny,” I told Lou.  “I thought about having you call me Granny, instead of Gran.  What do you think?”

Lou looked at me with raised eyebrows.  “I think a granny wouldn’t swim with me.”  She’s probably right.

 

Grandparents Day – September 8

images   I hate to admit that when my children were young, I ignored Grandparents Day.  In fact, I thought that designated Sunday in September was probably a day that Hallmark and other greeting card companies created to sell more cards.  I may have encouraged my children to say, “Happy Grandparents Day!” to their grandparents, but that was it.

I was wrong.  Recently, I researched and learned that in 1970, a West Virginia housewife, Marian McQuade, initiated a campaign to set aside this special day.  Throughout her life, she was an advocate for the elderly, especially shut-ins and those in nursing homes, and she wanted a day to publicly honor this generation.  With the help of civic groups, businesses, churches, and political leaders, her campaign for Grandparents Day went statewide.  The first Grandparents Day was proclaimed in 1973 in West Virginia, and that state’s senator introduced a Grandparents Day resolution in the United States Senate.

Then Mrs. McQuade and her team contacted governors, senators, and congressmen in every state.  They gained the support of national organizations interested in senior citizens, as well as churches and businesses.  In 1978, the United States Congress passed legislation proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day, and President Jimmy Carter signed the proclamation.  September was chosen for the holiday, to signify the “autumn years” of life.

And I learned that Mrs. McQuade and her committee set three purposes for this day.  One as I expected:  to honor grandparents.  Another, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children.  And finally, to help children become aware of the strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.  To me, these purposes say that Grandparents Day is about making memories.

The official Grandparents Day website, http://www.grandparents-day.com, even suggests activities to strengthen the bond among three generations.  Grandparents can share stories of the past, telling about “the old days.”  Then the door for children, both adult parents and grandchildren, to ask questions is open.  Look at photos together and label the pictures with details of who, when, and where.  Play games and sing songs that grandparents played and sang when they were young.  Construct a family tree so that children see the names of their ancestors.

I like when I’m wrong and right is right.  The creation of Grandparents Day was about talking and sharing and playing and singing.  On Sunday, September 8, I plan to share pictures of my Grands’ parents when they were young, and tell my Grands about the day a pet guinea pig hid behind the refrigerator.  We’ll play a family game of ‘Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?’  And I’m sure my Grands will be glad they weren’t named after either of my grandmothers – Gladys and Etta Juda.

The founder of Grandparents Day lived to celebrate it for thirty years.  At the time of Mrs. McQuade’s death in 2008, her family (15 children, 43 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren) requested that that in her memory that others pass on family histories to grandchildren, visit with the elderly, or volunteer in a local nursing home.  Her children knew their mother’s idea was to “Make every day Grandparents Day.”

As it should be.

Life Goes Around

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            Many years ago, Husband and I lived the life that Son and my favorite Daughter-in-law are living now.  I’d forgotten some things about life with a two-year old toddler and a newborn, but it all came back to me during a weeklong visit with Son and his family.

When a toddler goes to bed at 7:00 p.m., he gets up at 5:30 a.m.  When he goes to bed at 8:00, he gets up at 5:30.

Newborn diapers are the size of a standard letter envelope.

Bananas taste better when you hold the whole banana.  Why did I ever think my toddler Grand would like a banana cut into slices?

Newborns relax and sleep when they are swaddled tightly in a blanket, and swaddling takes practice.  My three-week old Grand squirmed enough to free his arms when I wrapped him, but he stayed tightly cocooned when his mother swaddled him.

Newborns spit up within thirty minutes after being dressed in a clean outfit.

It’s fun to see the big green garage truck stop in front of your house.  A city worker dumps the contents of your fifty-gallon trashcan into the back of the truck and then the trash is all gone.

Don’t say ‘outside’ unless you plan to go outside.  And don’t say ‘take a walk,’ unless you are ready to go outside right that minute and take your toddler with you.

A walk around the block is an adventure.  Yellow flowers, smooth rocks, and Linden tree leaves are treasures.

Choose a book that you truly like to read aloud.  After I read the last page of Dr. Seuss’s There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, my toddler Grand immediately said, “Agen!”  By the fourth reading, I wished I’d chosen a different book.

When you take a newborn to the grocery store, other shoppers who are close by walk slowly and speak softly.

A towel draped over a kitchen table chair is a perfect hiding place, and a toddler is quiet when he hides.

Peek-a-boo is a laugh out loud game.  I covered my face with my hands and said, “Where’s Dan?”  My toddler Grand dumped the wooden blocks out of a plastic tub and covered his head.  He lifted the tub and giggled when I simply said, “Peek-a-boo!”

Newborns cry when they are hungry or have a dirty diaper or need to burp.  And sometimes a newborn cries and only he knows why.

A toddler can be one second away from a melt down, especially when he is tired or hungry.

It’s makes you happy when you serve a second helping of your home-cooked spaghetti to a toddler, and he pumps his fists and says “Oh, yeah!”

A wooden train set can entertain a toddler for at least twenty minutes, several times a day.  Eight train cars can be lined up in many different ways.

When a newborn sleeps in your arms, you should sit perfectly still and savor every moment.

It’s okay to go to bed before dark.  The toddler in his room.  The grandmother in hers.

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To My Youngest Grand

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Dear Neil,

I blew a kiss.  Did you catch it?  Your mother’s holding you tightly.  You’re wearing the little blue outfit that you wore home from the hospital.  You’re only two weeks old – a newborn.  And Pop’s and my sixth grandchild.  You are perfect!

Pop and I see you on our computer.  Your clinched fists, your squinted eyes, your wrists and ankles with tiny creases, your black, short, straight hair.  Do you look like your big brother?  A bit.  Same cute nose and round face.

Real soon I get to hold you.  Hug you.  Kiss you.  Rock you.  Read to you.  And even change a diaper or two.  Seeing you through the magic of video talk is better than hearing your parents describe you over the telephone, but I need to hold you in my arms.  Watch you stretch your fists high over your head as you awaken.  Smack your lips when you are hungry.  Cross your legs under your bottom when you sleep.  I even want to hear you cry.  Your way of saying, “Help me!” and I must figure out what you need.

I wonder if the experts are right.  They say that newborns can focus best at 8 -12 inches and that people’s faces are your favorite things to see.  Colors are difficult for you to distinguish; simple black and white pictures are best. So I’ll get close when I talk to you, and I’ll draw black and white stick-person pictures to hang in your room.

You hear well.  And you most like to hear people talk to you.  Especially when the sounds you make are repeated.  That’s why we grandparents babble so.  We’re speaking your language.  And you like everyday sounds.  When your two-year-old brother squeals and sings as he plays with balls and cars, you must be happy.  According to experts, you like to be touched – you know that you’re loved and cared for when you’re held and hugged and kissed.  I didn’t need an expert to tell me that!

Someone actually did a sweet and sour taste test to see which flavor newborns prefer.  Of course, you’d choose sugar water over lemon-flavored water.  When you’re a little older, I’ll feed you ice cream instead of sour apple popsicles.  Your sense of smell is developed enough that you turn away from unpleasant odors.  I’m sure you like the smell of your mother’s chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven.

Neil, you’ll be a newborn for such a short time.  One day you’ll lie on the floor, kick your legs, and turn over.  And later you’ll get up on your hands and knees, rock back and forth, move a few inches, and crawl.  And by this time next year, you’ll be walking!

But for now, you are content to have your belly full, be warm, and sleep.  I can hardly wait to swaddle you in a blanket and cradle you in my arms.  As a friend said, “There’s nothing as sweet as holding a newborn.  They wad up in your arms.  Just a little bundle of love.”

Love you forever,

Gran