School roared back into session just a few weeks ago, and like night follows day, it’s already here.

It’s FUNDRAISING SEASON!

And thus arrived my first opportunity to serve as the sales target of an earnest and highly focused six-year-old.

It began this way:  As I walked into the room, I observed him turning to his mother for consent.  “It’s OK,” my daughter affirmed.  “You can ask her.” He wasted no time before launching his pitch, and no words on frilly preliminaries.  Presenting himself immediately in my path, he began, “Evie, would you like to buy a City Saver book today?”

Well, I don’t know, Buddy, I replied, stalling for time while dropping into a chair to get to eye level.  What’s this about?

He came forward with his sample and presented his order form.  “It’s for my school.  If you buy this book, you can save money, and the money goes to my school.”  The flow of funds was slightly distorted in this preamble, but I got the gist.  “You put your name right here,” he rolled on, pushing to close, like any good salesman.  “Just write it there, and I’ll put your money in the envelope.”

I’d be happy to support your school, Buddy, I replied, but I don’t have any cash on me, and I’d rather pay with cash.  Could we do this some time in the next few days?  A small , serious nod followed, along with confirmation that a week or so remained before the deadline.

It’s not entirely clear whether superior follow-up was part of the sales training foisted on these pint-sized revenue generators, or just a natural part of Buddy’s tenacious nature, but every encounter over the next couple of days began with exactly the same polite reminder.  “Evie,” he began again, calmly, “would you like to buy a City Saver book today?”  Finally, I remembered to get cash from the ATM, and we sat down to close the transaction.  I entered my name as instructed, handed over a twenty and a five, and watched while he ogled these bills of such scope to a small boy.  Watching him stare, a memory came flooding back, and I wondered if there might be something more that I could offer him.

Back in the 1960s, small towns like ours in central Kentucky still had those magical, dusty emporiums known as “dime stores.”  Our little town had two on Main Street, one named for history’s ultimate master of frugality, Ben Franklin.  A visit to Ben Franklin was a chance to spend your allowance coins on penny candy, or select a birthday card and a matchbox car for the little brother who loved them, or just accompany a parent in search of laundry soap, a replacement frying pan, or some other essential item.

One spring afternoon when I was about seven, I joined my dad on a visit to Ben Franklin that occupied him long enough for me to wander off and browse the toy section.  I stopped to stare at an old-style push carriage for a baby doll, an alluring pink plaid with shiny silver wheels, perched on a high shelf, literally and figuratively out of reach.  I had gotten a new doll the previous Christmas, and how I wanted to push her in this charming little conveyance.  It had a handwritten price card perched in front of it that my mind’s eye can still see to this day:  $2.99.  It might have been $1 million.

Except for an inspiration my father gave me.

“His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand.” from Leader of the Band, by Dan Fogelberg

Locating me in the toy aisle, staring upward, Dad shooed me out the door and into the car.  Maybe I was daydreaming on the way home, and through dinner, because I don’t think I said much.  Just before bedtime, he called me over to his easy chair, where he was finishing the newspaper.

“Thinking about that doll buggy, hmmmm?”  he asked.  I nodded.  “You really want it, don’t you?”  Another nod.  “Okay, sweetie, I’ll tell you what, I’ll make you a deal.  You come up with the first $1.50, and I’ll match what you save, and we’ll get your doll that buggy.  Think you can do that?”

And so the match of enterprise was lit.  I can’t remember how long it took me to raise my seed capital, but it was surely many weeks.  I think my allowance in those days was 15 cents a week, or maybe a dime, but I asked for, and received, extra chores to earn additional cash.  I folded laundry and ran it up the steps from the basement, did extra dishes and helped my mom in the garden, and slowly my little jar begin to fill with coins that I must have counted a thousand times.  When finally I reached the mountaintop, he drove me back to Ben Franklin and carried through the lesson to the very last step, insisting that I shake my own coins out of the jar onto the counter so the saleslady could count them before he laid down his money.  “That’s her money, that she earned and saved,” he told the lady, who nodded her approval at me primly.  I pushed the buggy on the sidewalk out to the car, my heart bursting from the joy of accomplishment and the pure greed of acquisition.

I think back on this episode now with such wonder at my father’s insight.  He was a complicated and challenging man in so many ways, but strategy like this was his greatest strength and perhaps most enduring gift to his four children.  It was not just the genius of teaching a seven-year-old to take charge of and work for her own desires in this world.  Looking back through the smoky shadows of the decades, I remember how my heart was lifted by the simple solidarity, the shared goal, the joint effort implied by his offer.  If it matters to you, he was saying, then it matters to me, too.  I hear you, I care about what you care about, and I’ll walk with you to get there.  I won’t carry your load for you, but I’ll share it.  That’s the essence of what he said—to such a little, little girl.  He and I, we were in it together.

Isn’t that all we want in this life?

And so, across my dining room table the other day, I finished completing my rows on the order form, handed Buddy the pen back and asked him some questions.  How many books are you hoping to sell?  He looked a bit uncertain.  Do you have a sales goal?  Still no answer, but I could tell he was pondering it.  I tried a different tack.  What happens if you sell them?  This rang the right bell, and I got a litany of possible prize options for sales achieved. I asked if three would be a good goal, and he nodded that it would.

Well, you did a good job selling me one, I said, so I’ll make you an offer:  if you sell another one, I’ll sell a third one for you, and that will get you to three.  But you have to sell the next one first, understand?  I won’t do my sale until you get your next one.

He signified agreement with this, though I could see, deep in Buddy’s highly analytical mind, he was wondering what was in it for me.  Nevertheless, he persisted, nailing his next sale with his indulgent aunt, and it was time to uphold my end.  I invested in the past in fundraisers for the children of a work friend, so I tapped her for a easy yes, and the deal was done. Buddy sold another book to his mom, turned in his money, and collected his prizes.

Will he remember that I helped get him there?  Who knows?  I’ll probably get another chance to work the Matching Grant idea again for some future endeavor.  I bet it will work like a charm with his younger sister, who never saw an activity attempted by her brother that she wouldn’t hurl herself at like a Major League fastball.

As to what’s in it for me, in addition to all those coupons?  It’s just a chance to pay forward a gift I was given a very long time ago, a chance to show, in real time, how a challenge is lightened when it is shared.  And the chance to pass that on to this enterprising young fellow, so intent on everything he does, is a gift, in itself, to me.

Nicknames show up in funny ways.  Some may spring from characters in music, books, or movies, but others, perhaps, from the times in which we live.

I’m pretty sure that’s the case for the moniker that recently came to mind for my granddaughter.  You can count on one thing with certainty when it comes to Sis, who is now a Large Four Years Old:  Force of will shows up at the front of the line ahead of reason or other emotions, insisting on precedence.

So, I started calling her Sister Resister.

The first time I used this title out loud, proof of veracity arrived faster than a Prime package at the front door.  She scowled and muttered darkly, “Don’t call me that.”

Yet in hardly any time at all (and with the help of her creative mother), she had re-imagined the title completely, anointing herself with the status of Super Hero.

“Look, Evie!” she shouted exultantly, striking a wide-footed, super-hero stance and planting fists at her waist, elbows bent.  “I’m SISTER RESISTER!!”  This was followed by a triumphant cackle, head thrown back, decidedly worthy of the Wicked Witch of the West.

And there, I confess, I hope the idea roots firmly in her heart.  It’s enthralling to watch a child so bold, so determined, so insistently fearless.  Maybe that’s because when I was her age, I was the complete opposite.  They called me Fraidy Cat, and there was plenty of evidence: I sobbed on the back of our pinto pony during the Christmas picture photo session, even when the poor animal was held tightly in place and motionless.  I cowered in the seat behind my father in the ski boat, clinging tightly to his back when the boat thumped merrily over waves.  Meanwhile, my braver, carefree sisters perched madly in the far front bow, hoping to be bounced as hard as possible.  I can’t for the life of me see, looking back, why I was like that.

I don’t think I chose the nickname to egg on this child who needs no encouragement to assert herself.

Or did I?   Doesn’t matter.  If she sees those qualities in herself, that’s everything she may someday need.  For me, circumstances were the great modifiers, many, many years after I feared bouncing boats and ponies.  Life took certain turns that called for certain responses, and fear, by default, became something that could be considered later, at some other time.  I’m not sure it’s accurate to call that courage so much as a predisposition for action.  My dad used to voice a simple credo for difficult situations:  Do Something, Even if it’s Wrong.

Who knows what adversities may someday require super-hero strength from Sis?  In the public arena, a recent parade of examples has marched past, flags waving.

Maybe someday she’ll need to resist like Taylor Swift, who stood up to a powerful music industry personality who abused his position and degraded her in public.  Taylor stood firm all the way to trial, and when the court ruled in her favor, she asked for $1.  The real victory, she said, was the opportunity to publicly encourage other women to speak up and refuse to be silenced by mistreatment.

Or maybe she’ll need to persist like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who was forced into silence on the floor of the Senate for the letter she was reading about the civil rights track record of a key presidential appointee.  Justifying his procedural action in the face of subsequent criticism, the Senate majority leader ignited international response with this statement:  “She was warned.  She was given an explanation.  Nevertheless, she persisted.”  (Thank you, Senator, for the deeply inspiring call to action for women everywhere.  T-shirt vendors are still counting money as I write this.)

And then there was Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who resisted attempts to derail her questioning on the House floor on the basis of procedural time limitations.  She responded by persistently invoking a procedural proclamation of her own: “Reclaiming my time.  Reclaiming my time.”

Our Sister Resister is too young now to understand the momentous impact of these women, who are facing down the renewed adversity and conflict in our tumultuous contemporary times.  Those of us of a certain age watched first-hand the earlier footsteps of women who fought 50 years ago for equal pay, an end to gender discrimination, and other protections.  History is, of course, full of earlier examples, and I hope someday she’ll learn about and honor them.  The famous Resisters, as well as the countless women who persist in the face of private adversity in daily life–all surely called on super-hero strength to stand tall when needed.

So I say: Onward, Sister Resister.  Start learning now to stand up and speak out.  Refuse to be derailed if you believe you are right.  You might be mocked like Warren or groped like Swift, or even bounced out of a motorboat, but you have what it takes to carry on.  I can see it as clearly as the blue in your eyes.

Because scripture may foretell that the meek will inherit the earth, but She Who Resists, and Persists, can change it forever.

 

There could be enthralling cartoons rolling merrily on the screen, there might even be fierce artistic fervor unfolding, there may be arguing, even shoving, with battle lines being negotiated .    Just about any attention-grabber the universe can wave before my two grandkids could roar along in any given moment, but I can trump it, hands-down, no exceptions or outliers, with four magic words:

Who wants a peach?

The resplendent summer peach, in all its velvety, rose-hued, softly ripened glory is currently the Mother of All Culinary Fantasies for Buddy and Sis.  And while their love of the juicy jewel is shared, and equally fervent, their consumption style reveals radically different foraging actions and much, I would venture, about the distinctive individuals they will become.

From Buddy, at a wise and deep-thinking six, the peach receives respect and gentle handling, as much as a boy of six can be gentle with anything destined to travel soon from hand to stomach.   He calmly studies the velvet orb cradled in his palm and ponders his options when offered the choice of eating it sliced or whole.    His young mind, its gears processing output options as clearly as a blinking Times Square billboard, wastes little time in divining the key distinction here.  Option A (sliced by his grandmother, delivered in bowl with fork) requires a slight delay at the post, while Option B (whole) offers instant gratification.  Still, he takes care not to rush his answer and show his (hungry) hand.  “I think,” he says calmly and deliberately, “I’ll eat it whole.  If I could please have a paper towel for the juice.”

Such operational analysis and niceties of manner are but dust beneath the chariot wheels of his younger sister, who squeaks like a rusty bike chain when told she gets an entire peach to her four-year-old self and reaches forward to seize the prize in the work of a moment.  (As I have said before about this young female, no one is ever going to have to advise her to Lean In.)  By the time I can turn back around to articulate the slicing option a second time, there is juice everywhere, the peach is reduced in size by half, and her rakish grin illuminates the room like a late July sunbeam.

So goes a hot summer evening, with two kids, two peaches and a grandmother pondering if peaches can portend things to come.

 

 


Author’s note:  Regular readers know I don’t use this space for commercial promotion, but will nevertheless for this story say that Jackson’s Orchard in Bowling Green, Ky., has the finest peaches I’ve ever tasted or laid eyes on.  If you live in this region and love peaches, you will find theirs are incomparable.  Admittedly, I am biased, as the orchard is run by extended family, but the quality of the product speaks for itself.  Visit them online or on find them on Facebook.

G-ma was delighted when a couple of recent installments of the Chronicles inspired readers to recall some of their own favorite family lore.  Even better, they wrote and shared their memories and bestowed permission to pass them on.  Over the years, G-ma has become a fervent believer that there’s a funny thread somewhere in every family, though some may have to look harder for it than others.  Why not spread the laughs around and capture them for future generations?  To that end, she hopes you enjoy these reader contributions.

The first tale comes from an old pal in Kentucky, one of the funniest people I know, but who will remain anonymous in this missive.  He was inspired by The Invincible MM, and its reference to my mother wearing a new outfit and pearls the afternoon after an accident sent her to the emergency room.  He writes:

“…one element of the story reminded me of an incident involving one of my mother’s sisters, my Aunt Libby.

Libby Louise Longworth Hampton was a tiny, fastidious woman who clung to her East Tennessee upbringing despite living most of her adult life in Detroit.

One evening, Aunt Libby’s daughter, cousin Rhonda, dropped by Libby’s house to visit, only to find the front door standing open and Libby (now well into her 70s) lying in the foyer, staring at the ceiling, housecoat and hair curlers in disarray, bare feet askew.

After some requisite shrieking about strokes, heart attacks, and seizures, Rhonda told her mother to stay still, then dashed off to dial 911.

When the call was complete, Rhonda returned to the foyer to find it…empty.

No Libby Louise Longworth Hampton anywhere to be seen.

More shrieking and dashing ensued; this time Rhonda ran into the dimly lit front yard, expecting to find her mother on all fours, crawling toward parts unknown.

In short order, an ambulance arrived, Rhonda babbled out her story, and the EMTs — being experienced professionals — suggested searching the house first, Great Outdoors later.

Imagine, then, the absolute wonder Rhonda felt when the search party got to the front door, and found Aunt Libby in the precise spot where the story began, flat on her back in the entranceway, hands demurely folded across her breast.

Only now, she was wearing a prim frock, her hair was combed out, rouge lightly colored both cheeks, a hint of gloss gave life to the lips, low heels adorned her feet, and the folded hands held a string of pearls in place.

Libby would eventually explain, “I couldn’t go to the hospital looking like that.”

And the subject was closed to further discussion.

I think the diagnosis was a fainting spell related to low blood pressure.  Aunt Libby lived to a ripe 90+, as did all my mother’s sisters who survived childhood.”

The next exceptional tale was shared by my great friend and former co-worker Barbara Morris of Louisville, whose family absolutely has a bedrock sense of humor.  Inspired by a Chronicles reference to the challenges of entertaining grandchildren and keeping pace with their energy, Barb went back in time to this:

‘When I saw your posting on your grandchildren having an overnight, I was reminded of a story from when Clay Sr. and Marian had the grandchildren for a visit. The two grade school-aged grandsons from Columbus, Ohio, were there for a week. The Sr. Morris’s had worn themselves ragged entertaining them. Belle ride, museums, movies, parks, train ride, eating out and more. When their parents arrived for pickup, the younger of the two said tearfully, ‘they didn’t let me do ANYTHING!’

Family legend now as a phrase we use when it fits…. Clay Sr. often said, “Grandchildren make you happy twice, once when they come and again when they leave’. “

Amen to that last bit, Barb.  And thanks to my pals for sharing.  G-ma hopes other readers will stroll down memory lane, then take time to do the same.

 

 

 

At six and four, Buddy and Sis are old enough now to enjoy the occasional overnight visit at my house.  These visits linger in memory with certain central “themes”.  Oh, yes, I might think, looking back, that’s the time we made peanut butter cookies the first time.  Or, that was the time Buddy first dove under water at the pool, I might say, answering a friend who inquired how I entertained the children over the weekend.

A recent visit, on the other end of the spectrum, gets indexed for history under Injury, Pain, and Bloodshed.

A nervous Nellie by nature, I prattle precautions at the children constantly.  They appear predestined to demonstrate the futility of such intentions.  A child’s natural instinct to over-extend, to probe, to try—these two seem endowed with extra helpings of all those, and the inevitable aftermath will be the order of the days.  I may as well buckle in and muscle up for it.  Perhaps EMT training for grandparents is out there somewhere; at this rate, I’ll be able to teach it myself, before long.

The recent Festival of Agony opened with Sis.  Unable to contain her standard exuberance while she waited to roll the cookie dough into oven-sized morsels, she commenced to wiggle her bottom vigorously, a sort of Cookie Dance, throwing her weight from port to starboard and back.  This motion destabilized the stool that elevated her position at the kitchen counter, sending the stool sailing out from under while gravity dropped her straight down and caught her chin a hard lick on the edge of the granite countertop.  I watched this unfold from behind, too far away, of course, to intervene in time.  Amazingly, given the decibel level of the shrieking that followed, no teeth were displaced, no lip split, and the allure of the cookie dough took precedence over the pain with alacrity.

About half an hour later, the oven performing its office on the cookies and the aroma filling the house with a false sense of security, Buddy rounded the end of the dining room table in sock feet while in rapid pursuit of his sister.  When he lost his balance on the curve, he executed a Major League-style slide into a chair leg that forced two of his toes to merge right, and the other three to merge left.  Owwwww rose in my throat, at the same time it emerged from Buddy’s mouth. We examined the tender redness carefully, with an offer quickly made to ice the area against certain bruising.  Apparently the pursuit of justice may demand certain sacrifice, as he declined the ice, shook his foot hard a few times and rose to resume chase.

The evening’s Injury Trifecta played itself out near dusk, when the day’s rain finally subsided and a fresh-air strategy was pursued with an eye toward burning energy before bedtime.  We took the dog out for a walk, and a kindly neighbor stopped to meet the children and exchange pleasantries.  When she complimented Sis’ eye-catching pink rain boots, Sis attempted to demonstrate, Gene Kelly-style, a few dance steps in a puddle.  Sadly, these boots were not made for dancing.  She caught one foot behind the other and took a rapid swan dive face down on the rough aggregate sidewalk.

This time I knew we were for it, and I dove down to scoop up the screaming child with my heart in my throat.  She clung to me with unusual ferocity.  Let me see, I said over and over, let me see your face, but she wouldn’t raise her head from my chest while she screamed.

As I returned her grip for reassurance and lowered her feet down onto a nearby bench, hoping to wrest her loose and survey the damage, I was suddenly transported away to another time and place, as though I had stepped into a time machine.

Thirty years earlier, in our tiny stone house on a shady street in Lexington, Kentucky, Sis’ mom took her first face-down swan drive on the hardwood floor of the little ranch’s narrow, central hallway.  I saw her so clearly there—she had a short, bowl-style haircut and was wearing a blue print smock with a white Peter Pan collar and red corduroy pants.  The ensemble was completed with the little white leather laced booties that were obligatory for toddlers in those days, and my daughter came running for something, catching a toe somehow in those stiff little shoes.  She sprung back to her feet with a shriek, blood spurting from her lower lip, and before I could gather my wits I shouted frantically for my husband.  I distinctly remember reaching for my own lip, as though it must surely be bleeding simultaneously, so painful was the reaction of a young mother to the child’s first little accident.  She’s fine, she’s fine, her father said calmly, here’s a cold wash cloth, she’s fine.  But facial cuts are always so bloody, often so much worse in appearance that in fact, that the maternal instinct can hardly avoid overdrive.  Then, or now.  Hence the sharp, cinematically accurate memory of that little scene.

Meanwhile, present time drew me back when another concerned neighbor approached with a peppy little dog.  Sis continued to cling like a poultice and my nurturing was insufficient to loosen her vice grip, but the sight of the curious little dog did the trick, and she stepped back to reach down for a pat.  A first view of her pearl-skinned face revealed a cut lip, along with scrapes to the chin and cheek in several spots that left bloodstains all over my sweatshirt.  But the pressure of her face buried in my shoulder had served to stop most of the dripping blood by the time she let go and stooped down.

And so, the dog having administered distraction and the spell of tragedy broken, the evening wore on to its conclusion.  When I was her age, perennially feeling (unjustifiably) ignored in a large family, I would have milked such injuries for all I could get, but Sis had little to say about the episode later.  I dreaded having to explain to her parents, though, of course, they deal with this all the time.  When my son-in-law appeared to retrieve the children the next morning, the first thing he said to Sis was, “What happened to your face?”

“I falled down,” she said with an easy shrug, indicating it was really nothing.  And illustrating another timeless truth:  the children always recover long before the adults.

 

 

The status of grandmother was bestowed on me six years ago last month.  Oddly, it didn’t come with a manual.  Though it is surely one of life’s richest blessings, I’m still trying to figure out how to do it.

There must be others out there who, like me, feel so different from grandmothers of earlier generations that it is ironic to even use the same title.

After all, look how the role of women has changed in our culture in the last few decades.  Neither of my grandmothers worked outside the home.  Their parents died younger, and I have no memories of any of my great-grandparents.  They had lifelong partners, enduring marriages of five decades or longer.

In 2017, it’s a different picture for many women whose kids have kids.  Having just entered my seventh decade, I’m still a working professional, with miles to go before retirement is visible on the horizon.  I’m a single woman, looking after myself and striving to maintain a social life at the same time.  My precious mother is, thank heavens, still with us at 86, so I strive to stretch my time across four generations of family.  And many of them are 200 miles away.

Mom stirring applesauce June 2016

My mom taught us to make homemade applesauce.  I hope I get to pass that technique on.

My grandmothers occupy such large places of love and respect in my memories, but can I be to my grandchildren what they were to us?  Not likely.

 

My maternal grandmother often wore an apron, and could roast the most beautiful chicken any chef every claimed.  She came to visit for working trips, joining my mother in the kitchen for the all-day process of cooking country ham, and she patiently hemmed and mended hand-me-downs.  She was a crackerjack card player, demonstrating tactics that belied her gentle demeanor.  I liked attending her church, because its rituals were open to “all who believed” and not restricted to those who completed some class or ritual declaration.  That meant that a child could share in the communion celebration with the adults.

My paternal grandmother was a stunning, petite blonde who stayed beautiful as she aged.  She had elegant taste, a fine wardrobe, and the manners of an accomplished socialite.  That included certain standards that were not to be compromised, and when they were, hell might demand the settlement of accounts.  She hosted elegant parties that required dressing just so, and my mother prepared us carefully.   If my grandfather told raucous jokes at dinner and enjoying himself too much in his cups, she registered disapproval by threatening to leave the room—and when he didn’t behave, she vanished.  No shrinking violet, that one.

Is any of that a heritage I can pass on?

Elegant parties?  I like to set a nice table, and I have china and lovely dining treasures from both of them.  But my holiday dinners are more likely to be thrown together in the wee hours the night before, after a 50-hour work week.  By the time the guests arrive, I’m lucky if I remembered to shower and put on lipstick.  I would love to learn to cook a country ham myself.  But one has to weigh a whole day invested against the convenience of buying it cooked from one of the fine Kentucky purveyors, of which there are many.

Teach my kids how to maintain a home, how to get spots out, one of many of my mother’s great aptitudes? Don’t be silly.  Not long ago, I asked my extremely handy son-in-law to tighten the handle on a finicky kitchen faucet.  Got mildly irritated when I noticed him stockstill in the middle of the kitchen, staring intently at his phone.  Don’t they ever put the dang things down?  That was before I realized he was watching a You Tube video about repair of not just any faucet, but THAT faucet.  The next generation doesn’t need our knowledge.  They get it from strangers, on a tiny glass screen.

So what CAN we offer?  After six years, here are some intentions I have set (as the yoga teacher calls it).  The important things, it seems, are less about the hands and more about the mind and heart. They are not necessarily new to this generation, but perhaps take on a different hue in today’s times.

We can show up.  When they are older and look back on important days in their lives, I hope it means something if I was there.  So getting there is the goal.  Other things can wait.

We can listen.  The world is roaring with noise and distractions that defeat good conversation.  Yet communication defines our relationships.  If my grandkids have something to say, I want them to know I am interested in hearing it.

We can ask questions.  What happened at school today?  What’s that book about? I want Buddy and Sis to know I’m interested in their observations and ideas, their kiddie jokes, their fears.  Their parents are good talkers, wonderful at encouraging the kids to express themselves and talk through things.  But it takes a village.

We can show mercy.  A while back at a family meal, my daughter relayed a story about a particularly trying episode with Sis a few days before.  Absorbing the details of this transgression, I turned to notice Sis watching me intently, brow furrowed with anxiety as she awaited my reaction.  I support the parents in their excellent standards for discipline—but there was no need here to extend the sentence already rendered by the court.  Sis’ little map flooded with relief when I returned her gaze, winked at her, and changed the subject.

We can offer sanctuary.  It’s a tough world out there, getting tougher.  Buddy and Sis are lucky to be happy and safe in their home, but when they need another place to be encouraged, empathized with, or just to raid the cabinet for snacks, my door can be open.

At six, our Buddy is an intense thinker, progressing through reason and root cause and relevance at an astonishing clip.  Thoughts tumble out so quickly I struggle to keep pace, but I do my best.  He also seems to pick up particular turns of phrase that linger for a period in the Lexicon of Buddy.  He repeated one of those multiple times over dinner not long ago.  “Evie,” he kept asking, “Can I tell you something?”

Yes, Buddy.  You bet.  I might not get it, and it won’t be long before you are so much smarter than I will ever be.  But I am listening.  Tell me.

Children change so quickly, don’t they?  It’s an amazing thing to watch.  And, of course, it’s so much easier to discern these charming progress points when they aren’t your immediate progeny.  Kind of like watching a new house going up as you drive by occasionally:  Oh, Look!  The chimney is up!  Gosh, that was fast!  While the poor owners are staring at each brick being added, wondering if moving day will ever come.

As she approaches her fourth birthday, our Sis has had a big year.  She learned to sing “Where is Thumbkin?,” complete with hand motions, and developed an interest in kitchen activity and cooking.  She carries on a fairly complex conversation with enthusiasm and is gaining on her life’s aim to keep up with her older brother.  She grew more than an inch.

But there’s one thing about Sis that remains a steady fixture in our lives, rooted as deeply as her unwavering insistence that it matters not if you wear your shoes on the wrong feet.

Sis is an Eating Machine.  A Ravenous Ravager of (almost) all things eminently edible.  She is the top-rated Hoover of plate cleaners.  In our family, there are no other contenders.lj-muffin-date-tbd

This rather striking quality tends to surprise those who aren’t around her regularly.  They first notice the crystal blue eyes, long blonde curls, or precocious exuberance.  But join her at table, and it’s hard to stop the eyes from popping.  You may feel like a balletomane who sneaks into the dressing room to discover the prima ballerina stuffing her face with Twinkies.

But let me get at that Twinkies thing immediately, before I get in trouble here.  The really remarkable thing about many of her menu preferences is their healthy nature.  She never asks for junk food at my house.  When this volume trend began to escalate a year or so ago, the first shocker was cooked carrots.  I mean, who knew?  When I was her age, I wouldn’t eat them on a bribe.  Last time I served carrots with pot roast on a cold winter day, Sis ate her portion, her brother’s, a small heap of seconds from the pot, and was still pining when her father bridged the shortage by forking over his, too.

Fruit is another favorite, and oranges currently rank quite high.  On her last visit, Sis risked life and limb to get close to a bowl of the alluring, bright orbs, clambering up from a stool, to a chair, to a box on the chair, before I could leap to secure her on perch.  Alas, she still couldn’t reach, so was forced to ask, politely but pointedly, if she could please have one with expedited delivery.  I cut it in half, and by the time I reached to peel the second half, the first sections had vanished.

lj-kombucha-2-17

Sis loves kombucha, which many of us would have to be paid to drink.

The next morning, we moved on to surprising success with the larger citrus cousin, grapefruit.  Watching me spooning out the pink sections, Sis requested a taste test.  I cut her a very small portion and hesitated before handing it over.  This is much more tart than an orange, I warned.  Try this small piece first.  It’s OK if you don’t like it.  (Note to self:  wasted breath.)  “I love that!”  Sis exclaimed, adding her personal anthem: “Could I have some more?”

What creates such an appetite, I have pondered occasionally, in between efforts to stock the larder before the children arrive and scrambling to proffer seconds and thirds during meals. An extended growth spurt, I suppose.  One does wonder if takes extra calories to fund a campaign of regular screaming—whether in exuberance, or just a forceful bid to be heard, one never knows.  (This is yet another phase we seem to be stuck in.)  Sis is blessed with good health and no weight concerns, thank goodness, and her parents work hard to select and offer quality food to the children. They certainly converted me to the notion that children will learn from example and context when it comes to healthy food.

Meanwhile, my favorite evidence of the Hoover plate-cleaning action occurred at Christmas dinner just a few weeks back.  We have a family tradition of serving homemade applesauce with the holiday meal.  Our family product is a thick, somewhat tart variety that we make with the best apples when they ripen every June, then we hoard it in the freezer for special occasions. mom-stirring-applesauce-june-2016

What fun to see the children excited to get their portion, which I served in tiny, delicate, gold-rimmed bowls passed down from my great-grandmother.  No doubt the original owner of the bowls turned in her grave if she noticed Sis about a minute later with her bowl upended near her face, so she could lick it clean.  Hey! I remonstrated weakly, stifling an empathetic guffaw.  Use your spoon, please!

“But the spoon won’t get it all, and it’s so good,” she replied, pausing just long enough to answer.  What’s a grandmother to do?  I wish I had a picture of that little episode.  It would be fun to taunt her with when she is older, when it comes time, if we are lucky, to teach her to make the applesauce herself.

First, close the door as carefully as possible.  Now, let’s survey the aftermath.

There is a dinosaur sticker clinging to the hardwood floor near the entry hallway, torn, folded in half, but sticking nonetheless.  A single, royal purple crayon perches alone and forlorn, probably hiding for its life, between a couple of couch cushions.  Light switches I forgot existed are thrust into the on position, illuminating normally unused corners of the house.  One half of my pajamas (I can’t tell which half, but who cares?) is strewn across a kitchen chair, far across the house from where pajamas are routinely exchanged for street clothes on the average day.  Glassy-eyed, wary, and immobile from exhaustion, the dog is prostrate on the carpet.  She declines to shift as I step over her.

The children have been here.  Overnight.  Both of them, with just the dog and me.madeline-exhausted

It was a first, so let me quickly confirm that everyone survived intact.  Or maybe just the children did.  I think I might have.  Right now, the dog is a close call.  We’re not as young as we were, the dog and I.

And let’s be clear about a few other things, in fairness and up front.  First, I asked for this opportunity.  Are you ready for the kids to stay overnight, both of them? I asked my daughter chirpily.  “I am if you are,” she responded, so quickly I should perhaps have taken note.  (About halfway through the previous evening, a good friend texted, ‘How’s it going over there?’  To which I responded: There is a reason this task was originally divined as the responsibility of two people. But I am one, plus dog, and so we do what we can.)

Second, Buddy and Sis are relatively well-behaved kids, as kids their age (five and three) go.  Their parents diligently coach good behavior, require them to clean up after themselves, to employ good manners, all of it.  They’re just active, REALLY active, and inquisitive, and quick…and exhausting.  My LORD, they are exhausting.

While surveying the aftermath, providing asylum to the desperate purple crayon and otherwise tidying up, I begin pondering the sleepover experience from the children’s perspective.  And I quickly fear their view will not equate to the stuff of Hallmark cards and treasured future family lore.  Did they have a good time?  Or was every word I uttered a reprimand, a correction?  We ate a good dinner, we read books, watched a cartoon, they colored, we sang.  Is that what they’ll talk about?  Tomorrow, and 30 years from now, when I may be only a memory in their hearts?

Or will this litany, from me, come to mind instead:  No, back away from the wall with that crayon.  No, don’t take the top off that pottery bowl, there’s nothing in there for you.  PLEASE don’t give the dog any more pot roast. She’ll vomit.  Wipe your hands before you leave the table, they’re covered in sauce.  No, you can’t have another cookie.  No, you can’t watch the show a third time, you have to go to bed.  Stop screaming; you’ll frighten the neighbors.  Stop pushing all those buttons; better yet, hand over the TV remote, RIGHT NOW.  I’m not kidding!  Did you spill that, again?  I just wiped it up!

I once heard a wise and impressive grandmother, a Harvard-educated college professor, state boldly that her only job is to keep her grandson safe.  If safety is assured, whatever else he wants, in her house, he gets.  Such a beguiling idea, that, with its alluring quantities of flexibility and openness.  And good luck to her, and the child.  It’s not how this G-ma is wired.  One longs to provide that Hallmark card experience, the gentle touch, the calm and kind word, the fresh cookie, the twinkle in the eye.  But how to balance that with the powerful instinct to protect property and animals, even one’s own sanity, at least, a little bit?

To explore my darkest lingering fears, I ring up their mother a day or so later.  Did they have a good time, I inquire, trying not to sound desperate.  “Of course, they did,” she assures me, “they loved it.”  Really?   I repost.  I feel like I hardly said a kind word…had to get after them time and again.

“Mom, I promise,” comes the matter-of-fact answer.  “I doubt they thought too much about any of that.  They’re used to it, you know.”  Aha.  Well, there’s that, of course.

“Do you know how lucky you are?”  This is a question I hear often from friends and family, always in reference to the magical concept of two beautiful, intelligent, healthy grandchildren, living just 20 minutes away.  How they wish their kids lived closer, they say.  Or:  I can’t wait until I have grandchildren.  Or:  I bet you love every minute you spend with them, don’t you?  You lucky dog.

In the core of my heart, I know this:  Of course, I am lucky.  These children, with their bizarre questions and oddly precocious wit and pale blue eyes and boisterous attitudes and non-stop, simultaneous talking are gifts from almighty, gifts of a lifetime, ones I never earned.  Of course, I know that.  I want more than anything to be a source of love and happy times, new experiences for them.  Good memories.  It’s not always clear how to do that, not as obvious as the fairy tales would have us think.  They were not delivered with a handbook.

And treasure every moment with them?  EVERY moment?  I’ll come up with a snappy answer for that one.  If I ever get up off this couch again.

It seemed like a such a good idea at the time.

So why was I standing in the aisle at Target, a genuinely clenched knot in my stomach, on the verge of panic? This was a terrible, terrible mistake.  I must be an idiot.   How can I get out of here without nuclear disaster?h-toy-aisle-target-12-16

The signal for potentially impending doom came from my 5-year-old grandson, Buddy, who had dropped to his knees in front of a wide shelf of beguiling trinkets at the entrance to the toy aisles, two weeks before Christmas.  Presented as potential stocking stuffers, I’m sure, this array included temptations like shark hand-puppets, small footballs with lights inside, miniature Slinkys, and the like.  Buddy perused the selection with excruciating longing.  Head drooping forward slightly like Charlie Brown in despair, he grasped the shark puppet and said sadly, “I think he would really like one of these.”  Then, in painful but brave acknowledgement of the objectives and terms of our outing, he says without rancor, “I know we are not getting things for me, but I would like a slinky, some day.”

This last bit underscored his mother’s success at the promised coaching in advance of this expedition.  It was the annual opportunity to shop for a needy child identified by our office’s Angel Tree.  My hope, which now stared back at me like the Oscar Winner of Dumb Grandmother Ideas, was to make the most of it by bringing Buddy along.  First, he could serve as peer consultant, helping select things that a boy his age would truly like; I had selected a tree tag showing the name and clothing sizes of another five-year-old.  Second, I hoped to share with Buddy, even at his tender age, the genuine joy of giving back during the holiday season.

Watching this acute desire and Charlie Brown head droop in the face of this massive pile of commercial temptation, I was furious with myself.  This was too much to ask, he’s too young.  He’s not going to understand, it’s not fair to ask him, he might have a tantrum, and who could blame him?  He says he gets it, but his expression says otherwise.

What to do?  Bolt now, before it gets worse?  Fib a reason to get out of there, like a stomachache on my part, which at this point is not a fib?  Before I seize one of these cowardly solutions, Buddy rises to his feet and proceeds deeper into Childhood Nirvana, forward in our shared mission.  Deeply unsure of what to do now, as I so often seem to be with these children, I watch, and wait.

And, it immediately does get worse.  I follow him to a row of robots, caged in their boxes, eyes bright and forward, just waiting for a small boy to set them free to do whatever small robots do.  He stares for a few long seconds, then sorrowfully snares one box, turns, and reaches up to hand it over, admitting, “I KNOW he would really like one of these.”  He is not tearful, but I sense he is close.

I’m not sure I can take more of this, but reality intervenes.  That’s really cool, I say of the $89 item, but that’s out of our price range, Sweetheart.  Remember, we already got him a coat and some clothes.  Let’s find some other good things, instead.

Perhaps this practicality is liberating—at least he will not have to watch me put it in the car and ponder another child receiving this mesmerizing item—or maybe the heart of a five-year-old runs so much deeper than grown-ups can possibly imagine.  Either way, Buddy rallies now.  He finishes his selections with careful study and efficiency, but no discernible angst.  A large set of Hot Wheels with tracks and a smaller set of Legos (with some super-hero theme) are shoved into the cart, and we start toward checkout.  Hugely relieved, ashamed for doubting him, and generally being a doting G-ma, I tell him how proud I am.  He has done a great job, and has been a huge help.  In appreciation for those things, I suggest he select one item for himself and one for his sister from the stocking-stuffer section, and throw the miniature slinky in for good measure.  This accomplished with great excitement, we are off to the car.

Chatting as we head homeward, I decide to affirm the reality of the day with one more fact.  He has been learning numbers in kindergarten, has begun to ask questions about money and cost, so I share sums of today’s outlay:  $139.  “Whooooaaaaah,” he answers in amazement.  “Evie, do you have a lot of money?”  I don’t, I answer quickly, but I am very fortunate to have steady work, and a nice place to live like your mom and dad have worked hard to have for you and Sis, and enough to eat.  And if we are lucky enough to have all those things, we must remember to share with others who don’t have everything we have, especially this time of year.

A quick glance in the rear-view mirror reveals he is nodding understanding.  And then comes the best proof of how profoundly easy it can be to under-estimate children.  And how compassion is native to the human spirit, beginning so early inside little hearts and bodies.

“When I grow up, I hope I have a lot of money,” he begins, “and then I could buy them…”   He pauses, and I wait for it:  The robot?  More Hot Wheels?  Pokémon?  A motorized bike?  And I nearly veer the car off the road when he concludes, “I would buy them a home.”

And a little child shall lead them. *  Peace on Earth to all.

_____________________________________________________________

*Isaiah 11:6:  The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatted calf together; and a little child shall lead them.

h-lj-reindeer-cookies-12-15

A landmark birthday roared past recently, one of those that bestows a zero digit on your age and thus cannot be ignored.  Even for those of us who aren’t given to ruminating about the terrors of aging, it’s hard not to contemplate the implications of the ones that signal a new decade.

Not long before the Big Birthday, my three-year-old granddaughter crawled up in my lap, squirmed into the desired position and happened to shift the wrong way against my stiff right knee.  “Ow,” I winced, adjusting Sis slightly. “Be careful, sweetheart.  Evie is old.”  This last bit popped out unexpectedly; perhaps the zero-digit had been plaguing the subconscious more than I knew.   Sis absorbed my reaction and proceeded to probe further.

“Old?”  she repeated, leaning back in my lap, to get me into full cinematic view while knitting the little brow in puzzlement.  “Why?”

Ah.  Well, now.  Why, indeed.

Oh, you know, I have a birthday soon, I babbled, weakly.  And every year on your birthday, you get another year older.

That sufficed, as she nodded and moved on to other queries. But the question lingered in my heart.  Why am I old?

Well, I mean to say, how much time have you got?

I’m old because I recently argued with my sister about the color of a certain pair of gloves in a photograph.  Sometimes I argue with her for the mere sport of it, of course, but in this case, I clung to my position like a terrier to an aromatic shoe because of a rare and distinct advantage I hold over her when it comes to assessing color.  I have had cataract surgery and she (though older) has not—voila! If you have had the same procedure, you understand the implications with, forgive me, perfect clarity.  If you haven’t, well, you might not be old.

Continuing on the visual theme, I suspected I was old when I realized the military-style precision I applied to mapping out strategic geographic locations for glasses.  The aforementioned surgery left me requiring only reading glasses, and if you are old enough to need readers, you know they are never where you need them to be, like teenagers assigned to the dinner dishes.  If one wants to avoid wandering aimlessly in circles, seeking the pair you just knew was here somewhere, the only solution is to stash a pair at all strategic operating locations—home, office, car, purse, and so forth.  I bet you’ve spotted the flaw in this strategy, but I will nevertheless confess it openly, as a cautionary tale for fellow sufferers.  Once finished with the close-up task at hand, one must remove the readers and leave them where the map has pinpointed their post.  Otherwise, you wind up with four pairs in one room, and none in the critical locations, such as the kitchen, and the wandering begins all over again.

Traveling south of the head for additional evidence, I became certain I was old a couple of months back while folding forward in yoga class.  There was a sudden, strange feeling of an unusual obstruction in my right armpit, and further, discreet investigation revealed that my foundation garment (aka BRA) had given up the ghost on one side–perhaps also having reached a certain age.  This brazen abdication of responsibility allowed one of the girls, if you take my meaning, to attempt escape, traveling south and east.  This distraction did nothing for my yogic calm and meditative concentration.family-portraits

And so, the litany continues, right?  Swapping stories about such things with friends is a part of daily life at our age.

A couple of days after Sis’ question, I leaned over to straighten a photo frame on the wall of my bedroom, where hangs a collection of family portraits illustrating four generations.  Still smoldering on the upcoming Big Birthday, I peered more closely at the faces of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, great-grandparents, and thought about what those people had in common.  Most all were people of faith, some to an extreme that annoyed the others, but most went to their graves believing they would meet again.  And most didn’t go there early—sturdy, largely healthy, handing down good genes without disorders any more unusual than too great a fondness for Kentucky bourbon.  Hard-working folks, all of them, some of them high achievers, some more middle of the road, but all blessed with the will and ability and the freedom to pursue their own paths and support their families.    They passed down other traits, as well, like heavy eyebrows, unruly thick hair, lousy hearing, the love of a great joke, and a strong preference for fast cars.  Probably, in sum, it’s a story like those of countless families who, with all the warts and inevitable oddities, have been as fortunate as mine.

And there, I realized, is the answer to Sis’ question.

I’m old because I’m lucky.