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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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Freeze these Minutes

imagesWhen I give my Grand a block, he makes it a car, rolls it on the floor, and says, “Vrooooomm.” I watch Jess, two years old. He lays flat, stomach and head on the floor, and rolls the pretend car just inches from his nose.

After a few minutes, Jess throws the block onto the floor and gets two Hot Wheels cars from our toy shelf. Then back to prone position. Clutching a car in his right hand under his stomach, he rolls the other car with his left hand. Back and forth. “Vroom. Vroom. Vrooooomm,” he says.  I want to freeze these minutes when my Grand is totally engaged in a simple game.

Jess, the youngest of five, visits Husband and me and we relish that we can play with just him. And our Grand seems happy to play alone and have Pop and Gran all to himself.   When I say it’s time for a snack, he runs to the kitchen table, holding a Hot Wheels in each hand, climbs into a booster seat on a kitchen chair, and shouts, “Fruit!” His one-word sentences sometimes sound like demands. He swipes his hand across his chest, an attempt to move his hand in a circle, which signifies please in sign language.

Jess helps me peel a tangerine, remove the stringy white pith, and divide it into segments. His small fingers pick off every tiny white string before he plops a segment into his mouth. “More!” he says and swipes his chest.

Outside, Jess runs toward a rubber playground ball. He accidentally kicks it and it rolls away. He runs again. Picks up the ball and throws it and runs toward it. When I pick up the ball and suggest we roll it back and forth to each other, he grabs the ball and runs. “Mine!” he shouts. Yes, it’s all his and it’s his game until he’s tired and lays his head against my legs.

I give him a plastic spray bottle of water. He squirts the grass and then discovers water changes the color of our gray wooden fence. He giggles and then laughs out loud as water drips down the fence. Soon the bottle is empty and he runs back to me. “More. More. Now.”

Much too soon, it’s time to take Jess home. My fingers don’t manage the belt on his car seat well and my Grand sits patiently. He’s tired and I sing a silly song, “I’m fastening your seat belt, seat belt, seat belt.” Finally, he’s buckled in and Jess claps his hands, kicks his feet, and laughs.

When I tell him good-bye at his house, Jess responds, “Book. Read.” He grabs a book from his family’s children’s book basket and holds it toward me. Daughter, his mother, says, “It’s one of his favorites right now.” Jess and I settled on the couch and two of his older siblings sit close by. Jess makes the sounds to go with the pictures in the book. “Vroooooomm!”

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Overnight with Grands

searchSon asked, “Think you and Dad could handle our three for 24 hours?” Translation: Will you stay overnight at our house with our three children?

            “Yes, we’ll be glad to!” I said. We grandparents are happy to have Grands to ourselves. So Son and Daughter-in-Law planned a one-night, mini vacation. The main concern for Husband and me was we don’t know our Grands’, ages 1, 3, and 5, routines and likes and dislikes since Son’s family lives 1,000 miles away and we don’t see them as often as we wish.

Thankfully, their mother wrote good notes. Snacks: apples cut in slices. (Peeled for Dean. Unpeeled for Neil.) Strawberries and white cheese sticks. (Whole for Dean and Neil. Small pieces for Anne.) Details for meals, rest and bedtime routines, phone numbers, even a letter giving Husband and me authorization for medical care. Our Grands’ parents thought of everything. Well, almost.

The only mention of Baxter, their ten-year-old, ninety-pound boxer, was about his food. About 5:30 p.m. – 1½ scoops. Morning – 2 scoops. Baxter knows Husband and me well. Before the Grands were born, he was first to welcome us. Baxter still hangs his head over our laps when we sit down, and he brings us his raggedy Oscar the Grouch stuffed toy to throw. We know when he stands by an outside door he needs a potty break and where he sleeps.

Baxter is a well behaved, loving dog and practically cares for himself, but that night he didn’t understand the plan. So we’d be close to our Grands during the night, their parents insisted we sleep in their bed. At bedtime, I awoke Baxter from his nap on his blanket in the den. He stumbled, half-asleep, out the backdoor and drank water after he came inside. Husband called for him to follow us upstairs to our one-night bedroom and his every-night room. He turned his head from side-to-side before slowly going up the steps.

“Get on your bed, Baxter,” Husband said. I closed the bedroom door. Baxter stood next to his bed on the floor and then walked around the bedroom. “Maybe he can sleep in his crate tonight,” I suggested. He refused to go into his crate in another room and followed Husband back to the bedroom. “Let’s get in bed and maybe he’ll get on his bed,” I said. Baxter stared at Husband and me as if to say, “You shouldn’t be here.” We didn’t leave and finally Baxter lay down.

Whew, everyone in bed. I prayed that all slept through the night. And everyone did, except Husband and me. Baxter’s snoring and scratching and thumping against the wall were sounds we weren’t use to.

When our Grands’ parents came home, Husband and I reported that we had fun and all went well. Just as planned. The children ate well, played happily, sat in our laps for bedtime reading, brushed their teeth, and went to bed just a little later than their normal time. And I rocked one-year-old Anne longer than usual at bedtime. Everyone ate a good breakfast: fruit and yogurt.

Later, I told Son that Baxter didn’t go to bed as expected and woke us during the night. “Oh, yeah,” Son said, “We don’t always keep him in our bedroom with the door closed anymore. He makes a lot of noise. Maybe we should’ve told you it’s fine for Baxter to sleep on his bed in the den.”

Yes, maybe. But Baxter’s nighttime noises were my excuse for an afternoon nap. Why else would I have been so tired?

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Christmas Moments

Version 2Eight Grands. Five, age 4 and under.   Four adults, the Grands’ parents. We had a full house for three and a half days last week when Son brought his family across country to celebrate Christmas and Daughter’s family came from across town.   As I reflect, those days were filled with moments to hold close. Some moments when a camera wasn’t close or couldn’t be captured in a picture.

Eight-month-old Annie lay on the floor when her four-year-old cousin, Elaine, first saw her. Elaine ran and stretched out on her tummy, just like Annie, with her nose inches from Annie’s. Both giggled and squealed, kicked their feet, waved their arms. Then Elaine gave her little cousin a nose-to-nose kiss.

Neil, age 2 ½, sat in the small rocking chair that was his dad’s and hummed to the Cabbage Patch doll he held tightly. Four-year-old Grands, Elaine and Dean, lay side-by-side playing with the Fisher Price playhouse and garage, toys that their parents once played with. These cousins parked cars and lined up the little people and disagreed about who had what first.

While playing in the bathtub, Neil named the three rubber ducks: baby, big brother, momma and hid them under washcloths. Dean held the biggest one, ten inches tall, and said, “This is biggest rubber ducky ever!” (The duck someone left on my front porch a few months ago. Thank you, whoever you are.)

More food crossed our kitchen counter than Husband and I eat in a month. Young to old voices recited the prayer I learned as a child: “God bless us and bless this food.” Every minute preparing and cleaning up messes was rewarded by Neil’s comment after one bite of sweet potato fries: “YUM! This is really good!” And the Grands declared Husband’s ice cream sandwich cake the best dessert.

Gift opening time. Such chaos. Such smiles. Seven Grands sat on the floor. Baby Annie in her mother’s lap. Son and Son-in-law good naturally wore flashing Rudolph noses, treasures from their stockings; their wives donned oversized plastic gold glasses. Lou, age 8, hugged her Little House on the Prairie books and said, “Thank you! I’m so happy to have all of these! Now I can turn down page corners and a bookmark won’t fall out because these are my very own books.”

Ten-year-old David said, “Oh, look! What a surprise.” after he ripped paper from the Lego set that he had chosen months ago and told me, “This one, Gran.” Ruth, age 6, passed her turn to open a gift and explained, “I know what’s in the big box. I want to open it last.” When she did, she hugged Samantha, her first American Girl doll. Amid the ripped paper, ribbons, and open boxes, 18-month-old Micah, his arms stretched wide, ran to me. “Gen!” he said. He snuggled in my arms.

I almost let the biscuits burn while standing at the kitchen window and watching Son and his nephew, my 10-year old Grand, play basketball. Surely, it wasn’t almost thirty years ago that Son was 10 and shot balls through that same goal.

Then came the morning when Son and Daughter-in-Law packed to fly home. Husband and I walked with their sons to our backyard creek. Dean threw rocks in the water, and said, in a pitiful voice that only a toddler can master, “Gran, I sure wish my cousins would come play with me.”

Even my young Grand knows the best Christmas joy is people, not his new matchbox car garage that I thought was the perfect gift.

Merry Christmas from Husband and me to each of you!

Birthday Celebrations

IMG_1678Today is my birthday and I’m celebrating! I’ve never understood why anyone acts like having a birthday is a burden.   Why not be happy just as your parents were when you were born? As you were when you were 5? When you are 21?

And why say, “Oh, we don’t have to do anything special.” Those who love you want to celebrate and are happy when you choose the way, like Cathy did on her birthday last October.

Cathy is Daughter’s and my friend. Her age hits right in the middle of ours. She and Daughter bonded during the years they taught 5th grade in next-door classrooms. Cathy and I crossed paths at church, at social events, and as fellow teachers. Cathy loves Daughter’s children – in fact, she loves all children. So on her birthday, she celebrated with kids. Five of my Grands.

“Mom,” Daughter said in a phone call to me, “Cathy called and you might want to come by our house after lunchtime today. Cathy says she’d bringing stuff for her own birthday party.”

My Grands sat on their covered back porch watching for Cathy and they ask questions. Do you think she’ll bring a cake? What’s her favorite ice cream? Will she bring her own gift? Shouldn’t we give her something? How many candles will be on her cake? Can we help her blow out the candles? Is anyone else coming?

“I’m here! Let’s eat cake and ice cream!” Cathy shouted as soon as she opened her car door. She had made a one-stop shopping trip at the grocery store and she handed my older Grands, ages 7 and 9, packages to open. Birthday plates and napkins decorated with balloons. My five-year-old Grand put a candle on each of the dozen cupcakes. Six chocolate decorated with white icing. Six yellow, iced with chocolate. All with multi-colored sprinkles.

I opened the packaged individual ice cream cups. Chocolate and vanilla swirl. My three-year-old Grand put a small plastic spoon on top of each ice cream cup and Daughter passed out the individual packages of fruit drinks. This event had to be documented with a picture. I got my camera ready and Daughter, Cathy, and my Grands gathered close to each other.

“Wait!” said Cathy, “I forgot something.” She pulled two more packages out of a plastic grocery bag. Two packages with black looking hair. “They didn’t have birthday hats so I got mustaches!”

Mustaches. Black, fuzzy, stick-on mustaches. Cathy stuck hers on first. Then Daughter and four of my Grands, ages 3-9, and they all giggled and squealed.   Once again they grouped together for a picture. “What about Micah?” asked my oldest Grand. Micah, age four months, sat calmly in Cathy’s lap amid all the chaos. And he wasn’t exactly happy about having something stuck right under his nose, but he and his brother and sisters wore their first mustaches – long enough for a picture.

“Happy Birthday” has never been sung louder or more off key. Every cup of ice cream was eaten.   The icing on every cupcake was licked off and the cakes nibbled. Such laughing. Such a happy time. So much fun.

So, following Cathy’s example, I made plans for today. There’ll be children and cake and ice cream. No mustaches. Maybe a surprise or two. Surprises for those who celebrate with me.