The Coffee with Cathy Guide to Everything — On Being a Good Grandma

I love being a grandma. And I’m pretty good at it. Look, when you are the mommy and you have kids, Captureyou’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.

Tennessee Pitts

My mother-in-law was a strong and independent woman before women were supposed to be strong and independent.

Tennessee Pitts — isn’t “Tennessee” the best name ever? — passed away last week at age 95. She was born in 1918 — a year when folks used horses to get around, electricity was an out-of-reach luxury and World War I ended as an equally devastating flu pandemic began.

And American women couldn’t vote. Or, in many states, own property, keep the money they earned or divorce their husbands. And while American law and culture began to accept and acknowledge (shamefully, only white) women as Tennessee and the 20th-century grew older, a woman who wanted her own career faced plenty of challenges.

That was my mother-in-law, who lived a remarkable life of her own choosing in a time and place when most women couldn’t. Growing up in a large family on a middle Tennessee farm as her parents and their parents did before her, she married straight out of high school. But then the story gets interesting. When Tennessee Pittsshe discovered her young husband had been unfaithful, she made three decisions: To get a divorce, to get a job so she could support herself and to become a nurse. She did all three, taking classes in sheet metal to secure a “Rosie Riveter” job building fighter jets in Nashville and enrolling in the newly formed Cadet Nurses Corps. that the U.S. government organized to fill nursing shortages. As a registered nurse, she worked almost 30 years at the Veterans Administration hospital in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where she met Roscoe Pitts. They married in 1949 and eight years later, my husband was born. After her husband died in 1984, Tennessee moved from the family farm to a condo in town and indulged in her loves of traveling, reading and baking “treats” for friends and family. She loved her son and was fiercely proud of him. Self-sufficient and practical, she was not pleased when a stroke slowed her down in 2003. And although her doctor suggested in 2007 that we plan her funeral after a kidney infection, she — as usual — stuck to her own schedule.

I didn’t know her well. My husband and I dated in college but I only met her a few times then. And he and I reconnected  a couple of years before her stroke, although a friend of hers told me this weekend that Tennessee had said she liked me and thought my (then-teenage) daughters were sweet. By the time she had to live in a nursing home, she’d forgotten I was her daughter-in-law and saw me as a nice friend who stopped by to visit. But I’ll take it. High praise from a woman who pretty much faced down a wandering husband, World War II and the health-care industry — and won.

Caves, pogo sticks and Pancake Strawberry Shortcake

Birthday partyOnly a 5-year-old boy would have the good taste to request his mom’s Perfect Strawberry Shortcake Pancakes for his birthday dinner — accented with Star Wars decor, of course. Older Daughter obligingly whipped up a batch while Younger Daughter sliced the berries and made sweetened and real whipped cream. Family and friends sat down to the feast, even husband JP, who although he’s successfully sticking to a low-carb eating plan, cheerfully made an exception for Older Grandson’s birthday party. It’s what grandparents do. And only a 5-year-old boy would request the following for his special day: A trip to a nearby state park to explore a cave, a visit to the local children’s science museum, a pogo stick, Legos (always on any list he makes) and a dinosaur model that includes bones, muscles and a pink squishy stomach and other mysterious parts. Of course, all requests were granted.

A New Addition to the Family

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.

Happy New Year!

If my New Year’s resolutions were to watch football and stake out the coziest corner of the couch, then Jan. 1 was a success — although my beloved SEC took a hit as both LSU and Mississippi State LITERALLY dropped the ball(s), leaving Georgia and Vandy to represent so far. Now, since I am lazy lucky enough to work part-time in places that sensibly close during the holidays, it’s back to work for me after a two-weeks vacation. My family had a super Christmas. Hope yours did the same. I did discover that my children are sneaky — Older & Younger Daughter conspired to give me an iPad for Christmas and kept the secret (after bringing husband JP into the loop)  ever since Black Friday, when my son-in-law apparently was conscripted to stand in line for it after Older Daughter came down with the flu. And you know I try not to be materialistic and to believe in the simple things of love and laughter, but the iPad is THE BEST THING EVER. Ever. It only leaves my hands when it’s time to finish leftover Christmas cookies. Also, husband JP took note of my Amazon wish list and I now have a gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired business-card holder and a lotion warmer that is the most luxurious thing ever and makes me think that perhaps a towel warmer is next. And then my mom gave us a monogrammed doormat, not knowing that JP only tolerates the open-scrollworked metal one we have now because although I think it’s the coolest doormat ever and totally says who we are as soon as you come to our front door, it does leave rust marks all over the porch’s concrete floor. So everybody was happy. And that’s a pretty good start to 2013.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Shopping!

Husband JP and I were lucky enough to be invited to Thanksgiving dinner with Older Daughter’s in-laws, who pretty much set the standard for Southern hospitality and generosity. Not to mention incredibly good food — melt-in-your-mouth smoked turkey, Older Daughter’s signature corn casserole, homemade sourdough rolls and that broccoli salad with onions and grapes I love but never make myself were only a few of the highlights, along with JP’s favorites of deviled eggs and green-bean casserole. After we rolled ourselves away from the table, it was time for after-dinner entertainment — which, predictably, seemed to split along gender lines. Those who were planning upcoming shopping trips —  this group seemed to be mostly women — settled in to scan the ads and make a schedule. Outside, another group — and this one was mostly men — tried to outdo each other with feats of strength, skill and endurance chopped firewood from a lovely old cherry tree and fixed a balky chainsaw. But then we regrouped for a late afternoon hike. And I got to take some banana pudding home! So my Thanksgiving started out with precious grandbaby hugs and ended with a bowl of leftover goodness. Hope yours was full of love and sweetness, too.

Camo Fail — and Happy Birthday!

Photo by Danielle McCann, Florence, Ala.

Our younger grandson  turned 1 year old this past weekend and my son-in-law’s family hosted a joyous party on a perfect fall afternoon. Older Daughter, mom to the birthday boy, asked one of her friends who’s a super photographer, Danielle McCann,  to come and take photos. This was the best idea ever,  because that meant we adoring relatives could simply stand around and admire instead of stressing about preserving precious moments for posterity. Well done, Older Daughter! And well done, Danielle (Or “DeeDee” as she’s known at our house) for these wonderful photos. And well done Younger Daughter, too, who couldn’t resist the creative forces that were unleashed and so wrote this caption for the photo above: “As he stood from the ashes of the dying trees, the Young Child suddenly realized his camouflage had failed him. He froze. But the game was over. ‘Curse you, Robin’s Egg Blue!! CURSE YOUUU!!!'” My family …

Happy Birthday to Grommy

Happy Birthday to my mom, also known in our family as “Grommy” — although I’ve forgotten which grand- or great-grandchild named her that. We gathered to celebrate her day along with other fall family birthdays a couple of weeks ago, and I started the thing I’ve been threatening to do for years: Wrap all presents in plain brown paper and then decorate accordingly. I have to admit that my mom’s birthday present was my first effort, and I think worked pretty well. It was fun, anyway. Her present was a wooden plaque making fun of celebrating her preference to have a little coffee with her cream and sugar. I wrapped it up and then my 4 1/2-year-old grandson, Nolan, and I collected fall leaves from the yard — he liked the crackly brown ones best while I went for the pretty red and orange ones. We then carefully and meticulously taped the leaves to the top of the wrapped package and wrote our birthday message directly on the brown paper. Okay, that’s a big fat lie. The “careful and meticulous” part was purely Nolan, who scorned my haphazard design approach and spent several minutes A) planning a template for the leaves (“No, Kacky. The little red one should go HERE.”) and B) unrolling the tape edges that had folded back on themselves so we would have smooth and wrinkle-free strips. Plus, his handwriting on the “happy birthday” was better than mine. Obviously, one of us has artists for parents, and it’s not me. But I have a beautiful, talented, strong, loving, kind and smart mom — who always A) makes detailed plans before attempting a project and B) reuses and repairs things instead of throwing them out. Happy Birthday, Grommy! We love you!

A Blue-and-Orange Graduation

You know this is a completely objective and un-biased blog — except when it comes to the Smartest and Most Adorable Grandbabies Ever in the Whole World, of course — and just because I recently went to an Auburn-themed graduation party and had a wonderful time does NOT mean I lean that way. Although it’s a proven fact that Alabama fans are THE MOST obnoxious crowds and Nick Saban is THE MOST inscrutable coach. Because here in the Heart of Dixie, you have to choose. There is no middle ground between THE MOST annoying folks in the conference and Auburn. See? In my state, even a graduation party brings out the football in us. I mainly wanted you all to see these fun and creative decorations, such as the crepe-paper streamers that honor the ailing Toomer’s Corner trees and the cute and delicious graduation mortarboards with blue and orange accents, but now I’ve worked myself into such a state that I need another cup of coffee. Anyway, congratulations to Older Daughter’s nephew-in-law on his graduation from not-Alabama. He’s a smart and talented young man who will do great things. War Eagle!

De-Cluttering

In honor of back-to-school re-organizing, I’m de-cluttering the random chaos that tends to take over my brain and leaves me unable to do even the simplest of tasks. (“Sweetie,” husband JP says to me, patiently, “is there some specific reason why you’re burning dinner?”) I mean, the blogosphere here graciously has gifted us with infinite white space to fill up with all my rabid mutterings share thoughtful and meaningful insights, so we should take advantage.

First, as we’ve been doing around here all weekend, let’s check the weather. My Southern state is approaching lockdown with news of Isaac “barreling toward,” “aiming at” or “targeting” — depending on your reporter — our coastal regions and beyond. (Grammar-geek-question-the-day: Can hurricanes actually “aim?” Discuss.) But we’ve got Jim Cantore to pull us through. I adore this guy! I think he personally is responsible for an uptick in Weather Channel viewership when hurricanes threaten. (Overheard in grocery-store line: “I can’t go to lunch with you. I’m headed home to watch the hurricane.”) Cantore’s devotion to giving us the full story while getting blown around by wind and rain is legendary. His intense yet calm warnings of potential doom sort of make me want to nail plywood over our windows even though my town is hundreds of miles away.

Second, it’s Freakin’ Finally Football here in the South. And probably other places, too — we just don’t think too much about them this time of year. High schools have been at it for a couple of weeks or so, and SEC play opens on Thursday with South Carolina visiting why-are-they-still-playing-football-please-just-let-them-stick-with-basketball Vanderbilt. As much as I harbor pure and unadulterated dislike for one specific team in my conference (Hint: It is not Auburn.), I’m an enthusiastic fan of all things SEC. And this year, I even have an SEC student — Younger Daughter is in Knoxville doing grad work at the University of Tennessee. I’ve already started collecting an orange wardrobe.

Third, that thing about Younger Daughter moving to Knoxville to do grad work? She’s a grown-up woman making grown-up choices and doing just fine on her own, thank you very much, yet I still cried when we moved her two hours farther away. Of course, the tears could have been my middle-aged body protesting after a couple of days of packing and lifting and tugging and toting — although she did most of the prep work herself — but I think I unconsciously was revisiting here first day of kindergarten, which I did not handle well AT ALL. She called a couple of days later while walking around campus. “How are you doing?” I said. “Fine,” she said. “It’s just me and 30,000 other students.” Welcome to the SEC!

Fourth, my incredibly cute and adorable grandsons are … incredibly cute and adorable. The 9-month-old is calm and relaxed and constantly entertained by everything going on around him, although he already seems dissatisfied with crawling and you know he’s thinking, “So, you just put one foot in front of the other and try to not fall down, huh? I bet I could do that.” The 4-year-old, on the other hand, is the one usually doing the entertaining — why sit quietly when you can pretend to be a pirate or Batman or a ninja warrior? Dirt, mud, water and sand are his tools of choice, yet he also enjoys a good tea party and, for awhile the other day, decided his name was Trixie. This bodes well for 21st-century manhood.

Fifth, I help with a mediawriting lab at our local university. One of the first assignments this semester was a just-for-fun project to see how well the students did when they had to write something by hand. You know, with a pen and a piece of paper. Like the olden days. As they worked, I noticed they all seemed to have developed their own individual style of loopy or choppy sort-of printing — none of them used cursive anymore and most of them hadn’t written anything in cursive in years. Interesting …

More to come —