Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Driving Miss Sophie

Jenn is still on the mend and asked me to take Sophie for a haircut today. I was planning on taking her to the mall anyhow just to browse around and help me spend a Christmas gift card. Sophie phoned all morning to remind me of our date. Her last phone call admonished me, saying “You were going to come in an hour, Babci. It’s over an hour.” Now that the child is polishing her primary skills in kindergarten, I have to be on my toes. Sophie is becoming quite good at reading and now getting the hang of math. She insisted on counting to 100 the other day when we played hide-and-seek in the playground and, by golly, she did just that!

We have a routine in the car. (Read on for Sophie’s definition of routine and then decide whether I’m using the right word.) Anyhow, I let her take winter hat and gloves off but then find “mother Mary’s” small blue-and-white afghan and cover Sophie’s lap and legs. She’s grown quite fond of the little crocheted blanket which was made for her mommy by my mommy many years ago. My mom thought the kids needed an extra cover to keep warm in our blue Oldsmobile and color-coded the blanket to match the car. Who would have thought this labor of love would be keeping a new generation warm?

Next comes the audiotape selection, preferably classical or polka music. I swear that Sophie got hooked on polkas in utero. I can still remember Jennifer, about eight months pregnant, riding in the front seat and bouncing along to one of my polka bands as they sang of weddings and daughters and dancing with the bride. We laughed a lot at the lyrics but the music was lively and made us all feel good. Today, I only have Pachelbel’s Canon and Vivaldi and Bach. No Happy Louie in the glove compartment. Sophie is quite content to go classical.

As I’m driving, I look in the rear view mirror and see her hands gracefully conducting the music.

“I like this song, Babci. I can see a princess riding Pegasus.”

I smile; the kid is on to something. The music is bold and dramatic. I can imagine a hero riding a flying horse too.

“Sophie, I like that you try to see things in your mind when the music plays. That’s your imagination.”

By now, we are listening to one of the slower pieces in a minor key.

“This one makes me sad.”

She continues to conduct the music and I can’t help but ask, “Would you like to conduct an orchestra when you’re bigger?”

“Oh yes, Babci! And I can write music too!”

“Yes, there are all kinds of songs and songwriters. Mariah’s mommy writes her own songs.”

Sophie ponders this bit of information and weighs its validity. Luckily, I have heard Mariah’s mom play her guitar and sing her songs so I’m standing on empirical high ground here. This is good because my granddaughter no longer thinks I am the end-all-be-all walking font of knowledge. Lately, she has taken to correcting me. What’s humbling is that sometimes she’s right. Her parents are trying to temper her need to correct with the need to respect her elders. I think it goes with the territory of being five “and a half”. She’s testing the waters.

The day is overcast with occasional snow showers. We fall into a comfortable silence, letting the music speak to us and the mountains peek at us from alternating sides of the highway.

The rhythm of the driving and the music, along with secret glances at the passenger in the rear seat, provide a temporary respite from my everyday worries. I become aware of a strong feeling of peace which has settled upon me as securely as my mother’s afghan has wrapped itself about Sophie. The mountains outside are also covered with a light blanket of snow. I am grateful for this unexpected bliss.

I feel like I’ve been transported, that my auto and its precious cargo are flying above and beyond all worldly cares. Sophie and I are aloft on our flying horses and life is good, very very good. I know what this feeling of transcendence is and know that it does not happen often. I live my timeless moment and prepare to let it go.

Soon we are in the mall parking lot, putting Mary’s afghan away and covering our heads with winter hats to stave off the blustery wind. We run into the nearest department store and find our way to a hair cuttery where Sophie’s flowing locks are about to be cut “shoulder length, no bangs”. I watch her sitting in the hair dresser’s chair, propped up on three pillows, long hair clipped above her face and I suddenly see an image of the young girl to be - Sophie as a teenager having her hair done for prom.

Next stop is Wild Things, a nature store that has oodles of carnivorous plants, hermit crabs, precious stones … we go no farther. Sophie is in gemstone heaven. She can fill a small drawstring bag with as many stones as she can fit and, of course, I’m saying “yes” because it really is the best buy in the entire store. We then stop at a Native American store and Sophie finds a small pink turtle for her sister. Pink is Hannah’s favorite color.

We end our outing with a fruit smoothie because she always gets a fruit smoothie after a hair cut in the mall. I make the mistake of saying to her, “Sophie, this is such a fun routine.”

“No, Babci, having a smoothie is not a routine because I do not do it every single day.”

I have to admit, the kid may be right. This was not a mindless, repetitive kind of day at all. In fact, it was quite extraordinary and filled with hidden grace.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Santa was hungry

It doesn't take much to keep a five-year-old happy on Christmas eve. I helped Sophie spell the words in her note to Santa and promised to set it on the kitchen table along with the customary milk and cookies. "Don't forget a carrot for his reindeer", Sophie reminded as I tucked her in and ventured downstairs. Her mom had been out of the loop with the flu and I was trying hard to pick up the slack to help David while he finished correcting loads of term papers and final exams.

This was not a Norman Rockwell Christmas but enough of the myth and the magic hung around to provide the right atmosphere for the girls.

Sophie was sitting on the couch when I arrived the next morning, waiting patiently for the rest of the family to come down and open the presents that Santa had left under the tree.

"Babci, Santa ate the cookies and wrote a thank-you note!"

I'm glad she's still caught up in the wonder of it all. I remember being about the same age and awakened in the wee hours of Christmas by a loud thump and crash. Mom came rushing into my bedroom telling me to go back to sleep, nothing to worry about. Santa Claus just tripped. Santa brought me a shiny bike. I'm sure my dad had some black and blue shins that Christmas.

This Christmas brought American Girls and Dancing Princesses. Not quite sure what's going on in their Castle though ... the 12 Princesses have only three beds.

The girls are really into all that frilly, silly, girly stuff. I'll just have to remember to teach them how to use a hammer and power drill when they're a little older.

David cooked a whopper of a meal; we ate buffet style and brought our plates back into the living room. Jenn tried to keep down some mashed potatoes and ice cream. Pop pop and I took some pictures. The girls had lots of new toys and books to play with. There were plenty of unsolicited expressions of "thank you" as they unwrapped their gifts. This makes up for the tantrums and squabbles, believe me. Sophie and I ended the day on the living-room rug, picking up at least 500 micro-beads from a jewelry-making kit that spilled from the couch.

There have been brighter Christmases but we managed to muddle through. For Sophie and Hannah, the day was filled with lots of surprises from family and friends far away. I guess that connection alone made it a special Christmas after all.

Here's to a healthier start to the New Year and better sleeping accommodations for the dancing princesses.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Haiku for the Holidays

Holidays are here
People rushing back and forth
Cash registers hum

Too much stress for all
Why hurry to go in debt?

Deeper values lurk
Just outside the bustling crowd
Try to bring within

What's it all about?
Let the glitter disappear
Look for one true gem

Sparkles from inside
Voices saying hi to friends
Twinkles in the eyes

Stillness in the night
Harmony without a price
Money not a source

Give yourself as Gift
Move more slowly, less in haste
Breathe a purer air

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The morning after

I feel like I've been drinking but I'm only high on latkes and Jenn's good fortune. Well, what appears to be her good fortune. The powers that be have to confirm and make it official on Monday. Still, I think I heard the fat lady singing around the stroke of twelve last night. If that's not PC, think of a thinner diva.

This seems like a fun time to bring back an old poster, not that I played such a formidable part in Jenn's rally. A few phone calls here, several emails there as my Polish posse rounded up some loyal readers. Never underestimate the power of the Polish cousins. Many of the lovely readers I've gained here have also come from B'EAW. Thanks for being so generous and joining in the ride. It was a great way to spend the past week now that America's Top Model has already wrapped. All that energy and attention had to go somewhere.

Dziekujie bardzo! The clarinet and accordion are warming up. You're all invited to the Polka Palace. I may even make some pierogies and sing Sto Lat. See? Fat lady singing.

Right now, I think I'll wander down to the pool and look for my cabana boy. I didn't get much sleep last night what with all the excitement. I need a good massage.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Win one for the pupper

Yes, a shameless and brazen tactic but it’s down to the wire and only 24 hours (or so) to go. My Canadian son-in-law phoned me at school today. This rarely happens. I could hear the excitement in his voice.

“She’s behind by just nine votes.”

For someone who is about as steady as a rock (oops, poor analogy considering the competition), David was getting caught up in the contest.

“So can you tell your co-workers to vote for Jenn?”

“Er, I’ve only been here at the new job a couple months. Most of these guys really don’t have enough history with me to know about Jenn and her mommy blog. Besides, this place is so secure that our firewalls have firewalls and it’s really hard to get access to blog sites, let alone mega blog-awards sites.”

I think he sighed and seemed a bit disappointed. I felt like a traitor to the cause and guiltily promised to at least grab my boss and office manager for a quick couple votes on my way out the door. The office manager could not “plug in” to the 2006 Weblogs Awards but brilliantly sent the link to her home computer. Aha! One vote, possibly two by tomorrow night. My boss had left the premises and a scribbled note about my daughter needing votes to win an international blog contest didn’t seem to read well. My boss is a young married professional but has no kids. I don’t think Jenn would be her menu du jour.

I packed up my paperwork and walked to the car. I have to admit that I was psyched thinking that Jenn had actually narrowed that awesome lead to such a small margin. Jenn is not really as young, hip and street wise as the bloggers with rocks in their titles or in their socks or in their dryers or wherever. But my daughter has been going through a rocky time of it lately and even sitting on Hannah’s rocking chair telling bedtime stories of “happily ever after” can’t make up for the fact that her dog is way past Medicare, her mom is almost eligible, her house needs mucho repairs and yet she’d rather build a polka palace for the Mater. (Maternal tear glistens and drops into mother’s wine glass.) Hey, I told you I’m pulling out all stops. This is my kid. She’s had her share of hard knocks. No rocks, just hard knocks. I think winning a worldwide blog contest would provide a temporary soft cushion for her tushie.

Just took a peek. She’s breathing down #1’s neck … only seven degrees of separation.

I’d even forgo the Polish immigrant pool boy. Now that’s as big a sacrifice as a mother can make.

Keep those cards and letters comin’ for one more day ... it’s been a heckuva ride and ain’t over yet! I haven’t been this invested in the power of the vote since Jack and Jackie.

Holy Hannah, Jenn just took over the lead!!! I gotta go and pour another glass of wine. What a horse race! Jenn, girl, you ROCK.

PS Do you like the photo of my two underdogs?

Monday, December 11, 2006

'Tis the season

I’ve become more spontaneous since moving up here. I’m learning to go with the flow. What I may think will happen on a particular day may not really occur at all if the phone rings and daughter is on the other end.

“Mom, we were wondering … (they wonder a lot) … if you could take Hannah to the crafts fair and lunch while we go to synagogue with Sophie and then get a Christmas tree.” She knew I’d be much more ready for this if they tagged the Christmas tree on.

It’s not that I have anything against interfaith assemblies in the local synagogue, but my own Catholic roots always start to sprout a bit around December and April.

Sophie helped me put up my Nativity Set the other day. It was an easy sell except for the part about Joseph being a step dad. How do you explain that God has custody of Jesus to a five-year-old? So, I concentrated on the frankincense and myrrh and cute little sheep who came to visit instead. I’d already explained that Jesus was a good Jewish boy. What’s not to love? The other grandmom sends books on the Jewish faith and culture and I read them to the girls. I’ve also spun a dreidel or two. I have yet to bake a challah.

I figure God is an equal-opportunity employer in the grand scheme of the universe. My daughter and her hubby want the kids to be raised in a loving home where mitzvahs and beatitudes become a way of life. I will try to graciously stay out of the driver’s seat on this one and support their efforts. It’s harder than I thought. Luckily, I’m quite good at playing White Christmas and Havah Nagilah on the accordion. The ecumenical chameleon.

I think the girls will be okay. In fact, they’ll probably do the whole Zen Buddhist Vegan thing and be chanting “ohm” by the time they’re in their twenties. And then I’ll have to learn a whole new repertoire.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

My daughter, the writer

I've been occupied with the new job and post-London catching up in the Berkshires. If you've been reading Jenn's blog, you know that I've been busy worrying about her health and state of mind too.

She is losing the dog that she took to college, the constant companion through all her loves and twists of fate, the dog she envisioned when she created him as an imaginary hero in Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. He has a huge heart and will not go gently into that good night. Only Jenn will know when to give him a hand. Tonight, he played with his younger partner until his hind legs gave out. There were signs of the past and it was good to see. Jenn named it well. He is a loss in progress. He's a prince and really hates to leave us. So we will do what needs to be done to make him still feel welcomed and loved. We owe him that.

In the meantime, it's been a good week for celebrating Jenn's success as a blogger. Being nominated for a worldwide blog award seems a nice perk and I hope it takes the edge off the sadness and melancholy.

I never remember my daughter without a pen or pencil in her hand. From about eighteen months on, she and I were having conversations and she was drawing and scribbling on anything handy, including her bedroom wall. I didn't know whether to scold or praise her when she wrote the letters of the alphabet on her wall at about the age of three. She amazed me with her mastery of language so it became a source of pride to point to the crayoned letters which stayed for all to see.

She's advanced to blogging now and I'm still just as proud of her gift of communication. Jenn can reach deep and produce the most wonderful metaphors and analogies. She's a painter of words and there are so many colors in her crayon box. She may start out with a bright pink or sunny yellow but, more than likely, she will end with the darker, richer shades. Humor and pathos, over and under the rainbow. Being such a sensitive soul can be a double-edged sword. I'm convinced though that she cannot not write. It's a part of her as irrevocable as her blood type and eye color. I'm hoping that she's imprinted herself on you and touched you in some small way. If so, please drop by the 2006 Weblog Award site and give her a vote. It's good to be appreciated. Look for her in the Best Parenting category; that definitely includes raising canines.

The 2006 Weblog Awards

This has been a non-paid political broadcast. Just gettin' the word out. So what are you waiting for? Go. Vote. Make a mother happy.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What goes 'round ...

My weekend in London was fantastic. I’ve been thinking how I could ever repay such an unexpected gesture of kindness. The answer came to me today, at least in part, as I finished unpacking. Several items in my suitcase caught my attention and I realized that they were just begging to share what they are about, especially for my readers in the UK and Australia.

The event I attended in London benefited a local UK charity called Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. Through Amanda Tapping’s fans’ generosity, enough money was raised to support the training of four new hearing dogs to assist the deaf. The charity brought its dogs to the event and demonstrated how a dog learns to respond and notify its deaf owner of everyday sounds we take for granted. In addition, a young man who lost his hearing by the time he was in his 30s spoke about how a hearing dog changed his life. He was suicidal and depressed and the dog brought back meaning to his life, gave him a reason to get out of bed in the morning. He had never spoken in front of a crowd before and showed a lot of courage in coming to our event. He spoke from the heart. I got to speak to some of the trainers and they actually rescue dogs from shelters and then train them to be lifelong companions to the deaf. It’s a win/win situation. Dogs that may have been put down become useful and needed.

I came across a flyer advertising extra virgin olive oil which is harvested by communities of peace in the Middle East. I’m hoping that these good people, Arabs and Jews alike, are still pursuing their dream of peace. Blessed are the peacemakers.

And then a yellow catalogue that I had picked up in a local bookshop caught my eye. I browsed through and was quite impressed with the scope of charities represented. Good Gifts is a truly unique way to give a gift which can change a person, a community, on a global basis. Rather than buying the usual holiday presents for friends and family, you can donate in their honour and realize that your generosity has had a worldwide impact. They even have a way to work with brides and grooms as a wedding registry. What a beautiful way to share your good fortune and pay it forward.

Finally, one of the most fun places I browsed last weekend was a bookshop and map maker called Stanfords, the premier mapmaker in the UK. The many gifts to be found here were quite interesting and unique. This is not a charity-driven organization by any means but it is a fun place to find something special for that hard-to-buy-for person on your shopping list.

I will have to research similar organizations here in the States or other worthwhile charities which are in need of holiday donations. For now, though, let me share these links with you.

I would never have had my weekend in London without the friendships that formed via the worldwide Web. The Internet can bring people together and release a lot of positive energy into the universe. If just one person who happens to read this comes across something of value, then I will be happy.

‘Tis the season to start counting our blessings and finding ways to be generous.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Fangirls and fairy godmothers

I think I lead a fairly normal existence. Sure, I’ve just made some major changes in my lifestyle - picking up and moving to the Berkshires, finding a new job, settling in to the new apartment. Overall, though, I’m following a safe path.

What would it be like to break out of my shell? Do something spontaneous like jetting off for a weekend in London? Getting acquainted with people I’ve only met online? Attending a cocktail party with a television actress? Having champagne and tea with same actress two days later? Riding the tube to Covent Garden to do some Christmas shopping and sharing lunch with two close friends who live in England and Scotland? What would it be like to not have to worry about the bills for such a weekend getaway?

You may have noticed my absence since going to the dentist. I have been away. I’ve done all the stuff listed above … the stuff of daydreams and wish lists.

Somehow, about two weeks ago, the planets aligned and a lot of good karma came floating my way. A bucket load. I spent this past weekend at a hotel in London, just one among a couple hundred sci-fi fans of a Canadian actress, Amanda Tapping, who plays Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter on a weekly series called Stargate.

I got into the sci-fi genre quite unexpectedly a few years ago while surfing my new cable channels to see what was offered. I came across an unlikely group of characters called SG1, a team of intergalactic soldiers and scientists who went through a wormhole each week and saved the universe from invading aliens with glowing eyes. The whole idea was based on a movie called Stargate which did not impress me as much. However, the female character on the television series did. She was intelligent, got to play with guns, had a Ph.D. in quantum mechanics and kept up with the boys. I thought she portrayed a strong woman in a man’s world quite well. She was real and didn’t come across as a sci-fi Barbie. I still cringe when I remember Jane Fonda in Barbarella. I never watched Star Trek or other sci-fi shows on a regular basis.

Stargate was also my initiation into the world of online fan forums and fanfic. Yes, fans do write original fiction about their favorite shows. I soon found myself gravitating to some of the larger and more respected fan forums and even created a sci-fi identity as I started posting on the different discussion threads. Of course, I kept this a secret from the kids, not knowing how they would deal with a mother who was online discussing weekly episodes of alien marauders and wormhole theory. Through the forums, friendships developed. I found that many of the biggest fans were actually part of my demographic: older women who worked as teachers, administrators and in other professional positions. By exchanging private emails, we soon became better acquainted and realized we had more in common than our interest in a sci-fi show. One of the women was a geology professor and a prolific fanfic writer. I read her work and was so impressed that I decided to flex my writing muscles and give it a try. The writing provided a great outlet and helped me hone my writing skills. I published under my sci-fi pseudonym and got favorable reviews. Heck, I had my own fan base! Who woulda thought? Buoyed up by favorable reviews, I shyly shared some of my work with Jenn and David. Surprisingly, they both thought it was really good and encouraged me to continue. Even now, I’m still writing fanfic.

Now that I’ve moved and settled into a half-time job, my cash flow has slowed to a trickle. I’m very mindful of the bills and trying to stay on a tight budget. So when the London event was announced, I didn’t even consider it. Out of the question. I admit that I was thinking about the two close friends who would be going and wanting to see them. But it just wouldn’t work. Until …

Another online sci-fi buddy, whom I never met, decided to make an incredible offer of kindness and generosity and send me in her place because she has a fear of flying. At first I thought she was joking but soon realized that she was sincere. Pinching myself, I accepted the offer and just returned from one of the most fun weekends of my life. Little moments of opportunity continued to open up all the time I was there. Amazing grace.

What goes ‘round, comes ‘round. If that’s true, then it’s my turn to gather all this good karma and pay it forward.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wide open

I was happy to get all your warm get-well wishes but my adventures with the new dentist didn't end when he pulled my tooth. No, the next day brought even more excitement. I had a fairly good night and thought I was on the mend. Not. By noon, my slight bleeding-to-be-expected turned into something more. It was a repeat performance of the summer fiasco just using a larger arena ... my empty tooth socket refused to shut off its plumbing. I kept spitting blood into the sink and finally phoned the dentist's office. I won't go into the graphic details but the receptionist soon realized that I needed to see my dentist who was teaching residents at a hospital clinic 25 miles away. She phoned ahead; he would be waiting. All I had to do was find a way to get there.

I phoned Jenn who was 30 miles away at her office near the hospital. We decided it was a waste of time for her to drive home to do a round-trip pickup and delivery. David was even farther away. I called their friends who were busy with sick children. I called the local cab service and was rudely told that they didn't have a cab for that far a distance. I grabbed a box of tissues and my car keys and decided to drive myself. Sometimes a woman's gotta do what a woman's gotta do. Pouring rain, bloody mouth, but I was staying calm.

Luckily, I found the right parking lot and got myself into the right building - small miracle. I came in, was expected and taken right back. I felt a bit guilty and sorry for the poor young woman holding her jaw and a young mother with a frightened child who were waiting, as most do, in a clinic. My new dentist took one look and called his student intern over. I now had two doctors peering into my mouth. It seems that I'm a classic textbook case, a teachable moment. This condition of my bleeding and clotting in large amounts is not too common. In fact, my dentist mentioned that, in his 30-year practice, he had only come across these "jelly clots" a couple times. Just what I wanted to hear.

Jenn had arrived by then and was allowed to sit in. Oh joy! I thought she would faint. She, in turn, surprised the hell out of me. Not only did she want to stay, chat with the dentist, but she actually helped him by holding the retractor as he shot me full of anesthetic once again and went in to clean up the mess. And then she did the most lovely thing. She quietly reached over and held my hand. I, her mom not her little girl, was on the receiving end of concern and comfort. At first it felt a bit awkward and then I realized how wonderful it was to have someone in my life touching me like that. Yes, we do the hugs and kisses all the time. Having my hand held was a new experience. I cannot remember being touched like that in many, many years. I got through the ordeal and gained new respect for my daughter. She wanted to be in that room with me. She can handle the really big stuff that she writes about on her blog: the blood and poo and get-your-hands-dirty things which sometime make life messy and miserable.

Afterwards, she was still a lifeline. The night was stormy. I hate to drive in the rain. She pulled out first and I followed her red tail lights all the way home, thinking to myself "I raised a darn fine kid".

The bleeding has stopped. Still a lot of discomfort. I'll mend.

In that clinic, our roles were reversed. I felt like a little child needing her to reassure me, give me strength. I was almost embarrassed to feel that vulnerable. She knew instinctively what I needed before I did and that's why she didn't leave the room.

A grown daughter reaching out to hold her mother's hand. A simple gesture that dissolved the pain and made my heart bleed a little.

A bleeding heart is good, much better than a bloody mouth.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Toothless in the Berkshires

It starts out as a pretty normal day. I drive to work and prepare my notes for meeting with the boss. We cover a lot of ground and I’m off to a good start. Next, I catch up on email and set up a couple meetings of my own. And then … it happens.

My thoughts are interrupted by a niggling sensation which reminds me that I have to find a new dentist. I figured that I had recovered quite nicely from last summer’s bleedathon and my mouth was on good behavior. Not. Little pricks of pain jabbed at my weekend. I knew I had to do something. Let’s face it. Ignored pricks just seem to hang around and make life miserable.

So I ask the local office staff for some recommendations. My boss suggests I pop upstairs and check if the dentist who shares our space takes my insurance. He wasn’t listed as an online provider but what the heck. I walk up and present my card and the receptionist says “Okay, we take your plan. You can have a 1:15 appointment.” Did you ever walk into a dentist’s office and get seen almost immediately? It was looking good. At least I thought. Be careful of what you wish for.

I’m ushered into the back room and a couple x-rays are taken. I hear the new doc conferring with his bright-eyed assistant as my nerves start to kick into high gear. Mr. New Dentist returns and shows me my x-rays on a television set above my head. How clever I think until he points his laser at the dark spot on my back tooth. I’m so hoping it’s a fluke, a smudge of carbon on the film. Not. He proceeds to tell me that it’s either root canal and more crown work or an extraction. He gives me a couple minutes to think it over. Chinese water torture or a quick shot to the temple. I can’t believe that I’m sitting in a chair in a strange office with people who have never before seen my not-so-pearly-white but they’re-my-own and I’m-damned-proud-of-it molars and we’re already talking desperate measures. Where’s the lecture on flossing and general cleaning? I don’t want to choose what’s being offered. Isn’t there a third option? I really need some chicken soup and fluoride for my tormented soul. Doc returns. What will it be? I want to bolt. And yet I put on a good show as my super-ego squelches my id and calmly says: “Yank it out. Let’s get it over with.”

Zap, removal of a tooth which has seen almost five decades of faithful service. Hell, it lasted longer than my marriage. Sic transit gloria mundi. And all with local anesthetic.

I’m home now. The novocaine is gone. The pain is working itself up and tickling my eye socket. If my eye doesn’t start to twitch, I may be able to ride it out. I lost count of how many stitches he was merrily sewing into the top of my mouth. I can now feel some of them with the tip of my tongue. My brain warns “Don’t go there.”

I slurp down some soft food and baby myself a bit. Doc says not to go to work tomorrow. Does he know something I don’t know?

I think it’s gonna be a long night.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I've been busy ...

Just had an amazing 24 hours.

Last night I went to a local college and heard Bob Simon, CBS veteran news correspondent, address the question “Is peace possible in the Middle East?” His answer was a resounding “no”. He lives near Tel Aviv and has covered the region’s hot spots for over twenty years. Since I do not usually discuss politics in my blog, I’ll leave it at that. I’m sure that many of us have already come up with the same answer.

After sleeping on Simon’s sober but honest assessment of international relations, I was off to a morning workshop where I got to network with local guidance counselors and learn a board game which will be a fantastic tool in preparing middle-and-high-school students for college. Encouraging youth seemed a better focus than dwelling on the insurmountable obstacles to world peace.

It was then time for family. Sophie had no school today and worked hard on a schedule for me, her mom and herself. We had lunch at a local Chinese restaurant where the staff adore Sophie and always play with her. One of the waiters showed her how to fold the linen napkins and make place settings. Last time, they taught her origami. Next time, she will be making fabric roses. The lovely Indonesian manager confessed that she would rather be making art or music than running her restaurant. Her eyes lit up when she found out that I play the piano. She wants me to give her lessons. We moved on to a local bookstore where I treated Sophie to a set of American Girl books. She was thrilled. We finished the afternoon with a quick trip to the Wal Mart where Sophie got to select some costume jewelry for her expanding collection. She, in turn, donated some of her “little girl” jewelry to her sister. It was a win/win situation.

David came home and agreed to put the girls to bed so Jenn and I could go to a local art gallery where a resident folksinger, Bernice Lewis, was giving a concert to kick off the release of her new album. I had never heard of her but Jenn had made her acquaintance and she’s a big fan of Jenn’s blog. The event was a sellout, standing room only, and we hadn’t called ahead for reservations. We thought we would have to leave but fate was kind. A seat in the front row opened up; I claimed it while Jenn got to sit even closer, along the wall. The woman rocked. She is so good and I found myself wanting to meet her, to tell her that I want to make music with her. I swear I had not been drinking. It was so energizing to hear this woman belt out her own songs and do it with such joy and passion. Something started to wake up in me. I have not played nor practiced in months, make that years. Yet, this is one of the reasons I wanted to move here – to be close to the arts, to artists. So we now have a date for coffee, the three of us: Jenn, myself and Bernice. Her eyes twinkled when I mentioned I play the accordion.

La vie en rose.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

All about me, me, meme

48 things about me that you probably aren't interested in at all but I'm going to tell you anyway ...

1. first name? Not telling. Babci works just fine online.
2. were you named after anyone? I was supposed to be a Richard; my parents weren’t planning for a girl. Bernadette seemed “too long a name for so small a baby” according to my mother so she and my dad then agreed on a name which was a derivative of my two aunts Helen. I’m glad I’m a girl – there are too many Dicks in the world.
3. when did you last cry? Last week, watching Babette’s Feast. I love that movie.
4. do you like your handwriting? Yes, I do. It has a certain artistic flair when I combine written and printed letters plus it’s fairly legible and large. Not quite as unique as my girlfriend Helene’s though.
5. what is your favorite lunch meat? Ah, forget Subway – I grew up on imported ham, sliced very thin. This is probably why I'm taking heart meds to lower my cholesterol.
6. if you were another person would you be friends with you? Only if I could tolerate my need to talk while I think (and while chewing my food). I have trouble keeping my mouth shut and am guilty of focus interruptus. Sometimes I jump in before the other person is finished speaking. It’s all part of my ENFP persona. At least I have something to blame it on.
7. do you have a journal? This blog. Isn’t it enough? I kept diaries when I was a teenager and journaled a bit in the past but I like the idea of this blog holding memories for my kids and grandkids. It’s a respectable substitute for the Grandmother Remembers books gathering dust on my shelf.
8. do you still have your tonsils? Yes, although I have lost other parts of my anatomy but no need to digress.
9. would you bungee jump? If George Bush can parachute out of a plane in his 80s, I refuse to rule out anything in my later years. However, my achin’ back may have a completely different view of this whole bungee thing.
10. what is your favorite cereal? Whatever’s on sale. Hmm, it changes by season. In the winter, something comforting and warm like oatmeal. In the summer, mini-frosted wheats or Kellogg’s K.
11. do you untie your shoes when you take them off? Yes, most of the time. That’s if I remember to tie them when I put them on.
12. do you think you are strong? I think I’ve become stronger in mind and spirit as I’ve had to deal with major life events; stronger in body especially during my hiking trip to the Canadian Rockies but I haven’t done much lately to keep the old bones in shape.
13. what is your favorite ice cream flavor? Double dip: chocolate chip mint and pistachio.
14. shoe size? 8, which I see is now considered less large because of my daughter’s generation of women who seem to have increased the norm to sizes 9 and 10.
15. red or pink? I can’t say “red” – it’s the color that got me into big trouble in the parking lot with the blind date. Pink is nice and will suffice.
16. what is the least favorite thing about yourself? My Piscean need to daydream too much and my tendency to disasterize. Wow, two for the price of one. There I go double dipping again.
17. whom do you miss the most? Someone I never met – my first cousin, Johnny, who was killed in WWII just after I had been born. I feel a psychic connection to him and think that we would have been close all our lives. I’ve lost so many family members that it would be hard to name just one. I miss my mom almost every day and so wish she could have seen the beautiful people her grandchildren turned out to be and then met the great grandchildren who carry her legacy.
18. do you want everyone to send this back to you? What, like a boomerang? It’s going up as a post. I took up the challenge from Kirsty in Australia and gladly release these questions to any other blogger who cares to share a bit of his or her history online. Actually, it’s kinda fun to do this. Try it; you’ll like it.
19. what color pants, shirt and shoes are you wearing? I’m in my pajamas. They’re aqua.
20. last thing you ate? Cripes, a piece of cherry pie. Weight watchers looms.
21. what are you listening to right now? The hum of my computer.
22. if you were a crayon, what color would you be? Aquamarine or some such sea-blue-greeny combination. Can you tell I’m Pisces? It’s showing, isn’t it?
23. favorite smell? A baby after a bath; the air after a spring shower; scented candles; Chanel No 5; a log-burning fire on a cold winter day; anything baking in an oven. Oh hell, smell is swell.
24. who was the last person you talked to on the phone? A distant relative who told me that another older cousin had died.
25. the first thing you notice about people you are attracted to? They have a wonderful sense of humor and laugh a lot.
26. do you like the person you stole this from? Yes, Kirsty is a super-talented crafts person and I admire her lovely work. More though, she makes me laugh and writes a mean blog! What’s not to love?
27. favorite drink? I hate to say this but my kids’ generation has converted me to a “single-shot sugar-free vanilla latte”, hot or cold.
28. favorite sport? Yeah, like I’m really into the whole jock thing. American football does have its moments and I used to love baseball. However, coming from Philly, I’ve learned to live with the chronic pain of loss.
29. eye color? Hazel.
30. hat size? Gotta be kidding. Smaller than a bread basket but bigger than a sauté pot. What? Do I know? Do I have a pencil?
31. do you wear contacts? I’m very squeamish of anything going into or near my eyes so I’ve been a lifelong wearer of glasses and don’t see that changing.
32. favorite food? Which end of the pyramid should we start from? Forget it – I’ll just choose pierogies, the universal feel-good food.
33. scary movies or happy endings? A no brainer for me – happy endings. They help to compensate for my need to disasterize in real life.
35. summer or winter? Neither – spring or fall. I’m about to make friends with winter though in my new location.
36. hugs or kisses? I’m an equal-opportunity employer, both.
37. favorite dessert? It was my mom’s apple pie. Now it is lightly churned chocolate chip mint ice cream. The "lightly churned" is a delusional marketing ploy to make me think the ice cream is not going to settle into cellulite.
38. who is most likely to respond? To this? My kids, telling me to “get a life”.
39. least likely to respond? Everybody else.
40. what books are you reading? Educational journals and handbooks on school counseling. It goes with the present territory.
41. what's on your mouse pad? No logos, just a soft cushion for my wrist.
42. what did you watch last night on tv? LOL, didn’t I blog about this yet? Since moving, I have not had my telly reconnected. Oh the peace of mind, the joy! Oh the monthly savings! No news is good news.
43. favorite sounds? Ocean waves hitting the beach; my grandchildren’s voices; my family and friends’ voices; bells or windchimes; beautiful music; silence.
44. the rolling stones or beatles? Neither … Elvis Presley. The King lives.
45. the farthest you've been from home? Hungary and Poland, the Olympic Peninsula, Scotland – don’t have a clue which is the farthest.
46. what's your special talent? The ability to make people feel at ease.
47. where were you born? Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
48. who sent this to you? I never saw a meme until I found this at Kirsty’s website. She nudged me and I thought it could be fun. It was, for me. I think that’s the hidden meaning of meme: all about me, me. Bless you for reading to the bottom. I promise to do the same. Now it’s your turn. Tag, you’re it!


It was a busy night. The munchkins roamed the neighborhood on Halloween and came back with their little pumpkin bags full of treats, serious treats - the sugar-laden kind that their parents forbid on the remaining 364 days of the year.

Sophie, oops Princess Jasmine, was almost jumping out of her princess socks to get on the street and collect her sweet gold mine of goodies. Hannah, who was supposed to be Dorothy of Oz, decided instead to up her fashion ante and appear in a gold lame wispy smock that matched, in color if not in theme, her brown Dorothy pigtails. Eclectic is in. We had to remind both to put on their shoes before sprinting out the door. Little Bo Peep, a close friend, decided to shepherd her flock with Jasmine and Dorothy and off they went on a wonderfully mild night. Moms and dads followed them out the door while I stood guard on the front stoop with a bowl full of candy for the incoming traffic.

Soon I could hear the excited babble of kids as little ones (and big ones) came traipsing up the steps. My heart felt generous looking into their painted faces and I found myself dropping more than one candy bar into each extended bag. It was nice to see that polite thank you’s were the order of the day. Parents waited patiently on the street as their goblins and ninja turtles made the rounds. One lone boy, about twelve, came up the steps and looked a bit uncomfortable … he shifted once and then asked if he could please use the bathroom. It takes a village. I let the kid in and pointed him to the door at the end of the hall. He was in there quite a while but seemed no worse for wear when he did re-appear, picked up his basket of loot and moved on. Yes, the kid could never have made it home to his own toilet.

It was that kind of night. Before the girls were ready to go out the door, our old dog decided to shower the kitchen floor with his own forget-me-nots. Jenn was busy with bleach and paper towels while I helped the girls squirm into their footwear. Not exactly a Hallmark moment.

We all survived. The girls returned, promptly emptied their bags onto the living-room floor (the kitchen floor was still off-limits) and proceeded to ooh and aah over the candy and pudding cups. One would think they lived in a third-world country. They were allowed to choose just one sweet to consume before bedtime. The pudding cups won out.

Seeing that they were rolling in candy for the next year or so, I secretly allocated the rest of our leftover giveaway to my coat pocket and quietly left the scene.

Grandmoms have a sweet tooth too.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Thus spake the ostrich

I’m lovin’ this town. The folks up here are much more laid back than the big city and certainly don’t take themselves too seriously. On Halloween, my daughter’s neighbor seems to enjoy himself as much as the kids.

“In the true man there is a child concealed – who wants to play.” Hard to believe this is a quote by Nietzsche. Somehow I can’t picture the great philosopher dressed up as Mr. Ostrich Man but, then again, most philosophers are strange birds.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Real estates

Now that I’m up here in my new location with a job and an apartment roof over my head, I’m starting to think about my options regarding home ownership. I am not a part of that expendable-income boomer generation who seems to be having a swell time investing in multiple properties, paying off their kids’ college debts, and lunching on the Riviera. My post-divorced single status has left me in a more humble position. I’m happy to make ends meet each month while exploring ways to expand my budget to allow for a little place of my own - the cottage where I’ll do my creative writing, entertain new friends, and settle in front of a fireplace on a cold winter’s night. I’ll probably have to relinquish the fireplace but would still love to keep the dream of owning something alive.

Is it foolish to consider home ownership at my age? Would I prefer to have a 30-year mortgage and do my own mowing, shoveling, roof and heater repair rather than letting a landlord cover day-to-day maintenance? I did own a house for thirty years but there were a hubby and retired parents to help in the upkeep. Paneling a basement or pruning a tree was taken care of by family members. Now I really am on my own and can’t expect the kids to run over to lend a hand when they have such hectic lives and responsibilities under their own roof. So it’s a dilemma.

It’s hard to find a modest bungalow among ostentatious mansions that rival the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. How can folks afford to live in these large estates commanding upwards of a million or better? Where does everyone go? To separate rooms and wings of a house that’s supposed to be a home? A house which spreads itself so high and wide that the family probably has to use an intercom to be in touch? Two bathrooms, I can understand. Six bedrooms and baths are beyond me. I’m sure, though, that one bedroom and bath must be reserved for the live-in maid.

I’ve looked into the tiny-home movement but am laughing because most of these exquisite environmentally-friendly experiments are taking place at least 1,000 to 3,000 miles away from the Berkshires. (See The Boomer Chronicles for excellent links to this kind of option.) Oops, did I mention the $4 per mile shipping cost of having your tiny home plopped down on your pre-paid lot? Don’t think I’ll make the cut on that one either ….

I keep checking the local listings, calling realtors and visiting some of the current offerings. Maybe I’m dreaming too high. I’d love to walk into a small home and be comfortable with the present owner’s sense of interior design. However, it seems like such an expensive proposition to know that, besides paying off the mortgage, I’ll be needing money to paint and paper too. Holy Hannah, grass and snow and inside renovations … when would I blog?! I thought these were to be my golden carefree years?

Yes, home ownership seems preferable to merely renting but I’m fighting conflicting family history. My mom and dad always owned and generated income from their property until dad died. Two years later, mom sold the family property and came to live with me and mine. A few years later, we found her a lovely apartment nearby. She was so happy to be free of the house and the burdens of home ownership. She lived her later years in an apartment community. I hear my dad saying “own a house and build up equity” whereas I hear my mom saying “I like being in an apartment”.

No matter the age, life always manages to end in trade-offs. The bottom line will be whether I can even afford to entertain the option of home ownership.

I think I should step back, celebrate how much I've accomplished in these past couple months, take a breath and enjoy the new apartment for the winter while preparing a careful budget. In other words, get real.

Time out.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Finding her voice

Dear Iris,

Thanks for talking to me the other night. Your daddy held the phone up to your ear and you were certainly not shy about introducing yourself.

In fact, you took over the conversation with your non-stop oohs and coos and ahs and gahs. The inflections and timing had me laughing with delight. I could barely get a word in (and for me that’s highly unusual). Proud dad says he thinks you’re ahead of the curve on verbal expression. I agree and realize that your cousin Sophie was not exaggerating when she told me that you had already talked to her.

Even though I have not yet been able to fly across the country and make your acquaintance in person, we have already had our first meaningful encounter. The melodic ring of your voice still echoes in my mind. If you’re this outgoing at three months, I can hardly wait to see what you will be like when real words take shape and float from your tongue.

For now, I’m so grateful to know that you are thriving and letting those who love you know how happy you are to be a part of the family.

It’s been claimed that, as they grow up, little girls seem to lose their voices. They start to doubt what they know and become more quiet in the company of boys.

My precious granddaughter, may the fledgling sounds you are making now grow into a strong and beautiful voice free to express who you are and what you believe in. And may that gift never be taken from you.

Love, Babci xxoo

P.S. You look a lot like your daddy at the same age. He wasn't as chatty though.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Chips and cinnamon buns

It was grandparent's day at Sophie's school. I picked her up and we spent the morning together in kindergarten. I got to share in drawing and reading and side trips to the hospitality tray where Sophie indulged in her mommy's worst nightmare: cinnamon buns. Those of you who are regular fans of my daughter's blog may remember the escapade which led to Jenn's declaration that "cinnamon buns = death". Well, that was then and this is now. I let Sophie have the forbidden fruit. She seemed none the worse for wear by noon. Of course we were in a fairly safe contained environment and I didn't have to worry about her jumping into traffic.

The teacher handed out mementos on which each child had written what they love to do with their grandparents. One kid said "go to a museum"; another wrote "read a book". Sophie wrote "eat potato chips".

I'm beginning to think I may be sending the wrong message.

Later in the day, I made a big pot of healthy chicken soup to balance out the oatmeal raisin cookies baking in the oven.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

There's nothing like a dame and a sexy old man

When I think of a classy broad, I think of that British triad of thespians who are the epitome of spunk, intelligence and graceful aging - the Dames: Judi Dench, Helen Mirren and Diana Rigg. These three gals speak to me. They show that women in their 60s and beyond can keep their creative spark burning and do some of their best work later in life. Of course, I will never meet them but they continue to amaze me with their talent and zest for life.

I just viewed “Mrs. Henderson Presents” the other night and the chemistry between Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins was so much fun to watch. You could tell they were perfectly comfortable in their roles but I think I saw something more on the screen – they are perfectly comfortable with who they are not just the characters they are portraying.

There’s something rewarding about reaching midlife and beyond. The jokes abound, sure, but the fact is that some of the heavy baggage gets thrown out and, if lucky, the stuff left behind is the real pay dirt. No fool’s gold here. The need to please or live up to a certain model or standard of behavior wanes. You are more at home in your own skin. Hell, you may even be willing to stand naked in your own skin before the world as Bob Hoskins did in “Mrs. Henderson”. There was such an honesty to that moment - baring it all as a metaphor for the authenticity of growing older.

I may never have to strip to prove my point (unless I meet a sexy old fart like Bob Hoskins). I just know that something new and exciting and genuine opened in me when I climbed my first mountain a couple years ago. I spent a week in the company of strangers and I was not the only 60-year-old making it to the summit. There was another gal, two years older than I, who had already climbed Mt. Indefatigable on a previous trip! She and I were the grand dames of the hiking party, outflanked by much younger males and one other younger woman. I learned a lot about myself that week. I liked what I saw.

I want to remember how alive I felt in attempting the daily hikes, the pleasure I gained from putting myself out there with folks I had never met. I became vulnerable and shared my fears of keeping up with the other more experienced hikers. The need to compare or compete quickly disappeared as I found out that who I was trumped who I thought I had to be. Every day brought new challenges and surprises. I delighted in playing the piano in the lodge at end of day surrounded by people who enjoyed what I had to offer. Self-doubts were replaced by warm acceptance. I returned the favor by listening and affirming the others in my group. It was a week of renewal and rebirth. I don’t think I could have found the courage to move this summer if I had not first found the courage to climb those mountains. I’m trying to carry that experience with me into my new life here in the Berkshires.

Judi, Helen and Diana may have led far more glamorous and newsworthy lives, yet we would be no strangers if we sat down to tea. I think we all look forward to growing older, on our own terms in our own inimitable style.

Let’s hear it for the ladies and gents who can let it all hang out.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Mom's apple pie

We may both come from sturdy Polish peasant stock, but Martha Stewart I am not.

My intentions are pure though. I awake with the grand idea of rounding up all those apples from the birthday party and turning them into an apple pie. I look in my mom’s recipe box and try to find the recipe for her killer apple pie. I’m soon sifting through index cards that include: apple fritters, apple pancakes, applesauce cake, apple crepes, Jewish apple cake, apple streusel, apple cobbler and, finally, one or two versions of apple pie with pie crust directions too. Do I want to add chopped nuts? (No, David’s allergic.) Raisins? (No, not Jenn’s cup of tea.) I’m just looking for a basic apple pie, the one that mom used to make. The one I remember and can still taste. It was a classic. She loved to bake. Her cakes and pies were culinary masterpieces.

I re-read the cards. Are either of these handwritten recipes the real thing? The holy grail? She would often make some notation on her favorite recipe cards that gave a hint but there’s nothing written here to solve the conundrum. She may not have needed a written record for something she did often and so well, just like her pierogies (Polish dumplings). When she died, the art of cooking went with her. It took several Christmas holidays and much trial and error to duplicate mom’s pierogies. All I ask now is a clue, a compass. I’m a lowly pilgrim looking for the right path.

And I’m a virgin. Yes, it’s true. Here I am, almost ready for Medicare, and I’ve never baked an apple pie. Blame it on the mother who baked like no other. Blame it on my taking her for granted. Blame it on my interest in making music rather than baking bread.

Redemption is at hand. Today I shall make it all right. Today I shall prepare, with my own hands, a culinary treat for my granddaughters and family. How hard can it be? (Mom made it look so easy.)

Armed with good intentions, I grab the two recipe cards, stuff them in my jacket and drive off to the nearest supermarket. I pick up extra sugar, spices and flour but come up short trying to find the Crisco which was a staple in my mom’s kitchen. Yes, I can substitute butter for the shortening and am debating how to proceed when suddenly a brightly colored box of ready-made pie crust catches my eye. Amazing grace. The kitchen gods are smiling at me.

I arrive at Jenn’s and tell her my plan. She is thrilled to turn her kitchen over to me. However, Hannah is now home from daycare and looking to help babci with the apple pie. No problem. Benevolence rules. We set her up with a bowl and spoon and I teach her how to sift the flour and then add water. She plays at making dough while I cheat and pat my ready-made dough at the far end of the table. Now I can concentrate on the filling. The recipes I brought with me are similar to the one on the ready-made package. I decide to take the easy way out again and go with the apple-pie directions on the carton. One-stop shopping.

Hannah putters happily while I start peeling the apples. I’m making memories with my grandchild. Everything is going well until I cut my finger with the knife. All operations are suspended while babci tries to stop the bleeding. Hannah clucks and extends her sympathy. Jenn returns with Sophie and promptly bandages my finger. The kitchen is now quite crowded, not even counting the friendly household ghosts. Sophie wants to get into the act. I hand out more measuring cups and spoons and let her mix the ingredients for the pie filling in a large bowl. Jenn and I keep peeling and cutting apples. Six cups of apples take a heckuva lot of time. I have new respect for my mom and Martha Stewart.

Just as we are about to add the apple slices to the sugar and spices, Hannah reaches for something and knocks the bowl off the table. Half the measured dry ingredients are now on a kitchen chair and the floor.

I look at Jenn. She looks at me and gets up and pours us both a glass of Canadian beer.

The kids are now starting to fidget and whine and we send them off to the living room with Shrek to keep them entertained.

By now I have started dinner and manage to overcook the broccoli. “Every time, mom, every time. Even when we were little.” I have a sudden urge to escape to a keyboard. Instead, I take another swig of beer and finish what I started. As I work with the ready-made crust, I think how much longer the whole project would have taken if I did this from scratch. At last, the pie is looking decent and we pop it in the oven.

The girls are allowed to stay up post-Shrek and pre-pie, waiting for dessert. The kitchen fills with the wonderful aroma of apples and cinnamon. I have now drained my glass of beer and am patting myself on the back. There are pots and bowls and apple peels everywhere. Martha’s kitchen would never look like this but she probably has a fulltime staff to clear and clean as she moves methodically through her prized recipes. All I have are two little girls waiting impatiently to taste their grandmother’s apple pie.

We end the night with warm syrupy apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream.

I wouldn’t trade my good fortune for Martha’s fame, ever.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Taste and see

We took the girls to a birthday party in an apple orchard. They ran through grass and brambles to get to the sturdy little trees where they climbed and plucked the boughs heavy with autumn’s harvest. Delight filled the air. It was a perfect setting for a birthday celebration, giggles and good friends to share the fruit of the vine. Parents hovered and provided a boost here and there but, for the most part, the day belonged to the youngest generation. Little girls in party dresses and blue jeans perched in apple trees.

Maybe that’s what the original garden was supposed to look like after all. Forget that nonsense about Eve taking the blame. Why would a benevolent Spirit not expect the fruit of creation to be admired and tasted?

Everything in the world of a child seems new and fresh. It was such fun to sit in the warm autumn sun and watch the kids entertain themselves with apples. Simplicity as abundance.

We should all get back to the garden.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rock and stroll

Jenn’s friend asked me to mind her baby for a couple hours while she ran an errand in town. With my own grandkids past the infant stage, I thought I may have lost the touch. So, with some anxiety, I agreed to baby sit little Charlotte.

Mom arrived with a wide-awake baby snuggled into her portable car seat. I decided to let her call the shots. We eyed each other carefully while mommy outlined the logistical plan. Three bottles handy: a) breast milk, b) similac, and c) the last line of defense, powdered formula and sterile water. Surely I wouldn't need all three.

I kept the eye contact going since Charlotte seemed to be relaxing and I waved momma off behind me. This was the first time that her precious charge was being left with someone other than mommy and daddy. (I didn’t know this until the end of the visit and, in this case, ignorance was bliss. It probably would have made me more nervous.)

As soon as the door closed, our real introduction began. Charlotte started to look around a bit more frantically and whimper a bit.

“Okay kid, it’s time you and I get acquainted.” We had been in each other’s company the past three months but never really had any quality time for bonding as the parenting manuals would call it. We had one brief encounter on a rocking chair in a friend’s house and I got the sense then that Charlotte wasn’t into sensory overload. She seemed to like quiet times and gentle moves - low on lots of talking, high on curiosity and visual cues.

Following my gut feeling (another overworked cliché), I gently extracted baby from her car seat and slowly moved down the hall for a trial run. Charlotte looked around at the strange sights but did not accelerate into loud crying. In fact, the whimpering stopped and since she still had her little sweater on, I took her out onto my back porch. Someone nearby was working on a car or truck and there was a loud hum of a motor. That caught her attention for a few minutes. My mums are in a state of autumn decay but the swinging flower pot provided another diversion.

Playing by her rules was actually quite freeing. I tuned into her body language and rhythms. When she started to squirm, I brought her back into the house, walked a bit more and then plopped down on my mom’s rocking chair (which I had the good foresight to drag into the unfinished dining room). This proved the saving grace of the whole three hours. She lay in my arms taking her first bottle and playing with her hands. She didn’t seem to mind the lack of scintillating conversation. I rarely spoke at first, just holding her against me and feeding her. She kept watching me and drifted off to sleep after polishing off momma’s breast milk. I didn’t know how sensitive she was to being moved so stayed on the rocker and let her use me as the crib. Sitting there gently rocking a sleeping baby helped to center me too. She slept for about 20 minutes and opened those big eyes to stare at a stranger’s face. Moment of truth. I was expecting a sudden wail but she seemed to like the accommodations. The Polish genes and buxom bosom do come in handy. She snuggled a bit and then I took her for another walk around the apartment and sang some nonsense syllables and even jiggled her a bit. She likes facing forward much better than looking over a shoulder to see where she’s been. Sounds like her momma.

I even took the chance and placed her on my bed, not knowing what to expect. The risk paid off … she was quite happy trying to hit a green plastic frog (part of the baby paraphernalia I held onto from my own grandbabies). And then she and I had our first serious conversation.

Charlotte: “aah, gah …”
Babci: "ooh, aah, Charlotte.”

Big smile at that. Charlotte knows her name. I tried to mirror whatever sounds she was making and her little legs and arms were pumping excitedly. She was so into communicating that she made me laugh out loud. That drew more smiles from her. I was loving this positive feedback loop. So much more fun than sulking teenagers, eh?

Following her lead, we played until she seemed to be ready for something else. The something else was the second bottle. I balanced her in my arms while I heated the bottle. Back again to the rocking chair and our second round of refreshments. She drained the formula in a couple minutes. Eat. Burp. Sleep. Not a bad routine.

When she was sleeping in my arms again, I realized that I had placed my cell phone in my pants pocket which was now directly under her head. It was not on mute and I prayed that neither momma nor Jenn called me while sleeping beauty dreamed away. I looked at her innocent face and thought of another baby face, three-thousand miles away, my new granddaughter, Iris. They were both born in July and I have yet to make Miss Iris Kathryn's acquaintance.

Luckily, the cell phone was on good behavior. Charlotte awoke a bit later. We took another stroll while I sang “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte” and kissed the back of her fuzzy head. We settled for one more play time on the bed. As she played with Mr. Frog, I poured the powdered formula into the water bottle and shook vigorously. I couldn’t believe we had reached the final line of defense. No storms or outbursts though. I was winning the war.

Once more, she was nestled in my arms and drinking her third bottle. We had spent some quality time together indeed. In fact, when her mom showed up, she seemed perfectly content to stay in my arms a while longer and give me a final round of tender shy smiles.

I think I’ve made a new friend.

What's in a name

I seem to be the community grandmom up here. I noticed that the children of Jenn’s friends are starting to call me “Babci”. I can’t help but smile. Music to my ears. To think that I fought against the title.

I remember my two kids requesting that I use the Polish form of grandmother as my calling card for the next generation when both were expecting their first babies. At first, I felt uncomfortable with the idea. My image of a “babci” was a peasant woman in a head scarf representing the older women of my heritage, the illiterate babushkas who came from the “old country”. I couldn’t see myself being a babci. Yet my kids wisely reminded me that they had no history with my experience and thought it would be neat to have their kids call me babci. Reluctantly, I agreed.

It had its selling points. “Babci” (bob-chee) seemed to be an easy first word to master once the babies were learning to talk so I usually was the first of the grandparents to hear my name spoken aloud. It also had a lovely alliterative ring to it. When little Ben first exclaimed “Babci, you’re the best!”, it clinched the deal.

Ben’s hero worship made me realize that I had the same strong feelings for my own babci. I loved this hard-working woman with calloused hands who could only sign her name with an “x”. I became her companion in her final years when she lived with us as an amputee. We would watch Hopalong Cassidy together and I would try to make her understand that the characters who died onscreen were just acting. She was often amazed when they would appear again on other shows, hale and hearty. She was a very simple woman, almost childlike in her beliefs and expectations, but her arrival as an immigrant took courage and strength. It was she and countless other women like her who braved the journey to a new land and gave their children and grandchildren the opportunities to learn and grow beyond what their generation was given. I feel guilty and sad that I first wanted to distance myself from these babushkas … that I deemed myself above and apart from their humble history. I was uncomfortable in accepting the old-world name of babci, yet I am standing on my babci’s shoulders.

Just about anyone can be a grandma or granny, but not everyone can be a babci.

I hope I live up to the name.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Birthday Boy

Six years ago you made your bow
Look at the big boy you are now

I wish I could be there to watch you play ...
Benjamin Joseph, Happy Birthday!

Love, Babci xxoo

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I come home from the new job. It’s been an intense day. I’m still learning the ins and outs. I’m tired.

The phone rings. It’s my daughter.

“Mom, we’re celebrating. The local paper did a really neat article on David’s paintings. Come on over for dinner. David made Shepherd’s Pie.”

I almost decline the offer because I’ve brought some notes home to review for an early-morning meeting tomorrow. However, my growling stomach reminds me that this is an offer of free food – all gain, no pain – all I have to do is walk on up the hill.

Hunger wins out.

The girls are upstairs playing when I arrive. A stack of newspapers sits on David’s desk. I help myself to one and proudly note the photo and read the front-page article which really spotlights David’s new hobby. He’s become local hero for a day.

In this house, he’s always a hero. It takes courage to raise two kids and be totally involved in their care while traveling an hour away to teach drama, paint on the back porch, paint the front porch and storm door, and do a hundred and one other mundane duties. He paints; he teaches; he directs; he cooks a mean Shepherd’s Pie.

Sophie and Hannah come down for dinner. I almost feel like wallpaper. They are no longer running into my arms, surprised by my presence. In fact, they are running past my arms. I’ve been living up here for two months now. I’m a part of the family landscape. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad. I tease Sophie about it. She reluctantly holds still for a kiss. But she does insist on sitting “next to Babci” for dinner. We discuss the origins of the main course and I tell her that my Babci was a shepherdess.

Dinner, which is often quite chaotic, is quite civilized tonight. David serves and the girls dig into their Shepherd’s Pie although Hannah decides that she doesn’t want the ground beef. She falls in love instead with the olives in the string-bean salad, while Sophie waits for the mashed potatoes to cool. There are “thank you Daddy” pleasantries and no one spills milk or ends up crying. David and Jenn actually get to sit and enjoy their food. David looks relaxed and pleased, as he should be. We toast his success with some red wine that has been waiting to be appreciated. The wine and David are both appreciated this night.

Hannah reveals that she did one of her best paintings today in daycare. Like father, like daughter? Sophie proudly announces that she went into the pool without her flotation device. Life is good. Blessings abound.

The girls get a special treat of push-up lemonade pops for dessert because they have eaten well.

“Daddy bought them!” Sophie tells me as I help pull the top off her cherry lemonade. The pink matches her pretty blouse. Hannah gets a lime version and seems content. Has someone sprinkled fairy dust on these two tonight? No disputes and more “thank you Daddy" for buying the dessert.

Jenn smirks and David looks up. “What? They are fruit pops.”

Super mom gently reveals that there’s an awful lot of fructose syrup in what super dad thought was mostly pure fruit treats. His face falls and he looks stricken. The girls’ faces are beaming as they consume a delicious dessert and know that they got the best of the bargain tonight. Desserts don’t come easy in this house. Babci’s house is another matter. Another generation. Sugar was not a banned substance when the girls’ mommy was growing up. It can still be found in Babci’s cupboards and fridge. Sophie and Hannah are getting wise to the hidden stash.

The girls finish their dessert and calmly, calmly head up the stairs to continue playing in their separate bedrooms. Each is happy and needs private time. Hannah gets mommy to put her to bed tonight; Sophie gets daddy. Shifts rotate. Babci has the night off and must return to her homework for tomorrow’s meeting.

I give my son-in-law a kiss and hug before I’m out the door, telling him that he is a good, hard-working man. My daughter is a lucky gal.

Walking back down the street, I gaze at the mountains which are just starting to shed their muted colors of brown and green for something richer. The air is milder than it has been recently. Oddly, no dogs bark as I pass their houses. All is peaceful and still. A dazzling splash of mums in a neighbor’s garden catches my eye. I can see that these hardy mums are going to put up a fight as the days grow shorter and the air turns colder. Their bright faces will want to keep shining a bit longer.

Bright faces ... in the garden, at the kitchen table.

I feel calm and content, so thankful that I decided to walk on up the hill and accept the invitation to dinner. I think of what had been missing in my life these past several years. Eating alone. Being alone.

I was hungry for more than a good meal.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Balancing act

Sophie started gym class at the local Y. I’ve been attending the sessions, even getting to pick her up from school and delivering her. I’m earning my grandmom stripes.

For a child who sometimes seemed a bit ungainly and slow to participate in physical sports, she has made (pardon the pun) leaps and bounds.

The very first week, when the little ones were wandering around the exercise mat, Sophie was the first to answer the call to attention and the daunting challenge of getting up on the balance beam for the initial try. She moved across, tentatively at first but trusting that she would get to the other side with the trainer ever near. The look of accomplishment when she jumped down was priceless.

I have seen this same daring on the playground since I’ve been up here. Sophie now hoists herself up on the climbing bars and rings and is soon looking at me upside down, a self-satisfied smile on her face. Way to go, Sophie! She has grown not only in height but in confidence. It’s great to see.

I remember her mother as a little girl running up and down the hallway practicing her moves a la Nadia Comenici and then thrusting her body forward and proclaiming “10”. I think we’re in for a repeat performance. I’m sure we’ll be watching to keep it enjoyable and real and not throw her into the ring for a future Olympics. It’s not about perfection and tunnel vision. Sophie lives in her mind so much that it is refreshing to see her running and jumping and tumbling too. What she’s gaining now is a sense of self-control over her body through small victories in a playful environment.

Exercise as fun. A novel idea.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Haiku for Lady Hannah

How lovely you look
As the camera intrudes
On serious play

Captures an instant
Full of Victorian charm
“My dears” you call us

No need for pretense
You are who you seem to be
Childhood knows no bounds

Pretty ladies speak
Walk in unsteady slippers
Sure of who they are

Later they will doubt
As they shift from tot to teen
Trying new attire

Treasure the present
And wear many hats and gowns
Play is work enough

You soon will outgrow
The comfort of make-believe
Oh to keep you here!

Hello young lovers

They met when she was sixteen and he, twenty-one. In three short years they married. She loved to dance; he was not very good at it. Years later, he laughed when his daughter called him on to the dance floor for her wedding. His wedding was a three-day affair. Polish weddings were like that. Ever the prankster, he pretended to fall coming down the church steps. In truth, he had fallen hard for her ... love at first sight according to her girlfriend. She was supposed to date his older brother. She chose him instead. He considered himself a lucky man.

They both were children of immigrants who settled in the same section of town. As first-generation Americans they spoke English but were equally at home speaking Polish. He was a banjo man; making music came naturally to him. He was also an auto-body welder, earning a steady paycheck at one company for 40 years. He was as loyal to the company as he was loyal to his wife.

I think that's what I loved most about my parents - their faithfulness to each other. They were married almost 50 years before my Dad died. When he died suddenly, my best friend remarked: "That was the only irresponsible thing your Dad ever did."

He was a good man, a simple man. He had his values in place. She was the woman he loved from the moment he saw her. He never wavered.

Do you remember the parable in the Bible where the kingdom of heaven is compared to a wedding feast? I picture all my relatives who have passed on at this wedding, dancing in a circle. The aunts, uncles, cousins who may have feuded in life are all dancing together and so, so happy. And my Dad no longer has two left feet. He and my Mom are out there in the middle of the circle in each other's arms, the bridal couple of course.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


It’s been an amazing day. This is only the second week on the new job but today I got to travel to a professional workshop at a university about two hours away. I figured out the map quest directions and set on my way through some of the most scenic territory, a highway known as the Mohawk Trail. Driving up and around hairpin turns and looking at trees soon to burst forth with brilliant fall colors, I had to laugh out loud. Here I was, in my new fall fashions, already shedding my old colors and displaying some brilliance of my own.

This past month has been so filled with things to do and people to meet that I haven’t really had a chance to reflect on all that has happened. It still seems a bit unreal. Did I really pick up and leave my lifelong location? Find an apartment? Change jobs?

When I walked into this conference, I knew instinctively that I had found the right job. Here, in this room, were a group of educators and counselors. Yes, they were working with high-school students and I had been advising college students but I soon realized that there was a definite interface to my past experience and my new responsibilities. I felt so comfortable to be in this room. It felt so good to be with like-minded people and made me think of the professional relationships and organizations I had left behind. This workshop provided the context that I was looking for. I didn’t even know something was missing until everything clicked today. I took notes like crazy, managed to contribute to the discussion, and even did some important networking. The networking included chatting up a guy my age, a retired consultant. I swear these gray-haired men are falling from the sky. Lunch afterwards and a walking tour of the campus with a young student who was a history and military science major. I left with a working plan for my own school regarding serving our new junior class. I even got an official certificate from the state of Massachusetts for continuing education units, totally unexpected. It was a very productive day.

Driving home through the same mountains, I passed once again through my mom’s birthplace, Greenfield. Jenn and I plan to travel there to search out old records and try to figure out the mystery of my grandparents being in this place for a brief period of time in the early 1900s. It's a rugged piece of terrain. What would a young immigrant couple be doing here during the harsh winter months with a little boy and new baby on the way? It’s very unusual as all our family history lies in Philadelphia but that will be another story for another time.

I stopped for gas and another guy my age came over to the car. He was tall and had a baseball cap on and kind of quirky. I must have an accent as a lot of folks are asking me where I’m from. This guy was no different. I told him that I was sorry if I pulled up to the “full service” pump as I’m used to pumping gas myself. He promptly replied that he wasn’t sorry as he was glad to pump gas for “such a pretty woman”. Hot dang! My new clothes and I are having an impact.

I smiled all the way home. Home. Yes, I think I’m going to like this place.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Full circle

She would have been smiling to see me falling asleep on the sofa. She knew the routine.

She lived in an apartment just two blocks away and would often baby sit so that hubby and I could get a much-needed night out. Playing games like Husker Du or Pigs Are Poppin’ and then getting them settled into their beds, she doted on her two little grandchildren. We would return late at night and find her, head nodding, trying hard to stay awake. One of us would drive her back home. She never seemed to mind the late-night imposition.

My mom became a grandmother in her sixties. The role became her. She had grown up as the oldest girl, the responsible one who took care of the rest of the family. She lavished that same care on husband and daughter as the years went by. She was the product of an immigrant culture where the women were expected to be the primary caretakers; the men, the breadwinners. There were sacrifices to be made.

As a child, she loved to draw and the nuns would have her create holiday pictures of Santa Claus and winter landscapes. She thought of becoming a nurse but her formal education was cut short so that she could contribute at home by minding her younger siblings. When she grew older, she nursed her own invalid mother and ailing brother but never realized her original dream. Instead, she used her hands to bake and sew and crochet.

Becoming a grandmother brought out the child in her. She got to draw and play again. She got to sing silly songs and bake appetizing treats for an adoring new generation: a dark-haired little girl with deep, bright eyes and a wispy-haired younger boy who warmed to her attention. To be in her kitchen, to have her look at them as if they were the only two children in the entire world, was a reciprocal gift. They got the promise of unconditional love; she got back all the innocence and joy of her early youth. She laughed at their antics and beamed as they ate her special cakes and cookies. She crocheted dolls and capes and shared secrets in the middle of the night when they would sleep over. She was a good listener. She became a part of the fabric of their everyday lives. They, and she, were richer for it.

I baby sat for the girls last night. We watched Peter Pan and looked at American Girl catalogs and just shared time together. Their mom and dad were out on a special anniversary date. Hannah was so eager to see Peter Pan. When the movie started to play, I realized with a shock that it was the same movie I had watched over fifty years ago, not much older than she. I was suddenly transported to my own childhood and memories of a Peter Pan activity book which I played with for hours. I remembered the weekly visits to my aunt and uncle’s and setting up the Peter Pan play book on their dining-room table. I loved Tinkerbelle as much as Hannah! I looked into her excited face and saw something familiar. For one brief moment, it was like looking into a mirror of myself in another dimension. Little me, playing with delight and moving those Peter Pan cut-out figures all around my aunt’s table. I then looked at Sophie, the wise one, totally immersed in the movie. Her concentration often seems overwhelming but suddenly she reminded me of my own intensity as a child. When I engaged my Peter Pan dolls, I stepped completely into the moment and tuned out the rest of the world. I was like that whenever I played with my dolls and toys.

The movie ended and I marched them up to bed. Hannah tried to wager for another round of playtime but had to settle for “family rules” and a couple bedtime stories read to her and her sister on their parents’ big bed. Sophie settled into her bedroom with the American Girl catalogs while I put Hannah in her crib, gave her the customary tickle and told an accelerated version of Cinderella. She was asleep by the time I got into the hallway. Sophie, on the other hand, was busy printing out a list of dolls that she would love to buy from the catalogs with her allowance. Explaining the need for long-term strategies regarding enough cash flow for such high-end items, I tucked her in.

I came downstairs and sat on the sofa, waiting for Jenn and David to return. I found myself dozing off. Head nodding, I could not help but think of my mom.

A car pulled up and, like many years before, a grown daughter drove her tired mother home to an apartment just two blocks away.