378. Go Dog Go

One of my children’s favorite bedtime stories was a simple book called Go Dog Go by PD Eastman. It was/is so uncomplicated and innocent, just like childhood should be. Dogs race around in cars and stop at this absurdly large tree canopy to party like wild dogs. Through out the nearly plotless story two dogs meet sporadically and the female asks the male, “Do you like my hat?” to which he replies, “No” and then they race off while the narrator says, “Go Dog Go”. Wonderfully childish stuff. The climax of the book is when the male dog finally says, “Yes” to the female’s last hat offering and they go together to the tree party. Silly, simple, unsophisticated. Only a child would enjoy such a book.

Singularly uncluttered illustrations left a lot of empty white space on each page so that the dogs in their cars were unmistakable. Lots of room too for a little girl with baby shampoo scented hair to lean against her dad and point to each silly dog with a tickled fascination. Which often led to a bit of real tickling and giggles. Sure, we know dogs don’t talk, drive cars or climb tall ladders into a cloud-like tree canopy to party, but we suspend some of what we know to sample little pizza slices of fantasy. Our little ones have less knowledge to suspend so it’s easier for them to fall upward into fantasy.

My grandbaby called me Dinosaur Grandpa recently during a Skype session. I didn’t catch the connection to any experience until her mom, my daughter, said, “Don’t you remember chasing Leah around the house at Christmas, pretending to be a dinosaur? You were going ‘Roar!! AAARGGGHHH!! Blaaaaaa!!’and crawled after Leah as she shrieked for her tiny life.” Well, yes I did, but I didn’t realize that would be a lasting distinction for her two months later. Makes you wonder about what the lasting impact of bad behavior would be on a little girl’s pure mind. (Scar tissue holds such children in thick bondage to past pains. Trust me on this one.) It’s a funny dance we do with our vulnerable ones who want to be chased and scared one minute and cuddled and reassured the next. Somehow, like coyote pups fighting one another in their mother’s den, our toddlers are hardening their knowledge of the big bad world, practicing safety and seeking security in fantasy play with trusted playmates.

The Wizard of Oz was a scary favorite movie for my kids. Watching as an adult is an entirely different experience than a five year old’s experience. The wicked witch was so real to my kids in their innocent worlds. They would curl up in a growing revulsion of Miss Gulch and then the Wicked Witch herself. Of course my girls identified with Dorothy and her magical ruby slippers, “glitter shoes” as my Jessi would call them. She had to have a pair of red glitter shoes. Once at church she tried to take a pair of gold glitter shoes off another little girl’s feet. Funny thing about those ruby slippers of Dorothy:  they protected her and drew deathly attention at the same time. Why is it that being a pretty girl with blingy shoes makes you both favored and targeted simultaneously? Not fair, but girls learn to harden themselves against the wickedness of the world. It’s not just in a movie.

Anne of Green Gables was a powerful series for me and my girls. Megan Follows stole our hearts along with all the cast in the Wonder Works tele-version of the classic series. We hated Rachel Lynde, the nasty nosey neighbor who warned Murilla  “orphans will poison your well”, planting the seed of doubt in stoic Murilla’s thinking. She mocked Anne’s red hair and lit her anger fuse. Quietly, though, Anne found comfort in Matthew, Murilla’s bachelor brother. He accepted and loved her, it was clear. My girls fell in love with these characters, and all of us wept when Matthew died in the story. This experience was not so much fantasy, though it was not real. Like some folks do today with Downton Abbey, we used to cancel competing activities so that we could be home on Sunday evenings to watch the next installment of Anne, our new best friend. We even once planned a trip that we never took to Prince Edward Island. It was just too expensive or we were too strapped financiallyOh well, I hope to be present with my granddaughter when she meets these lovely characters. Perhaps we will finally make it to PEI after all.

All three of my daughters became big readers, which pleases me to no end. Reading good literature is like crosstraining for your mind. You meet the most interesting people and places and time periods in novels. Whether it’s To Kill a Mockingbird, another dark favorite that pits childhood innocence against institutional adult racism, or Little House on the Prairie, my girls found enough reality traction that drew them in emotionally and intellectually to other times and places, hearts and minds. They will forever be different for the better because of these experiences. As good as the movies are, they never approach the novel’s glorious gift of a limitless imagination. In the safety of a book’s pulpy pages my girls could paint their own pictures of the awesome Laura Ingalls Wilder or brave Scout, creepy Boo Radley or wise Atticus Finch.

Here is my conclusion. It’s a beautiful thing to watch your kids grow in knowledge, wisdom, love and experience, from the simplest to the most complex levels.  I’d gladly sign up for those days again with the hope that I would be wiser, more loving and patient the second time around.  I guess that’s what grandparenting is all about, though. You get a do over with the next generation…

“Do you like my hat?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then let’s go, Dog, go. Wooohooo, party on the tree top!!”

“Read it again, Granpa.”

Whispering, “Will you chase me like a dinosaur.”

Whispering  back, “Okay, ready?”

Nodding with grinning expectation and dancing eyes.

“Roaaaarrrr!! Arrrggghhhh. BLAAAAAA!!”

“No, no. Don’t eat me.”

“You better go, Dog, go.”

“eeek shriek eeek giggle badabuump. All fall down.”

The End.

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294. Leah

My granddaughter is a two year old spitfire picklebutt named Leah. She has been at the center of yet another Tusconic experience here in Arizona this past week.  From the first moment after her nap last Friday, she asked her mom in a tiny, whispery voice, “Where’s Wonka?” and then scrambled to my bedroom to celebrate being in the same space. (“Wonka” was her near approximation for “grandpa”, but it seemed to capture something more than the generic label for her mother’s father… and stuck.) She smiled her precious smile between her silky pink cheeks and it was on! Dancing, and arm waving, and chase, and babies, and puzzles, and books, and  the I-pad (thank God for Netflix).

Everything was alive with her energy but only for a few minutes at a time– jumping on the bed while singing “No more monkeys jumpin’ on the bed”, “The wheels on the bus”, “Ring around the rosey”.  A whirling dervish if ever there was, whirling through emotions like a roulette wheel. I kept hoping for red 17, but randomosity ruled.

Her dad Stu is in “Cow if fornya” doing his work right now. He flies Apache helicopters with the National Guard. When a jet would fly over her house, Leah would run out and wave and say, “Hi Daddy” in the general direction of the noise. She likes aircraft too. It seems to be in Stu’s family’s blood. Not many two year olds have a poster of a helicopter on their bedroom wall. Leah does, and she knows Daddy flies “Ha-pache copters”.

At her school there are many kind rules. “This is my work” means “I’m not sharing right now; go beat feet somewhere else.” “Too many  people” means just that. Someone has to go, but it hurts a little when you are the only other person and she yells, “Too many people, Wonka!”

Two days ago we spent maybe an hour playing the money game. We both happened to have shirts with pockets. Leah grabbed a couple of fists of coins from her piggy bank and dropped them carefully into my pocket one coin at a time. Then she scooped them out and dropped them into her shirt pocket. And again…”Do it again”, she said. I have no idea what she gained from this pocket money changing, but I gained sweet breath and tenderness that was worth every penny. Love makes simple things delicious and unforgettable.

Being two and highly verbal and strong willed, she puts on her bossy pants at least once an hour and commands or demands… “No, no, no” as she shakes a little empress finger at something or someone. Some kids get sugar highs; I think Leah gets power highs that have to be moderated with surgical precision. Time outs are readily available on the carpeted stairs where she wails about the injustice of the incident she has likely forgotten. Oh the drama!! Scarlett O Leah, “I shall always have Tara” ( and a thousand stuffed animals, books, Kermit the dog, a trampoline and blow up  pool in the yard, a kitchen set, a rocking chair, etc. etc.). She’s a hoot even when she’s pouty and attempting to rule the world tyrannically. When the time out is over and she demonstrates remorse, “I sorry, Wonka”, it’s all good again. Time for a fiesta for the prodigal granddaughter’s return. Blackberries are a favorite.

Five minutes later she wants to share something, a book or a carrot. “Make space” means slide over for her wiggle butt to snuggle in beside you. Now yesterday we had to ride up to the Guard airbase to drop off Stu’s car he’ll need when he gets back from Cow if fornya. I drove behind my daughter in the Prius with Leah. Grace tossed me a double CD of Raffi’s greatest hits. “Just put in the new Raffi and sing along, Wonka.”  Well, I engaged the CD as we got on to the I-10… but it wasn’t Raffi. It was some bogus fake  Raffi and a disc of Tchaikovsky’s pop hits. I couldn’t believe it. I felt like the folks at Times Square who buy a Rolex for $10 from a street vendor only to find out at Battery Park that it’s a fake and doesn’t even keep time. Fortunately the Baroness of Bossiness was content to sing her own soft songs all the way out to the airfield.

Once Grace rejoined us I registered my complaint. “You told me weed but you sold me basil.”

“What?”

“The Raffi was all wrapper and no Raffi.”

“Oh, sorry. Was it a disaster?”

“No, it was Wonkastic actually.”

And away we went to a lovely “rench raunt” beneath the Catalina Foothills. It was lovely despite the part time efforts of the Diminutive Despot to work her Mommy into a braided rug. Leah makes crow noises that warn of the terrors to come.  In just a blink she turns from a fuzzy domesticated puppy into a wild “Cow yote”, who can turn herself into a cooked spaghetti noodle when you try to pick her up and place her in another time out. She is a gamer, let me tell you, and would be in the Baby Hall of Fame if not for a few moments here and there… like Pete Rose. She sort of gambles on getting her way until you go nose to nose with her for the integrity of the game of parenting.

And then after her latest walk she brings a rock, an acorn and purple flower to document her adventure. They are still warm from the Arizona sun’s radiant energy and her little marshmallow hand. She shows me her knee boo boo which I kiss twice, and I realize I’ll miss her soft voice, her funny expressions, and her hummingbird spirit.  It’s all good like pure oxygen in my blood.

So long my Cow yote puppy.

 

 

186. the lull latte

Image result for christmas landscapeIt’s a quiet Christmas morning. Frozen outside, a weak sun cannot melt the ice spots on our deck. Inside, the wood pellet stove fan’s whir is interrupted by the augur pushing more pellets into the hopper to burn. My bare ankles detect a chill at floor level just above the ridge of my new slippers. I adjust the stove’s setting a click higher as a sneeze sounds upstairs where my oldest daughter and wife sip tea and read books silently.  My youngest daughter sleeps behind me on a recliner after a tough night of coughing and sipping robitussin. And I, I want to memorialize gratitude on the blank document before me.

The grand baby Leah was off all  night as well. She had a wet sort of cough and a stuffy nose. At ten months of age she can’t have medications willy nilly, nor can she sleep with her binky in her mouth while snuffling through a stuffed nose. Something had to give last night, and that was her parents’ right to sleep. They held her upright and sat in a steamy bathroom on and off to ease her discomfort. As Grace cheerfully said this morning, “If anyone else prevented you from sleeping all night, you’d be upset and cranky. But when it’s your own baby, well, it doesn’t matter.” Simple truth: love sacrifices.

Several times over the past two days I have gazed at my granddaughter’s sparkling angelic face and smiled a joyous smile back at  her. She pulls her binky out of her four tooth grin and offers it to me with an outstretched little baby girl arm. Each time I think but don’t say, “Grace, thank you for not going right to work and delaying these moments for years or forever. What a great gift you have given us. As parents we did not have a choice. We  had to work up to, during, and after delivery. We lived on the edge, often upset and cranky with each other and with our station in life.  We could not be as resilient as  you. Thank you for this joy born of faith.”

“Thank you Stu for working without complaint or measuring to provide Grace and Leah this ideal time together. Thank you for who you are and who you choose to be in a world that clamors to divide your attention and loyalties. Thank you for loving God, my daughter, and my granddaughter so deeply.”

Grace, baby Leah and hubby Stu drove over to Stu’s good family this morning. Fortunately they live only three miles away so we don’t have custody cravings and clashes. They are good people, those Gallaghers. I want to thank them for putting family ahead of stuff, and for putting faith first in their family. Days like today are rich dividends paid on those investments. Not big material gains but subtle relational ones, for all the gifts exchanged mean nothing compared to the laughs, the smiles, the hugs and the love of family. “Thank you Dan and Joann for holding cracked family systems together and re-bonding the fractures. Thanks for  parenting again as grandparents. You are twice blessed.”

 

This year we really dialed it back on the gift giving, not because we had to. It was more a question of stewardship and priorities. We lack nothing. It’s an odd contradiction when you must really concentrate and take inventory to come up with a gift wish. After a few searching moments, I said, ” I could use a belt.” My wife bought me two. I’m full, Blogelves. Anything more and I will overflow in wasteful luxury. What I wanted was abundantly present before and around me– my faithful wife, my three fabulous daughters, my amazing son-in-law, and my precious granddaughter. All in harmonious peace.  Friends visited during the day, then we all went to church, opened presents and played a tough game of chess and later Scrabble. (I lost both… happily.) It’s all good.

So in the quiet of today comes the lull, the slow and easy break from the breakneck life we live. It’s the root of lullabye, a repeated lu-lu-lu sound that soothes children to sleep. I imagine Mary and Joseph lulling baby Jesus back to sleep in the brutal world they inhabited. Soothing sounds from a loving mother, better than robitussin and vodka, and before you know it the babe is rhythmically breathing, a little bird in its downy nest, a little lamb on its mother’s warm, fuzzy belly. The lull is a safe and satisfied place to be, a drainage ditch off the bayou of joy. You can bed down in the sweet long grass there like a fawn, safe and blessed. A pause in the struggle of survival. Today tastes like victory, like tiramisu and cheesecake with rich creamy coffee. It’s playing the X on a triple word space overlapping a double word line in a  seven letter word play fifty point bonus. Yeah, like that.

Yesterday at the coffee shop the coffee was free. I said to Andrea, “This must be what heaven is like.” She did not disagree. I told her I would initiate a pay it forward program all day long for coffee. She was unimpressed with my antilargesseness.  But it’s all good in the lull, the moment between inhale and exhale as oxygen hooks up on dates with blood cells in your lungs. Sure, there is more stress coming tomorrow. The world will erupt again in chaotic activity and conflicts of all sorts because this was too small or that was too large. Our first world problems will seep up to street level like sewer gases. But for the moment I’ll have the lull latte. Thank you.