Thursday, May 27, 2010

Heat Waves & Birthdays

One year ago...

The horrible heat is gone which made a difference in my disposition. The heat makes me really cranky. At least it's not 90 degrees, but still kind of warm. Aiden wanted to swim yesterday. I thought the pool wouldn’t be warm enough so we went down just to put our feet in the water. It actually was really nice-I was sorry I didn’t put my suit on. Aiden had on  disposable underwear. When he went into  the pool to get wet, the Pull Ups expanded by about 5x. They end up weighing about 5 pounds. Aiden got that wet just playing on the steps. When we got up to leave the kid could barely walk. Aiden found himself to be extremely funny.

Maybe we’ll swim today if it’s nice. We are making a cake for his mother,Hollis.  Her birthday is tomorrow.

Well, Aiden and I made a chocolate cake letting it cool down while we put together ingredients for the chocolate frosting. Aiden really loved the mixer and wondered why his mother didn't have one. I have to say to him with a serious face,

"DO NOT put your fingers near the mixer. You WILL LOSE your Fingers!"
If I forget to say this, he says,
"Grandma...what are you gonna tell me?"

While licking the beaters, Aiden told me about his day at school. He dumped almost the whole bottle of sprinkles on the cake before I had a chance to grab it. We put on 20 or so multicolored candles. It looked very festive.

I took pictures of him making the cake then we went downstairs to swim and cool down a bit.  When we came upstairs, I took pictures of his mother so we had pregnant pictures of her-they came out with the sun glowing around her-very cute.

It was nice, you know.  I think Hollis was very touched. As Aiden says, "It was a good day, wasn't it, Grandma?"

Sunday, May 23, 2010

In the Blink of an Eye: What do we really have control over?

Being a parent is scary business. Some close calls, things that happen in the blink of an eye, they play over and over in our minds when we try to go to sleep. When I was 4, I lived in Massachusetts during the horrifying early 50's of polio epidemics. My oldest sister, Sandy, caught polio when I was just 2. After that, during the hot summers that were muggy and miserable, we children weren't allowed in crowded places like stores or swimming pools because of the risk. Polio was an airborne disease and at that time there wasn't any cure. A few years later, after the panic was over and the vaccine was available , my dad asked me to go the store with him. He promised me a Tootsie Roll. We drove the few blocks to the store. My dad got out, closed his door, and started to walk to the passenger side to get me. In my excitement, I opened the driver's side door behind him, jumped out and walked right in front of an oncoming car. My dad saw what was happening, but couldn't get back around to stop me. The car hit me straight on, knocking me unconscious  and  I was taken to the hospital. Luckily, I just had a bad cut on my head. But my father was traumatized. Dad had nightmares for years about it. He saw himself running in  slow motion trying to get to me before the car hit me, but he never could.
A few years ago, my children, now in their mid-thirties, told me about an incident that happened the day my son got his driver's license. He was 16 and my daughter was 13. Randy asked to take the car to go pick something up for me. I said yes. Even though my heart was racing, I knew I had to let him go. It was scary, but I let them go. I watched them drive away through the window. I prayed the whole time they were gone and whispered a thank you to the heavens when they returned safe and unharmed. Just a few years ago I heard what really happened. There were train tracks by our house that were on top of a small hill, then the road went downhill again. Apparently my son was still getting used to the stick shift and clutch. The car stalled on top of the railroad tracks, the warning bells went off, the  barrier arm came down behind them. My son got the car started again, floored the accelerator, and they escaped. I am so glad I didn't know at the time.  

The August after my daughter graduated from college, Elizabeth went to live in the South Bronx to volunteer teach for a year. The only way I could cope was to forget where she was. I called her, sent her letters and care packages, but mostly I pretended she was still at college. I know there are things she still hasn't told me, drug dealers with big snakes and pit bulls, but she did tell me a few years ago about being mugged on the subway.

All of these stories lead up to the question: What do we really control when it comes to our children's safety?
It's on my mind because Rebecca, my 5 year old granddaughter, sensible, smart, and fully schooled on the concept of making "good choices," took off on her bike, the first time she had a little freedom on her two wheeler and followed a little boy her age through the park, beyond her parents reach. She was entering a parking lot when she fell. It's what stopped her. She was so thrilled to be riding and to be free,  Rebecca  forgot how to use her brakes. The pure joy of riding and making a new friend overrode everything. Of course,she's only 5.

You can tell them everything they need to know. Right now, Rebecca adores climbing the small tree in her front yard. It makes her feel powerful and competent. I adore the fact that she climbs trees and loves adventure.  She likes to scare me, too. That girl has been told to climb slowly and cautiously of course. Kids today wear helmets, knee pads, and elbow pads. She knows about the danger of strangers, walk don't run. We all tell them the same things. We punish them when they do something impulsive and foolish. Still, we cannot control everything. That's the hardest truth to accept so you just learn to give them what they need to know without turning them into neurotic nervous wrecks, pray continuously, and as they say in Nemo, "just keep swimming." 

Friday, May 14, 2010


I feel so blessed. In the last 10 months, I've had two new little granddaughters born. It is an embarrassment of riches, more grandchildren than arms. These little girls are so beautiful, all blue eyes and reddish blond hair, little bow mouths and pink cheeks, sqeezable chubby legs, bright sundress wearing, kissable feet and bellies, sweet necks and soft wispy hair on their heads to press my lips to. When I hold them I have to remind myself this is real. Two little girls at once.

I am learning about them and they are getting to know me, too. Angel is 9 months, petite, understands every word said to her, and is all doe-eyed. When I go to babysit, Angel smiles big, then looks at her mother, then me again and, she opens her mouth and screams bloody murder.   She knows her mom is going out. She knows me and yet, she doesn't. While we wait out her stranger anxiety, Angel cries until her nose is running, her tears flood her cheeks, I hold her over my shoulder and pat her back and bottom until she gives up and goes to sleep. When she wakes up, I change her diapers, kissing the bottoms of her feet and her toes. She's happy until she remembers...Mom is out. I try to distract her-we play with a Kleenex first on my head, then hers, she laughs and laughs, and then she remembers again...more tears.  Peek a boo works for awhile. Then her sorrow wells up again. We are getting there, soon she'll trust me and as I keep whispering in her ear, "You don't know it yet, but I'm going to be your best friend."

The newest baby, Ava, just turned 12 weeks old. All of a sudden she is all smiles, delicious chubby legs, pink cheeked, squirmy, cooing, sticking her tongue in and out copying me make faces at her. This week she made a noise like "Mom." My daughter and I looked at each other. My daughter said, "Did she just say Mom?" I think she did. We could be wrong, but we both heard the same thing.

The days are really beginning to feel like spring so I sat in the shade, wrapped her in a big orange blanket, and we watched birds, wind in the trees, listened to bird song, felt the balmy breeze. Not much talking. We just sat in comfortable silence. She likes to bounce on my right knee as we sit outside. Not my left knee ever.  Ava doesn't like being put over my shoulder at all. She misses her mom because my daughter went back to work this week and I'm filling in between her husband leaving to work in the afternoon. She's not eating much or sleeping much. She's bereft, of course, but she'll be fine. At 3:30 my daughter comes home, Ava screams at the sound of Mama in the house, then begins nuzzling, and settles in to nurse. 

Babies are amazing. It's like all their neurons are suddenly firing a million miles per hour. I think of all I want to say to them and teach them about the world. Then I think about my favorite Kurt Vonnegut quote:

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies — 'God damn it, you've got to be kind.' "    That's more than enough.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day: Here are a Few of My Favorite Things

Photo-My Mother's Teacup

Mother's Day. Most people think it was invented by Hallmark, some kind of made up holiday to sell cards and flowers. It wasn't. Julia Ward Howe began it as a day to unite mothers around the world in world peace.  I thought that might be too lofty a goal, so I told my kids I didn't care what we did, I just wanted us to all be together in the same room at the same time.   

It turned out to be a fun day because I went to see a local children's theater production of "Sound of Music" with three of my grandchildren, my daughter, and Aiden's maternal grandmother. The movie with Julie Andrew's is  the all time  favorite of Rebecca's and mine. We've watched it over and over during our sleepovers and we mostly have the words down for most of the songs. So, for the two of us, it took everything we had not to sing along, loudly. The newest baby, 11 week old  Belle, slept and nursed through the whole play. Aiden, although he behaved beautifully, started squirming an hour into it. After the musical, my son and his wife with 9 month old baby Lily joined us at a popular local restaurant.

I looked around the table at Rebecca, Aiden, Lily, and little baby Belle, my son and his wife and my daughter and understood how incredibly rich I am, how fortunate to have so many people to love and who love me in my life. Rebecca sipped blueberry lemonade and ate Mac and Cheese, Aiden munched on vegetables, Lily sat in a high chair and banged her spoon on the table. Lily had a white lacey headband on around her head al a Olivia Newton-John. I played peek-a-boo with her and she giggled. Aiden crawled under the table and came for a hug. Rebecca, in her blue velvet dress, alternated between leaning next to me and trying to get Lily to laugh. Belle slept through the whole thing. I opened presents; a mini-food processor, a tile with Belle's baby footprint, and a super dooper expensive razor that I wouldn't buy for myself. I had a recent bad encounter with a dollar store razor and my daughter took mercy on me.

In 1870, Julia Ward Howe began Mother's Day as time for women to gather for the purpose of ending war. The first time I read her speech, I knew exactly what she was saying. My own son, then 20, would have been eligible to be drafted for the first Gulf War. I knew that I hadn't raised him to be taken from me for nonsensical reasons by a president I saw as hasty and full of ego. It was not only sons who are the casualties of war, but the civilians, mothers, daughters, husbands, all loved and precious to their families. I knew that mothers all over the world loved their children with the same fierce intensity as I did.

These are Howe's words:

"Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn

All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.

We, the women of one country,

Will be too tender of those of another country

To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

Amen, Julia. Happy Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

When Are You Going to Die, Grandma?

Aiden went to San Diego with his Mom and Dad for a week. I missed them all like crazy. I drove to their house to pick up their SUV, then drove to the airport, found them all on the curb with their luggage, and I switched to the back seat to ride with Aiden.

This is what he talked about: his dead grandfather, people in wheelchairs, Toys R Us, the beach, his watering can I gave him. His reply to any statement I make is always “Why?” and then “What’s that about?” He talked the 30 minutes straight on the way home. I had to really struggle with answers for him. Not a word about the airplane or clouds or anything else. Oh and his uncle’s garage, his uncle's tools, Aiden's own egg hunt, a basket his aunt Polly gave him, and his grandfather, Charlie. He laughed, he giggled, he gave me a big fat wet kiss on my cheek.

Lots of deep subjects: then finally, "When are you going to die and go to heaven, Grandma?" I tried to answer honestly without worrying him. He's three after all. I told him I had no idea, no one knows when they will die, but that I thought I'd be around for a long time. He seemed to accept my answer.

Last week Rebecca asked me when I was going to die. Jeepers creepers. What’s up with that? I gave her the same answer.

The next day, my son was still off work so Randy, Aiden, Rebecca and I all went to see a magician at the library-it was very funny and the kids all loved it. Every since Aiden saw the Calliou episode where the main character gets a top hat, a cape, and a magic wand, he has been in love with the idea. His favorite word is "Abracadabra."

The word is a magical incantation that comes from Aramaic meaning, "As I say it, I create it."  I wish I could say a magic word and tell him I'd be around forever. I want to see all of my grandchildren grown and healthy and happy. Abracadabra.