Friday, October 19, 2007

Yin and Yang

Today, I took a vacation day to see the girls in action. It was Grandparent's Day at their school. This is the first year that they are together, Sophie in first grade and Hannah in Beginners. I proudly wore two picture badges on my jacket and then had to be clever enough to spend time with each sister, making sure that neither felt slighted.

First grade was much more organized - Sophie and I worked on a fall-leaf collage and had our photo taken by the teacher. Afterwards, we played Battleship which was an eye opener for me as I never expected to be sinking a battleship with sweet, gentle Sophie. Did I mention that her teacher is a guy? Later, we went to art class and the grandparents and kids got to draw together.

Next came Hannah. I got to hear her sing in French and watched her beat a drum in class. Finally, I joined her on the playground for sports and recess. Believe me, Hattie Belle excels at "sports and recess".

I laugh at the different ways these two kids express themselves.

First, there's Sophie - the sometimes silent, shy, and serious student ...

And then there's Hannah. Blink, and you may miss her ...

It was a beautiful day, topped off with ice-cream sundaes at Friendly's.

Once home, Sophie quietly told me, "Babci, I'm so glad you came today. I really wanted you there."

The pleasure was all mine.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Unpacking the past

Amidst lice alerts, Libby Lu, missing grooves, house hunting, there was a celebratory "first" for the Mater this past week.

I became a published author. My first paid gig!

A regional paper, The Women's Times, asked to use one of my former blog essays as part of their October edition. They even had an illustration drawn to fit the piece. I, of course, scooped up any copies I could find.

Nothing like basking in one's 15 minutes of fame, eh?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Home Sweet Home

While Jenn searches for her groove, I’m hunting houses. Well, just one house. I looked at it while Jenn was away a few weeks back and then it went under contract to some other buyer.

I love my apartment but, truth is, I am also tempted to do something crazy like buy a house in this soft market. Yep, take the small annuity I have and use some of it as a down deposit and become a mortgage holder once again. I did this once in my life, as a newlywed, and home ownership lasted thirty years. Then, I got my very first apartment. Most people do it the other way around: leave home, get an apartment, and then buy a house.

Now in my second apartment, life is good. No lawns to mow or snow to shovel. I can afford my monthly rent and utilities and sit on my back porch. The neighbors are sometimes noisy but, overall, it’s n-i-c-e. I’m in a duplex, and have the entire second floor to myself.

So, why am I going back to look at this quirky little house now that it’s back on the market? Do 60-plus single women really buy houses? Most seniors have paid off their mortgages and are downsizing. I'd be going in the other direction.

Not that this would be taking on a huge property. The house sits on the corner of a quiet, hilly street. It has lots of light and a narrow staircase that leads to one bedroom and a half.

The seller has put in a new kitchen and bath. And that's the strangest part of the place. The bathroom sits next to the kitchen and it’s about the size of a walk-in closet. The toilet is under a window and an outside red door leads directly into the bathroom. There is no bathroom on the second floor. Quite a leap on those cold Berkshire mornings to make it down the steps and into the john … and, at my age, I’d rather have a stall shower than a deep jet tub.

The rest of the house is kinda cute and has possibilities. As you can see, I took pictures during my first visit. Whatcha think?

Do banks really offer mortgages to women over 60? Jenn tells me that my dad would be saying “go for it” but I didn’t tell her that I remember when friends of my parents bought a house and took on a 30-year mortgage in their early 50s and my dad thought they were loony. Dad, of the “house is a good investment” philosophy, seemed to have a change of heart as he, and his friends, got older. He bought a duplex and then spent the rest of his life on what was originally his parents’ old land. Mom wanted out, and seemed to enjoy her small apartment near us once he passed away and she sold the house. What would they think of their daughter, a couple years shy of retirement, becoming a homeowner?

And then there’s Sophie. I drove the girls past this little red house while mom was out of town. Sophie lamented that it was “too far away” from their house. I tried again this past week.

“Sophie, do you remember the house babci took you past? What if she bought it?”

Sophie seemed upset and sad.

“Babci, I like your apartment. I can walk to you. You can meet me at the corner.”

I am two and a half blocks from Jenn’s. The house is two and a half miles from Jenn. Sophie is finding a new sense of independence – walking to grandmom’s seems like something to look forward to. Would she feel that I was abandoning her? Tough call.

Here I am, thinking of the immediate future and setting down roots, but also hearing family voices (present and past), wondering if this would really be a wise decision.

Oh, there’s a garage.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

In my defense

If you have been reading my daughter's blog, you'll see that Sophie and I had an excursion to a Color-Me-Pink franchise called Libby Lu. It really wasn't as silly as it seemed. Let me tell my side of the story ...

We were at a large shopping mall and Sophie wanted to go to Libby Lu. She had one other experience with a little friend months ago when the girl's mother treated them both. She was eager for more.

Dressing like a fairy princess and getting her hair and nails done was important this Sunday afternoon. Alone with me, she knew that babci would not refuse her. The previous week had been a hard ride for all of us; a tiara and some fairy dust seemed like the perfect treat.

Children are resilient. Sophie was tired, coming down with a cold, but knew what she needed. She needed to be pampered a bit. Don't we all have those days?

I have to admit that walking into Libby Lu was a shock - pink, fluffy, girly-girl things everywhere. Growing up as a bit of a tomboy, this was an eye-opener.

No, we did not have "an appointment". Even though the teen-aged staff were waiting for a large birthday-party group to arrive, they could "fit us in". Ya think? A grandmother willing to spend frivolous money on her grandchild? Of course they'd fit us in! They feed on grandparents.

I was handed a brochure which explained the different "package deals". Sophie chose "the Cinderella" makeover with a bonus stuffed puppy. We then followed the salesgirl back to front of store to pick out Sophie's new pet. She wavered between a chihuahua and a shaggy white Yorkshire terrier. The terrier won out. Next decision was picking the pup's carrying bag and outfit. She chose more pink with a "peace, love and pooches" logo in bright green. And then she named the dog, "Crystal".

We were marched to the back of the store where there was a dressing room. Sophie slipped inside, alone, and soon appeared in a rainbow-colored gown of chiffon, with fairy wings attached. I knew then that she was really getting into this.

The salesgirl sat her down on a pink stool and began applying kiddie-versions of eye shadow, rouge and powder, and, yes, nail polish. Since her mom had already done her nails the night before, the girl just added the new coat on top.

It was then that it got a bit crazy as the birthday-party contingent had arrived and about six or seven girls sauntered past us into that back dressing room. Mothers and cameras were soon giving me claustrophobia but Sophie sat, as regal as a queen, letting the salesgirl part and gather her hair atop her head for the definitive Cinderella look. She was coughing at times and really looked worn out but waited patiently as hair-spray and glitter and plenty of bobby-pins were applied. The crowning touch, of course, was a tiara! I looked at her and felt a lump in my throat. Even the salesgirl could tell what a special little girl this was. Sophie, the Rainbow Fairy Princess, with her pet, Crystal.

Yes, yes, I know what you're gonna say. All the little girls in that store were special too. Probably. Yet, I beg to add: there are kids, and then there is Sophie. Sophie of the dark, deep eyes. Sophie, the old soul, the sensitive soul. Sometimes the keeper of secrets, mysterious and elusive. Sophie, strong and vulnerable. Sophie, who is so hopeful and generous of spirit. Sophie, who can be a typical drive-you-crazy six-year-old one minute and a love-me-let-me-snuggle sweetheart the next. Her intensity is uncanny at times.

She reminds me of my mom. Of course, I did not see my mom as a child, but Sophie shows me what my mom may have been. There is something there, in a look or a mannerism, which triggers such thoughts. I can't explain why. I just know my mom is present - watching over this child, being the hidden angel who comforts and protects. Or perhaps she is hovering as a fairy godmother, part of that little-girl world where everything is colored pink and people live happily ever after.

Sooner or later, the real world makes its claims on everyone, including our precious children.

For one Sunday afternoon, I watch a little girl become a fairy princess. She balances her tiara on her head, looks at me and smiles shyly.

We both know it's a very good place to be.