Wednesday, August 25, 2010

1st Day of Kindergarten

Thirty four years ago this week, my son began kindergarten. The sweet old ex-nun teacher smiled and introduced herself to Randy who was hiding behind my legs. Then she said, "I would never tear a child away from his mother." Immediately he clung to me like I was his life raft. He cried and threw himself on the ground. I had to go home to turn off the coffee pot, but I returned and spent most of the morning with him sitting on my lap.  I worried that he was too attached and young for his age.

Three years later I brought my daughter to the same teacher and kindergarten room. I bent down to kiss her goodbye and she skipped off into the room while giving me a little backwards wave. That time I was the one who got in my car, turned the corner from Cardiff-by-the-Sea Elementary School and burst into tears.

This morning both Rebecca and Aiden, my two oldest grandchildren, began kindergarten. I got up very early and was out the door by 7 to make the rounds with my camera. I got to my daughter's house and rang the bell. Rebecca came out to greet me. For the past few weeks, Rebecca has been determined to learn how to use the monkey bars at her  school. The result has been some rather big blisters that popped on her hands, but then again, she has mastered the new skill. It's the kind of girl she is.

She's 5 1/2 and more than ready to go. Let me tell you about her unique and heartbreakingly adorable outfit she chose: long brown corduroy skirt, white t-shirt with a horse on it, plaid bandanna tied behind her hair, and her very own "Little House on the Prairie" apron  and bonnet tied around her neck. Oh, and silver shoes.

All I could think of was, "God, don't let anyone make fun of her. Please." She was so delighted with herself. Her vulnerability hit me hard. Up until now she's lived in perfect acceptance and praise. It struck me how defenseless and little she was. I took pictures of her alone and with her mom and baby sister. I kissed Rebecca on the cheek, told her to be herself and I loved her very much. Then I was off to try to catch Aiden before he left for school.

Aiden, at 4 1/2, wasn't dressed when I got there so I waited until he got his pants and shoes on. The other day I took him to the library and the first thing he told me was how he had boogers in his nose that were hard and they were bugging him. He couldn't breathe right. I listened and commiserated. This morning his mom was squirting a saline solution into his nostrils to alleviate his sore nose. 

Aiden, with his shiny reddish blond hair and big blue eyes, was dressed in a red shirt and brown pants and tennis shoes. I stood him in front of the bedroom door and told him to say, "I love kindergarten" while I snapped away. He smiled bigger than normal and did  just as I said. I kissed him, said "I love you" and told him to have a wonderful day. Later, when downloading the pictures, I realized how he barely stood taller than the doorknob.

As I drove to work I realized that  I'm stuck in the same space as years ago only now my focus of concern is for my grandchildren. Added to my thoughts for my children, now I have four grandchildren about whom I worry, offer whispered prayers of protection, and hope that everything will be fine.

They have only been on this planet five years. They are so small, so completely lacking in guile and experience. And yet, they both are well-loved, with extended family, going to the best schools around, and so cute, so smart and sociable. I wish I had known while my parents were still alive how many people you carry around in your heart as you get older and I wish they were here to see this day. I know my mother would have said, "Stop worrying. They'll be fine."  Then she would have made us a cup of tea.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Baby Toes

My youngest grandchild, Ava, has just turned 6 months old this week. She is all big blue eyes and pink cheeks, full of good cheer, just looking for something to gnaw on to relieve her teething. She's smiley and loves the outdoors, but mostly she adores the wind blowing through the trees making them sway.

She's an observer, this baby. Ava watches each person who comes through the door or walks by the yard and wants to make eye contact right off. Of all my grandchildren, for some reason, I notice the changes she makes each week. Before, I would sit her on my knee facing outwards, and she would be happy for a long time. Now, all of a sudden, Ava turns her body around to smile at me and to respond to my voice. I can almost see all her synapses firing at once.

A few weeks ago she began to sit up. We went over to my son's house. My daughter in law has one of those things called a "boppie"  that sits on your lap for nursing. Well, it seemed like a great safety net to put behind Ava while she sat on the floor with some toys around her. It worked for awhile, but I think Ava'a back gets tired. She slumped forward, then realized she could reach her toes, grabbed her big toe and began to suck on it. The baby looked up at me, smiled, then went back to sucking her toe.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Whoops...My Mistake!

When Rebecca was 3, she was very curious about bugs and assorted small animal life that visited my small yard. Together we examined intricate spider webs, snails, and other tiny creatures of beauty. One day we went swimming in my landlady's pool in the adjacent yard. and we found an inch long lizard dead in the pool. Rebecca and I sat on the steps while I held the baby lizard in the palm of my hand so we could really get a good look at it. It was perfect in every way, except, of course, it was lifeless.

"Can I take it home, Bama?," Rebecca asked. "Sure, honey." I set the lizard aside on top of a brown leaf on the cement by the stairs of the pool so I wouldn't forget it. We finished our swim, dryed off, and I carefully carried the lizard in my open hand to my apartment.

Rebecca and I searched for a small box. I found a little gold Macy's jewelry box with cotton padding. I layed the lizard down on the padding and then I Scotch taped the box shut. I put the box in her diaper bag then I promptly forgot all about it.

An hour after Rebecca went home I got a worried phone call from my daughter. With alarm in her voice she said, "Mom, what the heck...?" I tried to explain. I told her we know the lizard hadn't died under unknown circumstances. "For cripes sake, the lizard drowned. He didn't die of a disease or anything." Rebecca loved it, that's all. She found it beautiful and so did I. But I guess I scared my daughter. So now I have a rule: No dead animals or insects should be sent home without warning my children first.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Family Reunion-37 Years After Campland

The kids in this picture belonged to my three older sisters and I. At 24, I was pregnant with my youngest during this camping trip.  My son, the boy in the red robe is 39 years old and the father of two now.          

Thirty seven years ago, in 1973, my  sisters Sandy, Lois, Joan and I decided to take all of our kids camping on Mission Bay in San Diego for one week. We had 8 kids between us, all age10 and under. No men with muscles, just our wits and cunning to help us survive.

We didn't really know what we were doing. Our father and mother drove down to help us get set up. My dad and I put the huge green Army surplus store tent up with pegs in the ground. None of those new cool tents with the bendable poles for us. My mom brought delicious homemade pies and cookies. We were exhilarated and happy to be together.

We didn't have enough money or food. We especially had no idea how much 8 children could eat when faced with the fear of hunger. Our trip to the store for supplies cost a fortune, yet we seemed to have mostly Mac and Cheese mix, Cheerios, coffee, milk, hot dogs, and I recall, a hefty supply of Safeway Truly Fine toddler sized disposable diapers. It only took a few days for the kids to realize that whoever was fast enough got the most. My son, at 2 1/2, began stealing cut up hot dogs from my sisters' plates. He'd lean over, pause with his fork in the air, then dive down to grab the meat and swoop it into his little mouth.

It was hard to control the group. The older kids began acting as a mob. We bought them a bunch of little plastic parachute men. The older children disappeared for a short time, and as we found out later, they had climbed a tower by the camp store, leaned over letting the teeny parachute men drift down to earth. The upshot was that they got yelled at and kicked out  of the tower. To hear them tell it, they were banned for life.

My sister, Joanie, is a compulsive cleaner. She began sweeping the dirt under the picnic table and that covered our whole camp site. Over and over she swept, but still our area became filthy after every meal. Joanie washed the table repeatedly, with no lasting result. We scrubbed the kids and their hands with soap and water. This was not so easy, because the spigot to get water was on the same utility pole as our electric source. Not such a swift idea. My sisters and I had to be vigilant that none of the babies were electrocuted. One did catch impetigo on her cheeks and neck, however.
The little kids and babies were safely tucked into sleeping bags in the tent by 8 p.m. My sisters and I sat by the campfire drinking red wine and laughing, telling stories, and listening to music. We let the oldest, Heather, stay up with us for awhile because she was 10 years old and no longer a baby. By 10 p.m. teams of Fascist inspired campground men drove by in beat up golf carts telling us it was time to go to bed-Quiet down, shut up. We couldn't believe it. Who the hell did they think they were? But we were mildly tipsy and massively tired, so we went to bed. My sister, Sandy, on crutches couldn't get into the sleeping bags on the ground easily, so she slept in the back seat of her big wood-paneled station wagon.

I think we swam in the bay and lounged on the beach, but I can't remember that at all. I remember all the work, dirt and exhaustion. When the babies in diapers woke in the morning, the stuffing in Safeway Truly Fine diapers long since separated from the plastic, had gathered into wet, urine soaked wads into the feet of their fuzzy sleepy suits. Filling up 8 little bowls of cereal and 8 small  glasses of orange juice, my sisters and I silently came to a consensus. Originally we had signed up for 7 nights, but we knew when we were beaten. Waving goodbye to Campland on the sixth night, we packed up, taking all of us, mountains of dirty laundry, and the 8 kids to a motel. We all showered, went to a laundromat, then to an "all you can eat"  buffet restaurant that served cheap steak and baked potatoes. Sleeping in rows together like little logs, all of us  finally slept soundly with full stomachs and clean pajamas.

This past weekend, we met again in San Diego for a family reunion. Some of us were missing. My daughter and her two girls couldn't come because the new darling baby screams her head off in the car. Too miserable for the baby and my daughter. Next year though...I've promised my oldest granddaughter, 5,  a tandem ride on her pink Boogie board.

Our parents are gone now. My oldest sister, Sandy, died 5 years ago of breast cancer. Sandy's girls came with their kids. Her daughter Cindy wore a necklace that held a tiny amount of her ashes. I brought part of her as well by making her super delicious fruit dip.

Joan's boys were both far away, one in Maui, and one in New York. My cousin Gail and a new boyfriend came plus her sister Elizabeth joined us with her daughter, Laura, and her two darling sons we hadn't met. We celebrated my son's little girl, my granddaughter's first birthday, surrounded by all these people and more, a wonderful new husband and stepson, maternal grandparents, a daughter in law's fun, spirited sister and husband, and more. All the kids played, danced, and ate together, getting wild with too much sugar, but content to be a member of the same big tribe. What I wanted the most from this party was for the kids to know their cousins and aunties. I wanted them to feel the security and love of an extended family.

All of the kids in the beach picture are grown now and busy with their own lives;  a television producer, a lawyer, a teacher and campus minister, a teacher of blind children, a social services worker, a public relations director, a entrepreneur and baker, a school bus driver and photographer, and a very talented elementary school teacher. Between them another 8 children have been born. When they talk about Campland, the kids remember nothing but complete fun and freedom.
I sat back for a moment watching everyone interact. It has not been all rosy. There have been tensions and fights, hurt feelings, and times of not speaking. But I am so grateful to have had this time for all of us to be surrounded by a big, noisy and loving  family. So grateful and happy it continues on.