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What Could Be Better?



I’ve often said there’s nothing better than playing with my Grands.  And I bet most grandparents would agree that time alone with a grandchild is as good as life gets.  But this week, I ate those words and they were delicious.

My youngest little Grand is 19 months old.  Full of energy and a happy, busy little boy.  He loves to play with balls.  Any kind or shape or size.  So last week when I visited him and his parents, my Grand and I played ball.  We rolled a small rubber basketball across the carpeted floor.  “Show Gran how you can shoot a basket,” his mother said.  With more encouragement, he threw the ball through the goal that’s at his stretch-high-as-he-can fingertip level.  “Good job!”  I clapped and cheered.  My Grand and I tossed the balls toward each other and sometimes we caught them.  But we rarely shot baskets.

For three days while my Grand’s mother ran errands and did household chores, he and I played.  We pushed red and yellow and green plastic balls through the openings of a drum that had perfect round circles in matching colors.  We hid those plastic balls under stacking cups and we built a tower, six cups tall, and then knocked it down.  There’s something funny about watching plastic cups and balls bounce across the floor.

We played farm with a Fisher Price barn and silo and animals.  We made animals sounds – baa, moo, neigh.  We pushed and pulled every lever to hear recorded barnyard noises.  My Grand hid all the animals in the silo and squealed when I found them.  We lined up toy cars and tractors on a table, and he rolled them along my outstretched leg.  And we laughed – out loud – when a car wrecked.

And I read to him.  He piled books from his book basket onto the seat of the wing back chair where I sat.  Little Blue Leads the Way.  From Head to ToeWhere is Baby’s Belly Button?  My Grand turned his back toward me so I could lift him onto my lap.  He flipped pages and jabbered; I read and hugged.  Yes, as good as life gets.

Then my Grand’s daddy came home from an out-of-town business trip.  As soon as he heard the garage door go up, he ran to the back door and waited for Daddy to walk into the house.  Daddy lifted my Grand high into the air and gave him a two-arm hug before setting him on the floor.  My Grand ran to the playroom, found the small basketball, clutched it tightly, and stood in front of the basketball goal.  When Daddy walked into the room, my Grand threw the ball, hitting nothing but net.  “Way to go!”  Daddy said as he sat on the floor by the goal.  “Gen!”  my Grand shouted.  And he shot the ball through the goal again and again and again.  And Daddy gave him a high-five him after every shot.

I watched.  A lump in my throat.  Wet eyes.  Full heart.  What’s better that playing with my Grand?  Watching my son play with his son.




Children Just Watch

My Grand was 4 1/2 years old and she beat me in a second game of UNO.  The first game, I’d played to her hand to make sure that she won.  The next game, I played my cards.  Lou had announced, “UNO.  Red,” and laid a Draw Four card on the table.  I drew four cards.  She played her last card and beamed.  “I won again.  Two for me.  None for you.”

“Lou, you’re a really good UNO player.  How did you learn?” I asked.

“I watched Mommy and Daddy and David (her older brother) play and I just learned how.  I just watched.  I do what they do.”  Her answer hit a nerve that’d been burned into my brain many years earlier when I taught fourth grade.

Melody was one of my best-dressed students.  Her mother curled her hair every morning and tied it with ribbons that matched her outfit.  No jeans and t-shirts for her.  Her infectious greeting, “Good morning, everybody!” lit our classroom.  She hurried to my side after hanging her red wool coat on a coat hook.  “Mrs. Ray, will you please roll up my sleeves?”

The long sleeves of her plaid blouse hung unbuttoned.  “Sure.  Didn’t your mom have time to do it this morning?’  I asked.

“She didn’t know how.  I want my sleeves just like yours and she didn’t do it right.”  Just like my button-cuff sleeves that I rolled up because they were three inches too short for my long arms.  What else did Melody do just like me?

My Grand, now 5 1/2, and I agreed last week that some things in her craft box needed replacing.  “Bring it with you when you spend the night and we’ll clean it out and then go shopping,” I told Lou.

She sorted trash and treasures, putting loose stickers in a zip lock plastic bag, while I put a pot of water on the stove to boil pasta.  “I’m ready to make my list.  How do you spell tape?”  Lou stood at the kitchen table, with pencil and paper in hand.  Ten minutes later, she had her list.  Tape, glue, stickers.

“This glue,” she said and put it in our shopping basket.  She laid her list on the store floor and drew a line through the word glue.  A dozen packages of stickers hung at her eye level.  “These two,” she said within ten seconds.  The tape was high, out of her reach.  “Can you get the one in the middle?”  She drew lines through two more words: stickers and tape.  I complimented her on being a fast and good shopper.  “That’s because I do it a lot,” she said.  Lou shops with her mother who writes a grocery list and crosses off items that she puts in her shopping cart.

A hand scribbled sign hangs over my writing desk.  “Children watch.  Children learn.”  A sign that I moved from my school desk to my home desk.








Muddy Pond Field Trip

I’m not sure if I load up my Grands in my van and go on Field Trips for them or for me.  As a retired teacher, I remember field trip days as fun days, and I choose places I want my Grands to know about.  Museums.  Fire department.  Post Office.  City Hall.  Cookeville Performing Arts Center.  Emergency Management Agency.  Cane Creek Park.  Pet stores.

My Grands don’t always like my choices, but they were excited about going to the Muddy Pond General Store.  That is, until they announced that they’d take their own money to buy Legos, and I told them that this store probably didn’t have Legos.  We were making this outing because they’d read When I Was Young in the Mountains, and they didn’t know what a general store looked like.  As we drove through Monterey and toward Muddy Pond, I stressed that we’d compare and contrast (teacher words that naturally flowed and I explained the meanings) a general store with the stores where we usually shop.

My Grands had $2.00 each to spend.  “What kind of toys do they have?” asked three year old Ruthie.  I didn’t know what kind of toys – if any – the Muddy Pond store would have.  I explained that most general stores sell everything that a family needs.  And this store would be like that.  Food, clothes, tools, pots and pans.  Everything that everyone in the family needed.

“If they have everything, they’ll have toys,” said Ruthie.

“If they don’t, it’s okay,” said Lou, age 5.  “Momma said they’d have sprinkles and we can buy some.  But she said we can’t buy candy.”  Spoken like a reigning Sprinkle Queen.

We made mental lists of goods displayed on the shelves.  Peanut butter.  Tomato sauce.  Plastic bags of flour, sugar, noodles, cornstarch.  A whole aisle of candy.  Kitchen goods – knives, plates, pots, pans, dishcloths.  Oil lamps.  “Come back here,” David, age 7, called.  “I found the toys.”  Crayons, coloring books, small metal tractors and cars.  “Let’s go upstairs.  I bet they have more stuff.”

Lou looked through a rack of long-to-the-ankle dresses.  “Do they have my size?”  I explained that many women and girls who live in Muddy Pond wore this type of long dress every day.  “Even when they play outside?”  Ruthie asked.  We tried out the hand made wooden rocking chairs, stood on stools, admired the quilts, and my Grands rocked on the rocking horses.  They found hand carved wooden boxes that Lou and Ruthie thought would be perfect for keeping private stuff.

Back downstairs, near the check out counter, we found the sprinkles.  Packed in small plastic boxes and every color of the rainbow.  My Grands spent their money on red, green, and yellow sprinkles, and I couldn’t resist the homemade peach fried pies and peanut brittle.

“Well, what do you think?”  I asked when we were all buckled in our seats in the van.  “Is the general store like the stores where you usually go?”  I forced a discussion identifying the differences and similarities.

After several minutes of silence as we journeyed on the unmarked paved country road, Lou said pensively, “You know what I think?  I think what they need is different from what we need.”

And that’s why we take Field Trips.


When? How? Why? Will you?

“When can I open my first bag?”  my Grand asked.  Just like all five year olds, she likes surprises, and her mother had packed five bags for her to open while she rode with her Pop and me to the beach.  A five hundred mile car ride.  Her mother’s suggestion was that my Grand open a bag, filled with snacks and quiet sit-in-your-seat activities, to mark each hundred miles, 100 to 400, and one for whenever I thought she needed it.  She needed it to mark twenty miles travelled.  And her question was the first of many that my Grands, ages 3, 5, and 7, asked during a week’s vacation with their parents, baby sister, Pop, and me.

How big is the beach?  How much water is in the ocean?  How far is it across the water to land?  How long would it take to get there?  In a boat?  On a plane?  Where did all this sand come from?  How far can we see?  When do the waves stop?  Do shrimp have bones?  Does a starfish have meat?  What lives in those little holes on the beach? Will the dolphins swim close to us?  How come high tide isn’t the same time as yesterday?  Why don’t we have little tiny frogs at home?  How long does it take a monarch to get to Mexico?  Do we get a special treat (such as ice cream) every day while we’re on vacation?

Some answers were easy, some a guess, and some required research, and all were answered to satisfy each Grand’s curiosity.  I don’t intend to repeat the answers – except a few.  I answered that starfish do not have meat, but they do.  They are best eaten after they’ve been boiled, and several should be served since there is only one small bite of meat in each.

Those little holes in the sand?  I’d assumed they were critter holes, and I was wrong.  I googled coastalcare.org and learned that while some tiny sand fleas jump into them, these holes aren’t homes for sea life.  They are formed by the rising tide.  As waves crash onto the beach, the airflow under the sand is so strong that air is pushed above the surface and makes small openings.  They are often called ‘nail holes’ because none are larger than the diameter of a large nail.

Of all the questions my Grands asked, my favorites required no thought, no research, and a simple one-word answer.  “Gran, do you want to jump in the waves with me?”  “I’m going to make a blueberry sand cake with drippy icing.  Wanna’ help?”   “Gran, will you come play with me?”  I couldn’t get out of my beach chair fast enough.

I hope my Grands never stop asking questions.


Fun with My Youngest Grand

Last summer my youngest Grand liked being swaddled in a blanket.  He ate and slept.  I changed his diaper and rocked him.  Then he ate and slept, ate and slept, just like most newborns.

This summer my Grand and I play.  We sit on the floor.  I toss a small plastic alphabet block into the air.  He runs under it, picks it up from the floor, and puts it in my hand.  I balance the block on his head.  He laughs and tilts his head back, trying to see the block.  I stack red and blue blocks.  One, two, three, four, five…he swipes his hand across the tower and the blocks tumble onto the floor.  He laughs.  “Heh, heh, heh, heh.”

My Grand chooses Machines at Work from the book basket.  He turns the pages faster than I can read.  “Bulldozer, backhoe, digger.  Ker-plop, the dirt falls to the ground,” I say.  He echoes, “KER PLOP, KER PLOP!”  Then he’s up and walking.

My Grand is constantly on the move.  If he wore a pedometer, I’d have proof that he surpasses 10,000 steps a day.  He circles the kitchen table.  Through the living room.  Around the coffee table.  Down the hallway.  Outside he mows the concrete patio with his toy lawnmower.  He pushes anything and everything, even a water play table, without the water.  He picks a geranium leaf and rubs it between his fingers.  And he bangs two landscaping rocks together.

It’s lunchtime.  I eat a chicken sandwich.  He has chicken, sweet potatoes, and kid-sized pasta.  I put small bites of all three on his high chair tray.  He picks out and eats he pasta, pushes the chicken and potatoes to the edges of his tray, and says “Mmmmmm,” meaning ‘More.’  Next time, I’ll offer pasta last.

As my little Grand sits facing me on my lap, I sing Pat A Cake.  He slaps his legs and in his own language sings along.  He stretches his arms high to ‘throw ‘em in the pan.’  His hand touches my nose.  I say “Bonk.”  He laughs and touches my nose again.  “Bonk!”  Again and again and again.  The game ends when he slaps instead of touching.

His momma and daddy wave good-bye and say, “We’ll be back in a little while.  You and Gran have fun.”  My Grand flings his body against the door and wails for three seconds.  I pick him up and hug him and gently kick a roll of red duct tape across the wood floor.  No more wailing.  My Grand runs to the rolling tape, picks it up, brings it to me, and then walks, as fast as his fourteen-month-old legs will move, back to the exact place where the tape stopped.  I roll.  He fetches.

My Grand and I play.  Just like grandchildren and grandmothers are suppose to.

Three Little Words

Three little words.  When my two-year-old Grand shouts them, I punch my patience button.  Another three little words.  When my two-year-old Grand shouts them, I celebrate.

Ruth ran to the kid shoe basket that sits beside her family’s kitchen door.  Her mother had just announced, “Let’s go outside.  Everyone get shoes and jackets on.”  Ruth threw shoes onto the floor.  “Get your brown Crocs.  You can slip them on yourself,” said Mother.

“New pink shoes!”  Ruth said.  New pink shoes with Velcro straps across the top.

“Then you might need someone to help you,” Mother said as she took lightweight jackets off the coat rack.  My Grand’s older brother and sister quickly put on their slip-on shoes and their jackets and ran outside.  She sat in the floor holding her new pink shoes.

“Here, Ruth, let me help,” I offered.  I pulled a kitchen table chair close to her and sat down.

My do it!”  she said.   Three little words.  I punched my patience button.  Her mother raised her eyebrows, nodded to me, and went outside, carrying Ruth’s jacket.  My Grand shoved her toes on her right foot into the left shoe.

“That shoe goes on your other foot,” I said.  She jerked the shoe off with such force that it flew over her head.

“My get it!”  With a shoe in each hand, she sat on the floor and placed her shoes directly in front of her feet.  “Like that?”  I agreed, like that.  One top strap on each shoe was loose.  Two other straps were fastened securely.

Ruth tried to shove her feet into her shoes.  Her brow wrinkled.  “If we loosen all the straps, it’ll be easier, “ I suggested.  If Ruth heard me, she ignored me.  I sat on my hands so I couldn’t pick up both shoes, loosen the Velcro straps, slip the shoes onto my Grand’s feet, and fasten the straps.  Her brother, sister, and mother were outside in the sunshine.

Ruth pushed and rocked her feet until she finally had both shoes on.  She stood, looked down, and wiggled her toes.  “This right?” she asked.  Yes, her shoes were on the right feet.  She bent over, from the waist, and fastened the loose Velcro straps.  She stood straight.  Hands open and stretched high over her head.  Feet apart.  Eyes twinkling.  “I DID IT!”  she shouted.  Another three little words.  Time to celebrate!  I lifted her onto my lap for a two-arm hug.

“Outside!”  Ruth ran straight to her mother.  “I DID IT!”  She looked at her feet.

Mother clapped her hands and hugged her daughter.  “Now, let’s put your jacket on.”  Mother held the jacket for Ruth to slip her arms into.

“My do it!”  Ruth said.  I watched as her mother laid the jacket on the ground and reminded her daughter to lie on top of it, slip her arms in the sleeves, and then stand up.  I reset my patience button.  I didn’t want to miss the next celebration.

My do it!  I DID IT!  My two-year old Grand shouts three little words.

Happy Birthday

I’ve never received so many birthday greetings. Or in so many different ways. More than six months ago, the government sent congratulations. An introductory paragraph stated, “Now that you are approaching …..” I stopped reading. I chose to not be reminded of the number that followed.
Every insurance company that offers Medicare A, B, C, D, and XYZ supplement programs mailed good wishes, or condolences, depending on my attitude the day I opened the mail. And then their representatives called. In their friendliest and most caring voices, each offered to stop by for a short visit, at my convenience, to discuss health care. I coined an official response “I’ve made my decision about health insurance for the rest of my life. It’s signed, sealed, and delivered.” That ended our budding relationships.
Finally, the end of July rolled around, and my birthday, with its looming number, could no longer be ignored. And, to be honest, I like celebrating birthdays, mine and everyone else’s. Thanks to the post office, Mark Zuckerberg, Ray Tomlinson, and Alexander Graham Bell, good wishes arrived. In my mailbox, on Facebook, through email, and over the phone.
A really good friend, mailed a card that read, “I know it’s your birthday, but I’ve forgotten your age!” Bless her heart. Wish I could. A Facebook post that read, “Happy Birthday to a sweet young lady that I had at 4-H camp for many years,” took me back to bunk beds, horseback riding, and jumping off a high dive. And I liked the e-card with the dancing bear that sang, “Each year is just a number. Count the friendships you hold in your heart.”
I got birthday wishes from my Grands. One-year-old Grand, 1300 miles away, giggled and kissed his computer screen. When I said, “Let’s pat a cake,” he clapped his hands. So I sat on my couch at my house, and he sat on his daddy’s lap at his house, and together we patted and rolled and threw tiny imaginary cakes. As we said good-bye, I caught all my Grand’s birthday waves and kisses. Thanks goodness for video chats.
After eating birthday cake at my Grands’ house that’s across town, my seven-year-old Grand announced, “Gran, we have a surprise for you.”
“It’s outside. Don’t come out yet,” his younger sister  said. My Grands ran back and forth from the outside picnic table to inside their house. They rummaged through their school supplies. “Don’t let Gran come outside!” they screamed.
Finally, I was invited to unveil the surprise. Two bath towels covered the picnic table and my present. Garden stepping stones. One made by, or for, each Grand. With handprints, names and ages. And decorated, kid-style, with colorful stones. Treasured gifts! “Look up, Gran! There’s your card.” A blue paper waved from a tree. Four-inch tall green letters had been scribbled from one side of the paper to the other, “Happy Birthday, Gran!” No numbers. No reminder of age. No “Now that you are approaching……” Just a piece of construction paper taped to a tree limb. A keepsake birthday card.