When my now-30-and-28-year-old daughters were in high school, one of their band directors described them perfectly: “Fifty percent of them is exactly the same the same and fifty percent of them is the total opposite.” Which probably is true of all siblings (except me and my brothers, but since they each consistently refuse to acknowledgement my maturity and leadership and wisdom, we will leave that story for another day). I don’t think the two of them look like sisters, either, or look like me at all but when I’m with Older Daughter, people say “Oh, you two look so much alike!” and when I’m with Younger Daughter, people say “Oh, you two look so much alike!” so there must be some resemblance somewhere. All of this to say that I am fascinated with how different our three grandsons are. Older Daughter and Best-Son-in-Law-in-the-World have three boys (Older Daughter is acutely aware that she’s outnumbered, gender-wise) and they are so different yet so alike. While the three-month-old hasn’t staked out his individual territory yet, I already can tell that he’s going to be smart and funny and sweet and imaginative and creative and kind, just like his older brothers. A grandma knows these things. And here I was going to describe to you just what makes the older two so special, but my professional journalistic objectivity is getting in the way of grandmotherly adoration. And vice versa. I could tell you how amazingly talented and awesomely wonderful they are, and it would be true. I could tell you that the first-grader designs and constructs things (he built his own Baymax after we saw “Big Hero 6“) that would impress NASA. I could tell you that the 3-year-old obviously is counting the years (months? weeks?) until he’s no longer under adult rule. I could tell you how the first-grader unpacked and arranged the 3-year-old’s favorite blanket and animals on his bed when they spent the night at our house and how the 3-year-old wants to make sure we save a chocolate doughnut (with sprinkles!) for his older brother. And I’m just getting started. But the thing is that I have lots of friends who have amazingly talented and wonderful and adorable grandchildren of their own. Maybe that’s just how grandchildren are. And as long as we agree that MINE are the most amazingly talented and wonderful and adorable, it’s all good.
I love being a grandma. And I’m pretty good at it. Look, when you are the mommy and you have kids, you’re pretty much stressed and busy and even though you know you’re supposed to slow down and enjoy, there are clothes to wash and homework to check and teachers’ presents to come up with and cookie dough and wrapping paper to buy and so on and WHO HAS TIME TO SLOW DOWN??? But when those kids grow up and give you the most wonderful and adorable grandbabies in the world and you no longer have to worry about 101 ways to make chicken casserole, you can relax and indulge in grandbaby love. Which is The. Best. Ever. But I do try to follow the rules Older Daughter sets down. First, because she is an awesome parent and I have no idea where she learned to be so wise. And, second, if I follow the rules, that means more grandbaby love for me. So I try to be as creative and low-key and green as her standards request. That’s why, one recent afternoon, we all were sitting at the kitchen bar and I noticed four random rectangles of paper — tickets or coupons or something. Eager to show how
smart environmentally friendly I was and proud of my educational initiative, I quickly drew a shape on each piece for an impromptu game with 2-year-old grandson of Identify This Shape. And as the genius baby he is, he got the triangle. He got the square. He got the “E” (first letter of his name). But when I held up the fourth shape, he wrinkled his cute little adorable grandbaby forehead in concentration and then, puzzled, looked at his mom, his primary interpreter. She then literally fell on the floor laughing. “What? What?? WHAT???” I said, not sure what was happening. And in that patient tone of voice she uses with me with alarming frequency, she explained: “That doesn’t look like any circle he’s ever seen.” So, OK. I’m not a great artist. And nobody can read my handwriting. But, I ask you, isn’t that clearly a circle? Sort of, anyway? Thank you.
This probably will NOT be his first-day-of-kindergarten outfit, but it’s cute, anyway. (Cut-outs from a Melissa & Doug Jumbo Drawing Pad, although Son-in-Law Jason Behel probably could draw these in, oh, about five minutes.)
Here are some conversations I recently have heard, been part of, eavesdropped on and otherwise been amused/horrified/fascinated by:
1) I didn’t pay attention to the two sweet elderly white-haired women talking quietly in the local diner’s corner booth until one of them jabbed her fried-chicken leg in her companion’s face and said, loudly and emphatically, “Well, why should she even try when somebody’s always covering her butt?” She then took a bite out of the chicken leg and their conversation continued softly. Wish I could have heard the rest. I’m guessing the “she” in question is the two women’s baby sister who even years ago was everybody’s favorite … and still is.
2) A non-profit I work with hosts receptions for its corporate sponsors. One of my jobs is to liaison between the sponsors, who can invite whoever and how many ever folks they want, and the volunteers who cook and decorate for the party. The volunteer in charge of the food for this specific reception was in our office kitchen and asked me how many guests the sponsor was bringing.
“He told me it wouldn’t even be 100,” I said, proud I’d talked to the sponsor that morning and had a ready answer.
“Well, that doesn’t help us much,” the volunteer said, rolling her eyes at my incompetence. “‘Not 100’ could be 20 or 80.”
She was correct, of course. Anxious to redeem myself, I backtracked quickly. “I’ll check with him again. What’s the deadline for when you need an exact count?”
Busy counting napkins and cocktail plates, she shrugged. “Oh, it doesn’t really matter. We always cook for 50, no matter what.”
3) An Episcopal priest I know relayed the story of her 2-year-old daughter’s new book of Old Testament stories. My friend started out reading every word to her daughter but then, as bedtime got closer, began summarizing paragraphs with “And then God was sad because the people acted ugly.” (Just like putting grapes in your chicken salad and letting any part of your underwear show in public, “acting ugly” is something Southern children are taught not to do. Ever.) The little girl then got impatient with the reading pace and flipped through the rest of the book, turning pages and chanting, “They acted ugly. They acted ugly. They acted ugly.” Thousands of years and millions of words of Old Testament analysis boiled down to three words.
4) On a gorgeous spring day, I was playing Ninja-Turtle-Star-Wars-Pirates with our 5-year-old grandson in the backyard. I was the lookout on top of the slide in case Penguin attacked us (he does not like to mix up his food but gleefully combines his Super Hero fighters). However, lookouts need naps, too, so I sat on the bottom of the slide, leaned back and contemplated the perfectly blue spring sky. Breaking character for moment, he came up behind me. “Kacky. O, Kacky! I’ve got a dead slug I’m going to put in your hair,” he said, chuckling. “That is so cute,” I thought to myself. “How adorable that he’d pretend to do something so icky to tease me. What a sweetie.” That’s when I heard Older Daughter yelling, “STOP RIGHT THERE AND DO NOT PUT THAT DEAD SLUG IN KACKY’S HAIR!” He did warn me.
This is why I am in awe of Older Daughter. It’s an experiment she set up for our almost-5-year-old grandson, also known as Capt. Adorable, sort of along the lines of a “Sid the Science Kid” investigation. (Speaking of Sid and his preschool co-horts, am I the only person who thinks Gerald will turn out to be Keith Moon‘s grandson?) Older Daughter and the Captain wondered what would happen to an egg left soaking in water and one left soaking in vinegar. They identified the hypothesis — he thought the water egg would turn into a snowball and the vinegar egg into what he logically called a lava ball (because if there’s a snowball then surely there’s a lava ball, right?). Mommy helped with the handwriting but the scientific drawings are all the Captain’s. I predict a bidding war between John Hopkins and Stanford in about 20 years.
My phone conversation this morning with Older Daughter, mom to our almost-5-year-old and 14-month-old grandsons, went something like this:
Her: Guess what? We got a new cat.
(Background noise of chairs screeching and children running.)
Me: A new cat?
Her, in a slightly raised voice, to the boys: You all let Tootsie go in Mommy and Daddy’s room to rest for a minute.
Her, to me: Yup, a new …
Her, to Older Grandson: Please take the laser pointer out of your nose.
Her, to me: … cat. She’s black and …
Her, to Older Grandson: If you point the laser at your brother, you’re going to your room and I’m taking it away.
Her, to me: … and white and 3-years …
Her, to Younger Grandson: No-no. Pulling the kitty’s tail is not nice.
Her, to me: … old and very friendly and ..
(More background noise of chairs screeching and children running with addition of frenzied meowing.)
Her, to Younger Grandson: Maybe the kitty cat doesn’t want to be chased anymore.
Her, to me: I think I need to call you back.
Older Grandson — the former Capt. Adorable, who made me stop calling him that a couple of years ago when he turned old enough to take control and tell me firmly, “Kacky, that is NOT my name.” — is absolutely the most creative, innovative, smart and loving almost-5-years-old grandson ever in the world. And I have proof. He recently gave me this painted train engine, and it’s not so much his skillful brushwork and design expertise (you see that, too, don’t you?) that impressed me but the story he wove about his gift. I had bought it for him a few weeks before at the Crossroads Museum gift shop in Corinth, Miss., which he calls “The Train Store” because it’s full of fun stuff celebrating Corinth’s famed railroad crossing. This train actually is a bank — you buy it as a white ceramic blank and then you decorate with the included paintbrush and little plastic pots of paint. Although he’s grown out of his Thomas the Tank Engine phase and now is into Batman, Star Wars and hobbits, Older Grandson’s still likes trains. As an accomplished artist, he seemed delighted with the idea of painting one. So I bought it for him and sent it home with him and didn’t think any more about it. Until recently, when he and his mom — our Older Daughter — and baby brother were at our house. “Give Kacky the present you made for her,” his mommy whispered. He dipped his hand into his backpack, pulled out something I couldn’t quite make out and scampered into my bedroom. I followed and found him carefully placing the train on my bedside table (which also usually holds 1) a coffee cup, 2) a book, 3) my glasses, 4) my cell phone, 5) the TV remote, 6) another coffee cup and 7) another book). “Oh, wow!” I said, thinking how cute that he wanted to put the train where I’d see it every day. “I like the way you’ve made the train so colorful.” (Notice how well I follow Older Daughter’s directives on complimenting my grandchildren: I praise a specific action instead of a lavishing general and unfocused praise. Yes — I can be taught.) But he knew I wasn’t seeing his vision. “No, no, Kacky,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not just a train. It’s a dream-changer. When you sleep, your bad dreams will go in here” — pointing at the coin slot — “and then they’ll get changed into good dreams so you won’t be scared.” His mommy was smiling. “That’s all his own idea,” she said. “He wanted you to have it.” I would have hugged him and thanked him and cried over him a little, but he’d already run off to
torment play with the cats, and he’s never said anything about it since. But his dream-changer works incredibly well, and I highly recommend that you ask your favorite 4-year-old to make you one, too.